Friday, March 3, 2017

Doubting Dawn - Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, and Forgery on CNN

The lot is drawn.

These words are spoken by Peter to Thomas in the apocryphal Acts of Thomas which chronicles the travels of the apostle Thomas from Galilee to India to spread the story of and teachings of Jesus Christ. Or at least that's what we learn in season two of "Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, and Forgery," which premieres on CNN this Sunday, March 5, 2017. Poor Thomas. He's already struggling to understand, to believe, to make sense of the death and resurrection of his friend and teacher...and now he has the bad luck to draw the straw that will send him to what was then seen as the end of the Earth, more or less.

And he does not want to.

At least according to the re-enactment in the episode of Finding Jesus I had the opportunity to screen, he at first refuses, leading Peter to say the words above: "The lot is drawn." Dumb luck or destiny, Thomas is stuck. He and his fellow apostles have been commissioned by Christ to "make believers of all nations."  In his case, to do so means leaving family, friends, the only home he has ever known to travel to a foreign land with no idea how he will be welcomed. He has already seen his friend slaughtered for teaching an alternative to the prevailing belief of their land. We know that Thomas is a man of reason who has been challenged by Jesus to act out of blind faith rather than relying on reason and evidence. How hard it must be to walk blindly into the unknown for him! Yet, as our documentary points out the Acts of Thomas suggests that, with the help of a little con game by Jesus and a night of prayer, Thomas faithfully accepts his lot and brings Christianity to India.

Like Thomas, I have found myself in a crisis of faith. I still don't know if it was just the dumb luck of my husband finding the right job in Chattanooga or if it's destiny that brought us here. Either way, I have not wanted to be here. Well, maybe at first. I did sort of blindly assume it would all be okay. But that wasn't due to my faith in God. It was more about my belief that I could make it all be okay. Unfortunately, it hasn't all been okay. The fresh start I was hoping to have in certain parts of life has been harder to achieve. My kids were deeply saddened by leaving their friends and the familiar comforts of the only home they've ever lived in. I threw myself into trying to help them adjust. I worked with them to focus on the things they liked about their new school, our new home, their new friends. I worried. I prayed for them to adjust. And they did.

It never occurred to me to pray for myself. Or focus on my spiritual needs. I just kept feeling a sense of emptiness, loneliness, and loss and listening to the voice that told me it was all my fault. I gave up my job, my friends, a church I loved, a deeply gratifying role as PTA President. And despite having all of my physical and material needs met...I felt so empty and hopeless, sinking deeper into a growing depression that had been intensifying over the last few months. I kept thinking that I needed to make myself find a job and get up and out so I could meet people. The fact that I couldn't make myself find a job or make new friends was another failure and a reminder of my worthlessness. Like Thomas, I was driven by reason, believing I could think my way through my blocks. It took hitting rock bottom two weeks ago to realize that I needed to be doing more than trying to think my way through. I needed to unify all aspects of my being – mind, body, and spirit.

So, in addition to reading, listening to podcasts, and trying to think my way into action, I've gone back to having a daily practice that is good for all parts of myself. I've renewed my commitment to a healthy diet. I'm exercising. I'm trying to let myself feel all my emotions instead of denying the anger and sadness I felt guilty for feeling. And perhaps most importantly, I'm trying to slow down and find time to quiet my mind through meditation and prayer. And in that prayer, I'm acknowledging that I am not alone as I thought. I still have to take action but I can ask God to help direct my action and to help carry the weight of my loneliness and brokenness.

Clearly, like Thomas's, mine is a reasoned faith. I had to figure out what wasn't working and why, then take the necessary actions to start trying to create the life I am meant for instead of the one I dumb-lucked into. The story of Thomas reminds me of the hymn that goes "Here I am Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me." As I mentioned in my previous post, I've changed tacks, headed in a different direction than I intended.  I certainly feel that I am being nudged in the direction of doing work that is in service to others somehow. So, like Thomas, I'm stepping out in faith, couched in the reasoned knowledge that this feels so much better than the alternative of carrying my burdens alone, and trusting that I'm on a path that will bring me greater joy, a sustainable income, and allow me to help others live better, happier lives.

I'm so glad I watched this screener of Finding Jesus. I can't wait to watch every episode starting this Sunday! It was just the right way to start my Lenten practice and gave me the perfect reminder to stay the course like Thomas – not a skeptic, but someone who fought his doubt for his belief. Also, I learned a lot! This isn't just a docudrama with lots of cute British actors. They have actual renowned historians, religious experts and theologians from Oxford, Columbia, Duke, Harvard, and Notre Dame including my favorite Catholic priest, Fr. James Martin, SJ. Check out this trailer to see if you're interested:

Also, I invite you to share the challenges you are facing in the comments below. Or, if you have a story of overcoming doubts and challenges in your life, I would LOVE for you to share that as well. Your story could be the one someone else needs to hear right now! And I have a little incentive for anyone willing to share their story.

Everyone who comments below, likes my Facebook page, shares the Facebook link for this post, and follows me on Instagram will be entered into a drawing for a $25 Lifeway gift certificate. I will do the drawing on Monday, March 6 and notify the winner that day. 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

When Moving Brings the Blues

I know.

It's a clich̩ that moving is one of the most stressful things you endure in life. Technically, according to the Holmes and Rahe Test Scale, moving ranks way down at number 32 on the list of stressful life events. To be fair, another research study in the UK found moving homes to be as stress-inducing as the death of a spouse. I'm not arguing. But for me Рand I think for many of us Рthe true stress isn't in the act or process of packing up one home, selling it (although that had it's tense moments like when our home inspection revealed a leak we hadn't known about), finding the perfect new home, and settling in. The real stress is in the actual living and making a life in your new home, your new community. I went in as excited and enthusiastic as I could possibly have been. This was my chance to create a new life.

Six months later and I can barely get out of bed. Depression wraps her cold bony hands around me and pulls me down, deep down. Every day, a battle.

The packing, spending three months on an extended road trip with my boys and our dog, making arrangements for places to stay, finding a friend to foster our cat until we got settled...that was a breeze. I loved it because I was busy, busy, busy. I was also still seeing friends as we traveled around and back and forth to Atlanta. Even once we got to Chattanooga, I was busy and my mind occupied with helping the kids adjust, unpacking, decorating. It was exciting and fun.

But pretty soon, the kids had friends. My husband had already been here for six months and had a rich and active social life that I was not a part of and still am not part of because his friends are single, or childless, or somehow I just don't fit. Suddenly, I'm just alone. As alone as I've ever been.

The election happened, too. Holmes and Rahe rank election years as being quite stressful and I honestly think that did not help me.

I've tried some things and met people I genuinely care, wonderful women that I hope to know better. But I haven't found my tribe yet. And trying to actually find them is kind of scary. I feel like a kid on the first day of high school looking at the various tables of cliques in the high school cafeteria and not knowing where I fit in.

My old tribe was pretty awesome. They were a group of women from my neighborhood and kids' school or from playgroups when the kids were younger. Still there when the oldest is 14 and the youngest 10. Smart, funny, compassionate, passionate...always there for each other. And I've managed to keep in touch thanks to Facebook and the modern marvel of texting. I've been home once and my best friend from the tribe has been to visit me up here. And I mostly don't feel forgotten.

Still, though...and this is one of the darker aspects of social media I feel stupid for falling victim to...the part where we allow it to shade our thoughts with what we imagine to be the case, or by our own negative self-talk.... Still, though, it hurts when I see pictures of all my friends at a party that I probably would have been at if I still lived there. Or posts that include a reference to a joke I don't get because I wasn't there. I shouldn't be hurt. No one is actually doing anything to hurt me. And of course I neither want nor expect anyone else's life to pause because I'm not there. That's not it at all.

The IT here is the profound loneliness I feel, day in and day out. Even when I'm laughing with the very kind and welcoming basketball moms I hung out with during basketball season or my terrific neighbor or having lunch with a new friend, I don't feel that warm, comfortable yet inexplicable sensation of belonging that you feel with a tribe member. It's a sense of knowing that this person is yours and you are hers and you've totally got each others' backs. That's the thing that's missing. Sometimes you meet someone and you know instantly you'll be friends forever. It's the platonic version of love at first sight. I may have met "the one," actually. But my inner voice tells me not to be presumptuous. (What if she's just being nice, right?) We've tried making a couple of coffee dates, but sick kids prevented our meeting. I'll have to wait until we meet again in person to validate that there's real and shared friendship chemistry underlying our shared love of music and pop culture.

Compounding the loneliness is my deep need for a sense of meaning and purpose. With nothing to occupy my mind, I have a lot of time to ponder why I'm alone. That's why I'm blogging now. To paraphrase Buddy the Elf, "Writing is my favorite!"

I came to the conclusion that I have to write and create my own meaningful work after spending a Friday night crying myself to sleep after driving my child to Atlanta to spend the weekend with a friend. I knew I'd come home to hang out with my teenager for a few hours then spend the rest of the evening alone while my husband was out with his friends. Sometime in the night, I awoke and while reading Twitter, I saw a link to this post by James Altucher. It was just the thing I needed to read to pull myself out of the spiral. And it was the inspiration I needed to resume writing. (I still haven't formally done everything on the list, but it got me started. Maybe you'll see a few of the lists turn up as blog posts!)

The job market is tight here. And I don't believe I'm going to find my purpose in a traditional job anyway. So, I've decided to focus on freelance writing again, and to work on this blog. When I think of what my real purpose is, I always come back to the idea that I want to help other women who might be going through the same or similar things that I am or have gone through. As hard as this experience of adjusting to a new city, making new friends, and building a new life is I believe it can serve a greater purpose. As I reinvent myself and create a new life here in Chattanooga, I want to highlight the things that work for me and share them with others. I'll still be writing about the rest of my crazy, beautiful life – I still love life despite feeling like I hit rock bottom and wallowed in my hopelessness several days out of the last two weeks.

I hope you'll come along with me on this journey. I want you to share your experiences, your trials. We'll take it day by day. Let's figure this thing out together...decide what to be and go be it.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. Love y'all!