Coronavirus: Letter

My sister, Stacy Christiansen, wrote a letter to the college kids from her church. It’s beautiful, and so much can be applied to our lives. Enjoy!

Guess what? It’s me again. Stacy C. When Pastor Amy asked if I would mind writing letters two months in a row to the Good Shepherd college students, I said no. But I secretly wondered what I could possibly write to you about.
HAH!
Last month, I had the audacity to talk about “the relief that comes from a much-needed break from classes.” Let me be abundantly clear – I was talking about a week. Spring Break. A chance to unwind. I was NOT talking about all of us hunkering down and trying to remember to sing happy birthday twice while staring at ourselves in the bathroom mirror. Oh, and wondering about toilet paper and bread.
But our family has been struggling this past week or so, and I’m betting yours has too. While there may be guides on how to get through this pandemic (handwashing, social distancing, and a lot more handwashing), I haven’t found anything that adequately covers how to get through the wide range of emotions that we are all feeling. And I think that college students, maybe more so than any other age group, are being uniquely affected.
Colleges are shut down. Friends scattered with little to no warning. Your daily routine has been more than disrupted – everything has altered: from where you sleep, to where you go, to who you see. And when it will be back to normal is completely undetermined.
Fear. Gratefulness. Anger. Sorrow. Happiness. Frustration. Dread.
I’m betting you’re cycling through them so rapidly that you can’t even process them all.
So, let me reassure you – it’s perfectly normal to be feeling both relieved and resentful if you are suddenly back at your parents’ house when you were expecting not to be there until at least the first week of May. It’s okay to miss your friends. Your freedom. The opportunities. The what-ifs. And if you’re still at school, trying to adapt to a new way of learning and studying, the same is true. It’s okay to be relieved that you still have a bit of a routine but resentful that you are NOT back at home when so many others are.
Speaking solely as a Christian mom here (and not a Biblical scholar), I have a couple of thoughts that might help you during this crazy crazy time:
1) Jesus showed emotion. And I’m not just talking the obvious – the big one – LOVE. Jesus also cried and got angry. (Hint: John 11 and Matthew 21). For me, I take comfort in the fact that we are created in God’s image. And if His son got angry or showed grief? Maybe it’s okay – NORMAL – for us, too.
2) Although “Thou Shall Not Fear” is not technically one of the commandments – it’s in the Bible so often, maybe it should have been. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that God said it so much. He knew that we were going to struggle with fear – He knew that I was going to struggle with it – so he covered it early and often.
So, I’ll close with my latest God sighting. Several weeks ago, Pastor Amy had a “stress buster” weekend for the current FLY kids. Late that Saturday night, my youngest texted me one phrase “Isaiah 43:2” with no explanation or context. (Some would say a teenage boy texting his Mom for something other than money or a ride is ALSO a God sighting). After I googled it, I’ve kept the verse open on my phone. How awesome that I’ve had this reminder; I hope you like/remember it:
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;the flames will not set you ablaze.
(Okay, so maybe I needed that more than you did.)
Please know that you have a community of people who care about you. We may be giving you virtual elbow bumps from a distance – but know that you and the struggles you are facing – and the emotions you are feeling – are important. We’re keeping you in our prayers.

Grieving vs Depression

I’m posting this because of its timeliness for me. My Aunt Peggy, my mom’s younger sister, died two weeks ago, and I’m grieving. She’s in heaven celebrating with Jesus, so I’m not without hope (I Thess 4:13). But that doesn’t fill the hole she left behind. And it reminds me of how close we were to losing my mom last year. I’m at that age where parents die, and it’s hard.

It’s important that I monitor myself to be sure my grief doesn’t turn to depression. The timeliness of this blog post has to have been God’s perfect timing.

Click here to read: Staying Stable While Grieving by Pastor Brad Hoefs

Missing My Aunt

When I got the news that Aunt Peggy was in hospice care, I immediately cried in advance of her death (3 days later). Then I prayed. Then I reminisced.

I cried because I’m going to miss her consistent encouragement and prayers for me and my family. I cried for her husband and children, grand- and great-grand children, for the sorrow they feel over missing her daily presence. I cried for my mom, the only one left in her immediate family, for losing her beloved sister.

I prayed intercession for my uncle and my cousins and Mom, for comfort for them as they miss talking to her. I prayed thanksgiving for my aunt, for the celebrating she was doing with Jesus as He welcomed her home. That she was no longer in discomfort or pain.

After I was done crying and praying, I began reminiscing. I couldn’t sleep for all the memories.

I remember being five years old and telling Aunt Peggy how I loved that she was named after me; the world revolves around a child!

I remember visiting our cousins, and my uncle and aunt taking us all out for ice cream – in our pajamas!

I recall getting in trouble with Aunt Peggy, when she caught me wearing the Barbie Head makeup. (I especially remember the blue eyeshadow!) I told her my mom didn’t mind – and she busted me for lying.

I remember swimming in their kidney-shaped pool. And putting on dance shows for the grownups. And learning to play billiards. And her little schnauzers.

I regularly dream about my aunt and uncle and cousins, and all the special times we shared. Is that weird? I think I dream of them so often because I love them so much.

Aunt Peggy was an amazing encourager. She always read my blog posts, and often told me to keep writing, told me I had a story to share to help others. She regularly prayed for me and my family – I knew we were being lifted in prayer. She gave me the example to pray consistently for my own nieces and nephews.

I know she is with her Lord and Savior, and she has no more pain nor sorrow. And for those of us left behind, we only grieve for ourselves and missing her, for we know just a glimpse of the joy she has from being in heaven. And we know we’ll see her again, when we all join her in eternity with God.

Memories

The funny thing about memories is they can’t be trusted. Images burned into the brain may not be real. Details can be lost.

I was recently writing about a mental health day I took, early on in my depression. I wrote about how luxurious the cool sheets felt as I woke up. I remembered the sun streaming in the front windows. I recalled listening to praise music, writing lyrics down in my journal. I had a vivid memory of turning up the music and turning myself around, with my arms raised above my head in praise to God as tears warmed my cheeks. I made a lovely dinner for my husband and me. It was a gentle memory, full of joy and light.

But when I opened my journal to that day, my writings revealed that my memories were wrong, distorted.

I actually woke with anxiety. The morning was rainy, and matched my depressed mood. I watched a movie in an effort to make myself cry. I drove to the local state park and sat in the rain, listening to the melancholic sound of drops on the windshield and dozing to sad music. I’d forgotten all about the sad morning.

The worship part is true. I did push the coffee table out of the way and dance to praise music. I did write lyrics in my journal. And I did make dinner, but for the kids and me – my husband was out of town.

I think the memory is the way God wants it. He doesn’t want me to dwell on the negative, so He helped me remember the worship part of the day

On many occasions, God called the Israelites to remember. To build monuments to recall His faithfulness, provision, and grace. To worship Him fully, with heart and soul and mind. Maybe that’s what He was doing for me. Maybe that’s why what I remembered was the worship, the praise to God for His love and care.

I like the memory.

What is Depression?

According to Mayo Clinic, “Depression is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest. Also called major depressive disorder or clinical depression, it affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and sometimes you may feel as if life isn’t worth living.” (mayoclinic.org)

Depression is more than just feeling down or blue for a few days. There are strict criteria for a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, including 5 characteristics that must be present for two weeks or longer to result in such a diagnosis.

My depression started as adjustment disorder.  That’s a diagnosis for when a stressful situation – in my case, relocating – creates out-of-the-norm reactions for such an occurrence.  Usually, adjustment disorder resolves itself within a few months. My story is that I had moved back to the town where we had lived for many years, and while I knew that relationships would be different, things just didn’t pick up where they’d left off. Yes, I went back to the woman who had always cut my hair. And I found a new doctor who I liked very much. But my friendships had changed. The church leadership was different, and I wasn’t supported in my volunteering with Vacation Bible School, which I had previously directed many times. I was lonely even with old friends around, and everyone was so busy with their lives, I felt alone and isolated.

I was easily irritated, though I tried not to let it show. I was anxious and worried about a lot of things, which had never been a problem for me before. I began to experience physical symptoms – backaches and headaches. Stomachaches, feeling a hole in the center of my body.  I had trouble sleeping – either too much or not enough. It became a chore to do simple things, like take a shower.

I got my old job back, and found a new church where I was accepted and given leadership in Women’s Ministry. From the outside, all things looked good. But my mood was consistently low and I had no joy.

When the adjustment disorder didn’t resolve within in a timely manner, it became Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). My mood continued to darken, I found it very hard to concentrate and focus, and life seemed blah. I began to feel hopeless, like things would never improve.

In my case, depression was a progression from adjustment disorder to MDD. For others, it can seemingly come out of nowhere. It can be related to past hurts or abuses. It can manifest itself as anger. There is no single cause of depression, which makes it difficult to treat.

For me, the prayers of others, the proper medication, and cognitive behavioral therapy and talk therapy were hugely instrumental in my healing. It wasn’t an easy path – it took several years to find the right medications.  But that’s a topic for another blog post!