Thursday, September 29, 2016

Phil Collins, Divorce and the Barking Seals

Anyone here love the 1981 track by Phil Collins, In the Air Tonight, like I do?
The mythological feature of the song is unmistakable; the barking seals — a 3-second explosive drum riff midway through the song where the mood changes from simmering, subverted grief to full-blown expression, rising through the variegated ranges of anger regaling in the isolated confusion of a life event: divorce.
Many of us have been there; in the agony of separation, enduring the uncertainty of change, suffering the loneliness of loss. Each person who is divorced, whether they initiate it or not, suffers much. So much readjustment is required, and for what seems like years we feel decommissioned.
In the song Phil Collins enunciates what we cannot really find words for. Yet Collins himself says that the lyrics were all improvised. The song is full of anger, the expression of depths of sorrow.
That’s the nature of pain. Out of my own divorce over a decade ago, I was poleaxed in a moment. Overnight life changed. No more guarantees of the good life did I then know. I had no idea really what was about to take place. I had no idea just how lousy I was doing as a husband — how lonely my wife really was. The barking seals summed up what my life — at that loneliest of times — had come to be.
You may be enduring the excruciation of divorce right now. Perhaps it’s a friend or relative. Such a grief of separation is life-ending. Life must end before it can recommence. To be windswept by emotion seems cruel, but it is necessary. Grief suchlike insists upon our attention. What we cannot deny is for our own good. Anger, sadness and fear are all-too-real and all-too-important. Without them we won’t find out how much we need God.
The healthiest response in grief
is the expression of our ugliest emotions.
In a season of loss, grief forces us to relinquish self-reliance for what God teaches in the wisdom of God-reliance.
Though loss is unbearable, ultimately what it teaches us an abundantly good thing.
We must be emotionally real.
May God truly bless you and yours who suffer with His comfort of hope,
Steve Wickham.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Mental Fracture and Emotional Fragility in Depression

The pages of my journal in the latter half of 2007 are bare for the most part; quite uncharacteristic for me during that period of life.  There is a story to be told, which those pages allude to tellingly.
I was in a murky depression.  Embarking on my forties, in a crisis of vocation, having recently married, surprised how unanticipated my life had become.  Life deconstructed.
This depression came as a Fujita-5 tornado, rapid and sudden; its signs only clear from hindsight.  Those symptoms appeared, unwittingly and unfairly, on our honeymoon.
Here is one story of how depression involves fracture of the mind creating enormous emotional fragility and spiritual crisis:
On an innocent enough Saturday morning I changed the engine oil in my Hyundai.  I’d done it dozens of times.  The job done, I started the engine.  Checking everything was working as it should I was shattered to find oil running all over the driveway.  I shut the engine down and ran inside absolutely broken, sobbing tears like a baby.  I met Sarah in the kitchen and fell into her arms, before flopping to the floor.  She didn’t know what had occurred and it took her a little while to find out.  I was inconsolable.  Normally I might react angrily that the job went badly; but in my depression there was no agency for such fight.
The fracture in my mind had contributed to the spilt oil in the first place; with depression it’s so hard to keep the mind on task.  I had failed to remove the old O-ring.  With a clear mind I would never make such a fundamental error.  Yet, as I recall doing the task, my lack of self-confidence was poignant.  Neither the mind nor the emotions could hold me up.
As I reflect over that initial period of our marriage I quickly feel for the plight my new wife must have found herself in; her new husband completely insecure of identity, warred upon from within, defences down, a victim of a broken mind, that ran unchecked according to its own will, and a heart vulnerable to the cognitive chaos it sat under.
For a period of just over three months I had a daily battle.  I was in a paid ministry role and felt completely inadequate to discharge that duty most of the time.  Many times I had to put my depression to one side and pray that the Lord would uphold my mind and my emotions whenever I was ministering with the youth.  God was incredibly faithful.  My senior pastor, too, graciously allowed me to continue in the work.  To have to continue to show up helped.  But there were days, also, when I couldn’t function, and nobody could make me if I couldn’t make myself.
Coming Out of It
What ultimately drew me out of that depression was the Word of God — Proverbs to be exact.  I began reading a chapter of Proverbs per day, and remained on that plan, meditating on chapters of about twenty verses daily, for eighteen months.  That book of the Bible saved my mental, emotional, and spiritual life.  I read little else of the Bible during that time.  Proverbs was a book in season for me.
Focusing on Proverbs got my mind engaged and steadied my emotions as the Holy Spirit spoke encouragement’s life into me.  It showed me how important the steadiness of studying one book or section of God’s Word is.  Proverbs gave me the character of God as a structure for the wisdom I sought.
Through Scripture, God was able to steady me enough to heal the fracture in my mind, and that helped fortify the fragility of my emotions.
Thankfully I came out of this depression about as quickly as I entered it.
And, for the record, I took SSRI antidepressant medication.  They were important; about as important as recognising the signs and symptoms and admitting I was out of control.  As soon as I have recognised I’m out of control, quickly I’ve been able to address the confusion and start on getting well again.
May God truly bless you as you go gently with yourself,
Steve Wickham.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Between Hope and The Dream In the Land Between

There is a place we all hate to find ourselves.  In the land between.  Between one good situation and the next good situation.  Between a good period of life and the next good period of life.  We’re presently in that place, and it’s hauntingly familiar.  Still, we’re God’s people; we learn what we can whilst we’re here, and we don’t give up.
The land between good places is littered with bitter, humiliating, and despairing experience.  This is land between hope and the dream, never quite either, terrain tantalisingly alien to both.
The land between is where we learn to stay in the day whilst holding onto the vision hoped for, though not yet seen.
In the land between we learn not to focus on being in the land between.
It doesn’t mean that being in the land between is something we should avoid.  We cannot avoid it, so why try?  Though the land between is a wasteland, it piques growth opportunities, so we sit in the ugliness of those emotions, collect conscious memory of them, and, with Jesus there, we venture out of that wilderness, into the present moment, believing God has a plan to get us to our dream.  We get ready, and we stay ready.
The land between is a topography of complaint and exasperation, but it is also a vista replete with the provision of guidance for the humble of heart.
Jesus teaches us to trust when every scaffold of security is ripped from our grasp.
And then, as we finally envisage the dream emerge into reality, we find our newfound trust is indispensable equipment for what God has been preparing in advance for us to do.
The land between is preparation ground for the ultimate purposes of God through us.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Four Reasons You Inspire Me

When other people inspire us we know we’re close to God.  When we see little of what should frustrate us in life, yet we see life’s beauties, we’re blessed by a Presence that can only be God.  And, yet, when frustrations and judgment against others mount, we’re reminded what’s missing: God.
Let us see the God-infused goodness in each other.
You inspire me, because:
1.     You won the race.  You defeated all-comers to become you.  That was a competition of the millions.  If you ran the Boston Marathon, you’d probably not finish in the top 100, but the day you were conceived you won a marathon for life!  God made you possible and you agreed to be created… and you were.
2.     In spite of the trials you have or have had as an infant, a child, a teen, and young adult, you’ve still resolved it’s not too late to reconcile these matters.  In your deepest places, you’ve not given up on becoming better.  And you will have seen the fruit of such a resolve.
3.     Though you complain about life when it’s not going so well, you decide to keep going.  You persist.  Perseverance is something you’ve mastered and will continue to improve at.
4.     And finally, you will finish your race.  Don’t give up.  God isn’t done with journeying through you in this world.  When He says it’s over, then it’s over; not a moment beforehand.
So, in sum:
1.     God created you, and you agreed to be created.
2.     You endured the trials through your development into adulthood.
3.     You persevere the best you can.
4.     You will finish your race.
These are the four reasons you inspire me.
I am thankful for the cogent Presence of God, today.  Tomorrow is tomorrow’s matter.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

5 Reasons to Stop Expecting Life to Be Just and Fair

Having observed that transformational growth only occurs in us when one precondition is met with one response, I have learned not to expect life to be just or fair at all.
The precondition is 1) when life is tough, together with the response, 2) we submit in humility — a strength that can only be issued in weakness.
Life isn’t fair and it isn’t just.  Yet very often we’ve all been blessed with favour far beyond the fickleness that life has the potential to execute.  Not always, however, have we been thankful when things have rolled our way.
Gratitude ought to be our response at all timesEspecially when life is unfair and unjust.
Of course, it’s easy to say that; much harder to live it.  Thankfully grace forgives us for botching it so often.
Here are five reasons to expect less justice and fairness in life:
1.     It’s unsustainable: we cannot hope to live an emotionally balanced life with imperious expectations.  When we give up our expectations for justice and fairness, all of life suddenly becomes manageable.  Expecting life to be fair and just creates a lack of sustainability in life.
2.     It’s unrealistic: if all we had to do was expect justice and fairness to receive it, or to see it within the lives of the downtrodden, or within the lives of loved ones, we would all live fantasy lives.  Reality dictates that we win some and we lose some.  Expecting life to be fair and just is plain unrealistic.
3.     It’s irrational: courting virtuous disaster, all hope, joy and peace ekes out of us when we’ve had our expectations dashed.  We’re quickly found irrational when expectations run awry.  Expecting life to be fair and just makes us irrational.  Sometimes it’s our expectations that contribute to poor mental health.
4.     It’s unreliable: do you really think you can dictate any reliable percentage of the fairness and justice of life?  Expecting life to be fair and just banks on the shifting sands of fortune that bear alignment with reality just a fraction of the time.  We would never gamble on such odds.
5.     It’s irresponsible: people depend on us everywhere in life.  When we come to expect justice and fairness in life — ours, and for others we care about — we tend to let people down, and more often.  But responding in accepting the fact that we cannot control the fairness and justice in life builds empowerment in us as we speak it, and within others, too, as they endeavour to live in the same vein, because they see that if we can attempt it, surely they can too.
When life is tough,
even more important is it to submit in humility.
May God bless you as you press patiently into His graciousness in trials,

Steve Wickham.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Wandering the Golden Path of Healed Emotions

Home 40 years ago.
There are ample opportunities to reflect in the work I’m presently doing.  One location my work takes me to is my place of residence in 1975—a bygone era that is patchy by memory.  As I drove into this area recently there was something incredibly emotional going on within me; a sort of giddy excitement because of the mysteries represented in the anticipated reuniting of me with my memories.  Never does this drive become banal.  It’s always filled with a mind in the eternality of the experienced past.
As I pulled up across the road, noting the house was for sale, I wondered if it was vacant.  It was.  Excitement built within me, because, to the onlooker, I had a reason to be there.  I peered through the lounge room window, and could see through the bare room into the kitchen.  The dimensions I could see made me wonder of the experiences I had with my brothers and parents in those spaces, a time that still seems vague amidst the clarity of certain things of that time—like the precious little box I had that I kept special things in, on my dresser.  I remember the army uniform I got for my eighth birthday.  I think of my youngest brother crawling around the house.  I sense my mother preparing the evening meal.  I recall the fright in me starting school mid-year in a foreign place, much colder and wetter than I was used to, having to make new friends.  And then, back in the present moment, I realise afresh that over forty years have passed us.
An experience like this is a gift.
God has gifted the aged to portions of joy in the everyday of times that have passed.
The older we get the more precious and eternally mysterious is the past.  We can no sooner travel back there than we can fast-forward time, or be in the heavenly realm with Jesus, until that is our time.  Whatever we cannot touch is eternally significant—a distance all too far that evokes within our awareness something piquing wonder.
These experiences can only be enjoyed—or more accurately, are best enjoyed—when we’ve succumbed to the healing of Jesus through sojourning with our truth, past and present.  Both dimensions of time perspective are crucial, for peace in the present is the indicator of the work we’ve done to reconcile the past in order that our future can be restored to us.
The older we get the less we may worry about the future; provisional on healing.
Healing tends toward us more power over fear, guilt, and shame.  Then nothing can defeat us in the moment.  The abundant life.
This abundant life is paradoxical.  The more we realise we depend on God daily for healing, the less we struggle in this life.  The more we understand that our identities depend on failure, the less failure worries us because we depend on God.  The weaker we seem, the stronger we actually are.  The more we realise we’re failures without Jesus, the realer He makes us, so fear, shame, and guilt no longer drive us.
Healed emotions beget healed emotions, and the best of this is the embracing of all emotion with courage, energised by faith.  The meeting of reality without contrivance.
That’s freedom.  The gospel promise of the abundant life.  It’s real.
Peace in the present indicates we’ve reconciled our past by faith so our future/hope may be restored to us for love.
Wander the golden path of healed emotions.  If that isn’t within your capacity right now, promise yourself to your journey with Jesus; through surrender, the sweet embracement of your vulnerability.  Jesus takes us there.  It’s what we were born for.
Wrestling with ugly emotions warrants healing that feels like gladness and gratitude for what we had earlier endured.
Until next time, yours in The Lord,

Steve Wickham.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

When Sorrow Finds Adequate Expression in Words

In the age of computers, still nearly fifteen years ago now, I had a typewriter.
It’s okay.  I didn’t want the garish IBM laptop that my previous employer had supplied me, with phone and car (so they could have access to my entire life).  The typewriter did not come with obligations; it did what I wanted it to do.  With diligent obedience it struck ink onto a sheet of paper with the precise purpose that my emotional fingers conveyed.  So many times that typewriter subserviently acted as the mediator in my grief.
Yet it’s only as I look back now at those sheets of sorrow that I see just what I often overlooked back then.  I would so often be frustrated by my lack of ability to appease my grief — little did I realise I could not escape what I could not run from, for grief and love coalesce anachronistically in events we cannot control.  Such a realisation makes grief a hundred times worse in a moment.  And yet, out of these courses, stronger we somehow emerge.
In the bitter throes of lonely reflection, alone enough to come face-to-face with my inescapable lack before God, I would sob and type, type and sob.  Looking out the window I’d wonder what had become of life, which, until a short time earlier, had seemed so easy (but weren’t — though they were a thousand percent easier than this!).  Some of the newest minutes and seconds were utterly foreign and the hours weren’t a whole lot better.  One hour could undo a day.  And some days were straight from hell itself.  But I had to find a way of expressing how I felt.  And there were literally hundreds of heavy days, where my fullest expression seemed never to help, yet, by faith, I continued to engage in the truth of my losses.  I had no choice other than to do what I felt was the only thing that helped.
Then I found the truth in this: Immersed in adversity, faith paddles tenaciously, and, in the pool of ambiguity, faith swims upstream toward the unseen origin of hope.
Rarely, if ever, does sorrow find adequate expression in words, but on the papers I have kept, I see now how those journals did help.
Although sorrow is the hardest thing to capture in words, we must attempt to engage, to make meaning, to traverse the chasm between grief and healing.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.