What to Expect in 2019

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I tried a few times over my 50+ years, but they never stuck. Why set myself up for failure?!

At the same time, there are things I’d like to see in my life in the upcoming year. So call them resolutions if you must, but I’m giving myself lots of grace, and no deadlines.

I’d like my morning time with God to be more consistent. It has been in recent months, so I don’t see any reason why it can’t continue to be a priority. I get several daily devotionals, but I’m not counting those. I’m talking about me in God’s Word each day. I just purchased a Lectio Divina devotional, and am looking forward to using that as my devotional tool.

I want to be more intentional about the friendships that matter most to me. I intend to make more phone calls, send more texts, stay more connected. I want to plan a trip back to my old hometown to see those people in person, to hug them and tell them how much they mean to me, even over the miles and years. I need to get that on the calendar!

I can’t say that I’ll exercise, because I am physically-active-averse. But there’s no reason that I can’t walk around the block several times per week. Just the block – no commitment to anything more. (Though I’m hoping that once I get out there, with headphones on, I’ll keep going.)

I plan to send more care packages to my kids. They’re no longer in school, so it’s really just “thinking of you” boxes. And I want to shop locally for the items in those boxes. I want to do a better job of supporting local small businesses.

I’ll try to eat more vegetables. Thank goodness for the vegetarian choice of Hello Fresh! I’ll use my new instant pot to put healthier meals on the table. I’ll learn to cook for two, instead of just reaching for the frozen pizza.

I’ll read more books. Goodness knows that I have plenty of them on my shelf that I haven’t even started yet! And that doesn’t count the books on my to-read list. Not just good-for-you books; I want to read for fun, not only for personal development. I used to read lots of fiction but got away from it in recent years. I want to get back to good ole stories.

There are activities I’ll continue in the new year: the library book club (which encourages me to read books I might not otherwise choose), volunteering (I want to get back to 2x/week), serving at church (leading a new mental health support group starting January 8th!), work, developing local friendships, taking weekend adventures with my husband (this requires spontaneity that I have to work at).

So I see myself growing and improving in 2019. If I do any of these things, even a little bit, I’ll be better for it. Resolutions, no. Aspirations, yes.

Happy New Year! Wishing you God’s blessings and a growing closeness to Him in 2019!

Relationships and community

I met with my new therapist this past Tuesday. Nothing new, really, except that she and I are new together. I talked about loneliness, and told her the steps I’m taking to reach out to others to ease the alone-ness. She didn’t offer much, other than that I was doing the right things. She did remind me that I can quit the things that aren’t working.

So I’m giving myself permission to take the pressure off of Bible study. I’ll keep going, for the discipline of study, and sharing with other women. But I’ll not expect to make great friends there – that hasn’t worked so far, so I’ll lower my expectations. I won’t feel guilty about missing a week and going out with a new friend to visit and share lunch. I’ll keep it all in balance.

I have plans with another friend for breakfast together. I’ll go to work and meet with my individual students. I’ll enjoy my free time with my husband on the weekends and we’ll adventure out in our Mini-convertible.  We’ll occasionally meet his coworkers and spouses after work, for a drink or dinner/campfire. I’ll keep trying.

I had an epiphany while writing this post. I’m not just longing for relationships. I’m hungry for community.

When I had school-aged children, it was easier to have groups of friends, based on different activities our kids enjoyed. And I had my friends at work – we were a close bunch! But as an empty-nester, I’m needing to find new ways to meet people. I long to belong to a community.

I’d really like to get to know people at church, and the best way to do that is to join a small discipleship/fellowship group. But my job goes into evening hours, so that makes those meetings impossible. Maybe my work schedule will be different after the holidays, and I can try it then.

It’s taking so much longer this time.  Usually, by the time a year has passed, I can start to see roots growing, start to feel at home. For whatever reason, I’m finding it harder to do here. Harder to break into relationships. To feel settled and part of a community.

I hunger for that bigger connection. For deeper friendships. For people I can share my day-to-day with. Right now, I can thank God for the one person with whom that relationship is growing. We share about our kids, our churches. We talk about work. Our friendship is slowly growing deeper. So thank You, Lord, for her.

Maybe once my evening schedule is freed up, I can join a book club or knitting group. Or a connection group through church.

It’s just going to take more time. Lord, I need more patience!

Finding a church

We’re shopping for churches. Sort of. I mean, we’d have to attend to officially be shopping, and we aren’t really trying yet. In the five weeks I’ve lived here, we’ve been to one church one time.

I don’t like the shopping analogy, but that’s what it is – trying on different congregations. Finding a church to attend regularly. Trying to determine if it’s a place where we want to become active participants, where we can contribute to the local body of Christ. Where the message of the Gospel is taught. Where we can become engaged, not simply entertained.

Some people never miss church – it’s where they are, every Sunday. On vacation. In snowstorms. Not fair-weather attenders, but faithful followers. I can’t say that’s me. I know church is important, and I have been an active member of several congregations in my lifetime, where I’ve been able to serve and be ministered to. But not since my childhood have I attended every single service the week has to offer. Not even close.

When we were first married and we missed a Sunday, I was overwhelmed with incredible guilt. Hard to distinguish if it was the Holy Spirit, or my own accusations. But like anything, it became easier to miss the more I missed. When I felt particularly guilty about missing, I might do a Bible study lesson or watch a sermon online. Not always because I wanted to, but sometimes simply to assuage my guilty feelings.

These are not pretty things I’m admitting to. I’m not proud of my spotty attendance in this search for a new church home. And I don’t want to make excuses. I’m hoping that if I write it down, it will help me figure out why it’s so hard.

In the 15 months we lived in Florida, we attended 3 different churches – repeatedly each time – until we finally felt like we might have landed in one where God could use us and we were comfortable. We were just getting settled into a routine there; that lasted a few weeks, and then we moved to VA.

So now we start over. Like I said, we’ve been to one church one time. We haven’t been back, nor have we been to the other churches on the list of potentials. It takes effort, and it’s easy not to go. It’s hard to always be the strangers, the ones sitting in the pew alone. A greeter shakes our hands and we are welcomed. Barely.

But I’ve been in this place before, and I know that relationships happen in small groups, in repeated fellowship. So I’m joining an evening women’s Bible study at this church. Maybe it will make Sunday mornings easier.

The 2 Hour Support Group

The Monday Leader Lady ran another Depressed Anonymous (DA) group, on Fridays – not as structured, and it met for 2 hours instead of one. When I began attending, there were several other people there too, but since it was small to begin with, when folks dropped out, it was noticeable. There were many times that there were only two or three of us. This had a huge impact on group dynamics – it’s hard to have the group’s input if there is no group. These times became more about mentoring. And that was ok – our Leader had lots of encouragement and practical advice to offer.

We’d start the same as Mondays – read the Serenity Prayer, the Statement of Concern, the 12 Steps of DA, and a few general guidelines. Then we’d share our about ourselves in a traditional Round Robin. If we finished before the hour was up, we’d often read from the book we were using to help us understand depression and a 12 Step program, in this case, Codependents’ Guide to the 12 Steps. Then we’d take a short break, refill our coffee, and come back together after 10 minutes.

Leader lady would sometimes use Fridays to offer guided meditation during the second hour. This was one of my favorite Friday afternoon activities. She would paint a picture for us, outline a scene. She’d mention details but not specifics, like “A bird flies overhead,” and in our thoughts, we would choose what kind of bird. We filled in the colors, types of birds and flowers, sounds and smells. It was very focused and detailed, and also incredibly relaxing. She would describe the scene for 15-20 minutes. Then she’d encourage us to gently open our eyes. We’d often share our private pictures with each other, and I was always amazed at how different our interpretations were.

We were not hypnotized. She simply helped us focus our thoughts in a relaxing scene. For me, her words often helped me recall a place or time, like my grandparents’ house at the lake, or an anniversary beach trip. I know that at the end of a stressful week, this was incredibly relaxing. And I found myself picturing the scene during the next week if I needed a mini vacation to calm my anxieties. This was a great way to practice relaxation, I discovered. It was not the same as mindfulness – being in the moment. Quite the opposite – this was enjoying a daydream.

Other weeks we talked about forgiveness, wrote a letter to our future-selves, drew a spiderweb diagram of Step 4 – “made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.” Sometimes, there was just more time for sharing with and encouraging each other, and that was good, too!

From the Friday group, I learned more about sharing in a smaller setting. I learned how a concentrated daydream can bring a real peaceful relaxation – a great tool for fighting anxiety. I learned creative ways to work through the 12 Steps. I made friends with other women for whom I came to care very deeply, particularly the Leader Lady. I recognized that we all have been wounded by situations in our lives, sometimes caused by the actions of others, sometimes by changes in circumstances. Yet I do not have to be alone in my pain when I’m willing to share it with others. We who walk through depression have had very personal, private, and unique journeys. But the effects of depression are something we have in common, and by sharing our stories and our coping skills, we help each other along the way.

The Support of a Support Group

I attended Depressed Anonymous (DA) for almost a year, and I went every Monday with few absences. The group was incredibly supportive. After the first week, everyone knew my name and it was wonderful to be greeted with welcoming smiles. There was such a feeling of relief to walk into the conference room and know that everyone “got it,” had been on a similar journey through depression. I didn’t have to pretend everything was fine. I was in sympathetic company.

I wrote notes earlier in the day of things I might share when it came to me in the Round Robin – helped keep me focused and succinct. I never wanted to be a person who droned on and on or talked in circles, so I kept to my notes. Since everyone at DA understood depression, I didn’t have to work hard to explain myself – I would just share about my week, and my feelings, and the whole room empathized. There was always lots of head nodding and affirming words. It was so nice to be accepted and understood.

We used Codependents’ Guide to the 12 Steps by Melody Beattie, and it was a good format to discuss the 12 Steps as they applied to Depression. Still, I kept wondering if I was co-dependent. Turns out, probably not, at least not in an unhealthy way.

The group was on Step 4 when I joined (“4. Made a searching and fearless inventory of ourselves.”) so I tried to go back and work Steps 1-3 on my own. I put notes in my DA notebook, but wasn’t sure who to share them with. Unlike other 12 Step programs, this one did not have an emphasis on having a sponsor, so I felt a little like I was on my own other than on Mondays. However, I became friends with Leader Lady, and she provided me with answers and lots of DA information to help me as I worked the Steps.  Contrary to the recommendations of the 12 Step system, I didn’t share much of my work on the Steps with anyone else. I wonder if I should go back and do that part over, if the Steps would keep me more grounded in accountability.

In the DA group, I was able to watch others move in and out of depressive episodes. I hate to say that it was encouraging, but since my diagnosis was Major Depressive Disorder – recurrent, moderate to severe, it was helpful to see how folks managed the ins and outs – the ups and downs – of recurrent depression.

While I attended, I actually got better twice. It was amazing to look back to my mood state when I started attending, and my improved mood by the time I stopped, with a little sidetrack in the middle. The other members of the group are a huge reason that my depression went into remission. And they were there to encourage me when I had a bad week, and when I felt myself slipping back into depression. They helped me to tell the difference. They walked with me through that second depressive episode, and I had some tools of experience to take with me when I finally left the group.

I didn’t want to leave. But my experiences with depression, and those from the DA Support Group, lent themselves to the next chapter of my walk in the depression journey. I was invited to help start a Depression Support Group at my church.