Ambushed. . .

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Recently I visited the subject of grief with a description of being “ambushed” by the emotion. The terminology did not originate with me, but was adopted by Daniel’s dear widow, now my true daughter in spirit, as she has dealt with his death. A friend then commented on the post with the observation that, although she had never heard the term used as a descriptor of grief attacks, she thought it could apply to attacks of anxiety. And I began to think. . .

There are many emotional “ambushes” that occur in our lives. The attacks come from a concealed position and strike with surprise (see definition number 3 above), usually, but not always, from an enemy of our emotional equilibrium. Some examples:

  • Grief.  The most benign memory, the most ordinary event, can precipitate the sudden recollection of loss. A photograph, the sight and sound of an ambulance, the smell of a hospital corridor, the sight of the loved one’s handwriting or craft–all can be the stimulus that brings a wave of fresh grief to our awareness. And we feel truly “ambushed” by the surprise attack which often comes from the “concealed position” of a truly innocent occurrence.
  • Anxiety. My friend’s observation regarding anxiety led me to think that a fresh definition of panic attack might be an “ambush” of anxiety, accompanied by the physiological components of the stress response. Performance anxiety can “ambush” us when taking a test or speaking in public. It can be especially problematic when being evaluated in the performance of a physical skill. (I am remembering nursing skill labs!) A good friend says that stress is a reminder that we are still alive. But sometimes I become so stressed with worry about the outcome of a situation or even imagined or dreaded future events that anxiety almost overwhelms me. What about you?
  • Depression. I think one can be “ambushed” by full-fledged depression when vague emotions of sadness or discouragement or futility or fatigue suddenly morph into the overwhelming dark hopelessness of depression. We wonder where it came from, how it got there, and what to do. In the best case scenarios, we have a support network of family, friends, and, if needed, professionals who can rescue us from the enemy that has taken us by surprise.
  • Anger. It may be a sense of righteous indignation. Or it may come from a real or perceived personal attack, insult, or oversight. If anger truly ambushes me, it is the most frustrating of situations, because attempts to express it often result in tears, and I lose all ability to communicate in a logical and articulate way. So then I am angry with myself!

But what about more positive emotions that surprise us from some concealed place within our hearts? Like—

  • Faith. My walk of faith can wax and wane. The times when it grows weak can “ambush” me with any or all of the above negative emotions. Then, through the invisible cord of God’s love and mercy, I am somehow drawn back into closer communion with my Creator, Savior, and Lord. I begin to once again feel a stabilizing presence in my heart and the certainty that I am here for a purpose, for a higher calling. And this results in an ambush of–
  • Joy. Yes, I think we can be “ambushed” by joy. It, too, can be lying in wait for us. It can come at the most unexpected times, times when we are reminded that a higher power is in control and that we are loved. The birth of a child, precious moments spent with family or friends, corporate worship (especially in music), and the gratification of work well done are a few examples.

I wonder. What emotion is lying in wait “from a concealed position” waiting to strike you “in surprise”? Will you be ready to counter it with the stability that faith offers? Where are you in your walk? Can you identify other emotions waiting to “ambush” us?

I would love to read your thoughts.

Daniel. . .

It seems an odd time to be so grieved about losing Daniel. I made the mistake of viewing an old YouTube video posted by Doug Holtz after Daniel’s death by suicide. I can’t find it on YouTube anymore but have saved it on my Facebook page. I was overwhelmed with a fresh sense of loss. Anyone who knew Daniel knows he could be charming, funny, yet subject to serious mood swings. I have seen both his loving side and his angry side. He was very intense, either way.

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This week has brought losing him so vividly back to me. Death by suicide has been in the national news with the deaths of two very-public figures. Both were said to have had “mental health issues” prior to their deaths. Suicidal ideation slips into the minds of those who struggle with depression with such subtlety that it makes me cringe. We think we are watching for “signs”, but often miss those very hints that speak to our loved one’s despair. A couple of thoughts:

  • If you are struggling with depression and find yourself dealing with thoughts of harming yourself, please let your friends, family, healthcare professional know. Daniel refused to seriously seek help for his issues. We were left helpless to be with him through that last day, helpless to save him from himself. The stigma associated with depression, bipolar disorder, suicidal ideation, even psychosis, must go away. Our daughter was saved through the intervention of a good friend, a family practice physician, and a gifted psychiatrist. If only Daniel had been open to acknowledging that he had a problem and seeking help. . .
  • If you have lost someone to suicide, don’t be afraid to share your feelings with others. Families need to acknowledge the circumstances of their loved one’s death openly. Friends need to listen without judgment or platitudes. Church family can be a great resource for comfort if, once again, judgment and platitudes are left out of the discussion. Support groups, where you are in the midst of other survivors of suicide, are a valuable resource in which you can openly share your grief, anger, confusion and healing in a confidential setting.

We lost our Daniel. Yet he left behind my beautiful and smart and insightful and loving daughter-in-law, who is now, and forever will be, a part of our family and “my” daughter. He left behind a beautiful, smart, loving, best-mother-in-the-world to his two grandchildren, one granddaughter he met, one grandson just born. What a loss to him, what a gift to us!

I struggle with the hurt. I want, more than anything, for his death to not be in vain. This family, I hope, will be an example of open discussion, a resource for others, and loving support for each other. I long for the day when suicide is no longer a leading cause of death.

If you are having thoughts of self-harm, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Call 1-800-273-(TALK)8255.

For folks in my “neck of the woods”:

DR. ROBERT E. ELLIOTT FOUNDATION www. elliottfoundation.com with S.O.S. (Survivors of Suicide) support group meeting first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. in Willow Room at South Campus Unity Health White County Medical Center located at 1200 South Main Street, Searcy, Arkansas.

 

Remembering. . .

How do you honor Memorial Day? It is, of course,  the day set aside to acknowledge those who lost their lives in the service of this country. I like to also give thanks for those who survived their encounter with war and all those who serve well and bravely now. They deserve our thoughts, prayers, and thanks.

I am a baby-boomer generation child. My father served on Guam in World War II. He lost his first wife and the growing up years of two sons as a result of his absence before the war ended. Later in life he was reunited with one son, and that was one of the great joys of his life. At least he lived a long and full life after his service.

My mother’s brother landed on Utah Beach at H-Hour, D-Day June 6, 1944. He served with the 70th Tank Battalion along with the 4th Infantry. He was wounded as they traveled across France and then into Belgium and Germany. His wound caused him to be separated from his unit, but as soon as he recovered enough, he found his way back to them. The war changed my uncle. He returned a drifter and became an alcoholic and ultimately died by suicide in 1976.

Now PTSD is well recognized. I wonder if a simple country boy like my uncle would be recognized and supported and treated. I hope so. He left behind small children, and his wife and daughters became no longer a part of our family when they returned to her parents for support.

The cardiology practice where I work has been blessed to care for several World War II, Korean Conflict, and Vietnam era veterans. I try to ask about their military service if it is mentioned, and I always thank them for their service.

I came across a young man’s project in the print shop I frequent a few months ago. I’m not sure if he was asked to write about a snowman or if he was to write in honor of veterans. Below are some excerpts: (His grandmother gave me permission to use.)

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The author obviously has a keen sense of the reality of freedom’s price and the heroes who preserve it for us in this uncertain world and has certainly set at the feet of veterans and listened carefully to their stories. His heart is sensitive to both the dangers and the merit of military service. My understanding is that this little graphic novel began as a school project and is now used as a fundraiser to support local veterans’ needs.  The author wanted to remind us to remember those who have gone before and to never forget the price they paid.

That’s what Memorial Day is for.

Who are the heroes in your family? Do you know their stories? Why not ask?

 

(I purchased The Snowman for $10 at Caroles’ Copy and Print in Searcy, AR, 109 North Spring Street, Searcy, AR 72143, phone 501-279-1117. All proceeds go to a local veterans’ support group.)

Heavenly reinforcement…

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This has been me this past week. I tied a knot in the rope of life and have been trying desperately to hold on. But it seemed there were strong, gale-force winds buffeting me, willing me to let go and fall into the dark pit of depression that was waiting below. The week started with Mother’s Day. It’s not the same when you are missing one child. My husband had a minor procedure for some skin cancer. The same day my almost-92-year-old mother had a fall, bled like crazy from  scalp laceration, and required a prolonged ER visit and overnight hospital stay. Two granddaughters are close to the delivery of great-grandchildren for me. Work was just as stressful as usual. A lightning strike messed up internet and cable (still not fully repaired). A criminal made his escape across our field with law enforcement in hot pursuit. The dog ate a roll of toilet paper the night before she was scheduled for her spay. And there were other personal stressors that I shouldn’t share and  just couldn’t understand. Nothing terrible or irreparable happened, but enough, Lord, I thought.

Confession: I got frustrated and fearful and felt rather alone. I felt that my prayers were unheard, my fatigue unnoticed, my burden too heavy. I could relate to David’s plea to the Lord in Psalm 22, verse 1:

…Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?

And I was groaning and moaning and whining and near tears! Yes, I read my Bible–a few mornings. And I prayed, most of the time vague, repetitive pleas for help. I felt totally alone and helpless. But then….

First, I must explain a little back story: Two years, nine months ago our middle son took his own life (therefore, the Mother’s Day stress). A few weeks later I attended a Christian fiction writer’s conference,  where I was comforted and blessed to make new Christian friends. One was a lovely lady with a mass of auburn curls and a contagious smile and one of the sweetest spirits I’ve ever known. Since then I have had a text from her occasionally just touching base to see how I’m doing. I hadn’t heard from her for a good while–until Thursday, the day when I was at my lowest. My prayer journal from that morning reads, in part:

Lord, I feel beaten down by too much, too many burdens. I felt like you had turned your back on me yesterday. I’m frustrated. I belong to you. I’m doing my best. Why so many problems?….Please, please help me. I need your strength and your Spirit.

And, God answered. Jerri’s text that day opened the floodgates. I shared. She cared. And I know she has prayed for me, just as promised. If any of you don’t believe in divine appointments, you should. I believe she was inspired to reach out to me that day at that morning hour. As she put it, God knew I needed “reinforcements.” Jerri was obeying the instruction in Galatians 6:2 to:

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

I did need the reinforcement of knowing someone cared for my specific needs and was willing to pray on my behalf. And I am grateful that she responded to that little tug on her heart that made her think of me that morning. I pray that I will be more sensitive to those intuitions or hunches or heavenly whispers to do the same for others. And I am grateful to be reminded that although I may feel like God is not listening and doesn’t know my pain, He does. Peter says in the New Testament:

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

I’ve not been very good at that lately. Laying my burdens at Jesus’ feet. Depending on prayer and the Lord’s grace and mercy and unconditional love. I hope to do better. And I’m still holding on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Early morning darkness…..

pexels-photo-813269.jpegI often awaken in the very early morning hours. As the darkness tries unsuccessfully to lull me back to sleep, I find another kind of darkness overwhelming me–the darkness of worry. My mind races from one worry to another–family, finances, approaching retirement, success or failure as a writer. Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow, for today has enough for us to bear. I get that. But, I’m still a worrier.

My early morning reading has been in the book of Hebrews for the past several days. Yesterday I read the chapter listing the heroes of faith. Today I read the chapter on discipline. How much of my worry might have been avoided if I had made better decisions in the past? Are some of my troubles God’s way of getting my attention focused back on Him?

My husband says I am a really busy person. He’s right. And, a lot of my busy-ness involves activities at church. But how much of me is just busy and not truly obedient to and focused on God?Am I going through the motions without true spiritual investment?  It’s something to think about.

I just know that every day I pray for relief from the constant worry. I pray for the discipline and strength to turn off the negative thoughts. Some of you may share my tendency to ruminate over past decisions and anticipate future misfortunes and just generally worry. Be assured that you’re not alone in the struggle. This passage in Jeremiah is one of my favorites.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Thank you, Lord. I needed that.

 

The journey continues. . .

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This is the way my morning begins–on good days. The Bible is only 21 years old this year but the leather cover is frayed from being carried in a “Bible cover” for many years. Virtually every page in it is highlighted and marked with sermon notes in the margins. It is well-worn. Kind of like me.

Having reached that point in life where one reviews where one has been, the things one has done, the accomplishments achieved, I have found myself struggling over the past few months. Have you ever felt that there was something that you were absolutely meant to do through some divine plan but found apparent roadblocks at every turn? That’s me!

My first calling to a profession came when, through a series of unusual events, I ended up in a baccalaureate nursing program. I graduated in 1978 and have spent the past 40 years working in the profession in one role or another. There were some times of turmoil and transition as I found my way to my current role as a nurse practitioner. I stepped into that role 21 years ago and have never regretted the move. Throughout it all, nursing has been very good to me. And I’m not quite ready to give it up, yet!

But hidden in my heart was the dream of being an author. I’ll confess, early on I was just thinking that I could write a romance novel as good as, if not better, than many I read. But somehow I just couldn’t bring myself to put that steamy stuff on paper with my name attached! Then the amorphous dream congealed into a path that truly felt like a calling. That’s the road my journey has taken me down now. But it’s a road filled with roadblocks and potholes and breakdowns.

You see, I have found my niche as a writer.But actually having the faith that success will come is a struggle. I long to rest in Jeremiah 29:11–

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

My goal as a writer? To portray the truth that God pursues us in the ultimate love story, our journey through the triumphs and tragedies of life, wooing us back into a walk with Him whenever we lose our way. Sometimes when times are really good, I forget to acknowledge that all good things come from Him, not just from my efforts. And, sometimes, when terrible pain or loss occurs, the mental and physical and spiritual exhaustion has left me floundering, trying to regain my footing on the solid foundation of faith that this life requires.

For some reason, God has given me stories in my head and heart. Stories that speak to the real problems that everyday people experience. Stories that speak to the only real solution to those problems, a return to faith. But the struggle to be traditionally published, to market the work already done, and to have the resources to continue this journey often gets me down.

A couple of the devotions I read during my early morning quiet times recently spoke to me in a special way. One spoke to the issue of being a “recovering” perfectionist. I qualify. So often I am stalled by the search for perfection, when I just need to be writing and doing. I’m working on that. My house is not as clean as I kept it 20 years ago. I can say “no” when asked to do something that I just don’t have time for. I don’t struggle with my appearance like I did when I was younger.

The other was titled “The Day I Stopped Believing.” It spoke of a time that the author had experienced terrible life struggles and began feeling that, although God answered prayer for other people, He just didn’t hear or heed hers. I haven’t stopped believing in prayer or in good things happening. But the patience to wait for God’s timing is wearing thin. My dad told me many times that I needed to “learn patience.” I’m not there, yet, Daddy.

For those who have read all the way to the end of these ramblings, thank you! For me, it is easier to write than talk it out. Maybe a reader or two can relate to my struggles. Hang in there. As my boss says, “Tie a knot and hang on!”

 

 

 

 

Where do I land?

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Through the mist darkly

 

I love the woods behind our home. There is so much history here. My husband and his siblings were born and raised on this land, and they all tell stories of playing in these woods. My grandson has grown up here and has learned some survival skills as he’s camped with his friends. This place is part of me. 

I’ve been pondering how to explain my journey as a writer. I feel myself changing and the longing to write becomes stronger every day. With the early posts on this blog and the first book I published, I think my purpose was clouded with the mist and fog of lack of clear vision, like the picture above. My words may have entertained and offered insight into faith and some social issues without any realization of my true purpose in writing.

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An interloper intrudes

And then my journey, my development,  was distorted by distractions and intrusive thoughts of fear of failure and inadequacy in managing the constellation of things required of successful writers. Sometimes these feelings and struggles are still overwhelming. I am struggling to overcome them. 

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Light shines through

This past fall I experienced somewhat of epiphany, a serendipidous moment when my vision cleared. I started work on a book, not the typical Four Corners format, and, as I was pitching it to an agent at the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference in September, I suddenly knew the kind of stories that I want to be writing and publishing and known for. They are, indeed, inspirational and contemporary and romances. But the basic vision for this endeavor, a mission statement, if you will, came to me.

I want to tell stories that make clear the greatest love story of all, the ultimate romance, the Christian faith. That romance is God reaching out to man with love and grace and mercy and wooing us into a true, loving, faith relationship with Him. And, as we experience the mountaintops and valleys of the Christian walk, sometimes we drift away or even turn away from God. Sometimes we become angry when tragedies come out way. We often wonder why and question God. Yet , through it all, in spite of all, He faithfully woos us back. You see–that is the greatest love story, the ultimate romance.

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Peace

I have a new peace about my writing efforts. Whether I experience worldly success or not, if I write stories that picture God’s love relationship with man and even one person is touched by each story, I will be fulfilling what God has called me to do. Because I do believe writing is just as much a calling as nursing has been. He opens different doors thoughout our lives. I pray for strength and inspiration to continue this journey.

And, to each of you who read this through, thank you for letting me share my journey with you.