Monday, November 23, 2020

What is God thankful for?

 My next guest to share her thoughts is my friend, Lori. I met Lori shortly after Mike was appointed to serve at Fishers United Methodist Church, in June, 1996. Lori's daughter and my youngest daughter were the same age, enjoying many youth group experiences. Mike and I appreciate Lori, her husband, Dave, her daughter, son-in-law, grandchildren, and son.

Lori commented, "I have been pondering on this from your 'Gather the Pieces' post. What a thought provoking question!

I think God is thankful that His churches are persevering during these crazy times when we can't gather in person. We're holding on-line worship and zoom calls for the smaller groups like Sunday School, church meetings, etc. We are not to be stopped!!

This does beg the question though, which is how we could do this as effectively without the technology we have. Maybe I shouldn't think on that too much. We DO have this technology today so it's good that we use it.

There are other ministries not so dependent on the current technology: the food pantry, youth gatherings, work continuing in the church office.

I guess the bottom line for me is that I think God is thankful for our perseverance and dedication to staying connected to Him and our fellow Christians.

I'll be thinking about it more I'm sure."

I am thankful for Lori's sharing.  I pray her words will give you additional thoughts this week as we get closer to Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

What is God thankful for?

 Friends, last week I posed the question, "What is God thankful for?" I invited responses and will share what I received this week. 

I have known my friend, Betty, for over thirty years. She, her late husband, Keith, and son, Michael were active members of First United Methodist Church, in Vincennes, Indiana, where Mike served seven years.

 Betty and I taught reading at Vincennes University.  She did a great job my first semester, helping me understand the details of testing students and using a curriculum designed to improve their reading skills. I am thankful we have kept in touch over the decades. 

Betty replied, "Here are a couple of things that came to mind with your question:

---- He is thankful for every prayer that is offered in whatever verbal or mindful form they are presented as they express that we are dependent on Him for all our details of life.

 ---- He is thankful when we call upon the name of Jesus in love, in need, in gratitude, in pain, in joy, and even in sorrow as it shows Him that we love and appreciate His gift of His son.

 ---- He is thankful for acts of kindness from person to person no matter how large or small no matter if planned or random as it shows Him we are paying attention to Jesus' example of how to live and love.

 ---- He is thankful when little children raise the name of Jesus either with questions or with wonder as they show Him that someone in the child's life is leading them in the path of Christ."

Thank you, Betty, for taking time to reflect and record your thoughts. I pray God's blessing on those who read what God gave you.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Greetings

 Readers - Thank you for following along the recent six week series on wellness. I hope some of the ideas or projects gave you thoughts for your own life.

In a couple of weeks, I will post an Advent reflection called, "Creating Your Own Light." We all need light in different ways during these challenging times.

As you enter a time of preparation for Thanksgiving, here is a question to ponder, "What is God thankful for?"

If you can, send me an email with your thoughts. I am interested in your perspective on this topic - jreed46038@hotmail.com.

Jacquie

Monday, November 9, 2020

Emptiness and Empathy: Burying My Parents on My Own Terms



Aren’t funerals supposed to be occasions where the dead are mourned and the bereaved are comforted? My experience was just the opposite in January 2013 when my parents died four days apart.

I did not attend my father’s visitation. My husband, Mike and I sat in the back row of the church for his funeral.

During the brief military ceremony for my father outside the church, I was given a triangularly folded American flag in honor of the years he served in World War II. I didn’t want to touch anything that was a part of him, but I had no choice when a young Army soldier walked over and extended the flag. I had to take it. 

Before we started home to Indianapolis, Mike and I stopped by the nursing home where my mother was in hospice. Although she was not conscious, I tucked the flag under her arm. I told her the flag was for her, the surviving spouse. I kissed her forehead, said, “I love you,” and left. These words were given not with affection, but obligation. She died an hour later.

During the visitation for my mother, and the luncheons following both services, my parents’ friends came to me and described meaningful relationships with them. I heard glowing words of friendship and stories of help during hard times. I learned about students my father mentored and how my mother’s volunteerism at a local science museum brought joy and laughter to employees and visitors. Friends from church and former neighbors remembered fun times at social gatherings through the years. Everyone loved them except me.

Meanwhile, with each comment, I felt anger. . A sense of Injustice, abandonment and rejection surfaced.  I wanted to scream, “You don’t really know them. Our home was a nightmare!” I knew no one would believe me so I kept silent like I had for most of my life.

By the time Mike and I were on the way home, I was numb.

My grief at their passing was complicated because growing up with two narcistic parents was complicated. Confusion companioned me most of my life, especially when I observed parents of my friends who were indeed loving and caring toward their children.

When I started working with Sharon, both of us were disturbed by the way memories of my parents lingered years after their passing and continued to disrupt my functioning. Feelings of abandonment, rejection, exclusion, injustice and loss, transferred to others, marring relationships and causing more confusion and stress.

One day, Sharon suggested, “Have you tried to look at your family with empathy?”

Leaving her office, I was astonished at the mere mention of my parents and the word empathy in the same breath.  How could I look upon these two people with understanding and compassion?

I remember offering empathy when I listened to others through the years, those who experienced deaths or serious illness or violations of marriage vows, loss of a job, infertility, or any other of the many complexities of life. But empathy to my parents? – the two just didn’t go together, or so I thought.

Offering empathy toward my mother and father required God’s strength and love. I recalled their early lives, coming through Ellis Island in early 1920 moving to a foreign country. Immigrant families had rough times adapting to the United States. I heard stories of children at my parents’ schools making fun of their inability to speak fluent English. Struggles in academics were amplified with poor comprehension. In 1929 like all too many people, my mother’s mother died of diphtheria, leaving behind four children age 13 and under. Extreme poverty, illness, and loss of a parent were unfortunate obstacles trying to get established and make a stable life in a new country.

My maternal grandfather worked in construction most of his life because he did not have to speak to do that kind of work. He did understand his wages were below others who worked beside him, but he had no voice to protest. Feeding and clothing four young children in a motherless home was a continuous challenge.

Looking closely at my parents’ family history, helped me see them as broken people.

If funerals are to comfort the bereaved, my parents’ funerals had not done the job for me. I had left those funerals feeling bothered and further isolated in my experience. There had been no real comfort.

But spending time with God, and praying for empathy toward my parents, I found my heart softening. I made a plan to bury them again, this time with a feeling of peace in my heart.

 One day, I pulled out two sheets of paper, one for each parent and wrote five positive or neutral observations. For my father, I wrote that he was a talented musician on clarinet and saxophone, proud of his Greek heritage, liked to eat Greek food, cooked us scrambled eggs with milk stirred in and was popular with the social work students he taught at the university.  For my mother, I remembered she liked to bake Christmas cookies, enjoyed working in the yard[J1]  planting flowers and one or two tomato plants, dressed fashionably wearing, wearing jewelry to match every outfit, and choosing the perfect handbag from her overabundance of purses.

Listing these characteristics helped me separate them from their toxicity and to see a more complete picture of who they were.

I gathered the few pictures I had of them, along with the small sheets of paper. I grabbed a small hand shovel from the garage shelf and went to a wooded area near a pond where I live.

 I dug a hole, put the pictures into the earth and placed the dirt on top. I inserted the sheets of paper into the mound of dirt like two tombstones. I spent a few moments with God as part of this ceremony. I had reburied my parents on my own terms, with both authenticity and empathy.

My attitude of empathy did not excuse what they did or explain their cruelty, but after seven years, I was finally able to put them to rest.

 Walking away from the woods, carrying the shovel, I felt like a burden was lifted. My heart was lighter. They haven’t haunted me since.

Although looking with empathy toward those who have wronged us in any way may seem impossible, I can attest to the power of this experience. I am so grateful for Sharon’s suggestion which initially seemed absurd, but ended up being was the key to a cleansed and peaceful heart.

 


 [J1]


Monday, November 2, 2020

Anchored in Art: What to Do with Complicated Emotions


 

Feelings are a natural part of life. We respond to people and events with various feelings or emotions.

A good way to start looking at emotions is to be aware something is stirring inside. Name the emotion, if you can. Then know what to do when an emotion happens.  For example, one day I felt strong anger. I didn’t know what to do with the intensity of my feelings. I grabbed an old magazine and tore out every page. I felt a lot better handling my anger in a constructive way.

But there are days when the emotions are more difficult to understand or name. Making simple, easy art when unnamed stirrings happen can be a helpful way to deal with emotions.

Sometimes Sharon asks me, “Where are you today?’ or “How are you feeling?”  and I don’t know how to reply because I feel empty inside. I may have a feeling, but no name for my awareness. For these days of unknowing, I ask myself, “What color do I feel?”

I have a small set of watercolors, but markers, crayons, chalk pastels, or any other collection of color work too.  I look at the colors. I ask myself, “Which one do I Like?” There may be more than one color that appeals to me on a particular day. When I find a color that feels right, I draw lines, squares, or circles. Then I paint the shapes with the color or colors I choose. Using art can help loosen what is inside. Perhaps a name for the emotion will surface. Repeat as often as necessary.

 

Often, I have an unpleasant, uncomfortable, unnamed emotion that lingers. Drawing squares creates a container for my emotion and I gradually experience relief.  The emotion transfers from me and is held by something I make on a piece of paper.  I can look at the squares and say, “I have a picture of what is happening inside, and now that it is outside, I can manage it.”

 

One day I came to Sharon’s office and told her I was feeling adrift. I felt unanchored, bobbled by waves in the middle of the ocean – no shore in sight, moving at the whim of the water. I told her feeling adrift was uncomfortable and disruptive.


Sharon suggested, “Why don’t you make an emotional vision board. Glue some magazine clippings to a page and illustrate what you want your insides to feel like.”

I had no magazines at the time, but a few old catalogues offered ample pictures. I was drawn to couches covered with blankets, stacked pillows on a chair, kitchen towels arranged side-by-side on a rack and a set of nesting bowls. I arranged the pictures on a large paper leaving a lot of space between each one. My heart needed a lot of space. I filled myself slowly with objects reflecting comfort, light, softness and order, the needs I felt within.

Putting pictures on a piece of paper, helped to “reel me into shore.” I was finally relieved of feeling adrift. I had visible anchors for what I craved in front of me. Hanging the paper in my office was a reminder of what I wanted my insides to feel like.

Making art helps make the inside visible so we can name our emotions and create a sense of order in our lives.  

 

 

Monday, October 26, 2020

Bearing Witness: Petals Hold Flowers and Me

 


My counselor, Sharon, has a giant pad of sticky notes on an easel in her office. From time to time she hands me a three-tiered box filled with chalk pastels arranged by shades of color: light blue to medium blue to dark blue to navy blue. Then the greens, pinks and yellows.

Sometimes, when I feel stuck emotionally in a counseling session, all I have to do is grab a piece from the chalk pastel box and swipe it across the page. The use of color and movement help me to find emotional opening I need.

One day, I drew a series of short lines from the top to the bottom of the large sheet of paper. Dust fell from the chalk and landed on the easel. Sharon commented on the colors I chose. Each line had a space between it, creating rows.  Between the rows, I began drawing circles to make flowers. I drew short green dashes on each side for the leaves. When I finished the flowers, I paused and sat back to look at them. Sharon said, “Look how the leaves are holding each flower.”

In sessions up to that point, I would often leave Sharon’s office crying, from revisiting trauma from the past. I was so emotional; I couldn’t even get the receipt from the office receptionist. Sometimes it was hard to walk to my car and often took me the rest of the day or even the next to recover. But as Sharon  interpreted my art that day, I felt held. She gave me something to take out of the office that wasn’t painful.

In Sharon’s witness, I experienced a very holy moment. Not only was Sharon bearing witness to my pain and recovery, God was bearing witness too. God brought what I had said together with what I needed. God helped me weave together thought, word, picture, and emotional need into a visual I could take with me.

Seeing my chalk pastel flowers in this way, helped me feel a sense of comfort and affection, a need I had been deprived of in my childhood. When I went home, I got my watercolors and recreated what I had drawn, simple flowers being held.

In psychology, bearing witness involves sharing our experiences with others. Trauma survivors such as myself receive great value, relief, comfort and affirmation when sharing our pain with a trusted person. As we went through the timeline of my life, Sharon listened compassionately, and intently, bearing witness to my reality.

A witness says, “I believe you.” Those three words are very powerful to someone who has just shared a trauma hidden in a family for decades. A witness gives relief, validation that something happened and companionship to transform the recounting of something very difficult. Bearing witness to my trauma, Sharon’s attention and affirmation were like a healing balm in the raw places where my memories had rested.

With the memories out in the open, I had room for new thoughts and ideas. As those new ideas came out in the form of art, Sharon became a different kind of witness for me. In bearing witness, Sharon saw and reflected not only what I was revealing about my past, but also what I was creating as an artist: leaves holding flowers. My hands were drawing what my soul needed. Like a patron at an art museum who walks by a painting and comments on the light, color or perspective, Sharon drew my attention to what was happening in my art, the very thing my soul needed. 

A witness holds us up while we are growing, giving us a steady place to bloom.




Monday, October 19, 2020

Patterns from the Past: A Time of Deep Cleansing


I came to my counselor, Sharon’s office and shared what was on my mind. Sharon was getting to know me. I was getting to know her and the methods she used to counsel. I’m the type to do a lot of research when I leave an appointment. I look up all kinds of articles about the mental health topics we discussed. No matter how many articles I read, I still had the emotional overlay of memories that never seemed to go away.

Sharon suggested that we try a timeline as a way to chronologically look at my life and the various experiences that were part of it. We began meeting three times a week.  

I sat in front of a giant pad of sticky notes on an easel in her office. I took a black sharpie and drew a horizontal line across the paper. I wrote my birthday on the line, and lead Sharon through my life story in ten-year segments. I hoped previously unknown details might surface. That process took almost three months.

A timeline looks at characteristics of your family, homes, and neighborhoods where you’ve lived, schools you’ve attended, friendships that developed, and things that happened.

I thought I knew everything about myself and my experience, but the timeline showed me I had much more I needed to remember and process.

The timeline brought up chaotic experiences not reflective of a loving home. Remembering took me back to many painful places. Significant events rose to the surface. Many times, I left my appointment crying hysterically over the pain of what had happened to me growing up. Remembering turned me inside out.

Years that should’ve been formative were deformative. Those experiences left an imprint on me causing me to develop a fear of people, making me quiet and shy and hardly able to connect with other children in my classroom at school. With so many unpleasant things piled in my mind, I had no clarity of thought when I sat at my desk. Survival was my only concern from one day to the next.

Even though I was sitting in my counselor’s office, remembering made my body feel as if it were back in time. Once, I recalled a memory so intense I fell off the couch onto the floor.

At the end of my appointment, the act of receiving my receipt from the receptionist and holding it in one hand with my tear-filled Kleenex in the other, became a way for me to feel a temporary sense of closure until the next session. These were my souvenirs from a trip to my past. I needed something tangible to help remind me that whatever disruptive memories were coming up from my earlier years, I was here now. I was safe and loved and cared for.

Reliving these events was difficult and, at times, retraumatizing. However, at the end of the examination of my first forty years, I finally had a feeling of internal cleansing and peace. I had been in counseling for many years and hadn’t made much progress. A combination of timing and the timeline brought me to a place I never believed possible. The timeline was an intense but helpful way to look at my life, name events, and identify patterns.

Your Turn

Get a few pieces of paper, draw a horizontal line and begin recording events in your life in ten-year segments. Consider structuring your timeline in a way that feels most natural to you. You may want to use a road map and describe the places that were important in different parts of your life.

 You may want to draw a tangled tree with branches and twigs twisted and turned in various angles. You may want to make a collage timeline with words and pictures found in magazines to illustrate the events and themes of your life.

Here are a few questions to get started.

-          What people played important roles in your upbringing?

-          What was your family structure?

-          What feelings do you remember from various times in your life?

-          Ask yourself questions using who, what, when, where, and why to get started.

-          Process by naming what happened, but use caution if strong emotions are stirred.

-          Use tangible objects around you to remind yourself that you are here now, that you are safe and loved.

-          Take a break if necessary and return to the timeline when you are ready.

-          Seek the help of a professional counselor for dealing with concerns that may surface.