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“The Middle Seat” by Kristin Rathje

March 30, 2011 3 comments

[Guest writer for this post is Kristin Rathje. Kristin  teaches upper level English at Lutheran High School North in St. Louis, Missouri.  She bonds with about a hundred kids per year, writes, reads, and monitors curriculum for a staff of about 40  She is also my friend!  Enjoy a bit of her writing.]

At the end of a lovely visit to San Francisco, I woke early, went for a run, and then returned to my hotel to prepare for my flight.  As I fit all my conference goodies into my suitcase, it dawned on me that I could have the concierge print my boarding pass before I left for the airport.

Anyone who travels one of the popular airlines that has open seating knows that if you want a decent seat, you should print your boarding pass much earlier than two hours prior to the flight.  However, being lost in the beauty of San Francisco, I had overlooked this detail.

I double-checked my room to make sure I had all my possessions and took the elevator to the lobby.  The concierge easily looked up my flight and printed my boarding pass.  You guessed it; my boarding letter was ‘C’.  You know ‘C’, it’s what comes after ‘A” (all one through sixty passengers) and ‘B’ (all one through sixty passengers).  Oh, well, I had just been to a conference that had challenged me to look for the bright spots, so riding in the shuttle to the airport, I took in all the sights of San Francisco one last time, not giving a second thought to my boarding pass.

Upon arrival at the airport, I noticed that my flight was delayed about 25 minutes.  This normally wouldn’t be a big deal, but according to schedule, I was only going to have 40 minutes between flights in Denver.  So, I checked my bags, waded through the security check, and then walked to my gate.  The agent assured me that even though we were departing a little late, we would arrive with plenty of time to get my connecting flight.  So, I put my worries out of my mind, visited a gift shop, bought myself some lunch, and enjoyed some Internet browsing.

As the time for my flight arrived, I again moved to my gate and noticed that every seat in the waiting area was filled.  I sat down in a nearby area and waited some more.  Finally all the passengers with ‘A’ lined up and then boarded.  Then  ‘B’.  Finally ‘C’.  As I walked past the gate agent, she remarked that only middle seats remained, so please take the first available one so that the flight could get moving as quickly as possible.  Well, I am nothing if not a rule follower.  I found the first middle seat and asked if I could sit there.  The man at the window and the woman on the aisle of course said, “Sure.”

Only once I was seated did I realize why some non-rule-followers passed this spot.  The man at the window was probably close to double my size.  He couldn’t help but spill over the armrest.   The woman on the aisle also used up all her space and a bit more.  It wasn’t until she started calling him George and they began to pass a bag of Combos back and forth that I realized that my seatmates were married – to each other!  “He likes to sit by the window, and I didn’t want to get stuck in the middle again,” she said.

Even as I write this I’m chuckling.  What a bright spot.  Even though my flight was running late, even though I would have to run to meet my connector in Denver, even though I had ‘C’.  I had found something to laugh about.   I chuckled and warned them that I was rather sleepy and I might just cuddle up to one or the other.  They didn’t seem to mind.

I did indeed nod off a few times.  We made our connecting flight. (Yes, they live near St. Louis, too.) And now, as I write this, I am on the aisle in a much larger plane, sitting next to another couple, each reading a book in silence, neither larger than the seat they occupy.  And you know, the only reason I’m still laughing is that I’m remembering the ridiculous arrangement I had on the last flight.


Saving the Pieces:

On a day that could have left me grumbling: leaving a place as beautiful as San Francisco, having non-preferred seating, running late, and being squished, I was, by God’s grace able to see a bright spot.  We are given opportunities to see the bright spots each day in the middle of all the things that come up in human life.  I pray that as I walk back into the reality of my life – laundry, lesson plans, and little annoyances, God continues to turn my eyes toward the bright spots.

Sabbath Evening – Quilts

June 27, 2010 1 comment

For Sabbath Evenings I’m sharing a piece of poetry with you from my dear and old-time friend Alice. She is part theologian, gifted writer, reader of many books, an old soul, a profound thinker, a confidant, a wisdom giver, and a woman of God.  I am grateful to call her friend.  Enjoy!

Quilts found, quilts gifted,
quilts hung in colors sifted
through by hands like mine
hung in rows on a line at shows
so we can see their beauty
warmth, feel history.

Walking through an antique fair
my eyes search everywhere…Look!
In a corner, on that table…oh pleeeese…
can I afford another piece of time and
love and story
to grace my home and give God glory?

In Iowa they knew this trade.
Lovingly their hands had made
so many quilts for those they loved
or those in need or
just to please themselves. Indeed!

I quilted once, will not forget
the needle in my thumb,
wanting to be done,
crick in neck, frustration,
what the heck,
I’ll never be perfect
yet the women let me quilt…?
so I let go of guilt and realized my
imperfect stitches added to the story
just as we, children of dust, living
His story, reflect God’s glory.

Alice Hattendorf

Eating Disorders: Do You Know One When You See One?

June 22, 2010 2 comments

“Eating Disorder” by Chris Sickels

[ Article by Jane Henke, MAC, LPC, is a staff counselor with Wellspring Christian Counseling in St. Louis, MO.   Her areas of special interest in counseling include a wide variety of women’s issues including eating disorders, codependency, past sexual abuse, grief and addictions,  Jane is honored to serve on Missouri’s Child Abuse and Neglect Review Board, as appointed by former Governor Matt Blunt.]

  • Do you know someone who has experienced dramatic weight loss?
  • Someone preoccupied with weight, food, calorie counting, or dieting?
  • Does this person seem to consistently offer excuses to avoid eating, or insist on eating privately?
  • Is this person avoiding previously satisfactory relationships with friends and family?
  • Do you notice that this person is excessively focused on maintaining exercise routines, even when they are ill or injured?
  • Does this person’s life and much of their conversation revolve around concerns about appearance, attaining a certain weight, or pants size?
  • Have you noticed this person creating opportunities to sneak away to the bathroom to purge (self-induced vomiting) after eating?

These behaviors are some of those associated with two very serious, and potentially life threatening Eating Disorders – Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa. If you notice some, or many, of these behaviors in someone you know, you are right to be concerned.

Anorexia Nervosa is a serious illness which is characterized by starving oneself and significant weight loss. Typically individuals who struggle with Anorexia Nervosa have low self esteem, are perfectionistic, have a high need for acceptance, and have not developed the skills necessary to cope with the emotions that they feel so deeply. Anorexia is often the way an individual tries to gain control over their body, weight, and the emotions that are plaguing them. Anorexia can also be a way to live out the desire to remain a child, to refuse to grow up – as the bodies of Anorexics appear undeveloped and childlike.

Bulimia is also a serious Eating Disorder which is characterized by episodes of binging (eating enormous amounts of food) and purging (self- induced vomiting, excessive exercise, or over-use of laxatives). Like Anorexics, those who suffer with Bulimia have low-self esteem and also have difficulty expressing strong emotions such as anger or sadness. The Bulimia is a way to express outwardly what the Bulimic is feeling on the inside. The behaviors of the Bulimic can also serve as a display of self- hatred, a way to punish themselves for some perceived or real mistake or shortcoming. Bulimics often hide food for the purposes of binging secretively. Rather than being grossly underweight, Bulimics’ weights usually fluctuate.

The causes of Anorexia and Bulimia are unique to each individual who suffers from these illnesses.  Typically, Eating Disorders occur in response to a mixture of external and internal struggles, such as stress, anxiety, rejection, depression, unreasonable expectations, or the overwhelming feeling that life is out of one’s control. Eating Disorders are a negative way to cope with these stressors. Both men and women suffer from Eating Disorders with women making up the majority of those with these illnesses.

In determining the multitude of other contributors to the development of Eating Disorders, one must start by taking a look to today’s media. Adolescents are bombarded daily with messages from the Internet, television, popular music, magazines, billboards, etc., telling them what they should look like. Beauty and thinness are worshiped in our culture. Preteens and teens who are trying to develop their unique identity are told by the media that if they don’t look like the model on the cover of the magazine, they aren’t valuable. If there is not a powerful message of unconditional love and acceptance to counter the message of our culture, these children are at greater risk for the development of Anorexia or Bulimia.

Other contributors may include a history of physical, emotional or sexual abuse. This is not to say that every person who has an Eating Disorder (ED) has been abused, nor that every person who has experienced abuse will develop an ED. Simply put, childhood abuse causes victims to struggle with self-esteem, self-blame, powerlessness, rage, hopelessness, life being out of their control, anxiety and depression. Due to the abuse, these children are struggling with the experiences that seem to be at the core of ED development. Unhealthy family environments that aren’t necessarily abusive can also contribute to the development of ED’s.

  • Overly rigid, perfectionistic parenting can cause children to come to believe that nothing they do is going to be good enough for their parents. This can set up children for a lifetime of striving to achieve perfection, at which time they hope they will receive their parent’s approval.
  • Perfectionism is a significant theme in the recovery of many ED sufferers.
  • Children who are not taught that strong emotions are normal, and are also not taught how to cope with and appropriately display their strong emotions, can sometimes develop ED’s as a way of expressing what they believe are unacceptable, but powerful emotions.
  • Repetitive comments made by parents can bring about confusion and unhealthy thinking in the children who listen to them. For example, a mother who stands in front of the mirror and makes demeaning comments about her own body can send a damaging message to young girls, and fathers who regularly notice and make inappropriate comments about a woman’s body also sends confusing and damaging messages to his daughter.
  • Children who are rewarded with food, or who are given food for comfort when they are upset are being sent unhealthy messages about the role of food in their life. Teaching children that food is for our enjoyment and our nutrition, and that our bodies naturally tell us when they are hungry are being set up for success in their relationships with food.

Certainly there are many ways that modeling and family dynamics can play into the development of an ED, but it is important to remember that it is not helpful to blame any parent for a child’s ED.

Anorexia and Bulimia are to be taken seriously, as they are life- threatening illnesses. These illnesses cause severe and sometimes irreversible damage to the heart, liver, bones, kidneys, blood, electrolyte balances, menstrual cycle, and if not treated, can eventually lead to death for those who suffer with these illnesses.

Treatment for Eating Disorders must be tailored to the individual. For some people, weekly individual counseling/therapy is all that is required. Some therapists will include family members at certain times throughout therapy to address any unhealthy family dynamics that may play a contributing role in the ED struggle. For others, a treatment team will best serve the needs of the individual. This team might consist of a Psychiatrist, a Medical Doctor, a Registered Dietician, and a Therapist.  Often treatment is focused on restoring/stabilizing weight along with addressing important core issues such issues as nutrition, self-esteem, body image, emotion regulation and management, healthy thinking, spirituality, repairing and restoring family relationships, building social skills, anxiety and depression.

Christian counseling, which would include addressing all of the core issues mentioned above, can be particularly effective as it points the patient to Christ as the ultimate answer to their pain. Christian counseling gently and lovingly assists the ED patient in developing an accurate view of God (which can be fundamentally damaged), self and others. It helps the patient to learn to see themselves as accepted by their Creator, offers guilt-ridding forgiveness and grace, and calls the patient into a life filled with purpose and meaning with Him.

If you know of someone who may be struggling with an Eating Disorder you should take action by expressing concern to the person about their health and well-being. It is important that you are prepared to listen to the individual, offer understanding, compassion, and encouragement, but never tell the person you know how they feel unless you too have battled an Eating Disorder. Keep in mind that Eating Disorders are not primarily about food, so just insisting, or forcing the person to eat does not solve the problem. If the person you are concerned about is showing signs of medical distress such as fainting, dizziness, chest pain, bone or joint pain, or significant weight loss in a short amount of time encourage the person to seek medical attention right away.

Recommended Reading List:

  • Beyond the Looking Glass – Daily Devotions for Overcoming Anorexia and Bulimia, by The Staff and Patients at Remuda Ranch.
  • Life Without Ed, by Jenni Schaefer and Thom Rutledge Gaining: The Truth about Life after Eating Disorders, by Aimee Liu


For Pastors and Other Helpers

  • Eating Disorders: A Handbook of Christian Treatment, by Edward J. Cumella, Marian C. Eberly, and A. David Wall (The Remuda Ranch Series on Eating Disorders)

For Parents

  • Take Charge of Your Child’s Eating Disorder:    A physician’s Step by Step Guide to Defeating Anorexia and Bulimia, by Pamela Carlton, M.D., and Deborah Ashin

Sabbath Evenings – Weeding and Such

June 20, 2010 4 comments

[Co-written with my son Jonathan, 21.  Thanks son!]

My Journal entry for June 14, 2010:
Summer is here.   Thank you Lord Jesus for this season of unhurried time for quiet summer mornings out on the patio.  I have everything I need around me:  A pot of French Pressed coffee and a warm mug.  My Moleskine journal and a Pilot G2 Gel Pen—black.  Reading material including my Bible, two books–one Christian and one counseling-oriented.  I also have a bottle of bug spray—unscented.  Thank you Lord for this nice chair where I can sit and watch the  beauty of morning sunshine streaming through the trees, day lilies in bloom,  the song of a Wren and Cardinal nearby, a light breeze giving rise to a whirring windmill, our small garden and . . . weeds.  Weeds! Into my delightful morning, weeds?  Intruders–all of them!  They are even here by my feet creeping through the cracks of stone. I’m being invaded.

I continued to have some sarcastic fun writing about weeds.  After awhile, I called Jonathan, our farmer son to “talk a spell.”  During our conversation I walked to the garden and started weeding.  He fills me in on his interesting life.  Bending down [still in my Pajamas] a sweat bead dribbles down to the end of my nose.  He’s still talking while I pull clumps of crabgrass out of the ground, toss them over to the side all the while groaning.  They are legion in number (!)  Jonathan asks me why I am panting and there begins a dialogue about weeding.

For you to get a picture, dear reader, our yard is big here at our seminary home.  Lots of beds to care for.  This year I opted to pull weeds instead of using chemicals.  Was this a mistake?  I want my Round-up to kill them–kill them all in one fail swoop. Jonathan is patient.  He doesn’t interrupt me while I rant and raise a stink about weeding.  I hear an occasional chuckle on his end.

Finally, I ended my protest, “Enough about me son, how are you?”  He responds, “Mom, weeding is a very spiritual experience.  It’s a good time for thinking and reflecting.”  Stupefied, I sat back down in my chair.  Intrigued at the thought that there could be anything redemptive about weeding, Jonathan began to convince me otherwise.  I asked him to write some of his thoughts on “weeding.”

There seems to be two chores that must always be done and that nobody likes to do: Dirty dishes and weeding the garden.  However dirty dishes must always be cleaned and gardens must always be weeded.

Weeding a garden bed is a curious and humbling thing.  Rarely do you find an animal at the top of the food chain bending and bowing itself to serve a lower species.  But that is exactly what we are doing isn’t it?  Humans lower themselves to the ground and take on sore backs and sore knees all for the sake of what?  Some tomato plant? Jesus said, “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matt. 20.16)  Is this what He was talking about? Weeding?

But maybe we are only seeing part of a circle.  Weeding is a way to serve the plant. For as I weed the tomato plant I am making room for it to flourish.  As the tomato flourishes, so do I flourish and am given energy from the sun, through the tomato that gives me life.  Now I am refreshed and revitalized to go weed the onions!

The act of weeding is a slow and meditative act.  It is a humbling and steady reminder that I am not God.  In knowing and acknowledging this fact, life will become more whole.  In weeding I realize my smallness, I  make room for the tomato plant to flourish, but it is Yahweh who makes it grow. Ever am I at the mercy of the rains and the winds; ever am I at the mercy of my Creator. I may make small changes to this earth as a shepherd might make to his/her flock, but it is God who rules this place. As I live here I would be pleased to be half as good a shepherd to this earth as Christ is to me and the rest of humanity. When we realize our place as shepherds and not rulers we will see a beautiful dance unfold; a dance of people and God and Creation working and flowing together creating life and abundance.

Jonathan speaks from  experience.  The previous week he had spent three hours weeding two beds of Basil.  Sometimes he weeds up to four or five hours a day “making room” for, in this case,  “strawberries to flourish.”  I listened and honored his view on weeding.  It was powerful. The words that stuck with me included humbling, bending down, “weeding serves the plant so it may flourish” . . .

I’m still thinking about weeding and Jonathan’s remarks.  He has arrived at an appreciation for an activity that I mostly despise.  This will take awhile for me to process. Mostly resistance on my part.   One thing I know for sure is that our Creator God humbles Himself, bends down, pulls out the weeds that keep us flourishing.  For example the weed of bitterness:  “Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time.” (Hebrews 12:15, MSG)  It is an act of intentional love and service on God’s part.  Once we bear fruit,  we nurture others.  A dear friend of mine said it best — We can be a “nutritious” friend, spouse, parent, etc   This glorifies our loving God and gives Him much delight and pleasure!

“Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds.  As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died.  Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted! Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.” (Matthew 13.3-9, NLT)

Meeting the Needs of Those with a Drug Addiction

May 11, 2010 Leave a comment

[ Guest Writer Alicia Seidler, PLPC Wellspring Christian Counseling]
Alicia Seidler is a Staff Counselor with Wellspring Christian Counseling. She earned her Master of Arts in Counseling and Family Therapy from St. Louis University. She is experienced in the areas of addiction, domestic violence, depression, anxiety, anger, intimacy and personality disorders.

As pastors walk up and down the aisles of our churches on Sunday mornings, shaking hands and asking about the day’s activities, it is unlikely that the term “drug addiction” or “substance abuse” crosses their minds. However, individuals with these problems may very well be found sitting in the pews of our local church. According to recent data, 20% of Missourians have an unmet need for drug and alcohol abuse treatment (National Survey on Drug Use and Health). Is it possible they are in your church? Do you know what to look for and how to help?

Signs and Symptoms of Drug Addiction

  • Cycles of increased energy, restlessness, being unusually talkative and inability to sleep (seen often with stimulants)
  • Progressive severe dental problems (seen often with methamphetamine use)
  • Abnormally slow movements, speech or reaction time, confusion and disorientation (seen often with opiates, benzodiazepines and barbiturates)
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Cycles of excessive sleep
  • Unexpected changes in clothing, such as constantly wearing long sleeved shirts (to hide scarring at injection sites)
  • Chronic trouble with sinusitis or nosebleeds (seen often with snorted drugs) Persistent cough or bronchitis, leading to coughing up excessive mucus or blood (seen often with smoked drugs)
  • Increased irritability, agitation and anger
  • Unexplained financial difficulties
  • Unusual calmness or unresponsiveness
  • Apathy and depression
  • Temporary psychosis, hallucinations, paranoia, delusions Lowered threshold for violence
  • Defensiveness and protection by family members


What you can do if you suspect someone has an Addiction Problem:

o    Move past any shame or discomfort you may have with not having recognized it sooner. It is probable that they are devoting a lot of time and energy to make sure their problem stays hidden. Additionally, the use may have started slowly and you might have gotten so used to the drug abuser’s behaviors that they seem almost normal. Blaming yourself or even the drug abuser will only serve as a barrier to open communication.
o   Apply God’s grace to the situation and realize you cannot force someone to end their addiction. As much as you may want to, and as hard as it is to watch the effects of drug abuse, you cannot make them stop using. They have decided that the answer to their pain and discontent is the addiction and the final choice to replace the addiction with God’s love is up to them. Creating healthy boundaries while applying empathy is the best course of action. Empathy involves seeing the world through the drug abuser’s eyes, thinking about things as they think about them, feeling things as they feel them, and sharing in their experiences. When they feel understood, they are more likely to open up.
o    Expect that support (professional and otherwise) will be needed to see any change. Drug abuse is not a matter of moral weakness or faulty willpower; it is a matter of brokenness. The type of support needed by a person with an addiction is one that will provide hope in Christ and a life rebuilt in Christ. Christian counseling that addresses the emotional and spiritual areas related to the addiction is particularly effective at uncovering the core issues perpetuating the addiction. Loved ones especially close to the drug abuser may also want to seek support.

There are many forms of support useful for those with a drug addiction. Check with your state and ask about  inpatient treatment centers. These centers are available to help, in more severe cases, with the detoxification of the drugs out of their body. When a dependent user reduces or stops use of the drug abruptly, they may experience severe symptoms of withdrawal. These symptoms, which can begin as early as a few hours after the last drug administration, include restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea and vomiting, cold flashes with goose bumps, kicking movements, and other symptoms. In addition to these, they will most likely experience a severe craving for the drug.

Other forms of treatment include individual therapy, psychiatry, and/or group therapy. Christian counseling assists them in developing an accurate view of God, self and others, offers freedom from guilt through God’s grace, and calls them into a life filled with purpose and meaning in Christ. From there, other forms of help can be added as they are willing and at the appropriate stage of treatment.

Know that recovery will be an ongoing process. As with most brokenness in life, the recovery process is a journey of daily surrender to God and exploration of the pain causing the addiction. The addiction may have been masking painful feelings. The recovery journey is a process with specific stages of change along the way.


Stages of Addiction

In or out of treatment, people pass through stages as they work on making changes.

  • The first stage of change is called the “Pre-contemplation Stage.” During this stage there is no thought of making a change. This may be because they have never thought much about their situation or they have already thought things through and decided not to change their behavior. Sometimes they may want to change, but do not feel as if they could successfully make the change they desire. People in this stage might find it useful to get more information about their situation (perhaps in an individual therapy session or through a loved one) but would not be readily open to attending a group such as Alcoholics Anonymous where it is assumed he/she has accepted the substance abuse as problematic. The goal at this stage is to develop a working alliance.
  • When there is thought about the addiction, they begin the second stage called the “Contemplation Stage.” During this stage, they are unsure about what to do, but weigh both good and not-so-good things about the present situation. During this stage they often want change and yet want to stay the same at the same time. This can be a bit confusing as they feel torn between these options. During this time, empathy and understanding can be the best way of helping, as opposed to jumping into ways of fixing the problem. This is a necessary stage for lasting change. Someone that jumps right into the last stage may not spend enough time preparing for change and will not be able to sustain the change. The goal of this stage is to increase awareness that substance use is problematic and increase motivation to change.
  • At some point, when they have been thinking through whether or not to change, there may come a point where the reasons for change outweigh the reasons not to change. As this weight increases on the side of change, the person becomes more determined to do something. This is the beginning of the next stage, called the “Preparation Stage.” During this stage, they begin thinking about how to go about making the desired change, making plans, and then taking some action toward stopping old behaviors and/or starting new, more productive behaviors. They will often become more and more “ready” and committed to making changes. It is in this stage that the suggestion of group or individual counseling might be most beneficial, if they are not already receiving counseling.
  • During the next stage of change called the “Action Stage” they begin to implement their “change plans” and trying out new ways of being. Often, during this stage they will let others know what’s happening and look for support from them in making these changes.
  • Once they have succeeded in making and keeping some changes over a period of time, they enter the “Maintenance Stage.” During this stage, they will try to sustain the changes that have been made and to prevent returning to their old ways. Many times they are able to keep up the changes made and then make a permanent exit from the stages of change.   During this stage it is also common for people to have some “slips” or “relapses” where old habits return for a short time. When a person has a relapse for a longer period of time, he or she typically returns to the pre-contemplation or contemplation stages. The person’s task is to start the stages of change again rather than getting stuck. Keep in mind that relapses, slips, and lapses are normal as a person tries to change any long-standing habit.

Resources for Further Study
The Heart of Addiction: A Biblical Perspective, Mark E. Shaw. Focus Publishing, 2008.
Overcoming Addictive Behavior, Neil T. Anderson and Mike Quarles. Regal Books, 2003.
Stepping out of Denial into God’s Grace, Participant’s Guide #1, Celebrate Recovery Program, Rick Warren and John Baker. Zondervan, 1998.
Love is a Choice: The Definitive Book on Letting Go of Unhealthy Relationships,
Dr. Robert Hemfelt, Dr. Frank Minirth, M.D., Dr. Paul Meier. (For loved ones
of those struggling with substance abuse.) Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003.
Motivational Interviewing: Preparing People for Change (2nd edition),
William R. Miller & Stephen Rollnick. (For those in a helping profession). The Guilford Press, 2002.

Categories: Addiction, Guest Writers

Falling To Rise

May 4, 2010 1 comment

“The Conversion (of Saul) on the Way to Damascus” by the Italian Baroque Era painter Caravaggio, circa 1600:

[“Falling to Rise” is written by guest writer Harold Fickett.]

In King Lear, Shakespeare’s Gloucester says, “I stumbled when I saw.” Newly blind, he recognizes his old way of seeing the world led to his fall from courtly power. Behind him stands the New Testament’s Saul of Tarsus, the zealous persecutor of Christians, whose illusions of righteousness are taken away on the road to Damascus. Blinded by a vision of Christ, he must be led by hand to town, where he awaits the unknown ministrations of Ananias and a merciful return to clear-sightedness as the extraordinary Apostle Paul.

Spiritual awakenings often take place in darkness, in a place to which we have descended or fallen. We find ourselves in the midst of a living-death. The life we have so carefully constructed turns out to have the straightened dimensions of a grave. At the beginning of the spiritual life we are often most aware of life as a problem.

There’s a plucky response to life’s tight places that advises, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.” This is spiritual Darwinism. We are invited to see our dilemmas as external adversities that allow us the opportunity to gain admission, through heroic struggle, to the company of survivors: the happy few.

Although there’s nothing wrong with self-initiative in the face of adversity, the spiritual life—because of its source and destination—has a different dynamic. The great spiritual pilgrims have always recognized that crisis is not an opponent but an opportunity. External adversity, even violence, can bring with it an interior clarity when we are prepared to accept the truth of our situation as God sees it. Acceptance, not struggle, is the key.

For both our first awakenings to our spiritual death and our ultimate spiritual reconciliation are shaped by the same loving hand, God himself. Shakespeare’s Gloucester reflects first on his own illusions, and I imagine Paul must have spent many days ruing his persecutions, but God, in his loving kindnesses, embraces the sinner before he is aware of his sin and prepares his banquet of forgiveness before the person has any notion of attending.

When I went through a time of crisis in my own life, I benefited greatly from counseling, and I’ve long reflected on why. The most powerful dimension of counseling, I’ve decided, was having someone root for me. My weekly therapy sessions were a steady reminder that an intelligent, caring person thought I was worth something—in fact a good deal—despite how I had alienated others in my life. I’ve come to see that my counselor embodied the love of God for me. His championing of my life reminded me that God’s love begins with our creation—the birth of each of us in God’s image. And it continues with the reconciliation made possible in Christ, who seeks to restore and complete the good work begun in us. These abstractions formed, in a manner, the working relationship between my wise friend and me, becoming real and tangible. This experience helped me to understand that from first to last God loves us—even when we are preoccupied with how we have rebelled against God. The “spiritual journey” involves nothing so much as turning around to receive the embrace of someone tapping us on the shoulder.

Harold Fickett
The Catholic Exchange

Categories: Guest Writers

A Prayer About Depression

April 27, 2010 1 comment

Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 43:5

Most gracious and kindhearted Father, my heart goes out and my prayers reach up today on behalf of those who struggle with various degrees of depression. There are people I deeply care about who live all along the axis of mild seasonal melancholy to the relentless pangs of suicidal depression.

Father of mercies and God of all comfort, lead me in my praying and my caring for this wide range of friends. Thank you for rescuing me from a way too simplistic view of depression by which I used to judge those who experience darkness and despair of soul. It saddens me to realize the pressure I put on people to get better… to “get over it”… and just to be happy.

But David asked the right question, Father—the question I want to ask as I seek to love well. What are the various reasons for a downcast disturbed soul, and what does hoping in you look like for each?

Father, for my friends who are depressed for no other reason than living with a grace-less gospel-less heart… keep them miserable until they rest in the finished work of your Son, Jesus. May they despair of their own unrighteousness and their wanna-be-righteousness, until they are driven to the righteousness that comes from faith in Jesus.

Father, for my friends who suffer from depression generated by anatomical anomalies, lead them to the right kind of medical care. And help us in the community of faith be patient and understanding of the complexities involved in their care. The risk of abusing “meds” is always there… give us wisdom together.

Father, for my friends who suffer from demonic induced depression… I really need humility and wisdom about this one. A part of me doesn’t even want to acknowledge this is a viable issue, but how can I read your Word and dismiss the demonic so lightly? I know his condemning… blaming and shaming voice is enough to generate the deepest forms of despair. But teach me more about the “schemes of the enemy,” and how to care for those under the spell and sway of the “defeated-yet-fury-filled” one, who knows “his time is short.” (Revelation 12:12)

I do and I will yet praise you, my Savior and my God. My hope is in you, Father—for me and for all of my broken-hearted friends. So very Amen, I pray, in Jesus’ compassionate and victorious name.

Pastor Scotty Smith