Posts made in May, 2012

Be Available

Posted by on May 10, 2012 in Faith | 0 comments

Be Available

Over the weekend, Husband and I took Bug and Bear to our local aquarium. It’s a fun place to go with the kids, it’s not just an aquarium but also a rain forest with all kinds of different animals. We’re members, so we go all the time. I think our frequent visits have left us all a little bit bored in spite of everything the aquarium has to offer, so these days we’re usually in and out in under an hour. Today, though, I noticed a woman kind of cornered near some birds in a wheelchair. She couldn’t get herself turned around, so I offered to help.

“Just tell me how far to go,” I said.

“I’ll be fine from here,” she answered, but there was a tinge of nervousness in her voice as she pointed to her friend, also in a wheelchair being pushed by an elderly gentleman, and said, “I just have to work to keep up, she has a pusher and I don’t.”

I watched her edge gingerly towards a ramp and start to spin a little out of control. Actually, she just about took out a family of four. I nudged Husband and pointed to her, saying I wished we could help more. So Husband did what he does and caught the woman’s wheelchair and just started pushing. This is one of my favorite things about Husband… I see a lot of needs but I tend towards timidity, and husband is all about taking action. So Husband, Bug, Bear, and I took up with Bea and her two elderly friends for the rest of our time at the aquarium to help push the wheelchair.

As we walked, Bea told us that the three of them were all friends from church, and that the other woman in a wheelchair was 92 years old and had spent most of the last several months in the hospital. Bea and her friend, Norm, decided they had to get their friend out and about for some fun. Husband and I admired Bea and Norm’s moxie…I mean they loaded up an ailing friend and took her to a place that’s four stories of inclines, tight corners, and uneven pavement. In wheelchairs. That’s bold. We had so much fun, and were able to help. Really, she couldn’t have done it herself. But it helped us more. We walked into the aquarium feeling pretty down, tired, burned out…on life AND the aquarium, frankly…but left laughing, energized, refocused on the simple truth that life is not all about us.

Sometimes I struggle to slow down, look up, and notice what’s going on around me. I just feel so busy, so rushed, all the time. I have two small children, very little help, and a load of stress. Sometimes it’s tempting to crawl up inside my own world and tune everything else out. Except I don’t think that’s what we’re here for. I don’t think that my little world is all there is to my life.

Many years ago, before we had kids, Husband and I were just driving around with nothing much to do (I. Can. Not. even imagine such a thing now…) and randomly decided to stop into a car dealership. As we were just walking around, leisurely looking, a woman right next to us collapsed to the ground, started convulsing, and turned blue. She was with her husband and father, who were obviously frantic, screaming and sobbing while their stunned salesman called 911. There was really no other practical help to offer, so Husband and I stood there and prayed. The woman’s father looked up and asked if we would stay and just keep praying, so we did. It seemed like forever, but I don’t think it was long before color returned to the woman’s face, she regained consciousness, sat up and started talking normally. Maybe the same thing would have happened if we hadn’t been there, but I believe in the power of prayer. I also believe that God’s power often works through people…but someone has to be willing to be empowered. Really someone just has to be available.

That experience left an impression on me. I do believe our prayers helped that woman, but I also know our praying presence comforted her family members. As the ambulance arrived and we started to leave, her husband and father tearfully hugged us and thanked us. Sometimes being available means taking action, but sometimes it simply means spotting a need and praying. I think God can show us the difference.

I’m not saying it’s our job to take care of everyone who has a need… my own family has a boatload of needs right now and that’s my priority, there are plenty of times I say no… but I think that if we are open and we ask, then God will put us in the situations and show us the people who could use our touch. And we don’t have to be specially equipped to respond, or pastors, or counselors…we just have to be willing and available.

 

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A Different Kind of Death

Posted by on May 7, 2012 in Mental Health | 2 comments

A Different Kind of Death

In August 2005 I lost my dad to cancer.  It was six weeks before my wedding, and it was painful for that reason and so many others.  If you have lost someone you love, then you know all of the ups and downs you cycle through as you feel so many different emotions, and the time it takes for the reality of the loss to sink in fully…if you haven’t lost someone, then I’m sure you can imagine the pain of losing one of your most beloved friends or family members.  It hurts.  And it’s confusing.  Death is so surreal, the finality of it is just really difficult to absorb and wrap your head around.  It takes time and work.  The time and work it takes are collectively referred to as grieving.

The process of grieving has been theorized and written about by many.  Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified five stages that people go through in the course of coming to accept a loss…Denial and Isolation, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.  Most often this process is associated with death, but I believe it applies to all kinds of losses, and is experienced in response to various life events that are a loss to one extent or another.  I think this is important to point out, because the grieving process can feel crazy…experiencing so many different emotions in such an intense way can feel chaotic, especially when it’s in response to something other than a death and therefore unexpected.

I see this all the time in my therapy clients.  People come in confused about why they feel like they’re losing their minds, randomly blowing up at strangers, crying for seemingly no reason at the drop of a hat, behaviors that they identify as out of character.  But as we talk, a loss comes to the surface, and suddenly their reactions make sense…they are grieving, and usually the realization that their feelings are connected to something, that the feelings are normal, and that the feelings can aid in the healing process brings tremendous relief.  One of the most common events that I see this happen with is the loss of a dream.

When my husband and I got married, we had big dreams.  Really big dreams.  Things we felt passionate about and called to, things we hoped for and dreamed about for years, even before we met each other.  As is one of the benefits of marriage, the things we brought to the table separately made some of our dreams more realistic when combined, and we had the amazing opportunity to turn some dreams into reality.  We carefully weighed the costs and decided to take some big risks.  Risks are, well, risky, and unfortunately for us, we lost a lot.  While I don’t regret the decisions we made as a whole, and I would rather have taken the chance than live with the regret of never trying, I experienced deep grief over the loss of the dream.

Dreams have a life of their own.  They are with us for a length of time, we get to know them and then shape our lives around them…they become beloved and familiar, just like the people we love most.  And just like when a person we love dies, the death of a dream leaves confusion, a hole in the future, intense emotions, and the demand to adjust and reorient life in a different direction.  The dream may have centered around a marriage or relationship, children, career ambitions, a home.  Its loss requires grieving.  It’s hard work.  If this sounds strange, I’ll share how I experienced some of the grieving stages as related to the loss of a dream versus a death.

1. Denial and Isolation – Truly it took us about a year to fully acknowledge that the dream had died and that we must bury it and move forward in a different direction.  We just kept trying our best to breathe life back into it.  We had a lot invested in a lot of different ways, plus it was nearly unbearable to walk away from something that we believed in so deeply.  As I think is common in the loss of a dream, it was a hard thing to talk to people about because it felt like no one could understand the true depth of the loss.  Where death is generally understood as a painful process to endure, the death of a dream is more vague and seldom discussed.

2. Anger – I think a lot of my anger ended up directed at my husband.  We fought a lot until we realized that we were both going to go down if we didn’t find a way to pull together and be a friend to each other…after all, each of us had in the other the only person who was going through the same thing and could therefore relate.  Once we discovered that truth, I think I was able to start directing anger towards other outlets, like writing and running.  It had to come out.  The anger helped me in a way, too, because it gave me the courage and energy to keep fighting through and not give up hope.

3. Bargaining – Bargaining usually involves “what if” questions…what if we had done this or that differently, would it have altered the outcome?  For me, a lot of bargaining centered around the question “Whose fault is this?”  I painstakingly reviewed every move I had made searching for what I did to make this happen.  Then I painstakingly reviewed every move my husband had made, or could have made, or had possibly ever made, that would bring on a punishment such as this.  Over time I realized that it was neither of our faults, the loss was not a punishment.  These questions were part of the bargaining process, an attempt to make sense of what happened, to bring a sense of order and control.

4. Depression – Sadness is a normal reaction to a loss, but my sadness evolved into different emotions that often surprised me.  I felt hopeless, because without my dream to hold on to, what was my life going to be about?  I felt a lot of self doubt, like something must be wrong with me personally to have lost something so important.  The emotion that surprised me the most was shame…I felt ashamed that I was not accomplishing my dreams while everyone around me seemed like they were accomplishing theirs.

5. Acceptance – I think I cycled through the above emotions, to varying degrees, for a good while before I came to a place where I could envision a future that included a very revised version of the old dream in the form of a new possibility.  I personally could not have gotten there without God.  But gradually I realized that doing the hard work of grieving the loss of the dream had produced some new qualities and strengths in me that I didn’t want to live without…I could see purpose in the loss…I could picture the birth of a new dream that may have an even greater purpose that what I had originally envisioned.  Again, I’m not sure how I would have gotten there if I didn’t believe that God can use our worst moments and greatest losses to do the most amazing things.

Everyone experiences grieving a little differently, so if you have lost a dream then I know your process will look and feel different than mine, at least in some ways.  I share all of this for two reasons…first, I think that I am in a unique position to see how common this type of grieving is since my job is to sit with people who need to talk about things that they wouldn’t necessarily share with anyone else…second, because I think it would have helped me to hear how someone else had overcome the loss of a dream, and to know that what I was going through was normal.

Simplify

Posted by on May 3, 2012 in Faith | 2 comments

Simplify

The year, 1998. The place, Paris. I had just graduated from college and moved across the Atlantic for…who knows what. It’s probably the only spontaneous thing I’ve ever done in my life. I didn’t speak the language and was qualified for nothing, so I mostly spent my days soaking up the culture. I always think this experience is a great illustration of the difficulty transitioning from school to the real world…the fact that a planner like me would leave the country with no plan at all because I just didn’t know what to do with my life was a little over the top, but it happened.

During my time in Paris I was struck by the simplicity of life there compared to what I was used to back home. The apartment I stayed in was beautiful, a very old building that surrounded a courtyard, but there was nothing luxurious about it…no dishwasher, not much space, sparse furniture, no TV. The people I met there bought and cooked basic, local food and drove tiny, crappy cars. Simple. The simplicity was really beautiful in its own way.

Over the past several years my family has simplified a lot out of necessity…we’ve gone without cable, a second car, eating out, vacations…we sold our house and furniture, gave up a lot of little things that I used to take for granted. I can’t say that I haven’t missed any of the little extras, because I have. But I’ve also learned that they don’t really matter.  This new simplicity is beautiful in its own way, it shifts my focus to the things that do really matter.

Lately I’ve been cleaning out and simplifying something a little different: my faith. The past four years have been difficult in lots of unexpected ways, and that has left me with the task of reconciling many of the things I’ve been taught with my actual life experience.  As is fitting, I guess, I seem to have no flowery, complicated way of putting into words the things I feel God showing me about simplifying my faith. I only have what I feel like He has spoken to my heart, so here it is, as simply put as I perceived it…

God takes care of me whether I’m doing it all right or not…I’ll never get it all right anyway, it’s okay, He’s looking for a condition in my heart not perfection in my life. The whole point is: intimate relationship with Him, love for other people. That’s it. Loving him and loving people lines my heart up with His and transforms me to be more like Him, more in line with His will. And the whole process may look different than what I imagined, but that’s okay too.

I can’t say that I never miss any of the little extras beyond this simple faith…the idea that I can have more control over my life if I do things just right or that there’s perhaps some formula I can activate to make God perform on my behalf…sometimes I do.  But the simplicity is beautiful in its own way, I think it leaves me focused on what really matters.

“When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you  fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.” Galatians 5:4-6 (The Message Bible)

 

Make Ahead Meal: Oven Fried Catfish and Golden Zucchini Casserole

Posted by on May 1, 2012 in Cooking | 1 comment

Make Ahead Meal: Oven Fried Catfish and Golden Zucchini Casserole

There’s a farmer’s market near my house where we try to buy as much freshly picked, organically grown, pesticide free produce as possible. I never thought too much about where my food came from until my second baby developed reflux. Medicine didn’t really help her, so since she was exclusively breastfed I tried altering my diet so that she could get some relief and we could get just a little sweet sleep. I managed to figure out that one of many things she was sensitive to was corn. It sounds simple enough, but it felt nearly impossible to cut corn completely out of my diet…it’s in so many foods in one form or another and it’s fed to most animals sourced for meat. I learned that almost all of the corn we eat and feed the animals we use for food is not even real corn, it’s a genetically modified version of corn, man-made to withstand things that usually kill plants. Frankenstein corn. I don’t know, it freaked me out and I started more carefully investigating what’s actually in/on the food I feed my family.

This week at the farmers market they had golden zucchini that they had just picked that morning. We bought a bunch, along with some locally made cheddar pepper cheese, so I decided to make a casserole.

I thought fried catfish would be good with the zucchini casserole, but I decided to make a healthier, oven fried version. It’s adapted from my mama’s recipe.  Mama says in the old days when she was a little girl in Louisiana people soaked their catfish in milk to make it taste better cause it came from the creek out back.  She’s got a lot of tales, that mama.  I’ve never called her mama before, but it seems to go with the story.

I made a quick, simple side of romaine lettuce with a sweet oil and vinegar dressing. The dressing was inspired by Babe’s Chicken Dinner, which I think is probably one of the best eating establishments in the world. Babe’s has two menu items, fried chicken or chicken fried steak. That’s all the selection, and either one comes with all you can eat family style sides – biscuits, creamed corn, mashed potatoes, and this salad. Babe’s salad is just iceberg lettuce with this delicious dressing, but I substituted romaine for just a little hint of nutritional value. I think the dressing I came up with is pretty close to Babe’s dressing.

If you read this post, then you know that the only way I manage to feed my family these days is by preparing meals ahead of time, or preparing them with lighting speed. The only part of this meal that really took any time was the Golden Zucchini Casserole, so I made that early in the day and just reheated it in the oven when I cooked the fish. I also soaked the fish in milk, seasoned the cornmeal, and made the dressing ahead of time, which allowed me to have this meal all finished and on the table in just the 20 minutes it took it to cook in the oven at dinner time.

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Oven Fried Catfish:
4-6 catfish fillets
1 cup milk
2 cups yellow cornmeal
2 tsp seasoned salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
Vegetable oil cooking spray

Soak catfish fillets in milk for at least one hour. Combine cornmeal with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne. Remove fish from milk and dredge in seasoned cornmeal. Spray foil lined baking sheet with cooking spray, place fish on top, then spray fish liberally with cooking spray. Bake at 425 for 20 minutes.

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Golden Zucchini Casserole:
3 large golden zucchini, chopped into 1/2″ pieces (can substitute squash)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup fat free sour cream
1/2 cup cheddar pepper cheese (or any cheese you like)
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tbsp melted butter

Heat olive oil in large pan over medium high heat. Add zucchini and garlic cloves and sauté until soft, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Drain zucchini of liquid, then pour into mixing bowl and add sour cream and cheese, stirring to combine. Pour zucchini mixture into a buttered baking dish, top with bread crumbs, and drizzle with melted butter. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Salad with Babe’s dressing:
Head of romaine, cut in 1 inch pieces
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp white vinegar
1 tbsp white sugar

Whisk oil, vinegar, and sugar, and toss with lettuce and freshly ground pepper.

 

 

 

 

 

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