Author Archives: LibbyGrammer
There’s a widely held opinion among my friends who are clergy that Ash Wednesday ashes should be removed rather promptly following imposition to avoid presenting oneself has haughty for being “more faithful” than those who do not have their ashes (at all or yet). While I certainly understand the sentiment, especially after hearing stories of those affected by such haughty stare-downs of the ashed faithful when their Ash Wednesday service was in the evening, I wonder if so quickly removing our ashes keeps us from recognizing, or focusing upon, their significance.
Today, a full 24 hours from our Ash Wednesday service, I happened to look down at my right hand and noticed a faint tinge of black under my right thumbnail. After probably 10-20 hand washes, this little bit of ash persisted in the deepest recesses of my nail bed. Annoyed, my first reaction was to grab the nail cleaner and attempt to remove the lingering evidence of my participation in the service, but right as I picked up the basket of nail supplies, I paused. Not more than a day before, my pastor and colleague Daniel Glaze had read part of a book to our Ash Wednesday congregants, reminding us that ashes are sticky things for a reason – they remind us of something important:
“In her book Traveling Mercies, the author Anne Lamott tells the story of scattering the ashes of a loved one. ‘When I opened the box of ashes, I thought they would be nice and soft and well, ashy, like the ones with which they anoint your forehead on Ash Wednesday. But they’re gritty, as if they’re bones or something.’
She continues … ‘I tossed a handful of my friend’s ashes into the water way out past the Golden Gate Bridge during the day. They’re impossible to let go of entirely. They stick to things, to your fingers, your sweater… And they blow every which way. We tried to strew them off the side of the boat romantically, with seals barking from the rocks on shore, under a true-blue sky, but the ashes would not cooperate.
‘They rarely do,’ she says. ‘It’s frustrating if you are hoping to have a happy ending, or at least a little closure, a made-for-tv moment when you toss them into the air and they flutter and disperse. They don’t. They cling, they haunt. They get in your hair, in your eyes, in your clothes.’ Reality is often grungy, isn’t it?
…Lent is anything but reverent and tidy. ”
I resolved to leave the black smudge under my nail until some future, final hand washing removed it. I cannot remove my humanity no matter how hard I try, and neither should I! Christ himself chose to don the ashes of humanity to come live among us. How much more should I appreciate my ashy existence in this world!
I figure there’s probably a happy medium to be struck between how long we wear our ashes to remember who we are, versus how long we wear them to remind others we’ve been to church. But, for the immediate washers of their ashes and those who wear their ashes from morning until their pillowcases are grimy, perhaps we shouldn’t worry about when we (or any one else) wipes it off. Instead, we should simply use those smudgy, ashy crosses (or nail grime) to remind ourselves in this season of Lent that we are indeed dust, ashes that stick around and are messy and imperfect – and that sometimes no matter how many washes we undertake, we’ll have it stuck under a nail for hours and hours. Yet God remains faithful to God’s children, mess, ash, and all.
I am eternally grateful for divine mercy for all of God’s ash-covered children, my dingy thumb and self included.
Will & I have reached a number of milestones in the past year. We have both turned 30 (well, Will does that tomorrow), leaving behind the years of all our friends getting married and entering the years where all our friends are having children or climbing career ladders. We’re both finishing school – I finished a degree last May, and he’s finishing one at the end of this coming fall semester. We’ve moved to a larger apartment and begun talks with a financial consultant about our current and future financial planning, including retirement and beyond. Suddenly, we feel as though we are being tossed into a new stage of life, ready or not.
With these milestones comes a series of decisions requiring discernment and thoughtfulness in the coming months. And with those decisions, transitions and changes will follow. Transitions and changes bring with them excitement, anticipation, hopefulness. But they can also bring heartache, sadness, and struggle. Some transitions and changes bring all of these at one time.
As I ponder the weight of my own transitions, contemplating the changes that life will inevitably bring us in the coming months and years, I sometimes forget that all life is a series of changes and transitions that come with a myriad of good and bad components. And we can choose to dwell on the negative and hard parts of change, or we can seek to find the “new normal,” the peace, or even the joy in these movements toward new life seasons.
Our natural world is made of seasons that bring hope of new life in spring but with the onslaught of storms; joys of snow in winter but with the death of the lush vegetation around us; beautiful colors of fall but with colder, darker days; brightness of summer sun but with scorching heat and drought.
After a particularly hot & miserable week, I spent some time on my porch one late evening contemplating the cooler evening air, and the appreciation I had for summertime grew, despite the miserably hot week. I recognized the brilliance of red Mars and cool, blue Venus. I marveled at the large, bright moon. I breathed deeply in the freshly mown lawn and growing sweet basil. I listened to the quiet space of midnight with no cars, no people – just a gentle hum of crickets.
…And I realized that this is the stuff life is made of – and when the breezes of fall come, and my basil plants can no longer thrive outside, I will find new ways to enjoy a new season, drinking in all that is good about this new place, this new change.
Are you in a change of season? How can we stop to marvel at our new seasons of life so as to appreciate change? Let’s stop and smell the basil this summer evenings, and let’s join others on their journeys, even if their transitions may not be anything like our own.
We are not alone as the seasons change, and with time, we can come to truly appreciate even the hardest transitions of our lives as we embrace the new season around us.
Cross-posted from the RRCB Pastor’s Blog
During the Thanksgiving season, which at least on social media begins on November 1, we often get to hear what so many people are thankful for. We get a daily dose of thankful words from our Facebook friends with hashtags like #NoticingGrace. The “Living” or “Religion” sections of our newspapers and online news services have opinion pieces on thankfulness – “20 Reasons to be Thankful” “How to be Thankful Around Your Disagreeable Family Members” “Being Thankful in a Time of Terror” “How Being Thankful is Good for Our Bodies”…and the list goes on.
Thinking about thankfulness has made me wonder what exactly we are overcoming with our gratitude. Unlike the authors who are excited that gratitude lowers blood pressure (which, yes, is fantastic), I was more curious about what gratitude, and not just the November short-term version, does for our souls. What is it about our human struggle that thankfulness helps?
The answer is: probably a lot of things. But one in particular came to my mind that I think influences much of our spiritual and bodily lives, one I struggle with daily – Anxiety.
I read the Matthew passage above and very much want to be consistently non-anxious, knowing how much God provides and is among us. I want to be able to trust that much. Yet, life throws curveballs: I am busy, I get overwhelmed, tragic and frustrating things happen. And off goes any hope of that non-anxious existence.
Theologian Paul Tillich says that a major function of being human is our tendency toward anxiety. And he says it is not just about anxiety given to us by life’s circumstances, but that our very existence is anxious about its being. In his book The Courage to Be, Tillich tells us that anxiety is a deeply-rooted problem of humanity grounded in our fear of nonbeing – that we have an end. This leads to feelings of meaninglessness and emptiness. We are inherently worried creatures.
But there is hope.
Being anxious is not the end game, and there are ways to accept our anxieties of nonbeing while simultaneously moving toward fully being. But how do we do this?
Jesuit theologian Anthony de Mello said, “You sanctify whatever you are grateful for.” In other words, cultivate that which is not anxious; be thankful. By doing this, you make holy and important those things instead of your anxiety.
This kind of gratitude does not come easily, though, especially when we are already in the throes of anxiety. It likely will take small steps of movement toward gratitude before we begin to slowly turn away from our worry. Taking moments every day (and not just every day in November) to be thankful for the small things – birds, lilies of the field, fluffy dogs, sunshine – can provide little movements toward a wholeness of being that keeps us from focusing our anxiety of nonbeing.
Jesus wants us to take time to notice what is right here in our midst. He calls us to believe that God is among us in everything, providing daily reminders of our relationship to God’s hope in the small parts of life that provide us joy and hope. By being thankful for these small things, we take steps toward wholeness that decrease the anxiety in our souls and make living a more joyous undertaking.
Being thankful is the antidote to our worry – by placing our attention on that which is holy and wonderful, we look away from that which we cannot change. By seeing the birds, lilies, food to eat, homes to live in, friends and family – we look away from the sickness, struggle, depression, and death.
May we be a grateful people, able to heal our souls of anxiety through the grace of gratitude, this season and all year round!
 Note that I and others are fully aware of the legitimate need for medical and therapeutic intervention for anxiety and depressive disorders that keep us from being able to find gratefulness – but once someone is able to be grateful again, perhaps after talk therapy or medication, the advice to find small moments of gratitude to move toward fullness of being still applies as we tend to our souls.
[Cross-posted from RRCB Pastor’s Blog: http://www.rrcb.org/2015/11/overcoming-anxiety-with-gratitude/]
I spent more than two days this week without access to the internet at home. Now, for most folks, this is a mere annoyance. But for me, it was overwhelming. You see, my “day job” is working for a law firm as a paralegal – from home. Meaning, a day without internet at my house means searching out a WiFi signal on my laptop somewhere else so I can earn a living. It means transferring my phone extension to my cell phone, uprooting my laptop and a second computer monitor, and finding a place to perch that has reliable internet. (Thankfully, I do have a second job that does have reliable internet and an extra desk for me in Dan’s office!)
This whole process has made me feel powerless. I was working along, minding my own business, when the connection stopped working. Nothing was wrong with our “box” and no amount of restarting all the devices could make it work again. And no matter how many times we called the internet provider, they still had techs only available to come out two days later. They kept telling us there was nothing they could do.
And so, I sat, powerless to change my situation at home. But the thing about powerlessness over situations is that we are in fact empowered then to do something else.
I was empowered to shut down the laptop and take the night off. Empowered to go on an impromptu date night with my husband that turned out to be extremely fun. Empowered to find a new place to sit and work the following day, which turned out to be nice because I was able to work face-to-face more with my coworkers here at church. I got out of my work-at-home doldrums and got to dress up and say hi to other humans (and not just my happy, but non-human doggies).
We have all heard/read the serenity prayer at some point:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
My role this week was acceptance. I couldn’t convince others to do things on my schedule. I couldn’t change my internet connection situation. I had lots of courage to try, but the internet company had no appointments. And so, I had to accept my fate of being an internet nomad in search of a WiFi singal so I could work.
But where the serenity prayer stops, we should not. Acceptance doesn’t mean stopping. Once we accept, we can then do something with that knowledge. In my case, I could try something new, get out of my routine, and keep a positive attitude. I could find new ways to approach the unchangeable that were life-giving. I didn’t have to sit in pained, silent acceptance and do nothing in my disconnected apartment.
Life is a series of things we cannot change. No matter the amount of courage we have to change things we can, some are impossible to change (at least on the schedule we would like to). These could be nuisances like a lack of internet or a locked car door, or they could be major life circumstances like cancer, sudden death, the struggles of aging, or illness in innocent children.
We just cannot change things sometimes. No matter how much we try, these things simply are. And we are left with knowing that we cannot change them, and then finding ways to live in them, through them, and make the best of our lives as we accept them.
As we face life’s challenges, we are going to overcome many things by having courage to change them. But when we cannot change things, I pray that we instead find ways to integrate them into our lives in positive ways. For the “small stuff,” it can simply take a positive attitude and some ingenuity; for the bigger things, it may take days, months, or even years to find ways to live into God’s meaning in our lives as we face these hardships.
But we can experience the grace of God in our healing and acceptance of the unchangeable, and maybe change up our prayer a bit:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
The wisdom to know the difference,
And the grace to find new ways to live in spite of the things I cannot change.
[Cross-posted from River Road Church, Baptist Pastor’s Blog: http://www.rrcb.org/2015/08/living-through-powerlessness-acceptance-grace-and-hope/]
Many of my graduate colleagues have made and will make the decision to skip on the graduation ceremony for their Master’s degree (or second Masters, or Specialist Degree, or even PhD). And truthfully, the second or third time you get a degree, you do feel a little annoyed at all the setup that goes into getting ready for graduation.
The school will likely require you to:
- Go to one or two different places on campus (or “grounds,” if you are at UVa where word choice matters in such things) to pick up your allotted tickets for the ceremony(ies).
- Go possibly even to a third place on campus to get your complimentary cap and gown (but of course pay for anything else, like your master’s hood…now remind me who on earth would bother wearing a master’s gown with those dumb sleeves without the hood…aren’t the colors kind of the point? Well, you owe them more than the $50K you’ve already paid. They’ll get that last $36 from you). (And yes, both #1 and #2 will have to happen even if you are no longer taking courses and living in another city. It would be a terrible burden on the school to just mail you that stuff. Sigh.)
- If you’re like me, this traveling will require taking time off work – that annoying place you need to be if you’re to pay the bills. Then you will get home with that wrinkly mess of a gown and have to iron it if you’re not to look like you just rolled out of bed when you graduate. Ironing…as if anyone has time to do that anymore! (or knows how…)
- You’ll have to then make plans with any family or friends to find parking on a hot May day somewhere on campus and build in enough time for everyone to make it to the ceremony place(s). You’ll stand around in line in the hot sun and wait for hordes of undergrads to get their acts together while your measly handful of graduate students sweat through their extra layers of robes, stoles, hats, and hoods. You’ll be making plans to find food among the throngs of family members and graduates. You’ll be trying to remember what that email said about where to stand, which hand to get the diploma with, and when to smile because they’re taking your photo.
- You’ll listen to speeches that are generally aimed at the “Class of 2015” but you’ve forgotten what year it is with the full-time job, thesis, and adult responsibilities. “Class of 2015” is something 22 year olds are excited about. Your main work was done when your thesis defense passed. The speeches are mostly just pomp. You’ll feel a little old among the hundreds or thousands of undergraduates.
So why? Why would I do this again? This all just sounds like tons of preplanning and dressing up on a hot day to waste time for a degree that will arrive via postal mail in a few weeks regardless of whether I show up in my robe.
Here are some of the reasons to go ahead and walk despite the trouble:
- You will ritualize that which is finished. Rituals are a deeply meaningful part of human identity. We bury our dead. We put rings on our left hands and recite vows. We practice religious rituals like baptism and dedication. We humans find closure and hope in our ritualizing important moments in our human experience. Graduation ritualizes a major accomplishment. It provides us a meaningful way to complete our academic endeavors.
- You get to shake hands with those who nurtured your academic journey. After your defense, you crashed from exhaustion but then had to keep working and being an adult. But on this day, for that little ceremony (especially if you have a smaller departmental ceremony like I did), you have a little bit of time to appreciate the joy of completion with those who taught you how to survive this academic world.
- You allow your family into your academic bubble. They get to meet those professors who taught/tortured you. They get to hear straight from your professors that you were a good student and a survivor. They get to see a little of the department that has helped shape your academic mind for the last two+ years. So often family does not get a chance to “get it” from the source. For these few moments, they do. They experience a little piece of your life they otherwise might not ever see.
- You rarely regret it. Save a few schools that don’t do the pomp and circumstance right, you will find only joy when you take the time to walk in a graduation ceremony. You’ll have photos of you in your garb with your family (preferably before any outdoor ceremony made you sweat like a pig). You won’t forget the many times someone congratulated you, recognized you, and honored the fact that you have achieved a great deal. We all need to hear we’re doing well. We all need to feel that recognition. And while anecdotally I have heard many tales of feeling bummed for not walking in graduation ceremonies, I have not had many tell me they were sorry they went.
- You will stop long enough to let your achievement sink in. For so long, you have spent countless hours prepping coursework, reading, writing, producing. You have been in class with people who make you feel invigorated and smart, as well as less intelligent with every word you utter. You have been on a roller coaster of emotions and effort. Finishing your last class is so surreal that you just walk away kind of numb. The affirmation of graduation lets you stop long enough to really wrap your head around that you have completed something big – not just the daily drumbeat of coursework, but what now has become a degree that will forever change your life, whether it be by simply having new knowledge of the world or by providing you a new credential for your professional life.
While I wish the process were a little easier to get prepared and that there weren’t 20,000 things to remember for the day of graduation, I would not trade a moment of that hot, sweaty day of two ceremonies and constant “congratulations” from everyone I met.
I would not trade the celebration of finalizing the immense workload from the last two years – my academic triumphs and my emotional survival. For once in this two year saga, I got something more than a good grade or a passing “interesting thoughts, Libby.” I finished a graduate degree from a prestigious institution with a side of handshakes and smiles.
We’ve probably all had someone tell us they are a spiritual person, but not very religious. Oftentimes, for me, this is after the mention of my chosen profession. “Oh, you’re a minister – yeah, I used to go to church many years ago, but it just didn’t agree with me. It’s just so…[fill-in-the-blank: hypocritical, boring, etc.]. But I am still very spiritual. I believe in God. I’m just not very religious…” [awkward pause] “Oh, but I’m sure your church is really great!”
Why yes, it is. RRCB has one of the most beautiful and meaningful worship service structures I have ever attended or been a part of. It has the depth of meaning, the story-in-song, the aesthetics of a cathedral, all with a Baptist, soul- and Bible-affirming twist. And when we’re not worshiping, we’re doing the work of the Body of Christ. We are feeding the hungry, creating community, visiting the sick, affirming one another.
And yet – do you ever feel like you or someone you know involved in so many activities suddenly realizes that doing this, while it is philanthropic and good, no longer touches your soul in ways that God becomes more present?
Perhaps it is because you’re too busy to see Jesus (e.g., Martha). Perhaps you just never “got” the whole life-as-prayer or devotional time; it feels awkward. Perhaps there is still some doubt as to the veracity of God, but you definitely see good people and want to be a part of their good work in the name of this God you haven’t really gotten to know yet.
We are all somewhere on this faith journey.
I think it can be easy for us to fall into the trap of good works. Not in the self-righteous sense, but in the sense that we are doing a lot of good work with good hearts but never finding the “God moments,” missing the connection to the Divine in our work.
In his sermon this past Sunday, Mike Clingenpeel told us how very connected we are with technology and yet how very disconnected we can become from our Source, the Vine to our branches.
So, what are we busy Christians to do about this disconnect? How do we stop being religious but not spiritual?
I think the answer lies in our recognition that our spirit needs the same hard work as the missions we endeavor to pursue as a congregation. One theologian, Baron von Hügel said that we have three dimensions: the intellectual, the institutional, and the mystical. We must nourish all three to be well-rounded People of the Book.
That mystical, or spiritual, part of us is often lost in our very logic-laden, post-Enlightenment, exuberantly busy world. We want neat, tidy ways of doing life. But mysticism seems to “waste time” and requires a lot of sitting alone and cultivating personal disciplines that will interfere with our daily lives, force us to face our deepest fears and longings, and drive us to see everything we do in a new Light.
Learning Spiritual Practices is a lot like learning to manage your time to study in school. It requires some persistence, some mess ups, and some ongoing changes of pace as we grow and learn. I would encourage you in the coming weeks to join me in a journey to beingreligious AND spiritual. Here are a few steps to help us get started (adapted from Thirsty for God by Bradley P. Holt):
- Learn to sit attentively in silence. Sit up straight, spine perpendicular to the floor and with both feet on the floor. Close your eyes. Relax. Find a comfortable place for your arms and hands. Let your muscles relax, moving from feet to head. Become aware of your breathing. Take deep breaths, in through the mouth, and our through the nose. Now you are in a state of relaxed alertness. As your mind wanders, it can be helpful to mentally move those thoughts away. If you have a candle, you may wish to symbolically view those distracting thoughts burning in the flame and disappearing. Silence is not easy and you should not blame yourself if it takes a while to settle into this kind of activity. Start small. Do 5 minutes of silence then 10, 15, 20 as you become more comfortable. You will likely find a kind of disruptive peace in these periods of still. You will find God’s still, small voice. [Note: if you cannot find quiet in your homes – I hear you moms and dads of young ones! – Remember that our chapel is open every day during business hours for meditation and prayer. It’s made for it – drop by on your way into work or whenever you have a break!]
- Take a walk. Focus on your body’s rhythm – heartbeat, breathing, muscle tensions. Breathe in the freedom of being outside of a box (room). Imagine yourself on a walk with God. Look up at the sky or tall trees – see the vastness of creation.
- Pray. Many of us are quick to offer a prayer of thanks for a meal or a request for something specific, but perhaps extend your “praying as talking to God” (mostly asking for things) to include praying in other ways that inform communication with God: Gratitude, Praise, Wonder, Confession, Complaint, and all the other ways we relate to other people. Prayer is not just one way of speaking, it is all communication we have with the Divine. It is our whole relation to God. Broaden your relationship with God but broadening your practice of prayer.
- Write about your life. You could start by placing your date of birth and today’s date on far ends of a sheet of paper. Revisit places, time periods, events in your life (whether spiritual or ordinary, as both affect us). Which of these major events or places or people in your life have most affected how you view Creation, God, Church, and good works? Which of these moved your soul? As Denise Bennett told us on Wednesday night at Telling Our Faith Stories, the process of telling our faith stories begins with outlining those parts of our lives that have meaning. When did you receive or give a particularly meaningful gift? What place in your life holds sacred value? How does your family celebrate, mourn? Do you have unconventional family members or friends? Who has shaped you? After you have written these down, begin to share with trusted friends your journey. Ask them the same questions. Christian friends walking this same spiritual journey with you will provide space to be accountable for disciplines and to share, laugh, and have community together as you experience God in deeper, more profound ways in this walk of faith.
[cross-posted from the Pastor’s Blog at http://www.rrcb.org/2015/05/religious-but-not-spiritual/ ]
Stress Faith, Hope, and Love
The winter season. The new semester. The new financial year. We are firmly into 2015, and already it may seem to some of us that the year is out to get us. We have so much to do and so little time to do it. Combating stress and worry is rarely simple. Most of us struggle to “leave it to God” or remember that God’s “eye is on the sparrow, who neither reaps nor sows.” Are there ways to approach stress through our faith positively without simplifying a deep struggle? Yes, I think so. How can we begin the process of alleviating our worries?
- First, seek help. The darkness of winter days and the end of a brightly-lit season can leave anyone feeling down. Add to that the stress of a new year and new responsibilities – well, you get the picture. There are pastors at your church, friends in your community, and professional health care members who are dedicated to supporting you. Don’t let that opportunity pass you by if things are tough.
- Second, say “no.” There is no shame in saying “no” for your own health. Many times, those of us who are heavily involved, caring people often think that if something is to be done we must do it ourselves! But this is far from true. If a project or activity overburdens you, ask for help! Crashing and burning will prevent you from doing your best on the next project. Say “no” to the one now that induces more stress and trust those around you to handle things in your absence.
- Third, understand that worry is not a character flaw. It is both a mental/physiological state (some of us struggle with more worry than others due to our neurotransmitters and life circumstances), as well as a spiritual/soul state (we all struggle to trust God and are friends of Nicodemus, who just could not understand how simple God’s grace is).
There will be many parts of life that create for us stresses we can hardly bear. And to be ready for those times, we must prepare beforehand or be ready to stop when necessary. Worry is certainly normal and understandable. It is also beatable, with work, time, and support. What are some spiritual ways to alleviate and/or prevent excessive worry?
- Open space in your days for quiet. This will be difficult for many of us – we are overscheduled, overworked, and overtired. But space in one’s day leaves room for God’s Spirit to groan for you as you work out your stressors. This time of no connectivity (turn off that phone, email, TV, etc.!) will not only allow you to empty space into silence, but it will also create space for God to speak to you in that still, small voice.
- Open space in your week for movement. God created us with whole bodies. We were never meant to sit at a desk and worry. God made us to move, interact, and be alive in so many other ways. Whether it’s a walk through the neighborhood with family or friends or dogs, or some roughhousing with the grandkids, or simply making sure to move around in some small way every day, it will make a difference in your stress level. The scientists tell us that sitting is no good for our body chemicals, but moreover, most of us feel the effects of a motionless life as we try to face our daily stresses with so little strength. Get up, get moving!
- Whatever is true, noble…praiseworthy – think on such things. Our over-committed culture is also predominately negative. We only criticize ourselves; we don’t lift ourselves up. To stop worrying about one’s appearance or successes as a primary focus, one must first change the inner negative voice. This might require some professional help, or it might simply require a daily inner reminder about that voice. If there is space to hear God, listen to that voice, not your inner gremlin. Thoughts of the Spirit are true, noble, and praiseworthy – not negative or hurtful.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he said “Faith, Hope, and Love” are the backbone of Christianity. Faith, not worry. Faith that God will provide (Hope). And Love to conquer all Fear. May you find ways to move your Stress to Faith and thus embrace God’s Hope and Love. And may we all support each other as we work toward better balance in our lives – Mutual loving relationships are the only way we will all be able to make space for God among us and alleviate each other’s struggles even as God works in our inner selves.
(originally posted at Pastor’s Blog for River Road Church, Baptist: http://www.rrcb.org/2015/02/practical-faith-dealing-with-stress/)
“Disability” has become a dirty word in our society. We are conditioned to believe that anything that slows us down from the rat race of modern life is something to be lamented.
We have laws and practices in place to “accommodate” such disabilities to ensure a fair shake for all, but these are formalities that are government requirements, not mindful ways institutions deliver health to their employees or students (because apparently a requirement is the only way to get most places to recognize, accommodate, and help people succeed in health and career).
But is it fair when we stigmatize those who cannot perform to our ridiculously high standards, making them feel less than worthy?
Are those with “disabilities” actually worse off? Or are they the very ones we should all look to for guidance on healthy lifestyles?
I propose that many of the disabled are actually some of the most able of us all.
Recently, I had to prove myself “disabled” in order to balance my grad school life and home/work life. I was required to submit copious documentation and pour out my psychological history to multiple levels of the university, just to get a break on three course credits.
Now, to be sure, graduate students are some of the most ratty racers on the planet. They have more to do than most other jobs combined. Their work never stops – they’ve never read enough, written enough, presented enough. And they choose this lifestyle. I chose this lifestyle.
But I didn’t choose to be predisposed to anxiety and depression. And I cannot go back and change my history to remove those things that exacerbated the symptoms of my disease. I can only treat my condition with therapy, medication, and healthy lifestyle choices. I can only accept my “disability” and do my best to keep up with the ridiculous standards for graduate students (built by the male, monastic hierarchy of old).
In treating my disability, I must attend biweekly therapy sessions and take daily medication to relax and to sleep. I must eat a balanced diet, avoid alcohol (especially more than one serving in a given sitting), and exercise as often as possible. Otherwise, I am miserable, depressed, and anxious about every little thing. I lose my focus, my mojo.
And my focus and mojo are what make me a great student. My tenacity and determination and creativity are my strengths. These are the non-negotiables in my careers as a student and a paralegal and a minister.
Most graduate students struggle to keep a balanced lifestyle. Unless they come from copious amounts of money and/or have a huge nest egg or sugar daddy/mama (ha!), they are poor, strained, and it’s a daily struggle to remember to eat at all, much less eat well. And working out? Well, that’s a tough one – when do they have time to put down the books or get away from the computer?
My disability insists I be more healthy. It reminds me daily of the need to take time with loved ones (and not create the “graduate widow(er)” at home). It makes me so aware of my happiness, my priorities (faith, husband, family, school – in that order). It makes me sleep 8+ hours every night. It makes me eat well (and fights me hard when I don’t). It restrains my indulgences and keeps me dedicated to my regimens, and it lets me off the hook from those regimens when they rule my life too much.
My disability is my strength, not my weakness. And anyone who sees my need for reduced course load as a weakness (“you’re just not cut out; you can’t handle the pressures if you’re this overwhelmed; you aren’t good enough for this program, or any grad school”) is simply uninformed about what a disability is.
The disabled are the strongest, most determined people. They fight their own illnesses and limitations daily, make the tough decisions to get accommodations in the face of academic or other stigmas, and they still succeed in what they do – sometimes further than the able-bodied in the programs. Yeah, they may take a little more time. Yeah, they might need to take different kinds of courses or work through different programs to finish their work in other ways. They might even take a break and tend to their disability for a few weeks or months or years.
But they will finish, in spite of all that. And they will be the same amount of smart and successful as anyone else in the program. And they will have done it against all odds. And they’ll probably do it in a much healthier way – in mind, body, and spirit.
So before you throw around the “disability” word as some kind of insult, remember that we “disabled” are some extremely hard workers who overcome more than most “regular” folks ever will. We’re superstars, and we’re just as amazing and intelligent as anyone else in our field, perhaps more so in some ways.
A Follow-Up Post to my previous post
Even when you take a major step to end the cycle of abuse (often leaving the abusive partner entirely), you will face hurdles. Life can throw some doozies at you sometimes. Be prepared for these. Know the aches are worth it.
And then – rediscover YOU. Not the hidden/fake you that has plagued you all these years.
Yes, you’ll likely be in a legal or familial or emotional battle about your leaving your abuser. But this time is a time of recovery, and it does not have to be all hurt and pain.
This is the time where he no longer controls you. Where you get to know you – without his words hanging over you.
Find your inner beauty. Love yourself.
You will find strength in yourself you never knew existed.
You will make hard decisions. You will probably hurt a little. But you will recover. You will grow stronger. And you will be a voice for the voiceless when you are able to stand tall, honest, and lovely again.
“Controllers, abusers & manipulative people don’t ask themselves if the problem is them. They always say the problem is YOU. This was a huge problem for me as I tried to get help, because I was very willing to convince everyone that the problem was me ~ I believed it so deeply because it was what I had been taught for so long.” Darlene Ouimet
“For years I mistakenly focused on what was wrong with me when nothing was actually wrong with me. It was when I shifted my thinking to ‘what happened to me’ that all kinds of doors opened and I was able to move forward from coping to conquering.” – Darlene Ouimet
If you think you are in an emotionally abusive relationship, I encourage you to get help. Start by identifying what is happening. Then reach out – perhaps it isn’t good to reach to certain people in your life – call an anonymous support line, reach out to a counselor, or find a local support group. You do not have to do this alone (though some of you might choose to at first).
Here are some preliminary resources if you feel like your spouse is being abusive:
Know what it is:
“But He Never Hit Me” – “Emotional abuse is not a relational problem, a symptom of an unhealthy marriage (although it can certainly cause both of those). It is a heart problem, stemming from the abusive person’s un-Christlike drive to attain and maintain dominance. Emotional abuse is a habitual sin that seldom goes away on its own. The church needs to treat it accordingly.”
Know who to call:
Tell someone, anyone you trust – or call a professional. Mayo Clinic has some good tips on who to call.
And there is always the National Domestic Abuse Hotline: 1−800−799−SAFE(7233)
Whomever you call – a friend, a counselor, a hotline, be ready to be honest. Don’t hold back details. Only when the truth is revealed can recovery begin: Abused No More