Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Leeroooooooooooy Jenkiiiiiiiiiiiiiiins! (OR "I Don't Know About Your Tactics")

When it comes to most areas of my life, you can just call me Leeroy Jenkins. If you don't get that reference, you definitely have missed a piece of YouTube gold, and you need to view it below. (The beginning is really boring... but just wait! ALSO, there is some profanity... fair warning.)

I'm like Leeroy, not in the sense of being ill-prepared or haphazard, but in the sense that the only thing I hate more than being told what to do, is being told how to do it. This started from a very early age. My mom was pretty good about choosing her battles in this arena, so as long as the end-goal was accomplished, she gave me mostly free reign. I wanted to cook, but I didn't want to use a recipe. I wanted to decorate hair bows with her, but I wanted to do it my way.

And in a lot of areas of my life, this "skill" has actually been a huge blessing. In the workplace and my personal life, I constantly find shortcuts and have an odd passion for strategic planning and efficiency. If you tell me the reason something is done a certain way is "because it's always been done that way" KNOW that's not a good enough reason for me.

This tendency also got in my way at times, though. I remember playing softball when I was younger. I really enjoyed it and I was good... not amazing... but good. Playing for a team that was a consistent state qualifier was awesome. I mostly played outfield on that team, and if you know anything about the outfield, you know the importance of hitting your cut-off when throwing it in. Our coach was a cut-off NAZI, and probably needless to say, I sometimes just wanted to do things my way.

I remember one time specifically; we were in the field with a big hitter at bat and a runner on third. The batter hit a deep fly ball to me in left field, and I caught it. Next, I was supposed to throw it to my cut-off at shortstop to stop the runner from tagging up. Without a thought or hesitation, I mustered everything I had... and threw that sucker to home plate. It was a great throw... one hop... our catcher made the tag... Quite possibly should have been on ESPN highlights. Everyone was ecstatic—except my coach. When she told me I was running for that play, it totally blew my little seventh grade mind.

“I MADE that play. WHY am I running?” I asked.
“Sometimes HOW we do things is more important than what we do,” she said firmly.

And then I ran.

Just like Leeroy Jenkins and his friends... I had the same end goal as my coach... but my tactics were not favorable. And I realized the other day how often I do this to God. As I’ve grown in my faith, I’ve become actually pretty gifted in judging what God wants to happen in a situation and what his call is in my life and the lives of those in my circle of influence. But looking at some situations, I’ve totally been pulling a Leeroy Jenkins on God.

God will carefully plan and prepare the hearts of people, gather others to work together to accomplish his mission, know and follow a perfect timing... but that’s IF... IF he can stop me from charging into the situation yelling, “Aliiiiiiiiiii Mooooooooorrison!” with guns blazing.

Don’t get me wrong... I’ve very much aligned my goals with God’s. I truly, deeply want people to know God, love God, live righteously and responsibly, and let go of baggage and bad habits... All of the things God wants. But sometimes I struggle to make my tactics match up with his.

I know He has perfect timing; I want to move forward now.
I know He is calling me to appeal with compassion; I want to beat some sense into people.
I know He wants me to actively love and care about the well-being of all people; I want to cut the list down a little.

Reading Psalm 37:7 the other day, it was like it had been written for me.
“Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.”

So basically... No Leeroy Jenkins... hit your cut-off man... follow directions... BE STILL.

Because when we commit to doing God’s work, sometimes HOW we do things is more important than what we do.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Mud

I shared part of my faith story tonight at Switch, our church’s student ministry that I volunteer at on Wednesdays. The story I wanted to tell tonight was the standard uplifting milestones. I accepted Jesus, I was baptized, I was sanctified, blah blah blah. That’s what I wanted to tell. But for some reason, when Connie asked me to share my story, I KNEW God didn’t want me to share that version. Because honestly, who does that help? Volunteering with Switch has changed my life, my faith, and my view on youth. These kids/teens/young adults are hilarious and smart and HONEST. Oh God, are these kids honest… I had a girl in my group ask me last week if it was okay that sometimes when she was angry about her life, she’d curse at God when she prayed. I told her that I would assume God would rather hear from her in an angry and profane way than not hear from her at all. What I’m trying to say is that none of these kids wanted or deserved the Disney version of my faith journey. So I’m going to share with you too, my struggle with Bipolar Disorder, which I have affectionately titled, “The Mud.”

I like the start my story at the end. At least the current end, because it’s a happy one. Look at me… I’m a Christian, a wife, a soon-to-be mother, I have a good job, a college degree, I’m a homeowner, I pay my taxes, I have no criminal record… I’m doing pretty well.

I never like to measure life in shallow accomplishments, though. For example, eight or so years ago, I was doing pretty well too. I was first in my class, student council class representative, cheerleader, working, involved in everything… Everyone wanted to be me. Except, well, me.

I wasn’t the girl in the black hoodie in the corner… I was the girl at the center of the pep rally. But I was miserable. That doesn’t even really begin to cover how I felt. I felt hopeless and lifeless, and I assumed it was my fault. It was so much worse, because a few months before that I was on a high like none other – I didn’t need sleep, I’d laugh at everything, I could finish my schoolwork in less than half the time it took everyone else. I had a great family, and as I said before, I truly had everything going for me, which really only made me feel more awful and guilty. I tried everything to make myself better. I joined more clubs, I worked even harder on my school work, I tried out for and made more teams, I got a job, I rebelled and started drinking and partying… nothing could make me hate myself less.

One night I was at a friend’s house with some people when her parents weren’t home, and we started drinking. Everyone had one shot… then I had a second… then I had a third… I was so out of control, that a friend I had called to yell at, called my parents and asked them to pick me up. I hated her for that, but I hate to think what would have happened if they wouldn’t have. When I see headlines for young people who die of overdoses, it makes my heart hurt almost like I knew them. Because, in a sense, I did.

My parents were furious, obviously, but all I could say when they asked me if I knew how much trouble I was in was, “I don’t care… I just want to die, anyway.” It wasn’t some big dramatic blow-out or presentation from me. They just needed to know what I had hid so long. The next few days are a blur in my head. I think that was a Friday night, and I think I went to Methodist on Monday. The 8th floor, to be exact. Or, the psychiatric ward, as most people know it. When I came in, we had to enter through the ER. An armed security guard then took me up. My parents could only visit for an hour a day, during the assigned hour.

The pediatric and adolescent section of the 8th floor is a pretty weird place. Maybe that seems obvious to you, but the disorders that they mixed in there could be pretty volatile. If you’re a kid and you’re messed up… you go there. Substance abuse, rebellious behavior, chemical imbalance… We all made for one big crockpot of crazy in there. They take your shoelaces, anything sharp, and even anything that only MacGyver could find a way to use as a weapon. At first, I refused to talk to anyone. But even for me, that got pretty hard. There’s not exactly a ton to do, and leaving is slightly more than frowned upon. Even though it was an awful time and awful memory, I met people over that week who still affect my life. One girl I met there encouraged me to open up the Bible for the first time since my children’s Bible. In that week, I felt less judged and more accepted than I honestly have since then. I also found out that my wild swings in mood and behavior had a name: Bipolar Disorder. I started medications and was released from the hospital.

When I left, I was glad, but I soon realized that leaving meant returning to life… answering questions… picking up pieces. High school kids are hateful, and I heard all kinds of rumors about me… that I had gone to rehab, that people said my parents were pulling me out of school… But to the people that didn’t know me, I just had an incredibly poor immune system. Even with my medications, life was an unpleasant rollercoaster that I had no control over. My sophomore year, I had to have a home tutor administer my finals and missed almost 30 days of school. I needed more meds, I needed less meds, I needed a doctor, I needed a therapist… Sometimes it almost seemed worse on the other side of the diagnosis. The only thing that seemed steady in my life was the feeling of being dragged through a life I didn’t want to live. And I know now that was God dragging me.

I know people like to create these grand analogies about God carrying us through life, but I’m a little more pragmatic when I picture God. I wasn’t exactly working with him to get the other side, and I really think in some ways, he was doing everything he could to get me to the other side of the valley. If that meant he had to drag me by my hair, so be it. I don’t think I ever DENIED God’s existence. I just couldn’t see, at that point, why a God who loved me would grab me by my hopeless, limp arm and drag me through the mud. But now, I realize, every day God dragged me through that mud was another day that he didn’t leave me and didn’t let me stop moving forward. And just as a side note, if you know someone battling depression, please don’t tell them to have faith or pray more or “cheer up.” Those are absolutely vital, but no one would tell someone with diabetes or cancer that—and mental illness is still an illness that needs medical treatment… and maybe beyond even that, empathy and understanding.

There are still highs and lows in my life, as there have been for years. I’ve been blessed, because as I’ve gotten older and hormone levels have leveled out, I worked with a doctor to get off my meds about a year and a half ago. Will I need them again someday? Probably. I mean, statistically I shouldn’t have been able to get off them at all. And as much as I’ve tried to bury the pain associated with this, it always pops to the surface every once in a while. Nate and I were out to eat a month or so ago, and a woman was talking loudly about one of her nephews.

“He complains about how crazy she is… I tell him well maybe he should have thought about that before he started dating someone with Bipolar disorder. What is she going to collect disability her whole life?”

It makes me cringe. Cringe because of her ignorance, because maybe some of it has an ounce of truth in it, and most cringe because I feel broken and bare when I hear comments like that. I wanted to eloquently tell her my story. Or even just kick her in the head. But I couldn’t do either, because I felt exposed and vulnerable. When we try to hide our pain and insecurities, we give them power over us.

I know that my story could help people. I couldn’t find a single “happy ending” story when I got my diagnosis, so I didn’t know if I’d ever graduate or get married or get a job. Now I’ve done all of that and so much more. I don’t think it’s because there aren’t any “happy ending” stories… I think it’s because when people get to a point like I’m at, they crawl up and bask in their normality, never to look back.

So I don’t doubt the power of my story. I just doubt… me. I’m afraid you’ll judge me. Judge my capabilities as a wife… as a Christian… as a mother… even just as a person. I’m afraid maybe when I come over for dinner, you’ll give me a plastic knife, or that you won’t let me be around your kids because, you know, I’m crazy. But that’s okay. I’m not going to give my pain power over me anymore. God didn’t drag me through the mud so I could come out and live life constantly fearing mud. He dragged me through the mud so that I could help drag others through the mud. So I could laugh at the mud and learn from the mud. And so I could be prepared if I was ever in the mud again.