My depression and anxiety began coming back this summer. Ugh. Medication readjustment is slowly helping. I’m so thankful for medical science and the life-changing help they have given me! I am perfectly content to stay on meds if needed. AND, a niggle in the back of my mind asks, “Would it help if something else was readjusted as well? Specifically, the pace and quantity of input I consume?”
Walking through Walmart yesterday, I felt overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of items in the store (an indicator that my serotonin level is possibly off.) So many things to see, so many choices! “Don’t think about it, just stick to the list.”
Having narrowed down my focus to birdseed, I was faced with numerous options. Hum…focus…decide…ignore the variety of bird feeders vying for my attention. OK, black sunflower seeds. Next?
Winding through the garden center I came upon employees setting up Christmas trees. Really? Christmas is three and a half months away. Then, leaving that department I was confronted with a large display of fall decorations. Beyond the fall aisle, begging not to be forgotten, were the Halloween items. I could see all three seasons at once and felt like life was racing into the future before my eyes.
In my overwhelm, a realization pushed into my foggy brain: it is no wonder I am overwhelmed and anxious. Life is flying by at break-neck speed. Who has brain cells to live in the present when we are constantly being rushed and filled with all sorts of information? How can I focus on NOW without the risk of being “unprepared” for the future?
I felt like George Jetson on the run-away treadmill. “Jane! Stop this crazy thing! JJJAAAANNNNE!”
Yet, Jane is probably too distracted to hear or notice George caught in his endless loop.
COVID-19 gave us no choice but to “stop this crazy thing” for a time. My heart relished the calm and quiet, knowing that I wasn’t missing out on anything. Feeling reenergized, I took a 5-week online course on Racial Reconciliation. It was so timely and impactful! AND, binge-reading/listening to 20 books, plus websites, articles, movies, TedTalks, and other resources brought a return to the internal downward spiral.
Hum. Astro, George’s dog, jumped off the treadmill and sat happily beside the cat he had been chasing. Like Astro, I desire to decelerate, choose my own speed of life that works with my personal rhythms, and become more present.
The thought of doing that is both freeing and panicking. Decelerating means saying no to some things that I really enjoy: getting lost on social media, the number of books I consume, the number of websites I look up, and being overly-flexible about how I spend my time.
The plus side to decelerating is the potential for more contemplation, peace, creativity, writing, quality time with my husband, family, and friends, and life coming into better focus.
Dad’s photography tip to avoid blurry photos might apply to my life. Zoom-in to focus on the subject; a busy picture won’t hold a viewer’s attention. Lean on something to steady yourself. Hold the camera still. Press the shutter button slowly and gently. Remain still a second longer after taking the picture.
That sounds like being present! A readjustment worth trying!
Early in life, I latched onto some false beliefs. Do not question authority and, by implication, do not question God or the church. I was safer flying under the radar. It was easier to allow people I deemed trustworthy to think things through for me. Conflict is perilous and to be avoided at all costs. Disagreeing with anyone, even safe people, felt terrifying, dangerous, and disloyal.
I had begun to recognize some of these unhealthy beliefs and coping mechanisms during my time at SALTS. I was on the healing journey and beginning to let go of old lies and ways of navigating life which were no longer serving me well. So how would I choose to respond when “my people” viewed a situation differently and headed in a direction different from me? What does love, honesty, respect, and honor look like especially in the face of disagreement?
My inner turmoil was ramped up to top speed. I played the options over and over in my mind, trying to figure out a good solution. I hate change. I hate confrontation. I like to pleasepeople. One side of me tried to figure out how to avert the issue. Yet, I knew that I could not support the church’s theological beliefs on counseling which had become significantly different than my own.
I could not figure out a way to reconcile this no-win quandary. Leaving our church would come with a high cost including eliminating regular opportunities to see family, friends, and children-of-our-hearts. Yet, staying would come with a high cost of my personal growth since my support groups had been eliminated.
With heavy hearts, we were in full agreement. As much as we might wish we could stay, our hearts knew that it was time for us to move on.
We were brokenhearted. Our “new normal” would be filled with grieving; times which were difficult, awkward, painful, and uncertain.
We arrived in Hungary with a mixed bag of emotions – excited, nervous, confused, sad, and exhausted.
Our time at English Camp was AMAZING! We ate, roomed, talked, studied English and the Bible, loved on, and played 24/7 for 10 days with high school and adult campers. Many had never experienced daily interactions with Jesus-followers. My heart bonded with my roommate. We keep in touch and I am thrilled to be considered an honorary grandma.
After English Camp, we drove to Great Britain with friends. It was a lovely time with well-suited traveling companions. Cathy drove, Gregg navigated, and they formulated a plan for our next destination. Erika and I sat in the back seat – enjoying the view, conversations, talking about food, and passing out snacks.
During our time in Europe, Gregg and I cried, prayed, and talked through the changes in our church. We moved to Jacksonville ten years prior to be more involved with family. Their church home had become our church home, sharing many friends, and immersed in ministries together. Gregg and I had actively participated in adult small-groups and studies, five mission trips to Peru, and missionary Sending Teams.
Gregg was intentional about being involved with our 3 nephews, leading their small groups in elementary, then middle school. Our 2 nieces had established leaders, so I started with a group of 2nd graders and moved up with “My Girls” each year through their 8th grade year.
Our lives, including vacation time, had revolved around the middle school program for the past 4 years, joining them whenever they met – on Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday nights, and often weekends for retreats, special events, summer activities and all-nighters.. I hosted sleepovers, baking days, and movie marathons. Gregg did guy things including riding bikes across Florida.
Life was filled with family, friends, and children-of-our-hearts – all at this church.
I eagerly embraced my 50th birthday, walking into “the 50’s” with hopeful anticipation. In hindsight, this decade brought about its share of difficult times. It also gave rise to much personal and spiritual growth, including freedom from childhood perspectives and coping mechanisms that were no longer working for me.
Gregg and I committed to volunteering at a 2010 summer English Camp in Hungary. Having never taught English as a Second Language, we began volunteering at the International Learning Center teaching English to refugees. It was a win-win – helping our community while learning new skills. On mission trips, I loved developing relationships with the local women. Even so, I hadn’t anticipated how deeply my heart would be drawn to refugee ladies.
In another area of my life, God was facilitating deep emotional healing through the ministry of Mending Hearts. My heart was stirred to attend SALTS (Survivors-of-Abuse Leadership Training Seminar) in April. This week-long intensive training in Michigan was a step towards becoming a MH small group co-leader.
SALTS is not a “how to” training, but a guided opportunity for personal growth and healing. I roamed the beautiful conference center and shoreline of Lake Michigan during free time. Being in nature helped me talk to God and courageously process my childhood perspectives and survival techniques. The week was full of pain, joy, healing, tears, laughter, new relationships, and God holding me closely. In hindsight, I see that this week had an eternal impact on my life, kindling a journey towards profound healing and growth.
August arrived, and we were off to English Camp in Hungary. Sitting in the airport, a text divulged that our local church had abruptly discontinued Mending Hearts and similar ministries. I was stunned and grieved. A safe place had been amputated. In my experience, the remaining counseling model seemed helpful in the moment, yet kept me in bondage to “try harder,” “disregard feelings,” and “readily accept the ramifications of other’s actions.” I had beaten myself up under that theology.
I had a pit in my stomach wondering how we would respond. What were we to do?
Thank you for your encouraging feedback on my birthday posts and grace while waiting for the series to be completed. I paused writing to give myself space to live in the moment and enjoy being celebrated. Coincidentally, my next post (2010) is a labyrinth of joy and grief, so I drug my feet to begin writing again. Now the pain of procrastination is worse than the pain of finding words to share.
First, an update:
February 2020 was wonderfully extraordinary. A week before my birthday, Gregg hosted a perfect-for-me celebration – an open house for family and friends to talk, eat, laugh, and relax together. I was overwhelmed with the thought and preparation he put into making the evening special, including making ten soups for a soup-flight-bar and finding a fireworks candle for the ice cream cake. My sister, Bryn, outdid herself with decorations, a photobooth, and a photo-memory album.
Friends came from near and far which deeply ministered to my heart. Mysteriously, my life felt more cohesive – a whole story in one book rather than segments – as family and friends from all periods of my life mingled together.
Basking in the glow of a wonderful party, my actual birthday was to be low-key. Mardi was unable to come from Alabama, yet a quiet heart-hope whispered, “It would be so special if she surprised me!” I was talking to Mardi on the phone when Bryn arrived to take me to breakfast. I opened the door to a huge balloon. Bryn is so festive and thoughtful! Then, when the balloon moved to the side, it revealed Mardi! My jaw dropped, dumbfounded with delight and my heart soared!
We set out for a sisters-day, filled with love, laughter, delicious food, and lots of shopping. Topping off the phenomenal celebrations, Gregg created a delicious ice cream cake, shared with family and Crazy Love friends that evening.
I am grateful to be alive, for a husband and family who love me, for the treasure of friends, and for God’s relentless love. I enter my sixties leaning into a paradigm shift, embracing the gift of being loved.
The Donna half-marathon to raise funds for breast cancer research was on my birthday this year. Gregg surprised me at the start line and ran alongside me. It meant a lot that he didn’t mind going slowly so he could spend time with me.
We began getting bored with running so we joined a Sprint Triathlon training class. Finding time to swim, bike, and run each week was all-consuming yet we made new friends and had fun. The day of the race was brutally hot. We swam ¼ mile in the ocean, biked 12 miles, and ran 3.1 miles. I came in 3rd…from the last. But I finished and am officially a triathlete! And…that is checked off my bucket list.
While training for the triathlon, we were invited to train for the MS-150, a fundraiser for Multiple Sclerosis. I learned to draft in order to bike 150 miles in two days. The ride began in St. Augustine, we spent the night in Daytona Beach, and we rode back to St. Augustine the next day. That, too, is checked off my bucket list.
Not that we were obsessed, but we took our bikes on vacation to ride trails around the USA. We enjoyed riding Route 66 outside of St. Louis, Missouri. Also this year, Gregg led a group of 8th grade boys on a bike trip across Florida from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.
I had the joy of watching my husband have the time of his life at Cedar Point, “The Roller Coaster Capital of the World.” He saw his third-largest smile that day, his first being at our wedding and his second at seminary graduation.
I’m convinced wallpaper was invented by the devil. It doesn’t help when the builder glues the wallpaper straight onto drywall – what a mess. Having removed the evil, our walls are now a happy yellow or white, and the master bathroom is lavender. Gregg painted his office a Steeler/West Virginia gold. It looks great with dark wood furniture. The project was a lot of work and it was well worth it!
I continued in Mending Hearts this year. Frustrated at my lack of memories, I took a trip to my hometown of Cocoa, Florida. It was special to see old stomping grounds and reconnect with friends. How ironic that both of my childhood homes are now painted yellow.
“The Donna,” a local race to raise funds for breast cancer research was my first half marathon (I have done three.) Walking into the expo to pick up our race packets, I promptly told Gregg that I was going to cry. It made me think of Mom and others who had battled breast cancer. Participating in the race was also emotional; a sea of pink runners, each honoring someone and protesting cancer.
2008 brought fun travel experiences. Extending a business trip to San Diego, California, we celebrated our 20th anniversary with sightseeing, a hot air balloon ride, biking down a Mount Soledad, and kayaking. It was so enjoyable that soon after, we bought bikes and kayaks.
In the fall, I sensed Jesus inviting me to return to Mending Hearts, a survivors of abuse support group at church. I had participated the year after Mom died, then changed my focus to walking through my grief.
I was a survivor and my coping mechanisms had been heroic and necessary. But they were no longer working for me. I yearned for more healing; Mending Hearts had visibly helped a friend. Dan Allender, author of The Wounded Heart, had helped write the material. If you are familiar with that book, you know it is not an easy read. Facing painful areas of my past was difficult, yet it was the lesser of two evils; the alternative allowed ghosts to continue chasing me.
Gregg and I took our fourth ministry trip to Peru in November. Bryn and Brad were also on the team. The four of us vacationed in Cusco before joining the JFYM Team in Arequipa. The highlight was touring beautiful and amazing Machu Picchu. The Inca mysteries fascinate me – how they transported huge granite stones to the mountaintop, how they built without mortar, and their astute observations of nature, allowing them to precisely predict cyclical events such as the solstice and equinox. Machu Picchu reminds me that ancient people were not “lesser” versions of us. They were intelligent, innovative, and their hearts longed to connect with God.
“My girls” and I would share prayer requests each week. My frequent request was to exercise consistently; nothing kept me motivated.
Jacksonville hosts The Gate River Run, a huge 15K race (9.3 miles), each March. Unbeknownst to me, this was on Gregg’s bucket list. The Jacksonville Times printed a daily eight-week “Couch to 15K Training Plan.” Gregg decided to follow it beginning December 2006.
In high school, I tried jogging with Dad in our Cocoa neighborhood. I hated it; it felt like my insides were going to drop out. So, when Gregg said he was going to try running, I was hesitant. Yet, I had been praying to find a new exercise, and having a goal with Gregg would keep me motivated. At age 46 I began a new “sport.”
The first time I went to “run,” I could not go the distance between two driveways without stopping to walk and catch my breath. Little by little, I built up endurance, although my Garmin always labeled my pace a “slow jog.” No matter – my goal was to get exercise…and eat ice cream guilt free.
The Strider’s Resolution Run in January 2007 was our first 5K. Our second 5K was surreal as we ran a 5K around the NASCAR Daytona 500 Speedway. In March we accomplished our goal, running the Gate River Run 15K.
Now that we were in a running routine, we both decided to continue. It was an answer to prayer for me. We transitioned to the Jeff Galloway Run-Walk-Run Method. For my slow pace, I would run one minute then walk one minute. Gregg stuck to his interval plan during his first half marathon at Thanksgiving, feeling good and finishing the race ahead of a younger running friend.
The Galloway Method helped me complete three half-marathons, several 15K’s and 10K’s, and many 5K’s. I was my own competition, comparing my times with previous races. We both enjoy the camaraderie of new friends we have made through running.
I’ve never really “enjoyed” running, aside from the friends and ice cream rewards. In May of 2019, I fell while jogging in the neighborhood resulting in a trip to the ER, 5 stitches, and a concussion. I have since stuck to walking, while continuing to indulge in my ice cream habit.
Our big 2006 adventure was driving a rental car through nine European countries in eight days: Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia. We began and ended our trip in Hungary; Cathy and Erika were marvelous hosts, as always.
Gregg loves languages and loves the challenge of being in a non-English speaking area. Me? That sets off my anxiety alarms. I really like control. You know, like being able to understand what a road sign says especially if it says, “one way” or “do not enter.” Europe has unposted rules such as speed limits and pre-buying a toll tag for certain roads. Don’t even get me started on traffic circles. Cathy did a great job of giving Gregg a traffic-rules crash course.
We didn’t know how to pay Slovenia motorway tolls. Gregg stopped at a gas station before leaving Italy hoping to find out. A non-English speaker said, “Como Italia,” – pay the same as Italy. That was great fun for Gregg.
The big travel loop allowed us to connect with two sets of DTS friends as well as see God’s stunning handiwork. We had visited Brenda and Tracy in Bratislava, Slovakia with Mom. They had moved; we enjoyed seeing their new home and neighborhood. A good time was had by all eating lunch in their back yard.
We met Debbie and Dana and their daughter, Danielle, in Germany to vacation together. We visited Neuschwanstein Castle among other places as we made our way to their home in the Black Forest area. The four of us had a gelato obsession. I can neither confirm nor deny that we often felt compelled to eat gelato more than once a day. While in Kandern, we took a day-trip into France, a new country for Gregg.
From Germany, we went to breathtaking Switzerland, then on to beautiful Lake Garda in Italy. Heading back to Hungary, the traffic outside of Milan, Italy was absolutely nerve wracking and we got lost in Croatia.
It was refreshing to spend more time with Erika and Cathy, and meeting with other friends in the area. As much as I enjoyed the gelato, I am partial to Hungarian food – fruit soup, Chicken Paprikash, their bread, and anything that Erika cooks.