Moving Beyond Shame

I’ve been struggling a lot lately. I feel shame over a lot of things. Then again, my husband said that shame is only useful for the one second you realize you should’ve done different. Then you need to move on.

I just read a part of Bobby Schuller’s book You Are Beloved in which he tells me that God’s love is the antidote to shame. Jesus, he says, did not act out of shame. Maybe he didn’t even feel it. He didn’t care about his reputation, inviting the lowest-status people of his time to eat with him. Schuller notes that eating with someone in Jesus’ time on Earth means seeing them as equals.

Jesus regarded people who didn’t believe they belonged, as equals. Of course, he is God, so we can never measure up to that, but we can rest assured that he loves us no matter what.

God, help me move beyond the feeling of shame towards an experience of peace. I know You love me for who I am. Please help me see this with all my heart. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

This post was written for Five Minute Friday, for which the prompt this week is “Beyond”. I didn’t set a timer, but I think I did a pretty good job of doing this piece in five minutes.

Fighting the Depression Demon

I was in yet another crisis yesterday. When the extra staff was about to leave, I crashed and started crying. The staff felt somehow obliged to stay and, when she finally left, another staff tried to comfort me. I cried for like three hours.

Then today it seemed to start all over again. I decided to call my husband, who told me to push the depressive thoughts away. I was going to say I feel like a selfish monster for having even unconsciously made the staff stay yesterday, but my husband said that I need to push away those thoughts too.

My husband kept repeating that I’m not a monster and I need to stop those thoughts now. He said that these thoughts are destructive. I find it hard to understand, but maybe on some level I do. I mean, I feel that I’m wicked and that’s why I’m depressed and that’s why I ask for more and more help and that’s why people leave me and that’s why I’m depressed. I can see now that this is a vicious cycle. I’m not sure it isn’t true, but I remember from the little cognitive behavior therapy I took years ago that really it doesn’t matter. It’s non-functional. Or destructive even. And that’s what matters.

My husband tried to remind me that God loves me. I kept getting stuck on technicalities such as the fact that I wasn’t baptized. At first he told me: “So then get baptized if it helps you.” I can’t see how I could be baptized in this time of social distancing.

Then my husband started to tell me that I am at a crossroads and can take one step towards despair or one step towards hope each second. Maybe even if I don’t get baptized at this point, because well I can’t, I can take a number of baby steps towards hope. Towards God.

Lord, please help me take every second as it comes. Please help me choose each second to take that one step, even if it’s a snail’s step (or crawl, whatever snails do), closer to You.

Lord, thank you for bringing my husband into my life. Thank you for speaking through him and reminding me to live positively. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Now I’m totally clueless about the supposed format of prayers, so I have no idea whether this was a proper one. I trust God hears me whether my prayer was written properly though.

Grateful for Love

Today’s Five Minute Friday (FMF) prompt is “Grateful”. It truly speaks to me, even though I, being from the Netherlands, don’t celebrate Thanksgiving this week. In fact, all I do for it is look all over the Internet to see whether the Apple Watch I want is on sale for Black Friday (it isn’t).

That being said, I haven’t felt more grateful than I feel now in a long while. Here’s why…

I feel so immensely grateful for my husband. He loves me and cares enough about me to show me his love multiple times daily even though we don’t live together. He must miss me, but rather than turn around and find someone else to live with, he tells me he loves me too many times to count. In fact, when COVID hit here first, we weren’t allowed to see each other for three months and yet he still loved me.

Last week, I wrote about grieving the loss of my “normal”, functioning self. Today, I am so immensely grateful to be loved for who I am. Not just by my husband, but by God as well.

“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24 NIV)

I have been meditating a lot on this Bible passage and somehow come across it almost on a daily basis when reading about Christianity. It was the start of the Bible reading for the First United Methodist Church of Baton Rouge, LA sermon I referred to on Tuesday. More than commanding me to be Godlike, it speaks to me in that my old self doesn’t matter. I am loved by God just the way I am.

Okay, this took me longer to write than five minutes, but then again it usually does. Sorry about that. In fact, I took probably about five minutes to find, read and copy/paste the Bible passage. Well, at least I tried to keep it short.

Faith Is a Verb

Last Saturday, my husband told me about a book he had been reading. He said: “It’s a Christian book.” As a progressive believer who struggles with her faith a lot, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a Christian book. Two weeks earlier, he had recommended Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis to me and I hadn’t picked it up yet. After all, some of the passages he read to me had me angry.

My husband though explained to me that the book he was recommending now was perfectly suited to my recent struggles. You see, I have been struggling with feelings of worthlessness due to my not living the life my parents had envisioned for me.

The book is called You Are Beloved by Bobby Schuller. My husband was so convinced it’d help me, that he offered to buy me the eBook on whichever platform suited me best. I said I’d look whether it’s available on Bookshare, an accessible book service for the print disabled, first. And it was. I downloaded it as soon as I had access to stable WiFi.

I looked up Bobby Schuller first before starting to read the book. My husband isn’t very conservative either, but still more conservative than me. I wasn’t sure I’d like what Schuller had to say.

I so far only read the introduction, but was immediately enthusiastic. Not just for Schuller’s book, but for my faith in general.

I don’t have a church I belong to normally even without COVID. In fact, I usually listen to American church services despite living in the Netherlands. I hadn’t listened to them in a while though and the ones I usually listen to are so progressive they’re hardly Christian at all. On Sunday, I decided to listen to the prior week’s sermon (since the current week’s wasn’t available yet due to time zone differences) from First United Methodist Church in Baton Rouge, LA.

In it, the pastor discusses Ephesians 4:22-5:2, in which Paul tells believers how to be Godlike. The pastor also quotes an original Methodist work that explains the character of true believers. It said, among other things, that we are happy – always happy. The pastor uses this to tell the believers that the goal of the Christian life is not just to go to Heaven after we die, but to be Christlike in the current life too. This very much resonated with what my husband said to me when recommending Schuller’s book: that faith is a verb.

My husband meant to say that, if we truly believe that God loves us, we will also extend this to others and live an ethical life. He also said that the goal of every religion, not just Christianity, is to find true peace of mind. In other words, the goal is not just to sit on a cloud and play the harp after we die (in case that’s how you picture Heaven), but to experience the kingdom of God here on Earth.

Schuller’s main point, by the way, is that we are not what we do. We are not what we have. We are not how others see us. We are beloved by God just because we are.

”Grace

Gratitude List (November 21, 2020) #TToT

It’s been forever since I last did a gratitude list. I just checked and it’s been five weeks. These weeks have been incredibly hard. I am really struggling to stay positive. I am going to try to come up with some gratefuls anyway. As usual, I’m joining in with #TToT. I’m typing this post on my iPhone, which I hardly ever do nowadays, so sorry for any typing glitches.

1. My husband! Even with our not living together and only talking on the phone most days, he tells me many times a day that he loves me. I am struggling to feel such a powerful emotion due to my current state of depression, but I’m trying to love him back.

2. My faith. My husband, who I always thought was a strong atheist since leaving theology school, has taken a renewed interest in Christianity and this has encouraged me. Today, he recommended a book called You Are Beloved. I am a very progressive believer, but I’ll definitely give this book a try.

3. My staff. They have been so kind to me despite my challenging behavior.

4. My community psychiatric nurse. She has been very helpful.

5. Pizza. Okay, on to the superficial stuff. My husband and I ordered a delicious pizza today. No, not from Domino’s and I must say this one is better!

6. Cheesecake. Two of my fellow clients had their birthdays this past week and another client got to help the staff make cheesecake.

7. Homemade noodles. That same client made those for us on Monday. He used minced meat instead of chicken, but still it was so delicious.

8. Lots of walking. So far this week, I nearly surpassed my step record from last week. I didn’t get in as many minutes in active heartrate zones, but that’s okay.

9. The ability to write and blog. I am not writing as much as I’d like, but at least I’m still writing.

10. A good night’s sleep last night. And yay for no nightmares that I can remember!

What have you been grateful for?

Grief

Today’s Five Minute Friday prompt is Grief. When I first saw it, I knew I just had to write on it, but I didn’t know what to write. In a way, I still don’t know. But let me write anyway.

I have been close to clinically depressed over the past few weeks. I don’t know whether this is grief for something I have lost. Perhaps my old, functional self.

Then again, that functional self was a façade. A mask. Layers upon layers of masks formed within those early years of my life, when I still functioned. On the surface, that is.

And here I am, in a care facility, waiting for the manager and behavior specialist and the funding authority to figure out if I can get one-on-one support. And now I grieve the loss of that façade. I am intensely sad. I worry that if I am truly myself, if I peel off all the layers and layers of masks, an intensely wicked, horrible monster will remain. I can almost literally picture the monster in my mind’s eye.

Everytime I think I’ve found the real, authentic me, and it’s a good thing, it turns out to be yet another alter. I wonder what remains if they all go. Will the intensely wicked, horrible inside of me seep through to the outside world?

I am not very religious, but I do believe in God. Especially in these hard times, I pray. I pray that God will help me remove the layers and layers of masks I’ve put up over the years. I however also pray that, beneath them all, the monster will turn out to be some kind of prince(ss) from Beauty and the Beast or whatever. At least not as wicked as I see it as.

Okay, this turned out very different than I had imagined. This piece does reflect my innermost thoughts. For those who haven’t read my previous posts, I do not see my inner monster as some kind of universal thing, like original sin. In fact, I am convinced that most people are both good and bad. The wickedness applies only to myself. And yes, I know I’m not some type of criminal, but I still see myself as intensely bad.

Such an Inner Strength

Yesterday, I listened to the latest sermon at Holy Covenant UCC. As regular readers know, I’m a very progressive believer, hardly even calling myself a Christian. I tend to doubt God’s presence a lot. I mean, why is there so much suffering in the world when God is loving and ever present?

The pastor delivering the sermon said that Jesus could’ve had these same doubts while on the cross. Yet what seemed like God the Father abandoning His son was, according to the pastor, the greatest moment of all creation, as God opened the gates of Heaven.

One of the things I find hard to deal with in Christianity is the idea that only certain people will make it to Heaven. I mean, according to the Bible, only 144,000 people who ever existed will be allowed entry into the Kingdom of God. My husband uses this as one of his reasons for being an atheist. My former pastor at the psych hospital though said that this number may be symbolic: twelve times twelve times a thousand is a lot! I like that. Some other progressive Christians at one point told me that there’s a theological theory that says that all of Hell was shattered on the cross when Jesus died for our sins.

At first, when listening to the Holy Covenant UCC sermon, I felt weird. The pastor said that God had hidden his treasure in the plain and ordinary, that is, us. That had me go uhm. I somehow wish I was more than just an ordinary being and a sinner at that. Isn’t that a bit narcissistic of me?

Then the pastor went on to tell the church that we are more than our outward appearance. In other words, we are more than ordinary beings. Because of God, we each harbor a huge inner strength. A treasure. We are more than how we come across to others. We are also more than our experiences. We are more than the racism, sexism, ableism, etc. we endured. Through God, we can overcome the odds!

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight for what is right. The pastor, who I assume is of color, talked about the great abolitionists and civil rights activists, who maintained their faith in the presence of immense hardship. They kept going despite opposition and oppression. That is what we should do. Don’t give up, but fight knowing that God is by our side. Ultimately, even if evil prospers right now, it will not always.

Something Between Me and God

So Christmas is over. My own family doesn’t care about it much. We didn’t visit my parents this year. My sister, brother-in-law and three-month-old niece saw our parents for a few days before Christmas. My husband had to work, so we didn’t have time to come over then. We could have come over today, but I personally don’t like visiting my parents if my sister and brother-in-law aren’t there too. All of us live in different corners of the country and my sister and husband both work irregular hours, so ideally we find a day when we can all be together. That doesn’t have to be at Christmas. It helps that my family aren’t religious. My parents are both atheists.

I am not an atheist, but I prefer not to subscribe to organized religion. Yes, I derive meaning from reading Christian devotionals and listening to Christian music. I also sometimes pray. I no longer attend church and never attended regularly. I take the Bible with a large bucket of salt. Yet I feel very touched by the nativity story.

Recently, when going through my Facebook profile and privacy settings, I chose to delete my religion off my profile altogether. It listed “progressive Christian” up to that point, but really I think it’s none of my 500+ friends’ business. My husband says religion is something between him and whatever higher power he believes in or not. It is not that I don’t want to share – I am doing that now -, but I don’t want to label my belief system. Maybe in some respects I’m still a seeker.

And yet, sometimes I wish I subscribed to an organized belief system. I mean, I love to connect to spiritual and religious bloggers, but it’s hard to find this connection without sharing their doctrine. Am I truly being honest when I tell a Christian blogger that I agree with their spiritual message even though on fundamental matters of doctrine, we most likely strongly disagree. I mean, my husband at one point read me the Nicene creed, on which all Christianity is based and I didn’t agree with some points.

Then again, it’s not up to the humans who wrote that creed to judge me at the end of times. They may kick me out of their blogging communities, but they won’t ultimately decide whether there’s an afterlife and if so, how I get to spend eternity in it.

I love to derive meaning from all sorts of spiritual sources. Most are either Christian or New Age-based. I don’t think believing in God and Jesus contradicts belief in one’s inner spiritual power. I don’t think I need to take the Bible literally or even semi-literally to consider myself religious. Like I said, my spirituality is something between me and God.

I’m joining in with RagTag Daily Prompt, for which the word today is Spiritual.

More of Jesus

Today, I am joining in with Five Minute Friday (FMF), for which the word today is “More”. I regularly read the posts from other bloggers there, but rarely join in, as I”m not a practising Christian. I do believe in God, but am generally a lot more progressive than most Christians and do not like the practical requirements and political implications of organized religion. This feels odd to me sometimes. I crave spiritual guidance.

I found out through Five Minute Friday today about Betsy Cruz’s Book More of God and the title struck a chord.

I want more of God. I want more of a spiritual life. I feel I should be engaging in meditation and prayer more, but I don’t.

I also feel I want to connect to other believers more, but feel generally left out because I’m too progressive. I was kicked out of an apparently conservative Christian blogging community when I mentioned (without condoning it) the possibility of connecting to a higher power other than God in a post on my old blog. I felt sad about that, so I got angry with the Christian blogosphere and by extension with christianity as a whole. I wanted no more Jesus. But yet I do.

Jesus didn’t kick me out of that community. He loves me (and I’m sorry if this gets me kicked out of FMF too) even if I don’t follow the rules of conservative Christianity. He can and does help me find inspiration in life. I want more of Him.

Share Your Merry World (December 10, 2018)

I am still in the mood to write, but am still a little uninspired. I love the
Share Your World
challenge though. This week, Melanie has really interesting questions for it.

What’s the worst topping you could put on popcorn? (credit to Teresa for this one)
Mustard, LOL. Melanie answered hot sauce, but I wouldn’t mind that as much. I’m still not fully recovered from my husband’s kale macaroni, on which I chose mustard as a condiment. Such a mistake!

In what country did Silent Night originate?
I have no idea and am too lazy to look it up.

How would you react if there was irrefutable proof that God doesn’t exist? How about if there was irrefutable proof that God does exist?
I wouldn’t change much either way. I am not sure what I believe regarding the existence of a living, actually-involved-in-our-lives God, although I think the idea is comforting. However, the fact that I do not subscribe to any organized religion and do not feel that morality is based on God, means I would probably still live my life here on Earth as I do now whether God exists or not.

And last question:
What is the scariest non banned item you could take on to a plane?
Uhm, my white cane? I have no idea really.

Which version of the holiday celebration do you and your family enjoy? By this I mean do you follow Jewish traditions with Hanukkah; Christian celebrations with Christmas and (for those over the pond) Boxing Day; or some other festivities that I’ve overlooked? Please do share with everyone!
We celebrate Christmas, although I don’t care about any of the traditions that much. It’s just one of two good opportunities to see my parents and sister. My birthday in June is the other.