I can follow the rules. That's how I roll.
Speed limit is 55? I will set my cruise on 55. Be at work by 7:30am? I will be there by 7:20am. Limit sugar intake to keep weight in check? I will not buy coffee creamer that is not clearly labeled "sugar free." Chris says that we can't put up the tree until November 1st because it confuses trick-or-treaters? I will wait until November 1st.
I'm sure if I ever went to see a professional I might possibly be diagnosed with some mild sort of OCD because my rules often do not make a lot of sense and are sometimes very trivial. I'm sure the professional might even call them something like rituals, but I know that I am a creature of habit. If I can live within the confines of my rules and routines, then I can find balance and order.
And order and balance brings me great joy.
The unfortunate part of these self-imposed rules is that in reality, they often do not bring me joy. The constraints I put on myself often choke the life out of me. They are often too ridiculous to live up to, and I often find myself caught in a whirlwind in should-haves and must-haves and why-didn't-Is and shame-on-mes.
I didn't spend enough time engaged with my own children today because I exhausted myself at work. I miss the deliciousness of Peppermint Mocha Creamer but I can't have it because they don't make a sugar-free version. I should have called my friends this week. I should have worked on the laundry/packed lunches/caught up with schoolwork/picked out clothes last night instead of waiting until this morning.
I find that I expect joy to arrive in certain circumstances. That it can only arrive in well-planned and well-controlled situations that I have carefully plotted and planned.
I expect joy to arrive in a week when I put up my tree and decorations. I expect joy to arrive when I surprise my kids with a trip to somewhere fabulous. I expect joy to arrive when my house is orderly and well-kept. I expect joy to arrive at the end of the school year. I expect joy to arrive when I spend time watching my children do cartwheels for the 14th time in 5 minutes. I expect joy to arrive when I look just right before leaving the house. I expect joy to arrive when a busy season is over and it's finally a Saturday morning at home.
Earlier this year I went through a serious funk that lasted for the better part of six months. I was dealing with a lot of emotional baggage and old shames and sins. I tried my best to push it out of my head, I tried to find ways to cultivate joy through my typical rituals and routines, and I wondered if I was losing my touch with my self-imposed joy creator.
I could not simply pray my way out of the lows that would continuously wash over me. I often felt like my prayers were heard but simply not answered. I could not talk it out with friends and family, and when I attempted to seek their counsel, I would end up beating myself up even more. I began to dread the very things that brought me great joy. I didn't want to go out in public and deal with things like traffic or hustle and bustle. I didn't want to do anything except hole up in my house and try to maintain the order in my head. I didn't smile when I would cheat and listen to a little Charlie Brown Christmas while cleaning my house--it would actually make me cry because I mourned the good old Christmas days filled with simple joy.
I was a pathetic mess.
And I began to believe the voices when they said that God was keeping joy from me because I was a terrible person full of sins and shame and anger. The voices convinced me that He was punishing me for all of the things I had done in my past. That He was calling me to carpet and taking it out on me. That I was a hopeless excuse for a person and that He did not desire good for me. That it was my turn to live through hell and that I needed to suck it up.
And I started to listen to the voices. To clench my fists and hold on tightly to the things that I wanted to keep. To get angry when I would pray and not hear any answers at all. To be exhausted and mad that I could not pray this fog of depression away. To feel shaken and anxious every single morning because it was another day of dealing with this incredible aching in my soul. To be so hurt that the very God that loved me would allow me to walk through this time. To be so disappointed in people and myself and the ways we carry ourselves. To cry in the shower several mornings because I felt like the mess was leaking out all over. To be overly convicted every single Sunday morning because every song pointed to the despicable mess I had become. To keep my head bent in the services because I was so tired of being convicted.
There are times I wonder if this was the result from a series of events--the combination of a new diet, changes in my metabolism and how it affected certain medications, moving and Chris' new job, and life decisions that brought about this time. I've been down the road to depression before (right after Molly was born) and I recognized some of the warning signals. I seriously considered calling my doctor and asking for some medication to help me sort through some of this mess because I was at a complete loss.
I also believe that all artists find themselves in the highs and lows of life. We feel and experience things so deeply that we often live the expanse of human emotions. We can't just get irritated--we rage. We can't feel sorry for people, we wail. We can't be excited--we're ecstatic. We simply do not process emotions the same way that others will.
And I also believe that that evil lurks and looks for places to take up residence in our hearts and minds. You can call it what you want, but I know there is a daily spiritual battle for our lives.
I distinctly remember the morning that the fog lifted. I had a dream right before I woke up that I was in my kitchen and Jesus was standing in front of me on the other side of the counter. In my hands was a basket and when Jesus asked to see it, I begged Him not to look inside. I was holding all of my shame and yuck and sins in that basket. I remember the hopeless and empty feeling in my dream when He took the basket and opened it. It was such a dark and horrible feeling when He showed me the black tarry mess.
And then He said, "It's ok." And He took my basket away from me.
I remember waking with a peace I hadn't felt for such a long time. I thanked Him for the forgiveness of my sins. And then I saw the date--July 25th.
Christmas in July.
Maybe it was a coincidence. Maybe I'm reading more into this than I should, but I believe that date was a gift. If you don't know anything else about me, you know that I have a deep, deep affinity for the Christmas season. You know that there are very few things that bring me greater joy than that season of celebration. I consider it no accident that He chose that specific date to remind me of His love and mercy.
Because Christmas is a promise. A promise that God sent His Son so that we don't have to live in shame. That we can't make it on our own. That we weren't created to hold the burdens that we bring upon ourselves. That we cannot create joy or make it happen on our own--our joy comes from Him.
That was the morning I began to get my life back. I began to get my hope back. I began to get my joy back. The girls and I had a celebration that morning--with sweet rolls and Christmas music and singing and dancing. I smiled and praised and cried tears of relief. I began the steps towards gaining Life and not feeling like I had to sacrifice joy or live a life of shame and self-imposed humiliation.
It's a process. And there are days the voices try to creep in and choke the joy I hold in my heart. But, I have gained a better perspective and a stronger voice against those that try to rob me of the joy I find in His promises. My joy is raw and unrefined--and I find joy in things that were often glazed over in the past.
The wounds are still there, but the Physician is my Healer.
To be continued. . .