How To Keep Showing Up For Your Life: FOUR

Sometimes life takes our breath away.  Some days we stumble through the fog wondering if we will ever feel happy again. Most all of us experience this in one form or another. But not all of us are honest enough to call it what it is, depression, anxiety, fear…and not all of us are brave enough to share the experience with others so that it might be a comfort and help.

My final guest is both honest and brave.  I’ve known Linda most of my entire life. Among being an extremely talented woman, interior designer, business owner, actress, model, writer, music producer, yoga instructor…the girl isn’t afraid to try anything…she is the most vulnerable and transparent person I’ve ever known. Sharing freely her heart and life experiences with others just to shine a light, bring comfort or give hope to a weary soul.

Today’s final post in this series is a bit heavier than the previous.  But I believe that this topic is real and necessary for us to talk about.  Depression and anxiety affects every single home.  Although it can be very troubling and dark it does not have to be forever.  We can find our way through, but it takes all of us to be willing to discuss it openly, to pursue help, to de-stigmatize it so that we can all find our way through the fog.

Everyone, meet Linda.

It’s Going to Be OK

The hollow, heavy ball of fear landed in the pit of my stomach New Years Day.

Like an intruder.

Uninvited it came.

Stealing any sense of peace or fragment of hope that I was clinging to. I felt its’ constant grip tightening around my mind. My limbs felt as if electrical currents were running through them and caused me to feel uncomfortable even in my own skin. Sleep was elusive and unwelcome- it only meant that I would face more time in hell when I awoke.

My bedroom had become my prison cell, my bed a place of exposure-exacerbating the struggle to escape. My body curled in the protective posture of a child that would not settle, trembling as my mind drifted toward a hopeless place of despair.

Randi, a friend of mine since childhood, called me during one of these endless days of sheer fear and as she talked over the phone in her soothing voice like a mother to her babe. She painted a picture for me in my troubled mind.

Linda, you know when you’re driving in the fog and it’s so dark and thick that you can’t even see an inch in front of you? Then all of the sudden you reach the edge and it suddenly clears. Well , you could be very near that edge.

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It was a simple picture that had a profound impact on me. It was a divinely inspired word in season and ripe with the hope I needed at that very moment.

I didn’t expect it.

I didn’t do anything to make it happen.

It was a gift.

It’s going to be OK. I needed to hear those words repeatedly during this dark bout of anxiety. I would ask those close to me; my husband, my sisters, my family to say those simple words to me because I really didn’t know if I was going to be OK again.
I felt as though I was wearing a mask when I would interact with people. I had the sensation of peering out from my body like a costume.  My inward reality was much like that of a frightened child who was hiding. I was so filled with fear that I couldn’t eat. I lost over 30 pounds which only added to my anxiety. I felt like I was slowly losing my ability to function.

It scared me.

It scared my family.

I was seeing a counselor and she suggested that I go on a low dose of Prozac to help me get my emotional feet under me. She said, Linda, I believe you can get to the other side of this with or without medication, but the longer you stay in this severe state of anxiety, the more of a toll it will take on your self-esteem. I did go on Prozac for six months and it made a big difference with my ability to heal, but the aftermath and damaged self worth took a couple of years to heal.

I pleaded with God to lift the darkness and take away the fear but it was a slow process and it was hard to understand. I needed others to stand in the gap for me during  that time and they did. I clung to words of hope and truth from God’s word that became like doses of spiritual medicine as I would read them over and over.

So much of my fear was about my future. I felt that I would never do the things I loved again. I couldn’t picture how anything was going to be made right. I felt so lost. And I was. But through the help of family, friends, wise counsel, unending prayer, medication and a God who would never fail me – I made it through and became stronger because of it.

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Journal entry
3/5/2001
I think the longer I walk with God, the more questions I have…
I find this comforting. As His mystery and majesty have grown, so have His
trustworthiness and faithfulness in my life. I find His largeness combined with His goodness very settling. My faith has become more childlike in its’ maturity. There are many things I don’t even strive to understand anymore—I know that God is good, and that is enough. His goodness is like an undercurrent that runs beneath the surface of my being–it carries me through troubling times and reminds me that, if I allow it to, it will take me to deeper places of trust and faith.

linda lee puffer
11.21.17

Do you think you could be experiencing depression or anxiety and it’s bigger than you can handle?  The holidays can trigger emotional turmoil. Please, reach out to someone for help. If you don’t know a doctor or counselor, ask a trusted friend or family member to help you find the next step toward healing and help. A courageous person is not someone who feels strong.  It is someone who knows they need help beyond themselves. Blessings to you my friends.

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How To Keep Showing Up For Your Life: Three

Life can be a roller coaster.  So can our emotions.  We are living in a reactionary time where people react with untempered emotions. Sometimes it makes things worse. Some times life requires a great deal of emotion to influence change.  Emotions are a part of the human story. We do need them. But what about our own emotions when hardship happens or when we aren’t doing so well in life? Each one of us has a different emotional barometer. When they rise and fall along with the up’s and downs of life, what do we lean on for hope, certainty or truth?  Our emotions don’t provide a secure foundation to hang on to during a trial.  This next post is a snippet from a friend who grappled with this very thing and has some helpful wisdom to share with all of us.

Today my guest writer is Ed Schief. Any one who knows him is always the better. He is both uncomplicated and deep. Without fail he starts a meeting with a funny story.  He is the perfect combination of artist and pragmatist.  They really do exist. Ed works as a musician. He has a duo music act with wife, Molly. You can find their FaceBook page by clicking here.  He’s also a music director for a very cool and eclectic church called, Manna.

Everyone, meet Ed.

Today I saw a red and yellow sunset and thought, how insignificant I am!  Of course, I thought that yesterday too, and it rained.” ~ Woody Allen

At a time in my life when things were very, very dark, I stood looking out my front window at the cemetery across the street.  The city kept this cemetery in utterly beautiful condition.  It was like a park with its’ mature trees, manicured grass, and paved pathways.  The sun was filtering through the leaves. It was gorgeous.

And I hated it.

I hated the beauty of it that afternoon, because it seemed like a cheat.

I thought, Yeah, it’s beautiful, but someday it will look horrible. It will look horrible because everything in this life ends up dying.  Why bother enjoying it when you KNOW it’s going to fade and rot and disappoint you. Oh sure, the next life will be great, I believe that. But this life? A complete and utter veil of tears.  Better to just hang on and try to make it through without hoping for too much.

I was pretty down that day.

Less than a week later my situation brightened considerably and I felt a wonderful welling up of hope.  I was again looking out at the same cemetery on another beautiful day.  This time I felt differently.

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I thought, Okay, there IS a reason to enjoy the beauty of this world, God HAS made beauty for us to enjoy, and I should take what I can get and be thankful. Things really do sometimes turn out good.

And then this came to mind.

Three days ago the cemetery made me feel despondent and I came to a conclusion about the nature of the world.  Today it makes me feel hopeful, and I’ve changed my conclusion to something else.

If I’m going to come to a solid conclusion about the world, about life, about the nature of the universe, I’ll clearly have to base it on something OTHER  than my feelings, because my feelings are completely unreliable.  I have to look outside myself, find the truth someplace else and bring that truth in where I can steady myself on it.

What’s the truth about God, the nature of the universe, life, all that?

The answer is:     go out and find it for yourself.

Read the Bible, talk to people you trust, read what great thinkers and theologians have written.  Ask God for wisdom.  Work for it.  And when you’ve worked for it like that, you won’t be adrift, vulnerable to every big and little wind that blows.

How To Keep Showing Up For Your Life: TWO

I Need Some Whiskey

Do you know people that are just fun to be around?  My first guest author, Justin,  along with his wife, Trisha, are two such people to me. There is never a shortage of words, laughter and hilarious kid stories. What I love about Justin is that he looks at the world wide-eyed with possibility and believes in wonder. Even when life is hard and unkind. His hopeful edge still in tact despite the realities of living.  I found a piece of myself in the story he shares here today and his thoughts make me bend towards hope.  

Justin is a very accomplished and diversely skilled man, as you will soon read.  It’s worth the click to check out his work, all of it, at his website. (Click Here) You’ll learn what he’s done and is doing, find his social media connections and peruse or even purchase his cool artwork there.  I’m excited for you to read Justin’s story.

Everybody, meet Justin Heap.

………………………

“Well hey, after a good long cry…I need some whiskey.” These were the only words I could find. One word shy of a dozen — even the sentence had given up.

Eighteen years before that text message was sent, I was dreaming of new ways to explore spirituality as a diverse community that would embody the hopes of Jesus for the sake of the world. That dream would take many shapes over the passing months and years: from church planting to church grafting to a communal farm to an open air monastery to a fresh expression of local church to a downtown space of cocktails and community —it was as much a journey of conversations as it was of pulling on random threads to see where they lead.

My career path was equally diverse and intense: Studio Photographer and Photoshop Trainer, Freelance Photographer, Lead Designer, Pastor, Global IT Supervisor, Branding & Marketing Consultant, Artist, Creative Director, Experience Director, Freelance Writer. I even had a stint learning from one of the best Tile & Hardwood Flooring Experts in the industry.

Original Art by Justin Heap

About two years ago, sensing I was coming to the end of a creative role overseeing and crafting the weekend experience of a local church in West Michigan, I felt the spark of returning to this dream of cultivating an incredibly beautiful, restorative, mysterious, wonder-filled community.

With my wife’s peace, I resigned from my job at a megachurch to pursue a healthier rhythm of freedom, rest, and a blend of creative and non-traditional pastoral presence within our community. What that would look like was completely up in the air, totally dependent on the wind. It was terrifying.

In fact, the weeks that followed were some of the most challenging as I sought to rebuild a freelance platform after being out of the game for nearly a decade.

It was around that time I met Brooks.

Brooks was a talented designer, successful entrepreneur, and a bi-vocational pastor of a local church; he had done the impossible and married creativity with theology and his community had somehow — miraculously — managed to avoid becoming insular, uniform, and programmatic. I had so many questions.

The more we chatted, the more my dreams grew brighter. That once elusive hope became a thread I could hold. I could feel it: a thin strand of cotton held up to the light. Maybe, just maybe, now was the time. What if I could be a part of something like Brook’s community? Was the world ready for this? Was I?

You can imagine my surprise when I received a message from Brooks asking if I would pray about coming on as a Pastor within their community. Hesitant, but excited, I said I could sit with that for a while. It would mean relocating, re-establishing a bi-vocational cashflow, and more. So, we lived in a season of prayer.

And then, I received another message.

Brooks and his wife were feeling like their season of leading this local church was coming to an end — he invited us to consider stepping into the leadership role and space. You could gather the thread between your fingers it was so present.

I remember taking my wife on a date — sangria would prove important. We talked about everything.

Asked some hard questions. What about housing? What about the kids being away from grandparents? Is this real? What about jumping back into the fishbowl of a local church? How will our schedule change?

 Asked some brutal questions. Why am I wanting to do this? What if we are rejected? Are we even remotely capable? What if this changes everything? Do I honestly have anything of value to share with these people?

 Some time after our date, we invited some of our closest friends and wise voices to reflect truth back to us: tell us what, if anything, we were missing. Was it worth the effort, the risk, the unknown? And, we agreed, it was worth the risk of moving forward.

Meanwhile, their governing board had also been praying — and it was ultimately decided that bringing someone, anyone, in from outside the community would not be the best idea: the church would dissolve.

The brightest light casts the darkest shadow.

I was at once stuck in the shadows. If hope were a thread, then all the cotton in the world had to be missing.

What happened? They literally chose to dissolve instead of hire you, that’s what happened. They would rather not exist.

Like any of us, I sat down to process my feelings via text messages and emojis, “Well hey, after a good long cry…I need some whiskey.”

Brooks was kind. He let me know that he went to bat for me, bragged on me, supported us, that my whole story was meaningful, and “it really was about a season coming to an end” for them.

Ever the optimist, I shuffled to the cabinet — no whiskey. Classic.

It was strange, though, the next morning. Yes, there was a distinct sadness in my chest, waking up to the same reality as the night before —there would be no job. But there was also a lightness in having lived through the process, a freedom that accompanies even the saying yes to risk.

The great theologian, M. Ward, courageously sings, “What do you do with the pieces of a broken heart?” How to move toward wholeness? How to become unstuck?

I went to sleep and woke up asking those same questions many, many days. Eventually, slowly, a peculiar truth emerged: I found that heartbroken is not unlike deconstruction. The whole plan has gone to pieces: but take heart, because now the pieces are yours to examine, explore, and reinvent.

Indeed, God is making all things new, and it is precisely the making we so often try to avoid; yet it is the making, like reinvention, that literally moves us into new places, allows us to see what was previously invisible, and begs us not to give up.

 

www.justinpheap.co

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Keep Showing Up For Your Life: ONE

Do the Next Right Thing

Can you remember a time in life when you were waiting for something?  Waiting for a call from a doctor, prospective employer, a child at college or banker regarding a home loan?  At one time or another we are all waiting on something.

Not that long ago my husband and I waited longer than we ever had before. The most recent recession hit us hard.  Neither of us had any real experience with dramatic economic shifts. We were baptized by fire. My husbands entire department was eliminated from his company as was the case for countless Americans. Millions of people seeking employment at one time and there are virtually no new jobs available. Do the math.

We became a statistic.

A face-less number.

Casualty of the recession.

When trouble hits we usually maintain a cautious “wait and see” attitude.  That’s how we started this journey.  We told ourselves all the right stories of faith and courage.  We prayed and recruited others to pray. Filled our minds with Scripture and positive thinking. These things were helpful, for a while. But we didn’t know what we didn’t know.

We are most brave when the looming giant is still far away.  It’s not until we stand in its’ enormous shadow that bravery runs thin.

Days turned into weeks, turned into months which turned into years. Yes, years.

The giant was much bigger than we imagined.

Any sense of calm started to wane because no one can escape panic when you’re dangling over a pool of hungry sharks. This is how it feels when there is nothing protecting you from doom. This is how I felt.

Waiting became our new norm. I’d wake up to nothing changing, except resources. Those dwindled like sand through an hourglass. My fortitude dwindled too. My husband and I both needed each other to be steady. That just wasn’t always convenient.

I was running out of energy for everything; for hoping things would change, for God, for cleaning, for family, for thinking, for talking, for prayer. I was even too tired to sleep. This was an emptiness I had never known before.  My inner dialog made accusations,  You should be able to handle this. But I couldn’t. It was too much.

Some things happen to you without permission and without warning.

Honestly, at any given moment I didn’t know how to keep going. After all, there were kids watching. There were worried parents. There was an inwardly stressed husband holding up a strong and confident outer shell. God, how could this be? This isn’t how it’s supposed to work, right? Loving friends and family came along side but facing the daily fear monger was something I had to do alone.

Deep in the maze of endless time I heard five little words that changed everything. Do the next right thing. I don’t really know where I heard or read them but somehow they embedded in me. I found them to be a pathway; a way through the darkness by focusing on simple everyday things. As stress and fear became significant I stopped and asked, what is the next right thing to do right now. On any given day the next right thing looked surprisingly ordinary.

  • do two things on my to do list
  • go for a walk
  • say “yes” to help someone
  • listen to good music
  • pick up my Bible and lean in
  • meet with friends
  • to choose faith despite what things looked like
  • make my bed

Doing the next right thing is a form of self-kindness.

Under duress my soul was withering. I needed my mind and body to learn how care for itself. So, I began telling myself that I needed to be good to me when life became intense. It became a practice for me. A skill of listening to the Holy Spirit and invite His care into my real time situation. I didn’t deny my tension and fear but rather cast it in the direction of doing the next right thing. This was a gift only the Lord could give.

A sacred work.

A faith work.

It was my way of believing without seeing.

As our season ended I was still standing. Dealing with the fear of the unknowns? Yes.  Still practicing doing the next right thing? Yes. I grew to endure living in a place of tension and not be devoured by it at the same time.

Is this the power of God? (Philippians 2:13) 

Is this how He walks with us through the water and we are not swept away? (Isaiah 43:2)  

It’s still mysterious to me. What I do know is that my season of loss was also a season of gain.  Doing the next right thing became a life giving practice when I needed it most.  It kept me showing up for my life.

Curious To Wonder

Recently I was invited to participate in a conversation at Red Tent Living.  Together many of us explored what happens when we ask, what if?  Life gets interesting when good questions get asked.   

In January I assigned myself a word for the year 2017. Ironically my word was “curious”.   I was honored to share what surprised and challenged me so far in 2017.  A world of new possibility opened up when I become curious. Maybe you need a little curiosity in your life too?

You can read my article Curious to Wonder by clicking here.

Stay tuned, next week we will begin the new series, How to Keep Showing Up!  I’m eager to share with you some of the most freeing experiences I learned during a very long and difficult season in my recent past. I’m really excited to introduce you to some friends who are ready to share their stories with you as well.  You won’t want to miss what they have to say!  It will be a great Fall season together!

As always, thank you for reading.