I Am Not a Calculation Mistake

Like I mentioned last week, I have been doing a Bible study plan on YouVersion called Hope Heals in the Midst of Suffering. I finished it yesterday and it was awesome. It was written by Katherine, a woman who survived a severe stroke shortly after becoming a mother, as well as her husband.

The plan follows Joseph’s story, the part of Genesis I had gotten stuck on in my Bible in a Year plan. I was glad to read it now.

At one point, Katherine shares that, about a year after her stroke, she is still unable to perform many basic functions. She is still in adult diapers, unable to eat, unable to even lift up her head. Her family is having Thanksgiving dinner with her son, then a toddler. As the family are playing with her son, she wonders if there was a mistake. Should she have died from her stroke?

It was at this point that a lightbulb went off in my head. I, too, have often wondered whether my life is a mistake. A calculation mistake, to be exact.

You see, I was born over three months premature. Officially, I was born at 26 weeks 4 days gestation. However, it is quite probable given the circumstances of my conception that my mother really wasn’t yet 26 weeks along. At the time, 26 weeks gestation was the cutoff for active, life-saving treatment in the NICU.

My parents weren’t even sure I should be treated actively. At one point, when I’d suffered a brain bleed, my father asked the neonatologist what he was doing with regards to my treatment. “We’re just keeping her alive,” he said. He (or his nurse) added that my father shouldn’t interfere in my treatment or he’d lose custody of me.

In 2004, when I was eighteen, this same doctor was quoted in a newspaper as saying that he sometimes meets preemies he’s kept alive back in his early days as a doctor, about whom he wonders: “What have we done?!” I at the time tried to reassure myself that he wouldn’t have meant me. Or would he? I, after all, am multiply-disabled and in long-term care.

The devotional in the Bible plan I was reading continued. Katherine at this point heard God clearly speak: “I am God. I do not make mistakes.”

This was what I needed to hear! I have tried to find my neonatologist on Google several times since that newspaper article. However, I don’t need his opinion. I have talked to my father about his views on my quality of life several times, but it hasn’t helped. I don’t need my father’s opinion either. God chose for me to be kept alive and that’s what matters.

Grace and Truth

Also joining Friendship Friday this week.

No Shame in Hope

I have been wanting to share more faith-based posts for a while, but didn’t quite know where to start. Today, I read the second weekly meditation in Hearing God Speak, an enneagram-based book of devotionals by Eve Annunziato. It is a meditation on suffering and the everlasting presence of God through it all.

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5 NIV)

I have known this passage for several years, even before I became a Christian. I have probably written about it before. After all, the fact that suffering produces perseverance, really resonates with me. As Annunziato points out, enneagram type fours like me feel most alive when we dwell on our feelings of pain and suffering.

As such, Annunziato challenges us to move towards praising God and seeing His presence in a new way. As such, the line about character and hope is more important to us Fours than the line about suffering producing perseverance.

I don’t think I’ve ever even seen Romans 5:5 and that verse in particular speaks to me now. I, after all, often fear joy and, by extension, hope. I am not yet sure what it is about joy I fear, but it might be a feeling of being less alive if I’m not suffering.

God’s love, however, has been poured out into my heart through the Holy Spirit. This is something to rejoice over, not to be ashamed of.

Indeed, it is interesting that Paul uses the word “shame” in this verse. I had no idea it is this emotion I often feel when I’m hopeful or optimistic, but it is.

I mean, even when I’m doing pretty well, I still say I’m doing “okay”. I remember a fellow patient in the mental hospital did the same and he did this so the staff wouldn’t think he was well enough to be discharged. I didn’t consciously do this, but on a subconscious level, I probably did. And still do, despite the fact that there’s no reason I’ll ever be kicked out of long-term care.

Honestly, there is nothing wrong with feeling hopeful, joyful and optimistic. In fact, it is what God is wanting for us in His honor. For this reason, Annunziato encourages us to praise Him even in the midst of our suffering! Because suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope is nothing to be ashamed of, because through the Holy Spirit, God’s love has been poured out over us.

Linking up with Scripture Blessing, Let’s Have Coffee and Recharge Wednesday.

Disagree

Today’s prompt for Five Minute Friday (#FMF) is “disagree”. Initially, I was going to write a post about how (lack of) open disagreement with others was used against me. When my then psychologist diagnosed me with dependent personality disorder in 2016, she thought that my lack of open disagreement with many of her controversial opinions, proved I had this condition. It honestly to me proved that she was in authority even though she had no clue what she was doing.

I eventually deleted that draft and started over, but I still want to write along those lines.

In Christianity, we are often taught to not just respect, but obey authority. Children are expected to obey their parents in everything. Wives are expected to submit to their husbands.

As a survivor of childhood trauma as well as many abuses of power, I struggle with these commands.

That being said, the command to be obedient as a child and submissive as a wife, does come with its respective obligations on the part of the parents and husband. In Colossians 3:21, Paul writes for example: “Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.” In other words, the Bible is not a reason for harsh treatment and abuses of power. Besides, of course the Bible does not say anything about people in modern-day, informal authority positions, such as the aforementioned psychologist.

Now, five years on, I am very happy that I eventually did stick up for myself and sought an independent second opinion on that diagnosis. Then I applied for long-term care. Now that I have the right people (loving, respectful people) around me, I no longer need to fear authority. I can respectfully disagree with people, whether Biblically I’m supposed to submit to them or not. I am still working on feeling confident in my role as a grown-up woman. God and His Word help me on this journey.

Okay, this post took me much longer than five minutes to write, as I had to look up what the Bible actually said and also because I got distracted several times. I hope that’s okay.

Accomplishments for the Day (June 6, 2021)

Hi everyone! I was feeling a little low this morning after a restless sleep. This afternoon, I felt even lower after I misinterpreted a comment from my husband about my (lack of) Bible knowledge as criticism. It thankfully wasn’t meant that way. Right now though, I am feeling quite accomplished. Let me share what things I achieved today.

1. Got showered and brushed my teeth and hair. Personal hygiene is a struggle of late, so I am very proud that I got these things accomplished.

2. Got weighed in. I had gained a little over a pound over the past few weeks, but I’m okay with that. After all, my diet hasn’t been too healthy lately. It could also still be the fact that I literally stuffed myself full of fries yesterday.

3. Made relatively healthy food choices. I mean, I had three meals that weren’t too unhealthy. For lunch, I had a grilled cheese sandwich at a sandwich place, but I don’t think it was very unhealthy. I had mini rolls for breakfast and my care facility’s meal service’s meal for dinner. I did have chips this evening, but I kept to one serving.

4. Broke my daily step record. This is the one thing that helped me move from feeling low to feeling accomplished. My old record was 20.2K steps. Now, I have walked 20.5K steps today. Only 200 more to go and I’ll have reached 100K steps in the past week.

5. Read my Bible. I signed up for the Bible in a Year E-mail service earlier this week. Because I had selected the start-to-finish reading plan, I’m now only at Genesis 21-23. Discussing my progress with my husband got me a bit discouraged. He recommended I, being a Christian, read the New Testament first, then got to recommend that if I read the Old Testament now anyway, I could start with Daniel. So I decided to read Daniel.

To get myself acquainted with the story, I got the Immersion Bible Studies book for Daniel, because I like Immersion. That study though combined Ezekiel with Daniel and I’m not intending on reading Ezekiel anytime soon. So I got a little confused and this further discouraged me.

Then I texted my husband in a bit of frustration. He thankfully replied that he had just meant that Daniel might be a more interesting story than most of the rest of the Old Testament. He wasn’t meaning to question my faith.! That lifted my mood again and encouraged me to study the Bible some more.

What have you accomplished today?

Misunderstood

I am currently reading Forty Days on Being a Four, a book of reflections by Christine Yi Suh, who identifies as an enneagram type Four. In the day one reflection, she discusses the story in Luke 7:36-50 in which an unnamed, sinful woman enters the house in which Jesus is eating with a Pharisee. The woman’s dramatic display of emotion makes Christine Yi Suh think she’s a Four. Indeed, she is greatly misunderstood by the Pharisees, who see just her sinful lifestyle and don’t understand that she is in fact displaying her faith, love and devotion towards Jesus.

The reflection ends with the question in which ways I, being a Four, have been misunderstood. Well, for one thing, I’m often not even seen as a Four. Others would most likely describe me as a Five, because I’m such a thinker.

In fact, one of the main ways in which I feel misunderstood, is that my intellect is overrated and my emotional life underrated. As a child, I was described as self-centered, selfish even. I often got the feeling that I was seen as unfeeling. I am not and never was unemotional at all.

Indeed, I do feel that the depth of my emotional life is often misunderstood. I used to joke that I should give my parents the table of contents of the DSM-IV (we were still in IV era at the time), so that they could pick a random disorder to label me with when I wasn’t being my desirable, intellectual self. I mean, they often labeled me as dramatic, psychotic even. I wasn’t.

People who really know me, know that deep down, I’m definitely sensitive. I may not show it on the outside as much as the unnamed woman in the story does.

Another way in which I am often misunderstood, is in terms of my behavior. Too often, my challenging behavior has been seen as a willful act of defiance. In this sense, I do relate to the woman in the story, who lived a sinful lifestyle up till the point she met Jesus. Like Jesus saw beyond her acts, so He hopefully sees beyond mine. Like this woman was saved by her faith, so hopefully am I.

I also see that other people who know me, look beyond my distant, intellectual façade and also beyond my dramatic emotionality. They don’t see my intellectual and distant appearance as a sign of lack of emotion. They also don’t see my dramatic displays of emotion as mere manipulativeness, like my family used to. They, in fact, see me as a sensitive but also caring woman.

Like the woman in the story, I am sinful. I mean, my challenging behavior was there when I was a child and in some ways still is there. However, I recognize that I am not just my behavior. Like Bobby Schuller says, I am not what I have, I am not what I do, I am not what people say about me. I am the beloved of God.

Finding God in the Middle

Today’s prompt for Five Minute Friday (#FMF) is “Middle”. I sat thinking about what I want to write for a bit. The prompt really resonates with me, but I wasn’t too sure why. Then I realized that, in all of my life, I struggle to find the middle.

In dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), I learned to practise finding the middle. The middle between emotional mind and rational mind, for example, is called Wise Mind. But there are other things that require the skill of dialectics.

For example, I struggle to reconcile my relatively high (sometimes even seen as very high) IQ with my low emotional level of functioning. I know rationally that, when staff leave the room, they aren’t on the North Pole, but emotionally it feels that way.

Then again, there is somehow a middle. I still am both highly intelligent and emotionally vulnerable, after all. If they were mutually exclusive, I wouldn’t be me. And I am me. And that’s okay.

DBT is partly based on Buddhist thinking. However, I do believe that God does call us Christians to find the middle ground too. Like Kate writes in her own contribution, God is there always: He was there in the past, He will be there in the future, but He is definitely also there in the middle, that is, the present.

This is also what DBT calls us to do: be present in the here and now. Mindfulness is one of the core skills of DBT and it doesn’t matter that the idea of it originated with Buddhist thinkers. In fact, when we as Christians pray and especially when we are still, we are present. God calls us to be present, to receive his grace in the Holy Spirit. DBT fans can call that Wise Mind all they want. I call it God’s speaking to me.

Starting to Explore the Enneagram

A few days ago, I read on another blogger’s post about the enneagram and suddenly got interested in exploring it. At first, I thought it may be against Christian values, so I shouldn’t be exploring it if I’m serious about being a Christian. Then I checked out some books on it anyway and discovered that several actually look at the enneagram from a traditional Christian perspective.

I first got Helen Palmer’s book The Enneagram, which explained the basics of how the enneagram works. I honestly had no idea at first. I mean, I saw it as just another personality typology just like the MBTI and had little idea that the points are actually connected in several mathematical ways.

I took an enneagram test and it showed I’m a Four with a strong Five wing. I’m still undecided whether that’s correct or I’m really a Five with a strong Four wing. After all, I really do feel deeply (which is consistent with type Four), but I don’t easily verbalize my emotions.

I got a book off Bookshare called The Enneagram Type 4 by Beth McCord. This book is rooted in the Christian faith and the enneagram alike. The first chapter explores faith and the enneagram from a type Four perspective. It starts out by giving an overview of the type.

In the first part, Fours are described as having a deep and rich emotional life. My gut response was: that may be me, but is it truly me or is it what I want to be? Then the explanation goes on to talk about how Fours see themselves as somehow apart from the rest of humanity. They often feel that they’re missing something that everyone else has. Wowah, that’s so me! When I read on, I got a flashback of my father telling my psychiatrist shortly after my admission to the psych hospital, that I just want to be different. Maybe he’s right in some way.

Fours also long for the ideal life and are constantly seeking to change their circumstances and themselves to try to find that “missing piece”. Wow. I read somewhere that most Fours keep the door even in a committed relationship ajar, always keeping the possibility open that their truer love will come by at some point. I don’t do this with my marriage, but I certainly do this with my living situation.

At the end of the chapter, there are some questions for reflection. One of them is about rescuing yourself or bringing about change on your own. How have you attempted to rescue yourself?

Well, for me, I’ve constantly been on the lookout for a better living situation. Even just yesterday, for no apparent reason, I started looking at another care agency’s website to see if I might fit better into one of their homes.

I feel constantly insecure because of my childhood trauma. Then again, maybe I’m also hopelessly looking for an ideal that doesn’t exist.

A thought that has been on my mind for a while now, is what one of my fellow patients at the locked unit told me back in 2007: I need to work on me, not on circumstances. This ran totally counter to my admission’s objective, which was to find a suitable living facility for me. However, now, over thirteen years later, it’s truer than ever. I am in the best possible living situation already and there’s no perfect place. Besides, I always take me to whatever place I go.

The last question for reflection is how realizing you belong to Christ helps you? It is still hard for me to truly surrender to belonging in Christ, so I’m not 100% sure how to respond. However, when I can get myself to understand that I truly am God’s beloved child and belong to Christ, it will radically transform my life. I no longer need to be on the lookout for the perfect life, since I’m made whole through Jesus.

Profession or Identity? #Write28Days

Today I finally remembered to check out the #Write28Days Facebook group and jump back onto the challenge bandwagon. The prompt for today is “Profession”.

I immediately thought of all the career paths I had envisioned for myself as a teen. When I was sixteen, I was planning on becoming an English major in college, choosing to specialize in American studies and was sure I’d leave for the United States in my third year. I actually half-joked that I’d obviously find employment there and never come back to the Netherlands.

Now of course I never even made it to being an English major. I never made it to my third year in college either and haven’t been to the United States as of yet. I’ve never been employed, in fact.

For some time, I listed my old blog as my place of employment on Facebook. Now because I’m not keen on my family reading my blog, I no longer list it on my personal profile. I don’t have work listed on my FB profile at all.

Today, I was discussing my personal strengths profile, which the mental health agency is supposed to have on file for each client, with my community psychiatric nurse. It scared the crap out of me. In the plan, you’re supposed to write about your former abilities (before becoming mentally ill or whatever), your wishes and ambitions and your current abilities. I immediately thought big, thinking that since I used to go to university before my autistic burnout and lived with my husband before coming to the care facility, I should probably want to go back to these. My nurse said I can think small too. I later thought of the fact that I used to be stable on a much lower dose of daily medications and would really like to go back to a lower dose of my antipsychotic at least. That’s a valid ambition too. I don’t really need to find a profession.

In fact, I am also reminded of last week’s Hour of Power show, in which the preacher talks about one’s title vs. one’s testimony. In the Dutch show, Carola Schouten talked about her title as the minister of agriculture and vice-prime minister. She contrasts this with her identity in Christ. I love this and felt an interesting connection to her, even though with respect to profession, she is infinitely more successful than I am. With respect to identity though, we’re both children of God.

Knowing God When I’m at a Fork in the Road

Yesterday, I finished the First steps with Jesus Bible plan on YouVersion and I immediately wanted to start a new Bible reading plan. I looked through the most recently added plans and found one called: Hey God, Can We Talk? I’m at a Fork in the Road. I clicked on it and apparently loved its description, although I can’t remember it right now. So I decided to start the plan.

The plan walks us through Jacob’s story. For the first day, we were asked to read the verses in Genesis 28 where Jacob leaves for Bethel after Esau plans to kill him. I had no idea about this. I mean, I thought the idea that Jacob would receive Isaac’s blessing rather than Esau had been mutually agreed upon. That’s how my father explained it once when we ate lentils for dinner: that Esau voluntarily swapped his firstborn’s right for a bowl of lentils. He then personalized the story to my younger sister and me. I probably thought to myself that my sister could keep her yucky lentils and eat mine as well.

Anyway, apparently not. Rebekah had urged Jacob to escape the family home and go to her brother. This, the plan author compares to us leaving home to go off to college. Except, she says, Jacob didn’t have his family to support him should catastrophe strike. This hit home to me.

When I lived independently in Nijmegen in 2007, I didn’t have my parents’ support either. That is, when I wasn’t coping, they made it very clear that I wasn’t to rely on them. I had my community support staff, of course, but they too had their conditions for supporting me.

At one point while resting in Bethel, Jacob has a very important dream. In it, the Lord speaks to him and promises him the land on which he lay. Okay, fine by me. I don’t need land. but I do need comfort.

The plan then goes on to highlight verse 16: “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.'” (Genesis 28:16 NIV)

This, then, was comforting but also slightly scary to Jacob. This is so relatable! In 2007, I had no idea there was even a God, let alone that He cares about my life. Now I do know, but it’s sometimes scary too. Maybe because I am not used, with the exception of my husband (and I doubt that all the time), to being loved unconditionally.

Of course, Jacob’s story takes place long before Christ. However, the God of the Old Testament, unlike what some atheists told me when I first learned about religion, isn’t a horrible dictator. He is still the same and He was with Jacob. I love this. Do you, too?

Linking up with Grace and Truth.

Five Christian Songs to Lift Your Mood

Hello again readers! I’m still kicking, but feeling rather uninspired where #Write28Days is concerned. Besides, today I could use a little pick-me-up. I’m feeling a little vague and uncomfortable. The snow and my inability to go outside because of it don’t help. My husband said I still need to move about, but due to my feeling a little dizzy he advised against the elliptical. So I’m dancing.

Today, I decided to dance to some Christian songs. As most of you know, I’m a new believer, but I’ve loved Christian music for many years. However, I didn’t listen to it for a while when I wasn’t really invested in faith. Now I’m back to loving it. Here are five Christian songs to lift your mood.

1. Build Your Kingdom Here by Rend Collective.

I only discovered this song a few months ago, but I love love love it. It’s the song I dance to most often now, it’s so upbeat.

2. You Say by Lauren Daigle.

I discovered this song about a year ago. At the time, it was one of my husband’s favorite Christian songs (before he’d become a Christian himself). Indeed, Lauren Daigle’s voice is truly beautiful and so is her message.

3. Beautiful by Bethany Dillon.

This was one of the first contemporary Christian songs I listened to, when I had just become a sort-of progressive Christian in like 2012.

4. Even If by MercyMe.

I’d heard of MercyMe already in like 2012 and was a great fan. This is a relatively new song.

5. We Believe by Newsboys.

When I used to want to exercise to the beat of Christian music, I’d often listen to a Christian workout playlist. That one features Newsboys prominently. This version of the song may not be as fast-paced, but it is a great reminder to turn to what matters, ie. Jesus, when you’re feeling down.

Now that I’ve listed these songs, I’m pretty sure I forgot some great ones, so if you listen to Christian music, please share your favorites in the comments. If you’re not a Christian, I’d also love to know about your favorite mood boosting songs.

As a side note, I almost forgot to mention that this post was not just inspired by my dancing this evening, but also by this post by Rachel Poli. Check out her upbeat playlist.