Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Spiritual Formation and Windmills

Spiritual formation is an ongoing process in life.  The phrase itself is now a degree and practice.  I myself have a spiritual director who has been my personal pastor.  I can't imagine life without Betsy.  Her grace and wisdom have led me to an awareness of God's leading in my life for a decade and a half.

Another lady that deserves a round of applause is Diana Lehman Bergstrom.  I met Diana at Bethany College in 1991.  She was funny, smart, well spoken, and was one of the Dean of Students.  My second year at Bethany I applied to be a RA (Resident Advisor) of Harp Hall.  My fellow RA friend Shanti said this of herself, but really I think she was reading MY mind ....that they chose me because of the work I needed done in me, not necessarily because of what I could do.  Shanti was and is amazing.  I was a fairly new believer when arriving at Bethany.  I drove myself to the campus, car loaded with all I could fill it with, tears welling up and scared of what I would face.  I didn't know anyone really.  By the second year I was supposed to lead a big house full of girls.  Ok, I'll try.  

I was a bit super-spiritual I guess you would say.  Well, Diana was picking up on that.  One weekend we were headed out to a RA retreat and were passing the big metal windmills on the barren hills of 580 in Northern California.  So maybe my ensuing statement was from practicing my spirituality or something, but here it was: "My spirit is troubled."  Diana looked at me with confusion.  "What?"  she said.  I went on to explain that the windmills made my spirit troubled.  "What do they have to do with your spirit?"  It was a fair question.  I thought the windmills were a spiritual issue.  Turns out they reminded me of a weird sci-fi show, "Max Headroom."  Do you remember that?  A barren wasteland.  End times.  For a new believer that may be triggering, but to make it a spiritual issue was not necessary.  I needed Diana to challenge me.  

Fast forward to a Sunday school class I was teaching with my Youth Pastor husband, a day I may regret for the rest of my life.  I told the story.  I had a point -we are all in process. Why do I regret it you ask?  Every youth trip when they would go by those stinking windmills I got a phone call...." spirit is troubled."  Oy.  Now my kids' youth group knows about it, and they call me too!  Please don't call me.

Diana is now a Chaplain on Mercy Ships, doing amazing things with her husband Patrik.  When she found out about my surgery she shared a scripture that I ended up making a sign out of, one for her and one for me as it was the truth of my journey and hers.
The Psalmist goes on to write..."surely I have a delightful inheritance."  Yes we do.  
Once again during this past year she sent me a prayer that I posted on my wall and have read it often.  

O Christ Jesus
When all is darkness
And we feel our weakness and helplessness,
Give us the sense of Your Presence,
Your Love and Your Strength.
Help us to have perfect trust
In Your protecting love
And strengthening power,
So that nothing may frighten or worry us,
For, living close to You,
We shall see Your Hand,
Your Purpose, Your Will through all things.
By St. Ignatius of Loyola

There are people in our lives that the Lord positions to share words of truth in love, bringing comfort through the Scriptures, and it is part of our spiritual formation.  I am so thankful for the women (I think it's so important that we have same gender models) the Lord has given to walk alongside in different seasons of my life who have been gifts to me.  Who are yours?  

So, Diana Lehman Bergstom, I wanted you to know this Thanksgiving week that I am thankful for you, and I am over the windmills. ;)  
Love, Marty

P.S. I walked in tonight from work with Shane showing me a picture of Max Headroom in the news...Seriously?  God and my "once a youth pastor always a youth pastor" husband think they are funny.  But my spirit is no longer troubled.  

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Traveling Couch's

On the way to my speaking engagement this morning we had to take our oldest daughter to our home church down the street.  But what we forgot is that the fainting couch was in the van and we didn't have time to take her in the car.  Welcome to our world. The conversation that ensued:

Julia:  "Where am I supposed to sit?  This is illegal."
Me:  "Sorry Babe, it's just a few blocks."
Shane:  "It's fine, it will be fun!  Think of it like a missions trip!"  

It is true - our kids are missionary kids, we are on a trip, so it is a missions trip! And then for the next couple of blocks he tells us a story of his youth pastor days.  Julia arrived safely at our neighborhood church, and we were on the road with one less Couch, and I was feeling a little less guilty as a mom.   Dad's don't have that kind of guilt.  I think it comes with childbirth, a baby and guilt, but I digress...

As you can see, I spoke from that couch in the picture.  It was the most comfortable I've ever been while preaching.  I highly recommend it!  I shared my journey through brain surgery and the healing the Lord did in my life almost 10 years ago.  But there is always a new chapter.  So I also focused on the past 9 months,  9 months of waiting for the Lord to redeem this journey.

He has redeemed it in showing me that this is not only my story but my family's.  My disabilities are shaping them into who He wants them to be.  That handsome guy there is a living representative of God's strength in my weakness.  I am so thankful that I have Shane to lean on as we both lean on the Lord.  God is also redeeming my calling by opening doors to minister to more missionaries and clergy members around the world more than I ever have before.  Only God can figure that out.

Is there something you've been waiting on the Lord for, waiting for His redemption in your life?  It can make it hard to focus on Thanksgiving when you are waiting.  Hard, but still important.  Do you know that our brain has a bias for bad news and stores it for safe keeping in our neural structure?  According to the book Hardwiring Happiness,  “We can still be happy, but this bias creates an ongoing vulnerability to stress, anxiety, disappointment, and hurt.”  What is the treatment for this hardwiring problem?  Regularly taking in the good.

Two good "treatments" that I have found incredibly helpful in my life:
"Seek Peace and Pursue it." Psalm 34:14
"God’s grace is sufficient for you.  His power is made perfect in your weakness." 2 Cor. 12:9

The one who created you has you.  He's got this.  He's got you.  So as you intentionally set your heart and mind on this Thanksgiving week ahead, what are you thankful for?
Write it down, and each day, read it, add to it, thanking the Lord for it all.  
Happy Thanksgiving friends!



Friday, November 17, 2017

Holiday Mental Health Check-Up

The days from November 1 to January 2 are a year unto themselves.  We pack so much into our lives during those 63 days.  Maybe you are like me and want to construct a plan that creates a healthy, meaningful, and joyful season.  The writer of Proverbs warns, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18).   Here are some things to consider as you envision the holiday season ahead.

o   Sleep:  8 hours a night if possible.  It can be tempting to stay up late, but you will enjoy the holidays more when you feel rested.  Sleep is sacred.  The hours between 11pm-1am  are especially important to process the daily trauma's.  
o   Healthy Eating (avoid sugar) I know, I know.  Sounds ridiculous.  But, if you happen to eat sugar like I used to, it’s akin to a drunken binge.  Stay away from foods you will regret.  Drink water… lots of it.
o   Exercise:  Ministry can make us sedentary.  Do you move everyday?  It can help your mood significantly.  
o   What are you looking forward to this season (people, places, décor, food)?
o   What are you dreading (people, places, décor, food)?  Being honest with this question is important.  It takes more energy to stay in denial. 
o   Process grief with safe people who will listen carefully.
o   Focus your thoughts:  Phil 4:8 takes practice, so writing out, contemplating, or praying through this scripture can pull us out of despair. 
o   Family Roles/Rules:  Be aware of what the unspoken rules are (don’t talk, trust, feel) so that you can prepare to have those needs met before or after a family gathering.  You are not responsible for other’s beliefs or behavior.  Be a light in the darkness while not being hooked into the dark.
o   Boundaries:  You can’t do it all.  If you try, you will be a walking zombie through the holidays.  Take time to consider what is the best yes, and the helpful no.  It’s ok to disappoint people sometimes. 
o   Self Care:  What refuels you?  Put that on the calendar and guard it with your life.
o   Couple time:  Are you staying connected with your spouse?  Practice sharing your feelings, an affirmation towards them, and asking them how you can be praying for them.  Then let them know what you need from them. 
o   Reading His Word daily and listening for His voice.  What interrupts your devotional time?  When do you have clarity to hear?  Don’t look at your cell until after morning devotions. 
o   Grow your relationship with the Trinity by practicing the following:  Praise, Listening, Noticing, Repenting, Receiving (comfort and challenge). 

Let’s walk with Him this season in all its wonder and focus on the one who made it all possible.  May you have a wonderful 63 days. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Falling Forward

I recently saw a picture of a beautiful piece of furniture with a caption that caught my eye: “A Fainting Couch.” It made me smile.  I love old furniture.  I love my last name.  I love when my last name and my life circumstances align in the form of furniture.    I was excited at the God-sized thought of writing a blog about my journey with the tagline:  afaintingcouch until my husband Shane drove me to run errands and I found myself literally looking around the store for my OWN fainting couch because  I was dizzy and clammy again.  Laughter is good medicine if it is timed right.  Not quite the right time that day.  Today is a better day. 

You see, a few months back I had two grand mal seizures early in the morning that crash-landed me on my head… twice.  My journey with head trauma began when I had brain surgery 9 years ago to remove a large tumor.  The Dr.’s were afraid my tumor was growing back.  Turns out, I have another issue, epilepsy.  It is unrelated, apparently an anomaly. A fluke, my neurologist called it.  “Why now?” is still unanswered, but God knows and He always has a plan.  My job is to trust Him.

It had been three months of recovery, from being stuck in an ER hallway with head pain some of you may very well be able to imagine, with slamming doors and crowds of individuals suffering more than me. Suffering is so tough.  I was dressed in a mustard yellow gown, and not the golden mustard leaf color that I like to wear this time of year.  More like the “hot dog mustard on your shirt you can’t get out” kind.  I later learned this color indicated I was a fall risk. 

I was told that night I would lose my drivers license for 3 months.  But when I started writing to you I was sitting in the DMV with a new crowd of people surrounding me and a paper in hand stating that I am fit to drive.  From fear to fitness in the course of 3 months.  God’s view of fitness, mind-you, but that’s mine too.

This blog is going to be a place to share my journey, offer my insights as a fellow sojourner and as a Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT & LPCC & Ordained Minister) who enjoys offering grace and truth through the lens of Jesus and psychology as I attempt to walk and practice.  I hope you are encouraged by what you read and find purpose in your own journey.  As I said, laughter is such good medicine if it’s timed right.  So I will take a seat (literally) and you are welcome to grab some coffee or tea, and we can all settle in so that we can grow together as fellow Fainting Couch’s.


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