Freedom on the Journey and Hope Along the Way

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To live without roads seemed one way not to get lost.
— Naomi Shihab Nye

It might be good advice — traveling a journey without roads. It would eliminate the decisions one must make when roads cross. It would eliminate the uncertainty when the path ahead seems unclear. We wouldn’t have to plot a course and explore all the possible routes. We might experience freedom on the journey that we have never before experienced.

I have to admit, though, I am a person who is all about road metaphors for life. I am a lover of walking labyrinths and walking the sacred path. I am constantly assessing my journey by the many kinds of roads I travel. I rejoice on smooth, friendly roads and despair on rough, ominous roads. I walk my path with trust, experience courage and wise discernment at the crossroads, and believe that I will end my journey in hope.

So the idea of “off road” living is a new, and somewhat disconcerting, prospect. And yet I am intrigued by the quote of Naomi Shihab Nye, “To live without roads seemed one way not to get lost.”

So I spent a few minutes pondering her words. With no roads, we might find ourselves discovering new places and making new paths, never fearing that we’re lost, but leaning into the exploration with anticipation. Without roads, we might wander aimlessly, passing beside astounding wonders we have not seen before. Without roads, we might find ourselves leaning into the beauty we find on our uncharted and circuitous path, beauty once hidden from us because we stayed on the road. Without roads, we might experience freedom on the journey.

The poet says that without roads, we don’t get lost. That may be a plus for us, since the fear of getting lost keeps us from the sheer, unbridled joy of exploration. Once we have dismissed that fear, we are free to roam, to discover and to observe all the beauty that lives off the path.

I think Naomi Shihab Nye’s thought about the lack of roads is an interesting parable. Its a parable about real life, and the best lesson from it may be that it is our fear keeps us from the full and fresh experiences we could embrace. When we stick too close to the roads we have always travelled, we will experience only what exists on the roads and directly beside them, nothing more. But when we have thrown off the fear that holds us hostage, courageously take leave from our familiar path, and venture into the wilderness to wander freely, we might see and experience more than we ever thought possible.

I’m not so sure this will work for me, but I plan to try some wandering that takes me far beyond my safe path. I plan to experience the emotion that comes from the fear of being lost. I plan to allow myself to be forced to place all my trust in where my heart takes me, and in God, who always gives grace to wanderers.

So the poet says I will not be lost, because there are no roads on my journey. I will not know what things I will see until they emerge before me. I may not know where I am, but I will not be lost.

Naomi Shihab Nye wrote another poem that seems to speak to this very unfamiliar concept of traveling life’s journey without familiar paths to count on. These are her words:

Where we live in the world is never one place.
Our hearts, those dogged mirrors,
keep flashing us moons before we are ready for them.

― Naomi Shihab Nye

What does it mean that our hearts “keep flashing us moons before we’re ready for them?” It sounds like a gift, that our hearts flash moons before us. It sounds like grace that, on our journey, we will see the wonder of God’s creation glowing above us in the night sky. We will be compelled to look up, gazing into a moon that changes constantly, reminding us of the waxing and waning of our lives and giving us hope to hold on to.

Thanks be to God for the freedom of the journey and the hope.

Forgiveness

3904e2f4-b048-4bf3-83f1-bccdd2592165I have long pondered forgiveness, for years! It’s something that confuses me. Like forgiving my abuser. Like parents standing at their child’s graveside and considering how to forgive the shooter. Like a little girl forgiving the people that snatched her from her mother’s arms at the border.

Forgiveness can be confounding and elusive. It is not a merely a thing, or a conviction, or an emotion, or a firmly held belief. It is an act of the heart that can seem all but impossible. But the Bible seems very clear about forgiveness. When you have been wronged or betrayed by another person and you are in a tug of war with yourself about forgiveness, the words of Scripture face off with you as a challenge, perhaps even a rebuke.

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32)

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Collosians 3:13)

And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins. (Mark 11:25)

For so many years, these and other Biblical admonitions troubled me. I felt as though the words stood in judgement before me. I would pray to be able to forgive. I would pray for light that could shatter the darkness around me. I would pray again, and again. Waiting. Hoping.

Eventually, I shared my inability to forgive with my spiritual director, hoping for guidance and wise counsel. We talked about it at length. I bared my most vulnerable places and revealed the unresolved anger that lived inside of those places. I mined the depths of my spirit and unearthed long-standing wounds of the soul. Our conversations were gently pushing me to a better place and shedding light on the reality that my inability to forgive was not disobedience, but unresolved pain. And then my spiritual director shared this quote with me.

Forgiveness isn’t telling someone it was okay to hurt you. 
It’s telling yourself  it’s okay to stop hurting. 

It doesn’t mean you have to trust them again. 
It means you can learn to trust yourself again. 

It doesn’t mean you have to give them a free pass back into your life. 
It means you are free to take your life back again. 

Forgiveness is simply emptying your past of its power to empty your present of its peace. 

― L.R. Knost

That experience was many years ago, but to this day, I live in the peace I found then. There is no doubt that my past did indeed have the power to empty my “present of its peace.” Reclaiming my peace made forgiveness possible, though it did not happen instantly. It’s not so easy to forgive a person who was never sorry.

Still, it was a process — a journey really — that I had to travel with God, praying all along the way that I would have the strength I needed. The journey was long and sometimes arduous. God was ever-present — patient and persistent. At journey’s end, there really was light, shining brightly where darkness had been. 

Was I healed of my sin of being an unforgiving person? After this journey, do I now forgive every person who hurts me? Sometimes!

Thank you, God, for your patient persistence. Amen.

Depression’s Heartbreaking Hold

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Depression’s Heartbreaking Hold

Depression wields a heartbreaking hold on those who suffer its relentless assault. It has a harsh clench, a grasp on one’s life that steals all traces of well-being. Men and women suffer depression’s attack. Young people are besieged by depression’s terror. Even the youngest among us suffer from that elusive sadness that a young child could never understand. Depression sometimes results in the most tragic of outcomes: suicide. Depression overwhelms people we know and care about, our children, our parents, our close friends, and the friends we know from afar.

Anthony Bourdain was such a friend to many. My husband and I loved watching Parts Unknown, just relaxing while Anthony Bourdain took us on exotic journeys near and far. He had a way of bursting into our living room through the television, grabbing our attention with his friendly swagger, and taking us along on an adventure in food and culture. We took for granted the delightful experiences he created for us, but now that he is gone, we are grieving as if he had been a best friend.

He had this special way of inviting us into his life experience. He was gifted in making us feel present with him in his current adventure. He took us to places we never dreamed of going, and made us see the possibility of eating foods we would not normally put even near our mouths. He expanded our wanderlust and our taste buds. He made us feel that we really knew him.

But we really did not know him, it seems. We did not know the depth of his emotional life, his bouts with depression, the dark place that he was obviously dealing with. Even his close friends and family did not expect that he would take his own life. But he did and, as his colleagues expressed, it will be a loss of creativity, talent, and the delightful quirkiness that would say, “Your body is not a temple; it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.” (Anthony Bourdain)

We are left to wonder, though. Perhaps Anthony Bourdain did not always enjoy the ride. Mental health challenges can take all that one enjoys and twist all of it into something unrecognizable, something hurtful, something that steals one’s joy. It has been too much to take in, the deaths of Kate Spade and then, so soon, Anthony Bourdain, both apparent suicides. We cower at the thought of an epidemic that we are not prepared to control. Those who know tell us, again and again, that the interventions for mental health in this country are woefully inadequate. The current reality is that suicide rates rose steadily in nearly every state from 1999 to 2016, increasing 25 percent nationally, according to a report this past Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2016, there were more than twice as many suicides as homicides.

These are statistics that should cause us heartbreak, enough heartbreak to compel us to use our voices to advocate for more appropriate and effective mental health interventions in our nation. But the heartbreak gets more personal when we lose a friend, a bigger than life friend like Anthony Bordain. It appears that he, too, knew something about heartbreak. In his own words:

Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s OK. The journey changes you; it should change you . . . You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.

Anthony Bordain did leave something good behind, something that he showed us each week: how to open ourselves to other cultures, how to join strangers around tables of friendship, how to try new things and learn new things, how to enjoy food, drink and friends, and how to know yourself better because you stepped out of your comfort zone to know another person from another land.

He gets the last word, the last poignant word:

It’s been an adventure. We took some casualties over the years. Things got broken. Things got lost. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

 

 


How to Help a Loved One Who Is Severely Depressed

Don’t underestimate the power of showing up

You may not feel that your presence is wanted. But just being by the side of someone who is depressed, and reminding her that she is special to you, is important to ensuring that she does not feel alone, said Dr. Norman Rosenthal, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University School of Medicine.

 

Don’t try to cheer him up or offer advice

Your friend has an enviable job and two lovely children. He’s still ridiculously handsome even though he hasn’t gone to the gym for six months. It’s tempting to want to remind him of all these good things. Not only is that unlikely to boost his mood, it could backfire by reinforcing his sense that you just don’t get it, said Megan Devine, a psychotherapist and the author of “It’s O.K. That You’re Not O.K.”

“Your job as a support person is not to cheer people up. It’s to acknowledge that it sucks right now, and their pain exists,” she said.

 

It’s O.K. to ask if she is having suicidal thoughts

Lots of people struggle with depression without ever considering suicide. But depression is often a factor. Although you may worry that asking, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” will insult someone you’re trying to help — or worse, encourage her to go in that direction — experts say the opposite is true.

“It’s important to know you can’t trigger suicidal thinking just by asking about it,”  said Allen Doederlein, the executive vice president of external affairs at the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. If the answer is yes, it’s crucial that you calmly ask when and how; it’s much easier to help prevent a friend from hurting herself if you know the specifics.

 

Take any mention of death seriously

Even when a person with depression casually mentions death or suicide, it’s important to ask follow-up questions. If the answers don’t leave you feeling confident that a depressed person is safe, experts advised involving a professional as soon as possible. If this person is seeing a psychiatrist or therapist, get him or her on the phone. If that’s not an option, have the person you’re worried about call a suicide prevention line, such as a 1-800-273-TALK, or take her to the hospital emergency room; say aloud that this is what one does when a loved one’s life is in danger.

 

Make getting to that first appointment as easy as possible

You alone cannot fix this problem, no matter how patient and loving you are. A severely depressed friend needs professional assistance from a psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker or another medical professional. What you can do is to try to make getting to that first appointment as easy as possible. That might mean sitting next to your friend as he calls to make the appointment, finding counseling that he can afford, or even going with him that first time, if you’re comfortable with it.

 

Take care of yourself and set boundaries

When the thoughtful and kind people we’ve loved for years are depressed, they may also become uncharacteristically mean and self-centered. It’s exhausting, painful and hard to know how to respond when they pick fights or send nasty texts. Just because someone is depressed is not a reason to let their abusive behavior slide. Set clear boundaries with straightforward language such as, “It sounds like you’re in a lot of pain right now. But you can’t call me names.”

Boundaries about how much you can help and how much time you can give are important. Although you want to be present with your friend, set boundaries that keep you healthy and stick to them.

 

Remember, people do recover from depression

It can be hard when you’re in the middle of the storm with a depressed friend to remember that there was a time before, and hopefully a time after, this miserable state. It is important to remind yourself — and the person you’re trying to help — that people do emerge from depression. Because they do. 

(From a New York Times article, “What to Do When a Loved One Is Severely Depressed” by Heather Murphy, June 7, 2018, http://tiny.cc/yqyiuy)

 

A helpful website providing many resources for help:

https://www.speakingofsuicide.com/resources/

 

Recommended Reading:

4D1432A6-EA0F-47EB-B111-A35D095D42DARethinking Depression: How to Shed Mental Health Labels and Create Personal Meaning, February 14, 2012, by Eric Maisel.

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Why Smart People Hurt: A Guide for the Bright, the Sensitive and the Creative by Eric Maisel, https://www.amazon.com/Why-Smart-People-Hurt-Sensitive/dp/1573246263/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_2?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=72HYRNBE90SYMTN8PMY7

 

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Mindfulness for Kids: Create a Happier Life for Your Kids by Reducing Stress, Anxiety and Depression, November 27, 2017 by Jasmine Warren.

Available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Jasmine-Warren/e/B0788M6G2R/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

 

The following website offers an excellent resource:

http://www.drugrehab.com/guides/suicide-risks/