Tag Archives: Christmas

Advent, Apologies, and Joy

I have never experienced Advent in the way that I am experiencing it this year.

Each ticking off of the Sundays of Advent brings me another step closer to seeing my children return from their first semester at Baylor University – TOMORROW (God, weather, and roads willing).  To be a little cheesy, this mama bear is ready to have her cubs around for longer that 48 hours.  I am so proud of them, and I feel that we have all adjusted as well as we could have given the apple cart upsetting that we experienced in August.  I look forward to some relaxing times with them in our old stomping grounds of Minneapolis as well as our new home in Bismarck.  The time between Thanksgiving and today has dragged along, but I am sure that the next four weeks will fly by.  *sigh*

Each ticking off of the Sundays of Advent brings me another step closer to the end of our first semester at the University of Mary.  Seriously – wow! We have really changed our ministry focus and have loved every minute with the students here. This unique experience as Protestants in a committed Catholic environment has stretched and grown us in ways that we did not know could happen.  The dialogues that we have had with students and faculty have been amazing.  As I see it, we are here for two purposes: to be in dialogue with brothers and sisters from other denominations and to provide ministry in the Protestant traditions for those students and staff of those traditions.  This is transformational – can you imagine a Protestant university hiring a Catholic priest to minister on that Protestant campus? I am still in shock and so grateful.  I am really digging our new gig.

Advent is a time of reflection as we await the arrival of the Christ child.  In my reflecting, I have realized that sometimes I hit “publish” on my blog posts without thinking it all through.  A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about this new call on our lives, and I need to share an apology – or maybe just a clarification.  In the post, I wrote about sitting in Mass one Sunday evening and thinking that I am not “here” for the Catholic students sitting around me in the service.  After I hit publish and shared the post on Facebook, one of the Catholic students whom I would count as a dear friend made a comment.  It was not her comment that made me reflect but just the fact that she and I are in fellowship that forced me to re-think my words.  Who am I to limit God’s call on my life?  I am  here to minister to whomever and with whomever God brings into my life. We are here to be the hands and feet of Christ, to love any who comes into our lives, and to share the love of Jesus with whomever will listen.  So – I’m sorry. Deeply sorry.

Two days ago was the Advent Sunday of Joy.  My college English writing students who paid attention enough to know that we do not capitalize words without reason to do so would be upset that I wrote Joy instead of joy; however, it just seems like joy should be capitalized this week.  Maybe I should shout it – JOY (by the way, to those who follow me on Facebook, that lady is still sending me emails in all caps.  Seriously.).

JOY! Yes, this Advent week reminds us of the joy that our souls find because of Christ’s arrival on Earth.  As the song says, “No more let sin and sorrows grow.”  With Christ’s arrival on Earth, all of what was known about God’s kingdom was turned upside down and changed forever. Jesus – Messiah – arrived to save us, free us, bless us, and reign in us.  He came that we could live abundantly.

When we look around us, life abundant seems hard to find some days.  Death, divorce, disease, and discord seem to be winning the fight.  We should probably get off of our computers, log out of Facebook accounts, leave our houses, and go find life.  It is out there waiting for us to live in the same way that we wait in Advent.  And the joy that we seek will rarely be found where we think it will be – fame, career, or wealth.  Instead – in the same unexpected way that Jesus – the King – was found in a humble stable, JOY will likely be found in humble ways of serving others and looking beyond our own wants.

Advent reminds us that we remain in waiting for the second coming of Jesus.  All of the discord that we combat by seeking joy will end when Christ returns and reigns forever as King of King and Lord of Lords.  We will wait…and wait…and wait.  While we wait, we will seek joy through service to God through serving others.

Each year at Advent – this year at Advent – let us remember that Christ came so that we could have life.  As we wait to celebrate Christ’s birth, let us remember that Christ came for a purpose.  As we wait, let us remember that Christ is coming again.  Amen.




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Hey! Unto YOU a child is born!

Last night, my family attended a production of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at the SteppingStone Theatre in St Paul, Minnesota.  When my friend who hosts the weekly playgroup in her home told me that she and some playgroup families were going to the show, I quickly said I wanted to attend as well.

I love The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

In the fall of 1985, I was a sixth grader at Viking Elementary School in Grand Forks, North Dakota.  One of our lunch aides, Mrs. Barnum, also directed theatrical productions, and she asked me to audition for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever at the Fire Hall Theatre.  My parents obviously agreed to let me audition because I was cast as Gladys Herdman.  That role began my annual participation in the Fire Hall’s Christmas shows for the next few years, and – though I made it into other shows – no part would ever compare to that of Gladys Herdman.

Gladys Herdman has a very different life than I had.

In my “real” life, I was the oldest of two children; Gladys is the youngest of six.  In my “real” life, I knew that I would have enough to eat and a place to sleep; Gladys and her siblings steal food from others because they had little for themselves.  In my “real” life, I did not make waves; Gladys is never quiet.  I had never been in a fight; Gladys starts fights.  Being Gladys was the most fun I had ever had in my life, but I was glad that I could return to my “real” life at the end of the night.

It was so fun to watch “Gladys” in the production last night.


When the show ended, I warned my kids that I wanted a picture with “Gladys.”  It was an opportunity that I could not pass up.  She did not hesitate to say, “yes.”  And then I found her dad (who was also in the show) to ask his permission to share the photo on my blog.  I am so thankful that he agreed, and our conversation surrounding the show and its message blessed me immensely.  As I drove home alone (the huz was sick and had not joined us, and the kids had a party to attend), I thought further about the show, its message, and the character of Gladys.

The Herdmans, six siblings from a poor family who have a reputation around town for being dirty, mean, and horrible, crash Christmas pageant rehearsal at the local church.  Most of the church kids are tired of the “same old pageant,” but the Herdmans are intrigued by the story.  They eagerly volunteer for main roles and push out the competition with threatening looks.  The church kids are relegated to the angel choir and shepherd roles.

As the Herdmans learn about the various players in the Christmas story, they react in ways that the church kids – who had heard the story over and over – found objectionable.  Yet their enthusiasm in protecting Jesus from Herod and their desire to make Him the central focus of the show was refreshing.

Gladys plays “the angel of the Lord” in the Christmas pageant.  She likens this character to “the mighty Marvel” of Wonder Comics in the following interaction with the pageant director during rehearsal (click here for more quotes found on http://imdb.com):

Grace Bradley: [reading the story of Christmas] And, lo, the Angel of the Lord came upon them…
Gladys Herdman: Shazaaammmm!
Grace Bradley: What?
Gladys Herdman: Out with a vengeance in the darkness, the mighty Marvel!
Grace Bradley: Gladys, I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Gladys Herdman: The Mighty Marvel in Wonder Comics.
Grace Bradley: No, this is the Angel of the Lord.
Gladys Herdman: Out of nowhere, right? In the black night, right?
Grace Bradley: Well, yes, in a way.
Gladys Herdman: Shazaaaammmm!

Gladys’s enthusiasm for her part continues into the pageant itself.  In fact, she tells the shepherds exactly where to find Jesus (what if they would get lost?).  She wants everyone to know where to find Jesus, and she is not ashamed to scream it as loud as she can.  At the end of the play itself – after the pageant is over and the adults have agreed that it was the best pageant ever – Gladys returns to the stage to tell the audience what she told the shepherds, “Hey! Unto you a child is born!”

And the stage lights go dark before the curtain call.

Gladys’s line is the last line of the play.  It is the most important line of the play.  She says it with such enthusiasm that we have to believe her. 

Unto us a child is born. 

That is what Christmas is all about, right?  A child being born – unto us.  And Gladys wants to make sure that we all know it, that we all believe it, and that we all can find Him.

I want to play Gladys again.

With eyes opened, with self-consciousness gone, and with arms flailing as she bips around the pageant stage, Gladys proclaims the truth about Jesus.  She wants the role of the Angel of the Lord, and she is willing to fight others for it.  Once she has been given the role, she enthusiastically tells others where to find Jesus and tells others that He came for them.  Gladys did not know much, but she knew what was important.  Jesus was born, He was born for us, and that news should be shared with others.

Can we all be a bit more like Gladys this year?


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A Clean Slate

I have stared at the blank page on my computer screen for the past ten minutes with breaks to check email, Facebook, and order a Christmas present on Amazon.com.  Last night, I spoke with someone about how I “used to blog daily” and was intrigued by the conversation as it followed a friend’s comment on Facebook earlier this week: “…btw, did you know you haven’t written since October?! Having withdrawals here you know.”

I want to write a blog post.

I really do.  I always have so much to say inside my own head as well as verbally.  I always want to sit down and write. But what started out as a little project to slow my racing mind had turned into a demand on my life that I felt I needed to do so that others would be pleased.  I found my mood being swayed – positively and negatively – by the number of comments made on posts each day or the number of hits or shares I saw.  I would watch the stats of a post and hit refresh every five minutes.

This was not what I had intended to do when I started writing blogs.

And so, I needed to take a break.  I shared that publicly back in October – the last post before this one.  And the blog went silent.

Until today.

Last night, I attended a joint Christmas service at our church.  It was a joint effort between our church and a group called FreedomWorks, a post-prison ministry for men, which meets in our building on Thursday nights for food, fellowship, and a service.  As part of last night’s service, men involved in the ministry (therefore, former prison inmates) shared about their experiences, how the ministry had impacted their lives, and what their lives were now.  As they talked and then throughout the singing of Christmas carols, one phrase kept coming to me – “Clean Slate.”

Christmas is a great time to consider how invested in us God is.  He cared so much about our state as humans – sinful and separated – that He sent Jesus to us.  From that humble day in a stable in Bethlehem, Jesus was on a road to only one place – Calvary – where He would die to pay the price for the sin in me and then rise again to conquer death.

God provided Jesus to give us a clean slate.

I often live my life as if I am carrying around my list of dirty deeds, but that is not what God ever intended me to do.  Yes – He wants me to recognize that I am a sinner, but that is simply a truth that I must acknowledge so that I realize my need for Jesus.  Once I recognize that need and hold firmly to that truth, I am to live a life of freedom.  Galatians 5:1 tells me that “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

Living life with the dirty deed list in one hand does not free me completely do and experience all that God has for me in this life.  He wants my hands free and ready to act in love to others.  He wants my hands free to experience the blessings He has for me.  God wants my heart to be free from the burden of guilt that I carry.

As we consider the manger this Christmas and thank God for all that He has done and will do, I think we need to remember that Christ came to endure life as a man and to die on our behalf to free us – to give us a clean slate.  And in living out our freedom in service to God and others, we honor His death until He comes again.

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Board Games of Christmas

It’s the last day of the year…that makes this a double posting day!

Our family loves board games.  We love to spend time playing them, but we also love finding new ones for each other.  This has become true as we find games for other family members such as our parents or nieces and nephews.  This year was an especially great year for board games.

Dominion was the main present for the boy from his grandmother this year; his South Dakota cousin had received the same game from his parents, so they were thrilled to play it together. This is not a difficult game on the surface but can become more and more difficult as one plays it.  The boy claims that there are over one hundred million possible game permutations based on the number of players, which cards are used, etc.  I gave it a whirl on Wednesday morning, and I am sure that I will play it again and enjoy it. The boy and his cousins enjoyed playing this together in the community room at grandma’s house.  The youngest cousin is ten years old; it might be a stretch for some kids of that age, but a bright ten year old will be able to hold her own.

We purchased Say Anything for the South Dakota nephews this year and then suggested it to my side of the family as well.  This game combines the uncertainties of Apples to Apples with elements from other games including “bidding” on each other’s responses.  This is a great game for players of all ages allowing family members of multiple generations to play one game together. As with all board games, the more competitive the players, the more likely a little tiff will occur over an interpretation of the answers.  Overall, however, this game is pretty tiff-free.

Last year, we happened upon Scribblish.  The game combines elements of Pictionary and Telephone as the layers of rounds include drawing and interpreting the drawings…only to then have drawings occur again.  My North Dakota nephews love this game and were thrilled that we could spend yesterday afternoon cooking and playing games. The downside is that it requires some drawing abilities, but as long as one is willing to be adventurous and be a good sport, there is some likelihood of success.  There is voting involved, and that is always a warning light for me as it could result in tiffs.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my present from the kids was my current favorite board game – Small World.  This moved up into the favorite position replacing my formerly favorite board game – Ticket to Ride: Europe.  Small World is great fun.  I think it has elements of Risk in it, but having not actually played a game of Risk in my life, this is just a guess.  Other board games that sit next to me as I type this are Liebrary (much like the old Dictionary game) and Wits and Wagers.  I am not sure if we are going to get to these games this week, though.

Board games seem to me a most important aspect of family life that must remain for centuries to come.  As our culture becomes more and more pulled into technology that keeps us isolated from each other and conversation, we need to find ways to sit around the table and engage with friends and family members. Whether a board game or a meal, this is necessary.

With that – I’m going to sign off…I think some people are waiting for me to play a game with them!

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Impact of Social Media

Since Sunday, our family has been staying with family. The place is without any www contact except for the phones we along and the occasional stop at McDonald’s and a little wifi time. What is life like when we unplug from our email, Facebook, blogs, and texting? For me, it seems pretty boring and lacks contact with the “real” world. I even get prayer request from church on my email! I am so thankful that my phone gets decent reception in the depths of South Dakota.

While we have been visiting, a couple of relatives are hospitalized. The phone rings (a landline!) several times a day with updates. I mentioned to my huz that this shocks me; he reminded me that it is no different than my phone buzzing with an update by phone, text, or email. Although technology has changed the method and speed by which we receive information, we are communal – news, whether good or bad, needs to be shared.

I ran across a YouTube video that examined how the Christmas story would have been impacted by a social media age.

Check it out by clicking on this sentence.

In this time between Christmas and the new year, it is good to pause and consider how we share news.

What news is appropriately shared via text, email, and Facebook?

I would love for readers to share their thoughts in the comment section.

Happy Wednesday!!

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The Advent Grinch

Yesterday was Christmas!  It was a great day for the family, a great day of travel, and a great Christmas service at church.  The sermon was fantastic – it always is in my eyes (my huz is the pastor, but objectively speaking – he is one of the best).  In addition an inspiring sermon, though, was a thought-provoking advent meditation.  I asked the author/speaker if I could share his thoughts in my blog today, and he agreed.

Ben Sonquist is a science teacher who also has a great mind for theology; he and my huz have attended conferences about science and theology together.  He and his wife Amy are the Sunday School teachers for my children’s class as of January 8, and I am thrilled!  They have three sons who helped him out with the Scripture reading yesterday.  Thank you, Ben, for sharing your thoughts on my blog today!

Christmas is supposed to be a happy time, but I have a tendency to be a real Grinch.

A big part of my Scroogly ways has to do not with Christmas itself but with everything that leads up to Christmas. You could say my problem with Christmas is advent.

The beginning of the advent season marks the beginning of the angst season for me. Between scheduling the family visits, getting the kids here and there, budgeting gifts, and the barrage of holiday related commercials my focus quickly shifts to what’s wrong with Christmas rather than what’s right.

Over the advent season we have heard sermons and testimonies with themes like: Be the Light, Make the Most of Every Opportunity, Be Missionally Minded and Be the Miracle. These have been excellent reminders for me and have acted in a way that corrects my Christmas course.

Another reminder has come in reading The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis. The letters are written from the perspective of a demon that is mentoring his nephew demon on how to corrupt his human patient. The book is set in 1940’s England but it might as well have been written about me today.

In the 11th letter Screwtape (the elder more experienced demon) reprimands his nephew for trying to leverage common fun things for corrupting his patient. In his reprimand he describes the danger of fun. (Remember this is written from the demons perspective)

Fun is closely related to Joy—a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct. It is very little use to us. It can sometimes be used, of course, to divert humans from something else which the Enemy would like them to be feeling or doing: but in itself it has wholly undesirable tendencies; it promotes charity, courage, contentment, and many other evils.

Screwtape is wary of fun because he recognizes that everything that is good comes from God and fun is good.

Christmas, and everything that leads up to it, is fun. Visiting family is fun. Giving and receiving gifts is fun. Even commercials on TV are fun.  Screwtape knew that the pure joy in these is dangerous but they can also be twisted to distract us from our Father’s (his enemies) will.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 says: Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

During Christmas I need to remember to be joyful even when I don’t feel like it because there is a lot of fun to be had. During Christmas I need to pray continually because even though everything that is good comes from God it is easy to lose sight of that. During Christmas I need to give thanks because I have been blessed with so much and it is all from God.  And I need to do all of this because it is God’s will for me, and you, in Christ Jesus.


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Christmas in the Parsonage

We had a great day yesterday as we celebrated Christmas with just the four of us.

First thing in the morning – stocking stuffers which included items that each person would really love; the boy loves graphic t-shirts.  I do not obey very well.  My favorite part of my stocking stuffer was the Scottish shortbread cookies.  I did share!

Breakfast was next: croissant French toast with bacon (Hackenmueller’s, of course!).

The boy then read us the Christmas story…it was good to pause and remember the reason for the season.  As we continue to reflect tomorrow at our church service, I will remain inspired by my children and their dedication to celebration and remembrance.

Presents were next!  My gift = my favorite board game: Smallworld.  The huz’s gift = an expansion pack for the same game.  The girl bought an expansion pack that we had never used before (we usually borrow the game from friends) for the boy which added elements to the game that we discovered that we love as we played the game twice.  The huz won the first round.  We played again later in the day, and I smoked the family with my Imperial Skeletons.  The game is fabulous!  Some may object to some of the fantasy characters, but I love the game overall.

The board game – Quelf – was next on the day’s agenda.  The boy agreed to let me post a video of one of his turns.  The game is a lot of fun – especially for groups with a bunch of people in varying age groups.  Unfortunately, the size of the file would upload into this format.  Oh well!

Dinner: homemade lasagna with little meatballs.  YUM!

We ended the evening with a family movie night.

GREAT day!


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Only at an Italian Restaurant!

On Thursday night, the huz and I decided to treat ourselves to a date night in the midst of the chaos that is illness and Christmas prep.  The kids were babysitting for a nearby family, and we had a bunch of things to get done.  But – hey – start the night off right with a little yummy cooking.  We wanted to pick up a gift card (because they had monetary incentives to do so!) from our favorite neighborhood Twin Cities Italian restaurant anyway, so we left the ideas of Uptown behind and headed into Robbinsdale to Nonna Rosa’s where we are never disappointed and always feel at home.

I have blogged about this fine restaurant previously (back on the former blog site), and I could probably do so about once a month because we go there that often!  When we sat down, the huz already knew that he wanted Veal Parmesan, but I did want to hear the specials.  My heart skipped a beat when the server said they had Baked Stuffed Shrimp – my favorite dish from my favorite Italian haunt in Cranston, Rhode Island, where I spent many a fine summer since early in my childhood. I try to get there once a year to visit my grandmother…and have her to take me to Twin Oaks for Baked Stuffed Shrimp.  When the server said this, my mouth started to water, and I could taste the yum.  However, I was smart enough to clarify the ingredients before ordering the meal.  Once the ingredients were shared, I knew I would not be satisfied – not that mussels, scallops, and other seafood (that I’m not fond of…simply a shrimp and lobster gal) wouldn’t be great for someone else.  Just not me.

We went with the Veal Parmesan – never a bad choice – with Caesar Salad – also never a bad choice.  They, of course, bring yummy bread.  I added on the Peroni Beer Cheese Soup because I had wanted some ever since seeing in on their Facebook post the day before when I was still loopy and exhausted from having walking pneumonia.  I love it when servers reference alcohol as if we are supposed to know what it means (who knew that Peroni is a brand – maybe flavor – of beer?) as in the name of the soup and then also in the name of creme brulee for the evening.  Fortunately, we know that we love the Bailey’s flavored creme brulee even though we have no idea what straight (or mixed with other liquid) Bailey’s tastes like.  The flavor of the evening was something that meant orange.  We had heard of this previously and decided we wanted to try it.  We discovered later (info on the bathroom stall) that homemade gelato (pistachio, wild berry, or salted caramel) would have been a possibility as well.  We almost ordered that to go as the “something that meant orange” flavor was not our favorite.

Well – the meal aside, the evening took a fun turn as we ate our dessert.  As I returned from the restroom (needed to rest), I caught the tale end of the conversation between the huz and our server.  Turns out that she is from North Dakota as well and from just a little north of Grand Forks.  When she came back by the table, we talked some more about it – and GUESS WHAT?   We are almost related!!!!

Well…not exactly – but close enough that we could have attended the same wedding or funeral at some point or still could.  I just had to map this out a bit to be sure, but our “relation” is only by marriage.

My Grandma’s sister’s son’s wife is her great aunt.  We share a cousin…her cousin is my cousin.  That makes us nearly related!!!

Only in an Italian restaurant – where we already feel like family because they know our names, what we like to eat, and where we like to sit – can something great like this happen!  Ok…to be honest…it happens all the time all over the world.  But how long would it have taken for us to figure this out?

The best part: we are going to Widman’s Candy to pick up some Chippers because my almost-relative wants some.  🙂

Watch for the blog post!  Merry Christmas Eve!



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Turns Out…I Had Walking Pneumonia…

Short Post Friday is here!  It is the first time that I have officially celebrated Short Post Friday, but this is a good week to do it.  I have a lot going on (not like it’s the week before Christmas!!!), and – well – as the title says, I am also sick.

In my post earlier this week, I mentioned that I experienced a crash over the weekend.  Or at least that is what I thought.  I went to the doctor on Wednesday because I had not slept the night before due to a dry, hacking cough and then a burning in my chest.  Turns out – I have walking pneumonia.  Lovely! The week before Christmas!  Just what I need as I wrap things up at work and at home before taking off for a week of time with family – some of whom are well into their eighties.  Being around them and contagious with a pneumonial (yes, I made that up)-type illness would not be good!  I am well medicated and on the mend.  Huzzah!

The hard part about having bipolar disorder and then being sick is that it is hard to know which one is which and then which one came first in a weekend when I just crash.  I could have been crashing; it was about time for that.  And it turns out I was getting sick. So was the crash just sickness that I had not identified yet?  Or was the crash there and then making me susceptible to illness?  Either, both, or some combination seems to be quite possible.  And in the end, does it matter?  I obviously did not fight off the illness well even though I slept quite a bit over the weekend thinking it was a crash.  I just got sicker and ended up needing antibiotics!

My daughter experienced something similar this summer while she was working at Village Creek Bible Camp in Iowa.  She has asthma, and summer camp seems to be wrought with the allergens which exacerbate her condition.  She is a great worker, though, and loves camp. She loves the kids, she loves family camp, and she loves her co-workers.  As the summer went on, she experienced a number of asthma related issues, spent some time in the small town ER (which, by the way, was awesome and much cheaper than our city hospitals!), and came home from the summer still not quite well.  Her illness-like self continued into the school year.  After she kept missing day after day, I pushed a doctor to a second mono test.

Guess what?  She most likely had mono at some point over the summer.  So – what came first?  Asthma or mono?  It didn’t really matter because one masked the other.  Asthma does not require one to rest, but mono does.  Once the child can breathe again, all should be well…but it was not well, and she kept having symptoms that eventually left her in a weakened condition and another asthma attack.  But she had mono!

This kind of thing happens all the time.  It is frustrating.  But – when it happens, it does make me think that we need to constantly be asking more questions and digging deeper.  Rarely is anything what it seems on the surface – with just about anything – and a little time and investigation will likely get to the root of the issue.  That is what needs to be addressed, and then all can be well.

As I write this, I think of how true this is in a lot of things….and so much for the short post…

(PS: this is a time when I am just seriously writing as I think…and my mind often takes an exit from one road and zooms down another – related but very different – highway.)

I work for Minnesota Virtual High School, one of the largest online schools in Minnesota, as the dean of students.  In that role, I am mostly known as the truancy lady.  My job is to get kids to log on and do their schoolwork.  Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy, right?  So not.  Kids are kids.  And kids who avoid school do so for a reason.  It doesn’t really matter what the reason is, though, the law is that they have to go to school.  That’s all fine and dandy for the lawmakers, but it is not so easy for me.  If fining kids made them go back to school, we could just do that.  But – finding out what the root issue is … and then solving that … that is the key.

I sat in a meeting recently where this was so true.  The student had issues that were not being addressed, so she quit doing schoolwork.  Guess what?  It got the parents’ attention when I sent that letter home saying we were going to court if this was not resolved.  As the story unraveled and needs were revealed, the parents agreed to some things and the student agreed to some things.  There was a lot of work involved for everyone, including some people at the school, but I am hopeful that this student will be successful.

There you have it – a little lesson in Stacy’s racing mind.  Walking pneumonia and bipolar to asthma and mono ends a little family systems theory and school attendance issues.

Can I hear an “uff da”????

Happy Friday, all!

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Christmas and the Blues

Last week, I wrote a post that discussed an observation that I had of a worker at a nursing home and her aversion to Christmas.  A good friend and pastor in North Dakota – Danelle Olson – commented on the post, and I have asked him to collaborate with me on today’s post to provide a Christian perspective on Christmas and mental health.  Thanks, Danelle!

Danelle and I share are kindred spirits in that we each have a mental illness diagnosis, but we are impacted by it differently.  I shared about my diagnosis and a bit of its impact on my life in a post titled Bipolar Nature.”  Danelle – could you share a bit about your story?

I grew up in Bowman, ND and attended both elementary and high school there. From the time I stepped into the kindergarten classroom until the time I graduated from high school, I struggled immensely with anxiety.  I worried about everything from grades to social activities in an exaggerated manner, but was never formally diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) until much later in life. 

I have served the United Community Baptist Church in Anamoose, ND as a solo pastor for the last 10 years.  During this time, my GAD has, for lack of a better term, “morphed” into Major Depressive Disorder.  I have taken a variety of medication for the affliction, including such drugs as Lithium, Pristiq, Efexxor and Celexa. 

What are some of the struggles that you have with enjoying Christmas?

One of the major struggles for me during Christmas has to deal with expectations during the season.  There’s an unwritten rule in our society which says: “You should be happy and joyful during Christmas.”  Everybody puts up Christmas lights.  Everybody buys things on sale at Wal-Mart to use as presents.  Everybody walks around saying “Merry Christmas!”  Again, everybody is “supposed” to be happy, but with clinical depression, it just doesn’t work that way. 

On a similar note, it hit me this morning (December 21, 2011) that I can’t seem to feel the right way at the right time during Christmas.  For example, in just a few hours, my family and I will be driving to a town four hours away to celebrate Christmas with my parents.  Since I love both of my parents dearly and get along with them very well, I should be happy about making the trip, right?  However, because of a brain chemical imbalance (i.e. depression), I don’t feel as joyful as I should feel.  (NOTE:  I understand full well that nobody can control their emotions in the strict sense, but I am referring here to the inability to be happy about what would normally make me happy if not for depression.)  

You are a pastor, and Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ – central to your faith.  How does that interact with your struggles with depression?

Since the birth of Christ is indeed central to the Christian faith, one would think that a Christian believer/Pastor such as myself should feel joy during this time of year.  However, as stated previously, my not being able to feel the right way at the right time gets in the way of my experiencing joy. 

Having said this, I of course feel extreme GUILT at Christmas for NOT experiencing joy like other Christians do.  In fact, I wonder sometimes if people think that I’m simply being ungrateful regarding the birth of Christ and how he came to save us from our sins.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  I KNOW the truth, but the joy that is “supposed” to accompany knowing that truth is often absent.  

Because of the nature of struggle, some Christmas seasons are worse than others.  Where are you this year?  Is there an explanation for that?

As previously stated, my family and I will be travelling to my mom and dad’s farm near Bowman, ND.  Usually, we have some relatives from Indiana who join us for Christmas, but t they will not be making the trip this year for family reasons.  So, this Christmas will be a little sadder for me.  (My belief is that people who struggle with clinical depression feel more deeply than others.  This means that I take disappointment harder than others do.) 

 What are some coping strategies that you use during the Christmas season in your personal life and in your family life to maintain a healthy outlook?

My greatest coping strategy has been to surround myself with loving and friendly people.  With that in mind, my church family has been absolutely wonderful to my family and me, and we enjoy their company very much.

A second coping strategy-and I hate to admit this-has been sleep.  Sometimes, when I am overwhelmed by “the black cloud”- a term I have coined which I think describes depression- I’m almost compelled to rest for awhile.  Now of course, this strategy wouldn’t be possible in most work situations, but my church people  have been gracious to me, and although none of them have said it out loud, I think they understand after 10 years that their pastor is not going to be 100 percent all of the time.   Most of my people have no idea what it’s like to have Major Depressive Disorder, but nonetheless, they seem to understand that I’m not just “making it up”.  This awareness on their part is helpful for me as well. 

 You commented in a Facebook thread that “even depressed people must make an effort to focus on the birth of Christ. He continues to hold on to us, even when we are unable to hold on to him on account of our mental and emotional afflictions.”  How have you experienced this in your life?

I have already said that I have been the pastor of church for 10 years here in Anamoose.   During that time, I have had VERY few times when I could honestly say that I wasn’t troubled with depression and/or anxiety, but God has brought me this far.  This is what I meant when I said “He continues to hold on to us, even when we’re unable to hold on to Him.”  I was trying to make the point that somehow, and in some way, God has brought me through 10 years of ministry and, I hope, has used me in some small way to make a real difference for his Kingdom. 

I would also like to add that last June, I admitted myself to the psychiatric hospital at St. Alexius Medical Center in Bismarck, ND to undergo a major medication change for a week.  While I wasn’t there a long time, it was one of those deals where I looked back at the experience and said: “God, I would never have made it through that experience without you.” 

 Any other thoughts that you would like to share with me?

I once posted on FaceBook that I would like to write a book that asks the question: “What does God do with genuine Christian believers with depression who experience very little, if any, real joy in their lives?”  Of course, the quick “answer” to that question is that happiness and joy are two different things.  The former is based on circumstances and feelings while the latter is based on a decision.  This sounds good on paper, but does it really reflect the kind of Christian life God wants us to live?  Can a person really live a true Christian life, be in a true relationship with God, and feel NO positive emotions whatsoever?  (Think about a wife who says of her husband: “Oh, I love him very, very much.  I just never have any positive, loving emotions towards him.”  In my mind, this just can’t be.) What’s more, if the part of my body (i.e. brain) which I use to decide to be happy is sick,  what am I to do? 

Although this post may bring up more questions that it does provide answers, our hope is that others who struggle – especially at Christmas – will feel a little less alone.  That feeling of isolation and a lack of understanding from those around us is probably the worst thing to experience.  I resonate quite well with some of the lyrics in “Falling” by the Civil Wars.

Tell me it’s nothing
Try to convince me
That I’m not drowning
Oh let me tell you, I am

Please, please tell me you know

Although the intent of their lyrics are for a far different purpose (a woman breaking up with her man), I feel them deeply in my soul when I hear them because I just want others to see me as I am and not try to convince me otherwise.

One of the ways that I manage my “issues” is by being very honest with my huz and kids about what kind of day it is in Stacy’s brain…if I am aware enough to know.  The other thing that has helped a whole lot is to give them the freedom to ask questions about what is going on.  Am I responding in that way because I am just having a “regular person” bad day, or is there something bigger that needs to be addressed and managed?

Danelle and I hope that readers find kinship or understanding in this post.  Please comment and share with us; we would love that!

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