You Are Not Broken

I’m not sure who needs to hear this message, but it’s on my heart to share it.

Today I had an excellent meeting with David, my therapist. We moved beyond the minutiae of my life and headed into the deep, dark, existential woods. As we talked, he asked me this question: “What does the world need from you?” That is a heart-centered question, friends. And the answer came easily to me.

I know that helping to reduce the stigma around mental illness is one of the things the world needs from me. As long as people remain uneducated about mental illness, and as long as access to treatment remains difficult for so many people, stigma will remain. We have to understand how mental illness affects both mind and body. We have to acknowledge the connection between mental health and the health of our communities, schools, churches, relationships, military, and even the economy.

I could keep going, but spouting off about reform is not the purpose of this post. The stigma I’d like to focus on is self-stigma.

I have bipolar disorder. If I had to pick a Top Three of psychiatric conditions that are considered the “craziest,” bipolar is right up there with personality disorders and schizophrenia. Most people don’t understand what bipolar disorder really is; I’ve found that the laywoman’s definition of bipolar is being “like, happy one minute, and then totally sad, like, a minute later.” Bipolar disorder is also a helpful armchair diagnosis if you see someone acting in a way that’s outside the norm, and you aren’t really sure what’s going on, but you know they’re acting really crazy, and doesn’t “really crazy” just mean “bipolar?” (It does not. Check out this link and educate yourself.) nimh.nih.gov/…ipolar-disorder/index.shtml 

My first psychiatrist told me within a few visits that he thought I was bipolar. No, thank you, I said. He asked me to read a book that described the symptoms and see if they sounded familiar. I read some of it, but with a wary eye, and stuck it on a bookshelf.

One night, a year or two later, I couldn’t sleep. I hadn’t slept well in several days. I was exhausted, but I couldn’t turn my brain off. Project ideas and rapid thoughts and my very expansive mood kept me buzzing, and I finally got out of bed so I could pace. In what I believe was divine intervention, the book popped into view. I grabbed it and turned to the description of mania. I had every single symptom on the list. Every one. I couldn’t deny it anymore. I said “I think I’m bipolar” out loud, and I hated the sound of it. I am bawling as I type this. It’s still very hard a decade later to go back to that moment.

Suddenly all those stereotypes described me. I was one of the crazy people. I jumped down the Google rabbit hole. Google was more than ready to tell me what percentage of bipolar people attempted suicide and what percentage actually killed themselves; how a bipolar person’s life expectancy was lower than average; how many bipolar people were homeless and unemployed and had a co-morbid drug addiction.

This was not how my life was supposed to play out. People told me when I was growing up that I was really going to be somebody, that I was talented. I made great grades and won shiny awards. Even if I wasn’t sure of my direction when I graduated, I knew there was a purpose out there for me.

But this diagnosis–and the symptoms I continued to experience– felt like a death sentence.  How was I going to change the world if I couldn’t get out of bed, or become financially responsible when I went on $900 manic spending sprees? The lows could be terrifyingly low, the highs uncontrollable. I tried so many medications at varying doses, and nothing leveled me out.

I felt like such an emotional and monetary burden on my parents, who were doing their very best to understand this condition. I believed I was a shitty friend because I’d cancel plans at the last minute when depression wouldn’t let me move. I couldn’t trust my own damn brain. Every time I thought things were getting a little better, every time I’d start taking care of myself consistently, I’d have another episode, and I believed I’d never improve. I scared my family with my lows; I called my dad (multiple times) to tell him I wanted to die. I had to go to a mental hospital on an overnight school field trip because of psychotic mania. I was supposed to be watching those sweet children and instead became so high that I remember almost none of my time at the hospital.  I threw a shoe at a coworker, who then had to help me go to the bathroom. Do you know how embarrassing that is? It guts me just to type it. Today I can see the gift in that experience–I developed a beautiful friendship with that coworker--but at the time, it was devastating.

I believe the journey of recovery centers, in part, around one’s relationship to stigma. In my therapeutic journey, so much of my work has focused on how I relate to the disorder. I’ve gone from rejecting my diagnosis, to over-identifying with my disorder (and talking about it to anyone would listen: new supervisors, first dates…), to struggling to discern if my actions, words, and thoughts were coming from me or from my manic-depression. Only in the past couple of years have I leveled out enough to get a better sense of who I am apart from this bundle of symptoms. I’m starting to kinda sorta ride the waves of higher and lower energy. I think I’m beginning to feel like me again.

But damn if I haven’t felt like an absolute waste of space, more times than I can count. I have disappointed myself and convinced myself that I deeply disappoint my family. I’ve had great days that I hoped and prayed could simply be great days, like the Normals got to experience; almost inevitably, they were the first blushes of hypomania. If I start feeling that all is right with the world, I have to get my doctor on the phone.

I titled this post “You Are Not Broken” because that’s a message I’ve learned to tell myself. I used to think of bipolar as the enemy that lived in my head. There was me, and then there was this dark, beastly thing that hung around and effed up my life. It was all about fighting that beast. And this mindset meant that every time I had an episode, I’d lost. I hadn’t fought hard enough. I needed another thing to feel guilty about like I needed a hole in the head. The enemy mindset required some reframing.

You know what, friends? My bipolar disorder is a condition. It is genetic, and it is biochemical. I did not cause it, and I cannot make it go away. It is no different than being born with any other chronic disorder. There is nothing to feel guilty about. It’s hard for me to believe that consistently, but it’s true. Do I bear some responsibility with my bipolar disorder? Yes. If I do or say things in an episode that harm another person, I have to make it right, but the Normals have to do that too.

Can I tell you what’s beautiful about this disorder? It makes me live my life with more intention. I have to take good care of myself. I can’t drink, I have to limit caffeine, watch my sleep, try to move my body, spend time centering myself. Being able to take care of myself during level periods is a gift. Those acts of self-care are also acts of destigmatization, because I am affirming that I am worth taking care of. I am not broken.

My compassion and love for others has grown. I can sit with someone in pain who doesn’t know if life is worth living, and I understand where they are. I know the highs, which has given me some sense of what people with addictions chase. The support of my family, friends, and treatment team has made me feel so unbelievably loved, and knowing how fortunate I am for their care increases my gratitude and love for them. I am so thankful for level periods. I get to be alive, in a world where I can do some good. I don’t want to be part of a suicide statistic in a Google search. If I do come up in a Google search someday, I’d like it to be under keywords like “oldest living tap dancer” or “Ms. Smyrna Assisted Living 2062.”

I’m not going so far as to say that having bipolar disorder is a blessing, but I will say this: I WAS MADE JUST AS I WAS MEANT TO BE. I am not inherently deficient. As a matter of fact, I am beautiful, and there is only one Me in the world, so I better let my little light shine. I am not broken. You are not broken.

Happy Mental Health Awareness Month.

 

 

Walter

Walter,

I will never forget the moment they placed you in my arms. I lowered you onto my lap, and all of your weight melted into me. You finally found a place to rest. We loved each other already.

You’d been through so much before we met. You were born and raised in a puppy mill, where someone made you believe that all men were cruel. A family rescued you, but they brought you back to the Humane Society after having a baby. I’m so sorry that happened to you.

Maybe your past made you uniquely qualified to be my Walter. You knew what it felt like to hurt and were sensitive to my pain during depression. You were right beside me during my lowest lows, sometimes the only living soul I wanted near me. When all I wanted to do was sleep, you more than accommodated my desire. You sat with me without judgment through many orders of cheesy bread and hours of Netflix. I hope you forgave me when depression made our walks shorter, when I had less love to give.

You only had eyes for your mommy. No matter whose lap you were sitting on, if I walked into the room, you wanted me back. It always reminded me of that first moment at the Humane Society.

I remember the first Auburn tailgate I took you to, when you were so scared of the people around you that you stayed in my lap all day. (This did not improve with the few subsequent tailgates.) I remember wondering during the huge ice storm how the snow could be whiter than you. A couple of years ago during the big December snow, I got us all bundled up to take a walk through the winter wonderland at our house. You decided you’d rather pee in the bushes right outside the door and refused to look anywhere but the doormat. You precious love angel.

I remember the ridiculous short haircuts after I’d let your fur get tangled, how after every trip to the groomer, you’d go from shaggy old man to a pup. I remember your snores and the way you’d paw and whimper when you had bad dreams. (At least we always thought they were bad dreams—maybe you were actually kicking doggy butt while you slept.) You thought you were about ten times bigger than your actual size, until the other dog engaged and you scurried back to me. Today the doorbell rang three times, and you got three last chances to let the bad guys know that a big dog lived here.

I remember how patient your cousin Bella was with you. I’ll never forget the time I looked in the rearview mirror in my car and saw that you’d shoved big Bella against the door in the backseat. You’d laid down next to her so that she had to sit upright, with almost the whole length of the backseat unoccupied. “Doggy Jesus” was good to you.

I think your Granny and Papa’s house was your favorite place. You had your own special sofa and your favorite rug to make pee pee surprises on. You loved being off leash, and you loved your Granny and Papa. By the end of your life, you finally stopped barking at Papa when he had the audacity to walk by your sofa or stand up from his kitchen chair.

Purely by chance, we discovered that you loved scrambled eggs. Your Granny gave you your first egg treat. She always stood at the same spot by the kitchen island to crack your eggs, and you eventually thought that you were getting an egg every time she got anywhere near that spot. This morning I made you eggs for breakfast. I’m so happy that your last meal was your favorite.

You told me last night and this morning that you were ready to go, in many ways. You were agitated and in pain, but you climbed into my lap and licked my face with all you had. I knew you were telling me just how much you loved me. I looked at your face as you fell in and out of sleep and told you just how much I loved you. Looking into your sweet eyes was like looking into the eyes of God, somehow soft and fierce at the same time. At one point you looked so convicted. I told you that you could go if you wanted to. That was our real goodbye, there on the couch.  

When we were almost home from the vet, I saw that little white poodle in the car next to us. It was staring right at me, so intently. We held each other’s gaze for a long time. Thank you for using that doggy to let me know that you’re still watching over me. Thank you for knowing I needed to hear from you.

My Walter, Walter F. Puppies, Walter Pups, Walt, the Pups, my big boy, Walter Lancelot Cuzzort: I love you so. I spent the past three months getting ready for this day, and I wouldn’t have been ready no matter how much time we’d had left. You were God’s precious gift to me, exactly what I needed. I hope you felt very safe, very happy, and very loved. You were a good boy.

I love you,

Mommy

Walter with Finished Eggs

Let’s Be the Church Together

Methodisthttps://www.ajc.com/news/local/emotion-filled-sermons-umc-churches-follow-divisive-lgbtq-vote/2m8zzoS91dAeiqU2EyQ75J/

I haven’t posted in well over a year! I just read the last post and had to laugh at my anti-sugar call to action, as I polished off two cinnamon sugar pretzels before typing this entry.

This week, the United Methodist Church’s special session vote captured my mind and heart. Please hear these words from Rev. Keith Mcilwain, a United Methodist minister in Pennsylvania and supporter of the Traditional Plan:

Of his church’s LGBTQ members, he said, “They are loved and they love others. We welcome them, they welcome us and we love them,” he said. “They are part of our family. Whether or not we will include them isn’t an issue,” he said. Rather, General Conference’s purpose was to decide “to what extent would it be appropriate to include them.”

I find it tough to know where to begin with this quote. There’s a clearly defined “us” and “them.” “We” are the legitimate, heterosexual church members and clergy, the gatekeepers to entry into the family. “They” are the ones God has called “us” to love, but not necessarily to accept. That last line about deciding “to what extent would it be appropriate to include them” kills me. If Jesus could tweet a response to these words, I think it would be, “SMH.”

I’d like to share what I personally hear in that quote: “We love the gays. We let them come to our church and join Sunday school classes and even serve spaghetti at Wednesday night supper. Isn’t that enough?” 

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t claim to have “open hearts, open minds, open doors” and leave room for the LGBTQ community in the pews but not at the pulpit. You can’t hide behind your defense of a “biblical definition of marriage,” which zeroes in on a handful of verses, and ignore Jesus’s central message, which is to love–and not judge–others.

When heterosexual couples ask to be married in your church, do you say ‘no’ if the bride has been divorced? Do you refuse to marry them if the groom divorced his former wife for any reason other than adultery? That’s in the Bible, too, right next to the passages that you’ve cherry picked. Those restrictions on marriage are neither full of grace nor accepted as absolute truth today; why can we acknowledge that women shouldn’t have to sacrifice two turtledoves after their periods (thanks, Leviticus) but not also think critically about marriage in biblical times versus the present?

I texted with Mom about this concern, and she said, “I agree with the scripture that says it is not our place to judge.” I responded, “Me too. I know I am judgmental, usually about people I think are judgmental.” The hypocrisy of casting judgment on people for casting judgment on others is not lost on me.

But I am sad: sad for people who love the United Methodist Church, sad for those who seek to be disciples but don’t want to be part of an organization that treats them or their loved ones as “less than.” Come worship with us, but don’t expect to lead us. Bring your partner to the fellowship hall but not the altar.

I no longer believe in the concept of being judged in the afterlife and hoping for a reward. But if I’m wrong, and there is a place called heaven with streets of gold, and I actually get in, I would hang out near the Pearly Gates just to hear people’s stories. And I sincerely doubt that I’d ever hear St. Peter say, “You know, if you’d just told a few more people that they were unfit to lead and unfit to marry in the church, you would have made it in. You let everyone around you feel a little too loved.”

The “Not Offensive In Any Way” Post

I’ve been writing without any whimsy lately, and the name of my blog is Bring On The Whimsy, so let’s shake things up! I don’t know how whimsical today’s subject matter is, but it is decidedly lighter than race relations in America (last post).

I went to Emory a month ago, and the doctors I met said they wanted me to go on a medication–let’s call it Bill–that is known to highly increase one’s risk for weight gain. I’ve already gained about 45 pounds since beginning my fistful-of-pills journey ten years ago, and I’m currently on three medications that screw with my metabolism and make me intensely crave carbs. So when they said I’d have to manage the weight gain from Bill with diet and exercise, I started coming to terms with my “half a large pizza for dinner”, devil may care attitude toward taking care of myself. At a family meeting with my counselor a few days later, we talked about nutrition and exercise again. The poo hit the fan on high speed.

For some reason, that poo poo fan really motivated me. I started by acting out the drama I always perform when I have a self-betterment project. It’s a one-woman show called “I Am Completely Obsessed and Self-Absorbed.” I tracked every bite of food for the first two weeks with the My Fitness Pal app, and I checked it constantly. It produced in me a painfully strange mixture of pride and disappointment. My counselor suggested I try not tracking for a while, and that has made eating food so much more enjoyable. I was also pretty dang hangry for the first week or so, but thankfully I didn’t maim any patrons or co-workers. ALLLLLL I thought about was food.

Since all I thought about was food, I did a good bit of research into what my goals could be. What I’ve been doing is trying to eat whole foods, paying attention to portion size, trying to cut out starchy stuff like bread and potatoes, and really reducing refined sugar intake. (Also, I haven’t been inhaling my food.) That’s it in a gist. It is CRAZY how much sugar is added to processed food! It is CRAZY how easy it is to be swayed toward processed food products just because they’re organic! (Or maybe you aren’t swayed because you think organic food is stupid and unnecessary. I dunno.) Example: I picked up my usual organic milk at Kroger and saw that it had omega-3 fatty acids in it. “Awesome! I read about those!” said me, not thinking about how those omega-3’s got in there. One morning I looked at the label and found out it had fish gelatin added to it! After that, every splash of milk in my tea made me feel betrayed. Stay out of my dairy, finned ones!

Y’all, I probably have not eaten this many fruits and vegetables since I was sucking down baby food. Even stranger, I’ve found myself craving them. Also weird: if I eat sugar other than what’s naturally found in dairy or fruit, I can actually feel how my body responds to it. If I pay attention, I recognize that I crave food much more quickly if what I ate last contained refined sugar. The less you consume refined sugar, the less you crave it. You can eat sweet, amazing grapes instead and feel very satisfied.

Unlike any time in my recent past, I’m just easing myself back into exercise, rather than “committing” myself (ha) to being the Goddess of Fitness. I’ve just been going on 30 minute walks a few times a week. I’ll step it up gradually, but for now, while I relearn how to feed myself, that’s about all I want to do.

Part of the reason I’m writing this publicly is because I so desperately need for this to stick, not necessarily for weight loss, but for the regulation of my mood and energy and the prevention of diabetes. I’ve started so many self-improvement projects, but taking care of myself needs to be the one that sticks. Will you help me? If you’re reading this and you feel led, send me a message sometime soon and ask me how it’s going! By that time, I hopefully will have ended my performance of “I Am Completely Obsessed and Self-Absorbed”, so I’ll ask you how you’re doing too.

Good tidings, readers! Have a safe and happy Halloween.

P.S. A little FYI:

https://www.addiction.com/3275/americas-sugar-addiction-how-our-need-for-a-sweet-fix-has-expanded-our-waistlines/

 

 

 

 

Family

Unlike serious writers, who make themselves write whether they’re feeling inspired or not, I tend to wait for that “zing” to strike. It usually becomes clear to me all at once what my next topic should be. This morning the zing said, “FAMILY!” So here I am, happily obliging the zing.

Hyperbole often runs rampant on holidays celebrating family, in Hallmark Cards and on social media. “Happy Mother’s Day to the best mom a girl could ask for!” “Happy anniversary to my best friend and the greatest man on the face of the earth!!!!!! I hope everyone reading this is jealous of our relationship!!!!” I’m not going to go down that road–your family may be your personal best, just as mine is to me.

And for the record, I’d like to see a more honest line of greeting cards that says something like, “You’re not perfect, and neither am I, but you’re perfect for me.” Or, “Mom and Dad, thanks for paying my student loan debt after I got the manic notion to become a minister, which I know you thought was ridiculous but watched me pursue it anyway because you love me.” I’m here to tell you that if my family didn’t accept my imperfections, I would be up shit creek. Just swimming in it, with my tummy-control, full coverage suit on and no floaties.

I don’t want to make this post about my numerous screw-ups, though. That would be a book-length list. Rather, I’d like to talk about my dear, precious family. Here goes, in snippet form:

-Did you know that my mom made a cookbook for me for my 35th birthday? First, she painstakingly copied her own favorite recipes by hand. Then she enlisted her friends and our family to contribute their own recipes and provided addressed, stamped envelopes for them to send to me. (Mail! The good kind!) I’d asked for a cookbook months before because the women in our family always get them when they get married. I didn’t know if I’d ever get one, and Mom knew that upset me, so she spent hours lovingly crafting this treasure for me. It is so precious and is just one example of how my Mom moves through life giving of herself.

-In his later years, my dad is becoming a student. His subject of study? Learning how to talk to his bipolar daughter. I am a tough one to nail down in terms of psychological needs and wants, as they change with my mood and over time. What sounds encouraging one day can send me into a tailspin the next. The challenge of communicating with me when my mood fluctuates so must feel insurmountable. Yet Dad comes back for more, over and over, wanting only to be as helpful as he can be. We struggle, but we both keep learning. I couldn’t ask for more. I love you, Dad.

-If you are lucky enough to have someone in your life who simply listens and then makes you laugh when you’re struggling, hold on tightly. My brother Mark is that person for me. A couple of weeks ago, Mark picked me up for lunch during his busy work day, because I was having “the bad thoughts.” We ate pizza, he listened, and then cracked some jokes. (Cheese and laughter might just be the magic combination against depression.) Then he took my medication hostage so I couldn’t OD on it and said I had to come to dinner at his house that night to get them back. I had a lovely night with Mark and my wonderful sister-in-law Allison, who said she was sorry I’d had a bad day, and she was glad Mark could be there for me. She takes me in stride, just like Mark does, and for that I’m so grateful.

-I have a beautiful, precious, angel buddy nephew named Cameron. He is 18 months old tomorrow! I hope I can fully express to him someday how I felt instantly connected to him on the night he was born. He looked at me so seriously, straight down into my soul. He is so loving and kind and playful, and he is very generous with his little friend Thomas. It is a joy to watch him grow.

That covers my immediate family, but there are so many more. Like…

-The original cousins: my cousin Rachael, who has always told it exactly like it is and loves me so, and cousin Mitchell, who was my partner in crime in our impromptu family musicals before Granny T passed away

-Cousin “Baby George”, who is about to embark on his adventure to Auburn University!

-Beautiful cousin Courtney, who is real and honest and brave, and my lovely cousin Ashley, who saw a different path for herself and pursued it boldly

-My cousin Kai, who moves through the world quietly and honestly

-My wonderfully soft-spoken, kind-hearted Uncle Mike and my precious Aunt Jean, who I’ve always thought of as a slightly spicier carbon copy of Mom

-My frank, generous Aunt Deb, with whom I’ve had many profound conversations and laughs

-My incredibly giving Uncle George and tender-hearted Aunt Lisa

-My wonderfully saucy and lion-hearted Uncle Don and my beautiful, generous Aunt Barbara

-Last but not least, my wise soulmate Uncle Mike and my Aunt Mary, my fellow introvert who’s not afraid to speak the truth

If I’ve forgotten anyone, I can only plead the hour of the morning and my self-imposed caffeine restriction.

For me–squirrelly, imperfect me–it just doesn’t get any better than this. My family makes me happy. They love me with full, generous hearts. I hope you have at least one person in your family who makes you feel the way I do about mine, and if you don’t, I hope you find people who become your good family. We weren’t meant to be alone, and I can’t begin to know what I’d do if I were without these incredible people. I love you, family.

 

 

 

Swinger

For the past two or three months, my mood has been overwhelmingly depressed: sleeping a TON, unmotivated, hiding out in my little condo from the world. I made few plans and cancelled the ones I made. It was really difficult to brush my teeth, take a shower, and get up to take a glass to the kitchen sink. And forget about physical activity; walking around at work was the entirety of my “exercise.” I was a zombie.

Two weeks ago, I fell into an even deeper depression. I thought about suicide frequently: how to do it, if I could do it. I was incapacitated. Eventually the veil lifted a bit, just enough to get me into “the danger zone,” where you’re still having suicidal ideation but now have ample energy and motivation to do something about it. I knew enough from past experiences to get my doctor and counselor on the phone and to reach out to my family and friends–my incredible support system.

And just when I thought the suicidal ideation would never end, it stopped abruptly in a big way. I woke up last Thursday ready to take on the world again, with a strong desire to buy a purse (my go-to expenditure when I’m hypomanic). Life was glorious again, and productivity was my middle name. I wanted so badly (like always) to believe that I was just having a good day, but I knew I was hypomanic.

Hypomania is the slightly tamped down version of mania. It’s characterized by a surge of ideas, the desire to acquire (read: late night Amazon binges), increased social and sexual activity, difficulty sleeping, and an increase in goal-directed activity. Suddenly, mopping the kitchen floor seems not only pleasurable but also very pressing; you give off and pick up on sexual energy; you pace impatiently until 7:00 in the morning, when you can finally call someone you’ve been wanting to talk with since 2:00. Until the sleepless nights catch up with you, hypomania feels amazing. (At least it does for me.) And for that reason, hypomania is very seductive. It’s tempting not to call your doctor to get a med adjustment because you’ve been waiting so long to feel good again. Who doesn’t want to feel enviably attractive while pushing her overflowing TJ Maxx cart toward the checkout, where she’ll spend money she doesn’t have to buy things she doesn’t need?

But I did call my doctor. I was immediately put on higher doses of mood stabilizers. At the same time, I started a new “thought organizer,” which is a kind term for the anti-psychotic class of drugs. And y’all, in only seven days, this thought organizer has changed my life. Martha Stewart would be proud: my squirrelly little brain has never been so organized. My counselor informed me that thought organizers regulate the dopamine in your brain, which basically means you get more hits of pleasure. So when I do a load of laundry and feel good about finishing it, I want another hit and do another load. I’m able to slow down and totally be in the present moment and enjoy it thoroughly. I really taste my food; I keep my environment clean because it makes me feel good; I focus on the task at hand at work and get pleasure out of checking items off my list. I am experiencing more joy than I have in months and months.

You know, despite being bipolar, I’m extremely fortunate. I can feed and clothe myself. My parents still help me with expenses when my paycheck won’t cover it, partly because I’ve never had a job that would cover things like psychiatrist and counseling visits. They want to see me well and do whatever they can to support me. I live in a great little home in a safe, lovely area. My brother, his wife, and my nephew are just ten minutes away, and they’re always there for me. I have wonderful friends who are supportive and thoughtful. But when I’m depressed, I can’t generate gratitude. All that registers is pain. I just withdraw into my shell and often try to shut out the people who love me.  My couch is my security blanket, and I lie there for hours with Walter.

But just for today, as they say in AA, I’m not on that damn couch! I am living and thriving. It feels good to be a human again. I AM grateful for the multitude of gifts in my life, and I’m not taking anything for granted.

Will this last? Maybe, but if the past is any indication, all signs point to ‘no.’ In the world of bipolar disorder, as in gravity, what goes up must come down. But I choose to be thankful for the past seven days: a whole week of wanting to be alive, a week of loving and breathing and feeling my heart fill with joy. That’s a real gift. Thanks for reading.

Wonders, Part I

There’s something about Christmas and cold temperatures and oversized sweatshirts that makes me contemplative. All three criteria are met at the moment: we are under 2 weeks from Christmas, there’s a chill in the air, and I am wearing the incredibly soft and cuddly hooded shirt that my Aunt Lisa gave me Saturday. It seems like a good time to write.

I’ve been mulling over a few wonders lately. Here’s one; I’ll share the others over the next few days.

Major Wonder #1: The baby Jesus attracted shepherds AND wise men. I am no Biblical scholar, but I think we can assume that the shepherds were a dirty lot. Tending and herding animals must have been labor intensive and messy and probably stinky. At the very least, they were outside day and night, sleeping on the ground and what not. And yet these were the men (or boys) to whom the angel of the Lord appeared with news of a Savior. These guys did what we might call realistic work; they dealt not with signs and symbols but tangible entities. Sheep they understood; celestial beings, not so much. And as the Bible says, when an angel appeared, “they were terrified.” So I think it’s beautiful that the angel immediately tries to calm them down—“Do not be afraid!”—and then gives them a direct message about the Savior and what they are to do about it. It’s very simple: The Savior is born, and this is where you’ll find him. I guess the angel could have been a little more specific; “you’ll find a baby in a manger” isn’t quite as helpful as “second inn on the left, in the stable out back.” But God was sure of their faithfulness and knew they would take what they saw in Bethlehem and spread the word. The lowly shepherds had the privilege of sharing the good news first. I think that’s marvelous.

The wise men just had prophecy and a star to guide them; it may seem a little less beneficial, but this was a language that they could understand. The shepherds may have needed a direct message, but the wise men were comfortable with symbols and in fact required them as confirmation of truth. God knew what they needed to feel assured that the Savior had come. But out of the two groups, God chose the shepherds to find out directly and immediately. God’s voice spoke straight to them through the angel. Isn’t that crazy? So typical of what we learn about Jesus as he grows: that he came for those who were low of station just as he came for kings.

I’m still really wrestling over Christianity; I have been for a while now. But I’m telling you, I love that the shepherds get the big announcement, that they are so overwhelmed with what they see and hear that they can’t help but spread the word. What a beautiful way to usher Jesus into the world. I don’t know why it’s taken so long for this wonder to start percolating in my brain. Maybe it’s because we tend to lump the shepherds and wise men together as figures in a nativity scene. Yet we do this story a great disservice if we disregard their differences. These were two groups of men who would never mix in daily life. (And of course, they don’t actually mix in this story; their visits to Jesus don’t occur at the same time.) But despite these differences, the baby Jesus attracted both groups to him as Savior. Wowee wow wow!

I hope you too are having a contemplative Christmas season. I’ll write more soon!