Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Judgement, humiliation and baring it all

There is a story in the Bible, about a woman caught in adultery being brought to Jesus. A crowd has formed and they are heaping judgement upon this woman, and are quite literally ready to heap stones of judgement upon that woman. To add insult to this injury they bring her to Jesus, using her as a pawn to test him. She must be so broken, so torn, so sad in this moment, so humiliated. Everything is laid out there in public for all to see. Is she worthy?

I can't begin to imagine the depth of awfulness she must be feeling in that moment. Nothing I have ever experienced can compare to that,but right now I am getting a taste. A small taste of what that looks like. Each week a new part of me is laid bare and judged, then this judgement is turned into an official document and given to a group of strangers. Each week a new part of me is deemed worthy, as I sit and wait and wonder if I am. It started just with me, basic me, and then went onto a psychological evaluation, next a home study, where a social worker will look through my house, then a medical exam, where every intimate part of me will be exposed, next a detailed report of my sexual history going all the way back to high school. The next time I see the strangers whose baby I carry, I will be half naked in an exam room. So not nearly as intense as that woman in the story, but pretty in depth.

Her decision led her to that place, and so does mine. Mine isn't really hidden away, and is different for sure, but the results are similar. Judgement. And the more I share my decision, the more it heaps on me. The more criticism I get, the more "words of wisdom" and warnings. The more I hear how hard it will be, and what a risky, crazy decision it is. Yesterday someone even asked me if it was too late to back out of it, and urged me to do so. With each awkward stare, and shift in the conversation I feel it, that judgement. I am grateful though, that it isn't hidden away, I am grateful that it's at least out there. I know that if I get to the point of round belly, it will only get worse. People will ask, and they will judge, and they will make assumptions and form ideas. I get it, I do that too.

I am seeing in a new way though, how hard that is, how unhelpful, unnecessary. No one knows how crazy my decision is better than me. When we got the email saying we had been chosen and that the home visit and attorney meetings needed to be set up, I was hit with a rush of panic and emotion. I began to worry about being tired and sick and the toll it would take on my family. I looked at my body in the mirror and wondered if it would ever be the same again. Every doubt, every regret from every bad decision I had ever made came flooding forward. I judged myself and my decision a thousand times more harshly than anyone else ever could.

So as each new person was told and questioned my decision, told me how sick and tired I would be, how crazy this was, it didn't help, it just made me feel like less of a person and more deserving of any trouble I heaped onto myself. I started thinking about how i would just have to suffer through any negative affects of my decision in silence, because I didn't want them to see that they were right, that I was stupid for doing this. I wondered how as such a vocal person, I could pack it all away, and if I could just keep my mouth shut.

But then this morning I saw this story, and I saw Jesus' response to the woman. He diffused the situation, he sent away her attackers, by showing them their own inadequacies and he showed her love, compassion and freed her to live a new life, with no condemnation. He showed her she is worthy.

Now, I know my situation is different. I know that my decision isn't the same as hers. There is good to my actions, to my choice. Though it will bring pain and struggle to me for a time, and some to my family, it will also bring joy to all of us, and love to a whole new family. That is what my focus needs to be. That is where my head needs to go, to this new life. Jesus sent her off to a new life. That is where his focus was, to who she was and could be.

I need to focus on that. I need others to focus on that part of this journey with me. I don't need to hear the negatives, I don't need the judgement, I have enough of that, and a stack of papers in some file I will never see, but many others have. I am excited about this journey, and I am more than happy to share that with others, to answer questions. This is weird and fascinating and unknown, and  I get that. So ask away, but please, don't tell me how painful, how hard, how tiring it will be. I get that, I have thought that. Don't stare at me with concern or pity. Instead lets think about the great things that can come of this. Think of this new life, that could come. , and when I am tired and sick, reserve judgement, suspend the I told you so, and remind me of the good, because believe me, I will be aware of the bad.

I hope this experience helps me to see people more clearly with the eyes of Jesus. To understand the pain of judgement and condemnation, of the shame we heap on ourselves, and see how badly people need to be loved and encouraged, even if it's their own choices that led them to that place. I hope I understand what it means to help someone be free to see new life, and new possibilities in the midst of pain and humiliation. I hope it makes me slower to speak, slower to anger and quicker to love. The more judged I am, the more I realize  just how much I have judged. I am so grateful that Jesus' love and grace for me, is not equal to what I have shown to others, and I will take more seriously his words that as I have judged so I will be judged, than I have before. I want to see others as worthy first, before I see anything else. If nothing else, comes of this, at least I have that. At least I have a better understanding,at least for a bit.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What's too uncomfortable, too hard when it comes to helping others?

What is a good reason to not do something to help someone else? I mean really, what makes something not do-able. What risk is too big, what discomfort is too much, what fear to insurmountable?

Hundreds of thousands have been willing to dump ice cold water over their heads and post it online to help with ALS. Whether or not it is raising a ton of money or people are actually looking up what ALS is and learning, I like it. I like it because it's forcing people out of their comfort zones to help someone else. Comfort can be stifling. It can make us forget about those around us, and it can make us desire more comfort to continue to be comfortable. So this is great.

I haven't had a chance to respond to my challenge yet, because for the past few days we have been preparing for, and processing, a big step in helping others as a family. We are exploring those questions about what is too much to risk for our own comfort as a family a lot lately, as we get closer and closer to entering into a surrogacy contract. If things continue to work as they have, I will be a gestational carrier for a couple unable to medically carry their own child. In the winter, I will be implanted with an embryo, that is someone else's genetic material and of no relation to us as a family. This will involve a lot of medical appointments, medications, procedures and nine months of all the stuff that goes along with pregnancy. Add to that a birth, the healing after the birth, and the biggest thing, a long term relationship with a family, previously unknown to us. It is something my whole family will be a part of, even if it's happening in my body.

We have thought of and heard a lot of reasons not to do this.

· there is a risk to me

· I could end up on bed rest

· this will make me tired and grumpy thus stressing my family

· my kids will have to deal with pregnant me

· it will be harder this time because I am older

· my body won't come back the way it did before

· it will be hard to let go of the baby

Those are just a few of the reasons that have come from us and well-meaning friends. They are valid points. Those things will happen.

But are they reasons not to do this? Should those things stop us from helping a family's dreams come true? Should we refuse to bring a person into the world that will be loved, and raised by great people to hopefully become a loving person, because I am worried I will get fat, or have stretch marks, or be grumpy?

Maybe they are, but maybe they aren't. Maybe it's time for us to get uncomfortable, to put our fears, and my vanity on the line for someone else. Maybe it's time to get to know a whole new family and through awkward first dates in doctors’ offices, get to know each other and allow our lives to be connected in a very intimate way. Maybe...

I should say it's not without reward. We will get some compensation for our pain and suffering. But I have never been part of helping someone, when there wasn't reward, even if it was just a knowing you helped. There is always some kind of reward, and there is always some kind of sacrifice.

Right now we sit in discomfort, wondering if after meeting us, this family will choose our family to do this for them. Are you good enough, can they trust us enough to carry this precious life, and care for it, before they can? Will we experience rejection in the next few days, will we not be chosen? It's uncomfortable, it's a risk, and it’s awkward and could be painful. Again, though was that reason enough not to try, not to but ourselves out there, not to make ourselves available?

I don't know. And maybe I am horribly naive to think this way, caught up in the emotions and possibilities of it all. I just can't turn off the voice that says we should try. That prompting from my studies of scripture and Jesus that says if you can do for someone, you should, even if it means giving up part of yourself.
the last time my body housed a baby, the outcome was pretty awesome!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

lies, lies, everywhere the lies, blocking out the scenery...

My heart is broken today and my stomach in knots, like so many, as we mourn yet another death to mental illness, another person that seemed to have it all, and seemed so happy to those on the outside. Another family left grieving and heart broken, alone, with thoughts of the overwhelming sadness that this loved one felt, and the despair and loneliness that filled their last moments. I have sat with those families. I have loved those friends, and I live with the threat of mental illness. Everytime my husband who suffers with major depression fails to return a text for too long, or comes home too late, I see those families. I wonder if the faces of those children will match the faces of my own kids. I worry about how much despair he might be feeling, what he might be doing. I worry that his body might succumb to the very real disease, that threatens him. Like those that have recently passed from mental illness, people look at my husband, and have no idea the torture he lives through. He is so fun, so creative, he lights up a room. His art has inspired and brought joy to many. They don't know the depth of pain that fuels that creativity. They don't know how his mind lies to him over and over again, telling him he is worthless, and the world is better off without him. They don't know the chemistry in his brain that makes it impossible sometimes to turn those negative thoughts off. They don't understand how the lies crowd his brain, and make rational thought a struggle.

Those of us who are lucky enough not to have our brain biology be out of whack, only experience a piece of the anguish. We hear the lies all the time from our own minds and from the advertising and culture around us. We don't have everything, everything we do have can be better. We aren't successful enough, we don't have enough followers, no one cares, for us, no one knows who we are, we aren't making a difference, what we do doesn't matter. Those thoughts gnaw at the back of our minds, threatening to take over, and sometimes they do. Sometimes. Sometimes we can't be satisfied, we see what others have and we feel like we have failed, for not having the same. We wonder where we went wrong. We give into those lies, and we get depressed. But soon enough, we are reminded of our blessings, we are encouraged, we are pulled out of our self pity, our anxiety, our failures and reminded of our successes. We see the truth, that our lives our good, what we do does make a difference and we are loved. And that is enough, at least for a little while to keep the lies at bay. We are the lucky ones. 

For those that suffer with major depression, it's not so easy. The lies crowd out the truth, they are relentless and unforgiving. They overcome, and they sap what little strength they have left. Just as cancer eats away at the body, the lies of the brain's whacked out chemistry eat away at their souls. They pray, but feel God is not there, or he hates them. They struggle to get out of bed, to walk into work, to make it through a conversation. They try to find joy in others, but just end up feeling irritated with them and even more upset with themselves. They hurt the ones closest to them, and believe a lie that says they need to distance themselves, and spare their loved ones more pain. Everything turns into another lie, another awful feeling and it compounds, until the only joy they can find, is in putting it all to rest, and removing themselves, unburdening others even from the pain they might cause by continuing to live. The lies overtake them, they block out any possibility of truth. 

It seems too hopeless and helpless. So what can we do? In the wake of one tragedy after the other a young mother and a gifted artist, how do we move forward and try and prevent more? I wish there was a simple answer. How do you combat the lies in someone's head, or in your own? 

I think, and i am by no means an expert, part of the answer lies in some simple things. I think it starts with all of us suspending our judgement of others and ourselves. Quit measuring our value and their value on the have and have not, the did and did not, and find the beauty in everyone. Celebrate and encourage the people around you. Even if they look like they have it all together, I think we have seen, that often they do not, they may be hurting too. The Bible is pretty great at giving wisdom on how we should interact with others and it says, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful to others to build them up according to their needs." Ephesians 4:29. I think sometimes we need our own inner monologue to follow this advice, as well as what we say to others. We need to quit beating ourselves up and focus on being an encouragement to others. We need to remind those we love, just how much we appreciate and love them. When we start believing the lies around us, we need to call ourselves on it, and then remember that someone else is probably struggling with the same thing, and reach out with encouragement. With social media we have all of our friends literally at our fingertips, it only takes a minute to reach out and message someone, and let them know how much you value them, and love them. You can build them up, even if it's just a little bit, you have no idea the impact it might have. 

If someone tells us they are struggling with mental illness of any form we need to be very liberal with our listening and compassion. It may not make any sense to us, what they are doing, or how these things are manifesting in their lives, but we need to understand that it is hard for them and they are trying their best to live "normally". Encourage them to share the lies they are hearing, and don't necessarily jump in with the truth, listen first. Try and understand where they are coming from, the battles they are struggling through. Encourage them not to hide those things or feel ashamed, but let them out. We all have something we struggle with, and there is no shame in that, that's reality. So let's be open about those struggles. Hiding those things is very dangerous. 

We need to have compassion, and we also really need to support them in getting help. We can't just offer to pray it away, we need to help connect them with counseling, we need to support them if they need to use medication. We need to help them see that self medicating is not the way to go, and that seeking professional help is not a sign of spiritual, physical or mental weakness, it's a strength. We need to compassionately hold them accountable in that process too, making sure they are following through, finding ways to be an encouragement. Unlike with other physical illnesses they have a lot of responsibility for choosing to continue treatment and choosing to make healthy choices, but like cancer, sometimes treatment is not enough. So we need to be there to bring encouragement, accountability and love as they get the help they need. 

We who are battling the littler lies, need to make it easier for those in a death match with the big ones. We need to make the world a safer place to express the pain of their illness. A place where talking about mental illness is as safe as talking about your sore throat. Where you can share your real feelings, doubts and insecurities, and not have to worry that you look like less of a person. We need to make treatment for mental illness as normal and noble as treatment for cancer or diabetes. Those things are awful, but we often, look at people battling through them and think, how strong, how brave, and we readily hand out encouragement (or at least I hope we do). So why can't we do the same for those people who struggle to go to therapy, who take medications for mental illness? 

We can't save them, but we can help. Let's all do our best to clear away the lies...