Sunday, April 7, 2019

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Conversations:

Person 1: "If I'm being honest, I'm struggling with some stuff and feel very alone."
Person 2: "I'll pray for you."

Or:

Person 1: "I feel like there isn't anyone I can really talk to about how I'm feeling."
Person 2: "You're just in a funk. Spend more time with God in prayer and bible study."

This is how some Christians respond to what people trained in counseling or therapy would say are "red flags". Depression frightens us because we aren't sure how to handle it, or we believe some false things about it. We believe that the person can just muscle through it and force themselves to trust that good things are coming. We have been told that it's a spiritual battle so it must be fought with prayer, bible reading, and church attendance. The depressed person simply needs to believe harder.  We think that it is a passing mood, one driven by hormones or temporary circumstances. It has been preached to us that we are commanded to have joy, to be content in all things, so we assume if someone isn't joyful or content, then they are not being obedient and are sinning.

Christians who are depressed have the added burden of shame, perpetuated by the false assumptions I just laid out. Depression is a disease, NOT a failure of the will and people don't just "get over it". It is not simply a spiritual problem requiring just a spiritual solution; more faith won't solve this problem. 

Does prayer help? Absolutely. God hears and answers our prayers. But in the meantime some other things should be taking place. 
Checking in: A phone call, a text or email. Let them know they aren't alone. Remember that family members are also affected and will need support as well.
Invitation: Make an invitation to get together and don't take no for an answer. People who are depressed tend to isolate themselves, withdrawing from contact. 
Inform: let them know you are listening. Ask questions and really hear the answers. Reassure them that they are loved and wanted.
Report: If you have real concerns that someone could be considering self-harm or is having suicidal ideations, report it. Talk to a pastor, a deacon, or someone you trust who has been trained in how to deal with such things.

According to statistics, people suffering from depression are four times more likely to seek help from a pastor before going to a professionally trained counselor. Unfortunately, just 25% of all clergy are adequately trained for handling mental health issues. Adequately trained is defined as having and maintaining education in mental health counseling beyond an introductory course in post secondary degrees. 


May is Mental Health Awareness Month. According to some statistics 25% of all Americans have a mental illness. Mental illness encompasses everything from bipolar disorder to depression and PTSD.  If people suffering from cancer, can receive emotional support from their churches, then those suffering from depression should too. It is possible, if we view depression accurately though the lens of love rather than a sin or lack of faith issue. 

Signs of depression to be aware of:

They can include:
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
  • Pessimism and hopelessness
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or sleeping too much
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of interest in things once pleasurable
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Aches, pains, headaches, or cramps that won't go away
  • Digestive problems that don't get better, even with treatment
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Finding Joy

Waiting for the other shoe to drop. That sense of knowing something will happen and it's just a matter of time. It is a saying that comes from the late 1800s when in tenement homes those on the first floor would hear the first shoe drop of their neighbor above and they would wait, knowing the second shoe was going to follow. It brings the idea of being on edge and looking for the evidence that the event is about to come to fruition. Everything gets put on hold while we wait for that shoe to hit the floor.

But, instead of spending our time looking for it, listening and anticipating it, what if we made the best of it. What if since we know it is going to happen, what if we spent the time enjoying what we have: the silence in between the shoes. Let's find the joy in what is actually happening instead of dreading and worrying over what will happen. 

I am working hard to take this approach. The situation is not an "if" it will happen, but very clearly a "when" it happens. I could spend my days planning for all the consequences. I could monitor the signs, looking for hints that it is coming. I could raise walls and defenses, or attempt to control the outcomes. 

or 

I can find the joy in the pause. I can see, feel, and know that right now it is not happening. Right now things are peaceful and quiet. If I enjoy what is happening in this moment, then when the shoe does drop, I will know that I truly experienced the pause. My memories will not be consumed in the worry, angst, and care. Is this what James is talking about in James 1:2 "My brethren, count it all joy..." and Paul in Philippians 4:11 "... for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content."?

 To fix my thoughts on what is right now, isn't always easy. Some days it is a struggle to not dwell on that impending second shoe. But when I do get lost in the joy of the pause between shoes, it encourages and spurs me on to keep doing it. I want to keep seeking out those moments. Those joys can never be taken from me, no matter when or how that shoe falls, the time in the pause is mine to hold forever.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Resolutions

New year, so new resolutions.

Big broad ones:
Spend more time studying the Bible ( and applying it!)
Be better organized.
Take chances and go beyond my comfort zone with my sewing.
Get healthy.

Specific ones:
Walk at least 1 mile every day.
Memorize the book of James.
Go hiking with Sam once per month.
Participate in 3 no spend month challenges.
Simplify and declutter one room per month.
Plan and take 2 big trips this year.

For the specific ones I have added steps to support them. Either writing them in my daily planner (hiking and decluttering) or adding an app to my phone (memorizing James). The first big trip is the end of this month (Grand Canyon!!) and this month is also the first no spend month.

They say writing them down improves the likelihood that you will complete them. Whoever “they” are....

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Word


I've never picked a "word for the year". It seems to be the thing to do these days. So I've thought it over and decided the word for 2018 is JOURNEY.

I know. I'm supposed to choose a word for the upcoming year, and I will get to that.

2018 was a journey. It started out as a normal year (ha! like there is a such a thing). We were preparing for sugaring season. The 4H club was running smoothly under Abby's leadership. Various Smith kids had made plans for moving, marrying, or changing jobs/careers. Sam and I were distracted from our personal issues as we focused on his brother's terminal cancer diagnosis.

And then, BOOM! Stuff started happening.
Sugaring season was a struggle with fewer helpers and a good sap run.
Sam's brother passed away. 
The state came unannounced for a visit.
The decision to sell the house was made, it went on the market and sold faster than anyone ever expected.

Before we knew it, it was the end of August and we had been "homeless" for two months, when we finally moved into our new home and started to settle in to our new "normal".

2018 was a journey because journey by definition is "the instance of traveling from one place to another." Not only did we move from one physical location to another, but mentally and emotionally we have moved. Our identity has changed: we are no longer farmers, yak owners, maple syrup producers, or even child-raisers. We have new identities: empty-nesters, grandparents, and travelers.

Our relationship as husband and wife has been on a journey. Through lots of conversations with each other and others, we have grown as a couple. We have dealt with some very difficult situations with each other and our families, and have become better communicators and fogive-ers because of them.

I chose the word journey because journeys give the idea that there is a plan, a path. While we may not have always seen the path clearly, it was there. Looking back, I can see that God was moving, even way back in 2017, setting things in motion for what was in store for 2018. Things that were seemingly unrelated, were in fact intricately intertwined.

For 2019 I am choosing the word ADVENTURE. By definition adventure is "an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks." It also means "to proceed despite risk." I want 2019 to be the year that we keep going despite the risks that we can see, and the ones that will surprise us. We want to keep building on who we are, growing better, finding our new purpose, developing new skills and talents, and always seeking God's plan. 



Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Defining Parenting Success

 My kids, on occasion will let me know those areas of parenting where I have failed them. Usually along these lines:
"Hannah is angry that you never...."
"Abby thinks you should have..."
"Rachel says you didn't..."

I'll be honest those little zingers from my kids can have an impact. It hurts to be criticized, especially from creatures that you worked so hard to keep alive.

The other day, such an incident occurred and the item discussed revealed a particular time period in my life as a parent. I thought, "Man, if they only knew what I was dealing with at that time."

And then I thought about that. Without realizing it, they were revealing to me my greatest success as a parent: they didn't know. They had no idea the depth of what I had been going through.

They didn't know about my depression, how I fought most mornings to get out of bed. How, sometimes it was hour by hour that I struggled to not crawl back in once I was up. They didn't know that making pancakes for breakfast was an accomplishment. That all my "busy-ness" was because I feared that if I stopped, I would cease to exist.

They didn't know the true extent of our financial disaster. I turned not buying groceries into a game: let's see what we can make with what we already have in the house. Not buying oil for the furnace became lets use the woodstove for heat and hot water like it's Laura Ingalls' time. TV free week stretched into TV free year when there was no money for cable.

They never knew the brink at which my marriage sat precariously for so long, as two very flawed sinners tried to reconcile deep hurts.

I look at my girls, all of them so grown up. Yeah, I messed things up. I didn't do everything I should have, and sometimes I was selfish, or lazy, or exhausted, or sick, or just lost my way. My job as a parent was to protect and shield them from the nastiest parts of life in the grown-up world, and I apparently had done that, because they didn't know. 

My girls are strong. They each have a fearlessness that is unique to their own view of the world. They can tell you what they believe and why they believe it. They know they are loved and they know how to love others fiercely. They will rally together when the chips are down and nothing stands in their way when they are united and the goal is taking care of someone.

My wish for them as they move out, get married, and have children of their own, is that someday their children will tell them all the ways they screwed up. Not for some diabolical reason of revenge, but that maybe, just maybe, they would realize that they too did the best they could, with what they had, at that moment. And that is successful parenting.


Friday, October 5, 2018

Planned Spontaneity??

Sam and I went for a weekend visit to Long Island for my birthday. We rented a house near the ocean and took the ferry over on Friday morning. It was around lunch time when we drove off the ferry so we started discussing food. And that was when I began to notice something about how Sam and I approach vacations.

This was our first time ever taking a trip for just the sole purpose of taking a trip. It was also one of the very few times we were traveling without any kids. Our previous trips involved making sure we were in a particular place for a specific time: visit family, check out/pick up/drop off livestock, visit colleges, or some other planned reason for being where we were. We were either on a schedule or travelling with the kids which made strategically planned stops a necessity and I was the one who did the planning. I mapped out sightseeing stops, stretching-legs stops, and hotels. 

This trip was different: no kids and no plan. I had scouted a few places of interest on the internet and our B&B hostess had recommended a restaurant for us to try. That was it. For lunch I did a quick search on my phone which lead us to a town not too far from the ferry. The restaurant we wanted was crowded so we drove a bit up the road and stumbled onto another restaurant where we ate a lovely lunch on their front porch. I suggested we stroll through the cute little town that was busy preparing for a festival the next day which was how we happened upon a Fireboat Museum and took a tour.

The next morning we went to the Nature Preserve that we had driven past the sign for on our way to our rental. And that's where I really discovered how different Sam and I are! I started down the hiking path and quickly realized Sam had stopped at the kiosk and was perusing the large map of the preserve. So I backtracked and watched as he established where we were on the map. Then after scanning the brochures he picked up the paper version of the trail guide and asked me which way we wanted to go. I shrugged and suggested we just wander the trails and see what we find. 

We started off and after a bit Sam pointed to the spot on the trail map to show where we were. He also then planned the next turn we should take. Sam continued to point out our location on the map, how far we had walked, and how far we had left to go. Meanwhile I was wandering all over the place; walking down side trails and spurs that weren't on the map. 


When we got back after our hike Sam planned out lunch, a hike at a lighthouse, and dinner. While at the lighthouse we signed up for an moonlight lantern tour and scrapped our dinner plans. The next day we knew we had to be at the ferry dock for 1:00 so I suggested we just drive towards the ferry and see what we could see. Sam made a plan for what route we would take.

So there it is. At least when it comes to vacations, I am an adventurer, by the seat of my pants, deal with what comes kind of person, while Sam is a get the map, mark the route, have a plan person. Our next trip is to Iowa. I have decided to forgo my "let's drive and see what we can see" plan in favor of one that is slightly more structured. Sam has agreed to be a little more spontaneous (is there such a thing as planned spontaneity??) We have a destination and a route, but Sam agrees to take a side trail if there is something I want to check out along the way.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Letting Go

For the last 20 years our family has had a hobby farm: goats, chickens, dogs, cats, calves, bees, and even yak. We produced maple syrup, collected honey, grew vegetables, had blackberry and blueberry bushes and two crab apple trees that came from my grandfather. My in-laws had a good-sized farm where they raised chickens, goats, donkeys, and made hay. My husband was 8th generation to live on the farm he grew up on! To say we identified as "farmers" would be a true statement.

Last March as we struggled to have enough hours in the day to produce the maple syrup, we began to question just how we were going to keep up. We were down to just Samantha living at home and she was in full time public high school. Abby was doing the best she could, but her nanny job and her own daughter made boiling sap difficult. Sam was working crazy hours with his two jobs and I was also now working off the farm part-time. We dumped a lot of sap that turned sour before we could get to it, despite boiling from 4am until 10pm most days. This was also about the time that Sam and I had started praying about our bucket lists and what direction God wanted our family to go in.

In late April there was a knock on my door early in the morning. Abby was out back taking care of the livestock while I fed Ava breakfast. A woman with a business card showing she was from the State of Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection, explained that there had been a complaint made against our farm. The claim was that we were making and selling Maple syrup without the proper equipment and in violation of state regulations.

Honestly, at first I thought it was a joke. When we converted our barn into the sugar shack and farm store, we had spent considerable time and money making sure we were in compliance with all federal and state laws. In fact, our facility exceeded most of the requirements. But she wasn't joking and I called Abby to the front steps.

After much discussion and several calls to her supervisor, it was decided that in fact we were completely in compliance with the laws for Maple syrup. BUT according to them, the way we made our infused Maple syrups had no regulations or rules. They decided that this meant they could dictate what they believed those rules should be and enforce them. They advised us that we needed to use a commercial kitchen to make and bottle our syrup. That they could inspect our farm store, unannounced, at any time, including during the off season. They would require us to have our water tested. The woman filed her report, deemed our case closed as "unsubstantiated," warned us that to continue to operate could bring more complaints being filed, and left.

Abby said, "I think God just gave us our answer." We went to the back yard and discussed what needed to be done to close the farm. Many people have asked why we didn't just stop producing infused maple syrup. And the easy answer is that the profits we made from the infused maple syrup sales were what financed the rest of the farm: hay, grain, vet care, etc. Without those sales, the farm could not stay in the black. The not so easy answer was complicated, nuanced, and hard to articulate other than to say, we knew God was speaking.

Letting go of farming in some ways has been easy. It's nice to have the option to sleep past the crack of dawn. We have been able to take and plan trips without rousing an army to care for the animals. I  have gone three or more days without checking the weather forecast. In other ways it has not been easy. I miss the comradery we had with others when talking about the weather, haying, and showing livestock at fairs. I miss the smell of fresh cut hay stacked in the barn, the breath of goats in my ear, the squawk of a rooster as the sun comes up, and the grunt of a yak as she spies you walking across the yard.

Farming is in our blood: Sam's family can trace their farming heritage back to 1620 and the Plymouth colony, and the family has farmed the same piece of property in Connecticut since 1869. Abby aspires to own a farm one day and raise her kids like she was raised. Nathalie works for Tractor Supply. Hannah will soon be a camp director's wife. Rachel works for a dog kennel and training facility. Samantha plans to get a degree in Agricultural missions after she graduates from high school. They are all using the skills they learned from being farmers.

Letting go is easier when you know what you have learned and experienced will never be gone; they will live on in our kids and our memories.
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