Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A bugaboo of mine about the Christian church...

Let me preface this by saying, if you don't already know, I AM a Christian, I DO go to church. However, there are things that I see with a critical, humanistic, compassionate eye, that bother me about the way Christians at large operate. And of course, as a Christian, I cannot exempt myself from my own observations or statements.

That said, I feel I need to get this off my chest, and hopefully appeal to both Christians and non-Christians alike. I hope people sitting on both sides of the Christianity fence will hear me out and hopefully feel the love and concern, as well as the admonition, of my words and take them to heart.

One of my biggest peeves about the church is this... The alienation factor. It seems that sometimes, we Christians get too wrapped up in the "what is sin, what is not" mindframe, that we begin to judge, then further alientate, those who don't align themselves with Christianity.

Let me ask you though, Christian (myself included), are you perfect? Are you sinless? No, you aren't. You are flawed, you make mistakes, you have weaknesses and downfalls just like those who aren't Christians. You are saved, you are forgiven, but that doesn't mean you are "cured" from sin. In the eyes of God, you are exactly the same as the unchurched. Everyone the world over belongs to God, and is His child, whether they choose to acknowledge Him and accept Him or not. So if that is true, then who are WE to judge or alienate anyone else?

Romans 2:1-3 (I'm not a big fan of the ESV , but this puts it well)

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?

I think that is pretty self-explanatory. We Christians practice the same sins, we are cut from the same sin-driven mold. So again, who are we to judge?

Matthew 7:3-5 (New International Version)

3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

This makes a key point of mine. Christian and non-Christians alike, we are so quick to disregard our own issues, but then make a big deal out of others' shortfalls. We are blind to our own sins, but so quick to ridicule, or parade around, or gossip about other peoples' poor decisions. Here is a classic example, to further illustrate my point.

John 8:1-11:

1But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" 6They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." 8Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" 11"No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

This woman had been caught by the Pharisees - the scholarly men of the church of those times - and brought before Jesus. Let me stress - these were the people within the church, those dedicated to learning about and really trying to understand the ways of God, not just any old average Joe passer-by! And they brought the woman before Jesus, expecting Him to condemn her. They were making a mockery of her, putting her lifestyle choices and mistakes on display before everyone; her private business. Were her choices wrong? Of course they were. But is it their job to address that? No. It is GOD'S job to convict and bring people to repentance and a relationship with Him, not man's job!

What did Jesus do in this situation? He turned the tables and chastised THEM for their actions, words, and attitudes! Then He went on to defend, comfort, and forgive the woman. He did NOT condemn her, as these men wished Him to do! Did Jesus say her sins were okay? No, he asked her to turn from her ways. BUT, He did show compassion and kindness toward her, not judgment.

Clearly, Jesus operates more in a mode of love, compassion, and forgiveness, than in judgment. The word "Christian," literally translated, means "Christ follower." If we Christians are truly "Christ followers," then shouldn't we follow His example? Shouldn't we extend people forgiveness and compassion, and spend more time and energy dealing with the flaws of our own hearts and our own natures, as opposed to condemning and judging others?

When we judge, not only do we hurt ourselves, but we are misrepresenting who we say we are, and who Jesus is. To align ourselves with Christ would mean that we extend love, compassion, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Does this mean we have to agree with or condone others' choices? Of course not. Jesus Himself didn't condone bad behavior. But He also didn't condemn people for it. If the objective of a Christian is to exemplify Jesus, then isn't judging misrepresentation? Doesn't a God who judges sound unappealing? If God was just about condemnation and judgment, and not about love and forgiveness, would I accept and want to model my life after Him? NO WAY!! So often I hear non-Christians say that they think Christians are judgmental and hypocritical. And if that is the only view they get of Christians, then that is the only view they get of God. And so the conclusion they come to is that the God of the universe - the One who created each and every one of us in HIS image, and loves us with the unconditional love of a flawless Father - ISN'T a loving Father, but rather one who is only out to judge and condemn. And again, who would want to embrace a God like that. So Christians, if we ARE judgmental, then we ARE hypocritical, and we ARE giving off a completely false image of God! We should really be ashamed of ourselves!

I have thought about this a lot before, but I have realized that to the outside world - and I didn't get saved til I was 16, so I know what its like to live as an unbeliever - the church seems very exclusive and uninviting. I certainly felt that way!

--- Okay, now we're getting into the territory that I know some people may not agree with or will take offense to. As always, you can maturely agree to disagree, but please remember I am a real person with real feelings, and I am entitled to my own opinions! ---

I have a friend, for example, who's grandfather was a pastor. (A WONDERFUL man - one of the kindest, most generous, and loving people I have ever met!) This friend is gay. His grandfather passed away before he "came out," but when he did, his grandmother (the pastor's wife) never judged, condemned, or ridiculed her grandson. So this friend knows what its like NOT to be judged by Christians. Still, even though he grew up around the faith, and knows what a loving Christian looks like, he won't embrace the church because he knows they won't embrace him, but will instead judge him. And I have to say, he is probably right. There would be gossip, there would be harsh words said, there would be whispers, there would be glares and ugly glances, and faces of repulsion. Be honest with youself, Christian. You know its true. And that is really, really heartbreaking! Yes, the Bible addresses homosexuality. However, there is VERY little written about it, and yet such a BIG deal made about it. Because the church makes a big deal about it, the gay community feels attacked, unloved, and alienated by the church, its people, and God Himself. This absolutely breaks my heart!! This friend - and the gay community as a whole - is loved as much by God as anyone else is, yet I am sure he must feel, based on the attitudes of Christians, diminished and scorned by God.

I also know a few couples who went to pastors looking to get married, but because one or both of them had been divorced before, the pastor turned them away. God isn't in favor of divorce - He wants marriages to succeed - but I think turning people out based on prior decisions or mistakes is, again, a horrible example of God's love. How does that show His forgiveness - the fundamental foundation upon which Jesus' life and ministry are based? If we say we're Christians, if we go on record identifying ourselves as followers of Christ, then exemplifying His love and forgiveness should ALWAYS be FIRST AND FOREMOST in our words, actions, and attitudes toward others!!!

If we, Christians, are models of God, how does shutting out and shunning people show God's love? Its not right! To model Jesus, you don't have to condone another person's choices. But you are called to lovingly overlook them, and continue to model God's love, forgiveness, compassion, and acceptance. When we put the sin above the person, and we cast judgment, all we do is drive people further and further from God. Which is absolutely contrary to the nature and the heart of God. He wants His children to feel His love, and care, and concern for them. He wants them to know He will always be there, to comfort them in times of need, and provide for them in all things. He wants them to know they are accepted and forgiven 100% by Him, regardless of who they are, the mistakes they make, or the lifestyle they lead. He wants to have a relationship with them, but He also wants them to know they can choose to reject that offer and He will love them all the same. He wants them to know His love is unconditional and unfailing.

Non-Christians... I want you to know that I am sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, sorry if my actions or attitudes have ever made you feel judged or alienated by me, or toward the church, or God Himself. I am not a perfect person, but I am really striving to live in love, kindness, and acceptance, and I aim to accept you even in spite of things I may not agree with. I want you to know that you deserve to be treated better, especially by me, because I know better.

Christians... I hope and pray you will consider my words, and examine your hearts, and pull out those planks and drop those stones. If you need to make some changes to the way you operate, and the way you represent God, then pray about it, and do it. Everyone needs love. Everyone needs acceptance. Everyone needs a safe place to fall. And if they cannot find it in God, then who's fault is that? I am not trying to be harsh, I am just trying to really drive my point home, because obviously, as a whole, we are misrepresenting God to the world around us.

One more little thing I want to point out, that some people may not know, and I hope will find encouraging, and hopefully see a glimpse of God's intentions... I looked up a few words in the Bible to see how many times they appear.

LOVE - 314 times, LOVED - 98 times, for a total of 412 mentionings
JUDGE - 191, JUDGED - 63, for a total of 254 mentionings

So see?! You are loved FAR MORE than you are judged! I find that encouraging! :)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

*sigh*....I hate cats.

I just realized, I haven't written much about our home life in a while. This blog was originally created to document the funny and interesting things that go on in my life as a SAHM and wife. Problem is, my life isn't nearly as interesting as I must have thought it was when I decided to create a blog, so its gotten, for the most part, pretty derailed. Oh well. Whatcha gonna do?!?

So anyway, we have been having major issues with our cat. Its not a new thing, but as most things go, its gotten progressively worse over the 7 months we've had her. (Wierd...I just realized its been 7 months TO THE DAY! Crazy.)

Jeremy and I always said that when the time came to get a pet, it wouldn't be a cat. See, we're dog people. Cats just bug us. So maybe that should have been our first clue.

But anyway.... Jeremy's co-worker's cat ended up having kittens, so she was looking for good homes for them. Now Jeremy's no dummy, so he should have known better, but he told me to take the kids over one afternoon to see the kitties. Me + 3 young kids + adorable kitten with pink nose, calico colors, and little white face.... You do the math. I mean, look at this kitten. She's adorable!! Could YOU say no to that?!?!

At that point, it was going to be near-impossible for us parents to say no. THEN, to make matters worse, Denise, knowing that Joy (our 5 year old daughter) is Jeremy's soft spot, started calling the cat "JC" as an abbreviation for "Joy's cat." Denise got him in a figurative "head lock." There was no way he could say no to a cat that was specifically designated as "Joy's cat." So, we resigned ourselves to the fact we were getting a cat, changed her name to the more feminine "Jaycie," and brought her home once she was litter box trained and no longer nursing.

The cat is a SPAZ!! She has been a spaz pretty much since the day she was born. The cat is endlessly curious, has no fear, and is all energy. Well, most cats mellow with age. Jaycie has failed to calm down even one teeny bit! And when the cat gets wound up - which doesn't take much - she bites, scratches, jumps on you completely unprovoked... And needless to say, it hurts! On any given day, I never know how many scratches Joy has, but I can betcha its more than a dozen. She loves her cat a little TOO much, so the cat retaliates from all the hugging and squeezing with bites and scratches. Clearly, the love isn't mutual. Now, over time, I have figured out how to, most of the time, avoid her bites and scratches. I have observed her enough and figured out the "warning signs" that precede a bite or scratch, and when she starts, I put her on the floor and tell her no, then ignore her for a while. The kids either haven't yet figured her out, or are simply gluttons for punishment, because they still constantly provoke attacks from the cat. Which doesn't take much, but still. It would be nice to have more of a lap cat, and less of an attack cat. I have pretty much resigned myself to the fact my cat is a big fat meanie though, and if my kids continue to get scratched and bitten, eventually they'll either get tired of the cat, or learn not to provoke her. I think we're still a long way off from that though. And okay, in the cat's defense, we all "mess" with her probably more than we should. But, well, she started it. If she was a nice, calm kitty, then we probably would take pity on her and not bother her. But she's not, so I guess we take some sick pleasure in minor forms of retaliation. I'm not talking abuse by any stretch of the imagination - we would NEVER hurt an animal! - but bugging her is kinda fun. I'll admit, I laughed my head off when Seth tied a balloon to her once. She didn't float away or anything, but it was funny to watch her walk around funny, looking annoyed, with a balloon tied to her middle. And its funny when Jeremy sticks his socks on her tail. Harmless, but to the cat, really obnoxious. Seriously, she is a great form of entertainment, provided you go in fully aware that you just might get completely mauled. So I guess, when it all comes down to it, its tit for tat....right?!

Then there is the issue of the litter box. Nobody likes to clean the cat box. For a while, we put Seth in charge of that chore. Well, he didn't like doing it (who does?!), so he would scoop, like, 5 clumps a day, and leave the rest. Well, the cat makes more than 5 clumps a day, wasn't getting even close to sanitarily clean. So then, since Joy is a much more thorough individual (even though she's younger), we put her in charge of it. Yeah...that didn't really work either. So now...*sigh*...its become a "joint" chore of Jeremy's and mine. Problem is, I think he only cleans it once a month. The rest falls on me. (Although, in his defense, he is the one who usually rinses and scrubs it out when it gets completely disgusting....which I appreciate, because scrubbing cat poop off the litter box is not my idea of a good time. AT ALL.) So every day I end up having to stand in the cold sun porch, trying to keep Skye (the toddler) out, while gagging and scooping out what are probably the biggest kitty litter clumps I have ever seen in my life. And usually just that 5 minutes I have the porch door open makes it stink like cat poo in the dining room for an hour or so. Good times. Not. So now we're considering moving the cat to the basement. I mean, the basement already smells like mildew and dankness, so its not like a litter box down there is going to make any difference. And the cat loves the basement and can climb posts and old bases of chimneys and catch the chipmunk that periodically decides to climb in there through an old pipe, so its not like she would be getting the raw end of the deal or anything. Of course...*sigh*...the litter box will still need daily cleaning, but at least maybe it'll be more tolerable. "Maybe" being the operative word. Jeremy would like to make her an indoor/outdoor cat, but we live on a busy road and the cat has no fear, and I just don't want to be the one doing damage control if the kitty becomes roadkill. The kids would be devastated, and I would have to explain myself to Denise, neither of which sounds like an enjoyable scenario for me. So,

Oh, and then there is the fact that the cat is a walking garbage disposal. Now, you have to understand, I don't really like daily sweeping. The house is lucky if it gets swept every 3 or 4 days. (Sad, I know, but whatcha gonna do?!) So things do sometimes build up under the high chair and in the space where I stand to prep food in the kitchen. The cat scrounges the floor constantly, looking for crumbs of whatever she can find. Unfortunately, she doesn't stick to just food. She will eat paper, pebbles, leaves, pencil erasers...anything really...and has become quite a connoiseur (sp?) of hair rubber bands and dental floss. (I find them in her poop and barf all the time.) Its gross.

Well, since I can't follow the cat around the house 24/7, or have my floors completely spotless all the time, I have just sort of let it go. But unfortunately, this has only escalated the problem. Now the cat will dig through the trash, and climb on the table and in the high chair looking for scraps. I tell ya, sometimes I think the dumb cat thinks she's a dog, not a cat! We have tried yelling at her, but she's completely unphased. She may jump down for, oh, I don't know, 10 seconds, then is right back up. Its tiresome, to say the least. So finally, last week, I busted out a water bottle. This is only marginally helping the problem. One, because again, I can't keep track of her every whereabout all day long, and two, because half the time she sees me coming. And the most effective squirt is directly in the face, but obviously, if she sees me coming, she starts jumping down, trying to trick me into thinking her being up there was a mirage or something. Which, yeah, I'm the human. I have the mental advantage here, so...sorry cat, I'm not fooled. Butt and side shots work, but I have to squirt her about half a dozen times, as opposed to one good squirt to the face. I am hoping this method eventually pays off, but so far, she doesn't really seem to care. I know in hindsight, I should have gotten the squirt bottle 6 months ago and nipped this in the bud when she was a kitten and still young and impressionable, but I guess I just gave too much of the benefit of the doubt to the darn cat. I'm nice, what can I say?!

So anyway, those are my kitty woes. Not that anyone cares, and you probably are now left thinking, "Wow. Why did I just waste 6 minutes of my life reading about Megan's stupid cat?" but anyway...sorry about that. Sometimes a woman's just got to vent about a cat, and really, what else is a blog good for?!?

Alright...I'm done. I'll give it a rest.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Why should I even have to defend myself???

Okay, now hopefully this won't seem like I am going completely on the attack here. That is really not my goal. My goal is to educate and offer insight into my life, and into what it is really like dealing with a mental illness.

I can't honestly tell you when I first started dealing with depression and anxiety. I can tell you I remember getting anxious and crying over something little in 4th grade, and thinking, "What is wrong with me? Why can't I stop crying? Why is nobody else in my class this emotional?" So I can tell you, I knew something was "different" about me as early as 4th grade. Probably even earlier.

The problem I deal with, is those people who doubt the severity of mental illness, think I am making mountains out of molehills, or believe it is something I can overcome without taking medication. It is none of those things, I assure you! I have heard every "theory" in the book, I have tried every "method" there is to "cure" this, and let me tell you, nothing aside from a proper diagnosis and medication has worked for me.

People seem to think I just up and decided to take meds as a "quick fix." I didn't. Like I said, this is something I have been battling since I was a young child. Like many other things, it is a progressive illness, so it only got worse as time went on. Like I said above, I spent years and years trying everything in the book trying to find something to "cure" me. I tried dance therapy, group counseling, strict diet changes, vitamin supplements, exercise, prayer (LOTS of it!!), yoga, talking it out with friends and family.... Still, the problem persisted, and got even worse.

It got to the point that in October '06, I had a full-on emotional breakdown. I thought I was insane. I wanted to die, and probably would have taken my life, if it didn't mean leaving my kids in anguish without a mother. I wanted to run away from everyone and everything because I couldn't handle anything. There were days when I would lock myself in the bathroom, away from the kids, and call my husband in hysterics, begging him to come home because I couldn't be a mother. I drove myself to the ER twice, but out of pride, both times I never made it past the parking lot. One time, I sat in the parking lot digging my car key into the palm of my hand, til the point that I bled. Everything in my life was falling apart. My marraige was a mess. My kids were becoming unruly. I was losing friends left and right. My business, that I built from the ground up by myself, completely ran aground because I didn't have the energy to work on it. I didn't like myself and what I had become. I wasn't merely unhappy - I was severely depressed! It had nothing to do with my circumstances - my life was good. It wasn't just a "funk" that I could "shake off." I was really, really sick inside!!

We, as a society, say that we are tolerant and understanding of mental illness. Yet the ignorances and well-intentioned but hurtful statements remain. Sure, everyone deals with their own problems in their own way, but until you walk a mile in someone else's shoes, you have absolutely no right to call anyone else's choices into question.

Would I honestly CHOOSE to have this struggle be a part of my everyday life? Would you??? To those who think depressed people are just looking for attention or like to wallow in self-pity, let me tell you something, nobody LIKES living this way!!! To those who think that this is just a matter of prayer and "right thinking," let me tell you, I have prayed and prayed and PRAYED about this, felt guilty about it, questioned my walk with God... I spent YEARS taking your ignorant advice and continuing to suffer! Shame on you for making me spend years thinking I was less of a Christian and less of a human being!!!! Ultimately, it comes down to this: Would God honestly want me to live in agony, about to give up on my kids, my entire LIFE?!?! Of course He wouldn't!! God gave us doctors and medications for a reason!! (One of the 12 disciples, and author of the book of Luke, was a doctor! And Jesus himself instructed Paul to drink wine - their "medicine" back then - to cure a stomach ailment. I hardly think Jesus is against doctors or conventional medicine!)

Let's look at it a different way. Rather than looking at this as a weakness of character, let's look at for what it TRULY is - a medical condition.

I found a GREAT article once (can't find it was years ago...) that stated that depression is "diabetes of the brain." In the pancreas, if the levels of nutrients and hormones produced are out of whack, the person suffers from diabetes. This same occurance in the brain, shows up as depression. A sluggish input and output of the correct hormones and nutrients between cells causes diabetes if it presents in the pancreas, and depression if it presents in the brain. So essentially, it is the SAME EXACT THING!!! Yet, nobody questions those who take medication for diabetes. If depression is basically the same exact thing, then why do those taking medication for depression catch so much flack?!?

Also, you could comapre it to cancer. Mental illnesses are PROGRESSIVE. If left alone, they will become more severe. You wouldn't just ignore cancer, hoping that with a "right mind," prayer, diet changes, exercise changes, and other "therapies" it will cure itself, right? No. That would be completely stupid! So why do we talk ourselves out of, or allow ourselves to be bullied or guilted out of, seeking help and treatment for a likewise progressive disease that can, and tragically too often does, also result in death, but with the right treatment, can put someone in "remission?"

I guess my point is, it gets really tiresome having to defend myself to others. I don't get hurt or swayed by others' comments or opinions anymore, but it does still irritate me. If I could just decide not to suffer from a mental illness anymore, I would have decided that 20 years ago! If I could have cured it with prayer and a "right mind" alone, then it should have worked. If it was just an issue of diet, vitamins, and exercise, then that should have worked too. But at the end of the day, I KNOW I did what was right for ME. It may not be right for everyone, but it was right for ME.

I am done being hurt, bullied, guilted, and convinced I am a weak individual and a faithless Christian. I KNOW none of that is true! I owe my very LIFE to a correct diagnosis, a medication that works, and a strong support system! The right treatment - which DOES include medication! - saved my marriage, my relationships with my kids, gave me the opportunity to have a 3rd child, gave me joy and peace in my life, and made me feel for the first time in my life like a "normal" person. I can function, I can handle what life throws at me. Before the correct treatment, I didn't know what that even looked like! I lived a life of unhealthiness and unhappiness, and now that I know what true mental health and happiness look like, I am NEVER going back to a life battling depression on my own terms. I can't. I'm not willing to risk everything that is good to appease others.

Please, those of you who *think* you know everything about depression, don't make ignorant, guilt-driven, false statements that keep others from seeking help. It doesn't help, and only makes a depressed person feel even more worthless. If you are a Christian, please, drop the notion that this is purely a spiritual issue, because its not, and quit making others question where they stand with Christ based on false information. Get the facts. Listen to those of us who have lived with it and actually LEARN something before you draw assumptions.

For those who do suffer from chronic depression, know you aren't alone, and know you don't have to continue to suffer. You are not weak, you are not crazy. You are sick, and like most medical conditions, its not going to go away on its own, and will only continue to get worse the more you ignore it. Fight for your life!! Get help. Talk to your doctor, a therapist... If you have to go on medication, so be it. You are worth it!! LIFE is worth it!! :)