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Monday, November 20, 2017

Sadness in the Season of Joy

It’s winter again. If you live in Ohio, the skies are gray most of the time and the coldness outside keeps some isolated in their homes. And my heart goes out to those of you who have to go out and fight the elements. It’s not pleasant! Not only is it winter…the holidays are coming. 

The world around us says it’s a beautiful time of the year, being with those we love... giving thanks, then giving of gifts to all who are an important part of our lives. We look around us and it seems that everyone is enjoying themselves as they rush around doing what we are supposed to be doing.

But maybe, for some reason this year…the joy is not there for you. You might be surrounded by a large group of significant people in your life, people you love, but you think to yourself “why do we do this? It’s the same thing every year… exhaustion, overeating, and the trading of gift cards!” And the thought of that makes you weary.

Or maybe you are all alone and have no one to trade gift cards with.

Unlike the rest of the people in your world, the heart inside you is so heavy you feel like you can’t breathe.  You feel so sad you just want to cry and not stop

Maybe you actually have a reason to feel that way…you are in physical pain or someone you love is hurting and you don’t know how to help. Maybe, it’s grief that makes you feel this way. More often than not, it’s disappointment in yourself or someone else, probably because your expectations were set too high.

Sometimes feelings of sadness overwhelm us and we simply don’t know why. We look around us and see all the blessing we have been given and cry out in desperation, “Dear God, l know all this comes from you, but I still feel empty.” Then we feel the guilt because we see so many who have far less, yet they appear to be happy.

So we paste the smile on our face, and try to be happy too. We force ourselves to do what we are supposed to be doing. We set up the Christmas tree, buy gifts, make candy and cookies, and even fill a shoe box for a needy person because we are told that giving to others will make us happier. But this year, none of it is working. And in this time of unrest and sadness, we feel very much alone and unable to think of one human we can reach out to for help. And the loneliness makes our hearts even heavier.

I’ve had those seasons in my life.  Most people have. It doesn’t even have to be winter outside our window, but it’s winter in our hearts.

I think back to the worst time of my life. It was a combination of things that made it that way; it was a time when I felt sad and alone for an extended period of time. Every morning, as I struggled to wake up, that heaviness would settle over me and I just wanted to pull the covers over my head and go back to the unconsciousness of sleep. But I couldn’t. I had responsibilities…there were people who depended on me. I wanted to be the best Christian, wife, parent, sister, child, friend I could be, but I lacked the energy to be all that. Even when I could do some good, it felt like a thankless existence…always trying so hard... helping, helping, helping and rarely feeling a sense of satisfaction from it.

It was during that winter in my life that I learned several valuable lessons… 

I learned I wasn’t alone in my hurting, debilitating sadness. God was there. Somehow, He reached down through the dark cloud that surrounded me, put his finger under my chin and said, “look up, my child. Look up to me, I am here.”

I learned that sadness most often comes from looking down at the situation around our feet or looking around us at others.

I learned that the way out of the sadness was looking up because that is where our help comes from.

Every day, for weeks, I read the same words in my Bible. They were the only words my troubled mind and heart could process. It was not a time for learning new spiritual things, it was a time of just “getting through the sadness.”

And the words that got me through that time?

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 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. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” Isaiah 43: 1-3.

Then I would go back two pages in my Bible to this:
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

And finally…”Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” Psalm 30:5

This was the promise that got me through that season of sadness…I belonged to God, He was with me “through” (that means there is an end to it) that season, and in the end, there would be joy.

During the holiday season, I believe we can add one more paraphrased verse from John 3:16 to this litany. “For God so loved me, that He gave His one and only Son, and if I believe in Him, I will not perish, but have everlasting life.” The verse speaks of the life I can be assured of for eternity, but this life, the one  I live in today can have peace and joy…but first I need to focus on the very real fact that God loves me and never leaves me alone

Addendum: 

As a past mental health nurse and a person who has suffered from clinical depression, I recognize that there are times when a person can not help themselves out of the dark world of depression. If you see someone struggling, could you reach out a helping hand to them. Encourage them or guide them to a doctor or therapist who can help them. Or perhaps you are beginning to suffer from some of the symptoms below...don't wait, don't think "they will go away", reach out today to someone who can help you.

Symptoms of depression:
  • Trouble concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Fatigue
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness
  • Pessimism and hopelessness
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or sleeping too much
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Loss of interest in things once pleasurable, including sex
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Aches, pains, headaches, or cramps that won't go away
  • Digestive problems that don't get better, even with treatment
  • Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

August 15, 2017

I just realized I did not post this on my blog last fall after I wrote it.



The Hike of 2016

As many of you know, it has been a dream of mine to hike the whole 2176 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. The goal was to do it during the summer of 2017 when I turned 65 so I could be on Medicare and the government could pay the bill if I broke a hip. 

But when I found a friend who said she would do a section hike with me in the spring of 2016, I couldn’t pass that up because I didn’t know If I’d ever find someone to do the whole thing with me in 2017, and Ed said I couldn’t go alone (he is pretty smart). So, in January of 2016, Peggy and I began to plan and prepare for a section hike of the trail. We decided to do the 540 miles in Virginia, starting on May 15 in Damascus. We heard it was the easiest part and were sure we could do it in forty days.

When Ed and I were coming home from Florida on the 1st of April that year, I talked him into stopping at Amicalola Falls in Georgia where you get on the approach trail that goes to Springer Mt (the southern trailhead of the AT). I got to walk a little bit and talk to a few hikers who were starting their through hikes. Their excitement was contagious. But since only 1 out of 10 actually finishes, I wondered which ones would be in Maine in the fall. It usually takes about six months to do it all.

On May 15, as planned, Peggy and I met in Damascus, VA for the start of our hike. It just happened to be the weekend of the huge trail days celebration that is held there every year. There were hundreds of hikers there, and once again, the excitement rubbed off.

But it didn’t take too long on the trail before the excitement wore off. The evening of the second day, when I was exhausted and cold after climbing two mountains, I slipped while crossing a stream and hurt my leg. But what choice did I have but to go on. Once you’ve committed to hiking that green tunnel, you just don’t want to get off it. What an adventure those 40 days on the trail were. We did not get to backpack all 540 miles because of my old feet and tired knees, but we did do 430 miles, shuttling through the miles we missed.

When we arrived in Harpers Ferry, W.Va we were both physically exhausted and down 20 pounds. They say you burn 5000 calories a day hiking up and down mountains, and there is no way you can eat that many calories a day, especially since you have to carry your food on your back, getting off just once a week to resupply.

But it wasn’t the physical change in me that counted. It was what I brought off that trail in my heart and in my mind. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been one of those people who was always planning for tomorrow and failing to enjoy the day I was living in. I remember living in the moment as a child, and the trail taught me to do that again.

I came away with a renewed adoration for my God too. The splendor He created for us to enjoy is so varied. We see it, not just in nature but in our fellow human beings. There were only a few nights when I couldn’t sleep in my tent on the trail and had to sleep in a shelter with strangers from all over the country. One night it was me and Peggy, a lawyer, a laid off coal miner, a kid who was going to medical school in the fall, an 18 year old girl who was hiking the trail alone and a young married couple on their honeymoon. Talk about diversity and beauty! I was reminded often that we are not to judge others because we have not walked in their shoes and we don’t know where they have come from.

In September, I talked my husband into taking me to Baxter State Park in Maine so I could climb the mountain and the northern terminus of that magnificent trail. I had been to the start of the trail in April, hiked the middle for 40 days and I needed to put the finish on this experience.
On a clear beautiful day, I hiked 5 ½ miles to Baxter Peak on Katahdin Mountain in Maine. They say if you can climb it, you can climb any mountain on the trail. It’s probably true, I could barely walk the day after that climb. It was excrutiating! But, having been through childbirth, I can say it was a little like that. When you go through it, you feel like you are going to die, but when it’s all over, you know it’s been worth it. From the summit of Katahdin Mountain, I had a 360 degree view. From that point on earth I could see other mountains and valleys around me and beautiful lakes at my feet. I’ve never experience anything so breathtaking (except my own newborn babies).

But what made it especially moving for me was a young couple who joined me there. They had started in Georgia in April, hiked the same 430 miles in the middle that I hiked, and now they were here at the end with me. I did not hike all 2176 miles with them, but I got to celebrate the end of their trip with them. And it felt like I was at the end of my journey too. 

Be glad of life because it gives you the chance to love and to work and to play and to look up at the stars.” - Henry Van Dyke 




Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I'm Not Where I Planned to be Today



April 18, 2017 12:30 P.M.


 I had planned on sleeping at Tray Mountain Shelter (mile marker 58.6) on the Appalachian trail last night and should be climbing Powell Mountain right about now. 

But life doesn’t always turn out like we plan, does it? Instead of sumiting Powell Mountain today, I am sitting in the most comfortable chair in my living room. Not because I want to be here, it’s because I have no choice. 

After almost two years of planning a through hike on the Appalachian trail this year, I am now planning to have surgery on my back in a few weeks. 

Since a fall in December, I’ve known I would not be hiking today. I spent the winter in Florida and was not able to do my favorite thing there…walk the beautiful beaches. I could get as far as the car to the water’s edge and the pain in my back, left hip and leg would stop me. At first I thought it would go away with some rest, but that didn’t happen. 

The emotional struggle of this has been as real as the physical pain. I am one of those fortunate women who has not had to deal with much physical pain in my life.  I have tried to maintain a healthy life style and walking has been a huge part of that. So, in the past four months I’ve questioned God many times about this. Why? Why now? Is there some reason why you wanted me home this year, instead of on the trail? 

I don’t have the complete answer yet, but I think I have part of it. First, it’s given me some insight into the lives of those who have or are suffering from chronic pain. My heart goes out to them as I realize how it can consume their lives, and many times it keeps them trapped in bodies that do not work as they should. 

But even more important…God is giving me a lesson in submission.  The act of yielding to and accepting the will of a superior authority is not easy for many of us. (especially when it involves physical pain) But, I’m beginning to see that there is something else God wants me to do in the next six months when I thought I would be hiking. Now I pray for wisdom and His leading as I tackle the job He has set before me. If you think of me in the months ahead, will you also pray that I not only heal quickly but that I continue to follow in the path that God has directed me to follow…and that isn’t the Appalachian Trail.