Coming Up for Air

Blind trust… that’s what it takes to weather a wilderness season—like the Israelites wondering for 40 years in the desert.  The Lord was preparing them for something greater, but first they had to learn to trust Him.

Mount Sinai, where God met the Israelites in the desert.

Mount Sinai, where God met the Israelites in the desert.

I’ve been in the wilderness most of this year. It didn’t start out that way. I recently got a glimmer of hope, a flicker of inspiration, and decided it’s time to surface for some air, so to speak, to bring some Light into the Darkness.

An Unexpected Loss

Earlier this year my life took an unexpected turn when I returned to full-time work to manage a major computer conversion project at my husband’s office. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that decision led to putting my writing on hold.  It was subtle at first, no time to blog led to no motivation or inspiration to blog. That led to no journaling. There were no words. It was as if my writing died and along with it I lost my voice.

It was like I lost my best friend.  I went through the various stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  The only thing missing for this dearly departed loved one was a funeral.

coffin-rose

Work, work, work—the long days, week after week, and month after month caught up with me—physically and emotionally.

When I finally realized it and things began to stabilize, I started to put in boundaries around the number of days I worked and inserted some much needed self-care.  Even with that I’ve found it very hard to write.  My writing muscle is weak and, like exercise, I need to start working out that muscle again!

Left-Brain Thinking

I got some interesting insight into my dilemma about a month ago while reading The Seven Mountain Prophesy by Johnny Enlow.  This book reveals prayer strategies for the seven mountains or sectors of society of every nation of the earth: media, government, education, economy, religion, celebration, and family.  As a prayer intercessor, this keenly interested me.

It was in the chapter on education that I had a profound revelation about my work habits and inability to write.

Left-brain thinking, when it becomes dominant, squeezes out the things of the Spirit of God.  The right brain isn’t the kingdom of God, but it’s the part of the brain God created to be open to respond to His ways.  It’s the chimney through which faith is accessed.  You can quote all the scriptures on faith and understand the logic of faith, but only the right brain can tap into the actual substance of faith.

left-right

It hit me like a ton of bricks.  My thinking was dominated by my left brain.  Day after day, I was sucked into the challenges at work.  I couldn’t get my brain to stop thinking about it.  The work consumed me, much like an addiction.  Or so I wondered at times.

Addiction?  Passion?  Or ADHD?  All I can say is that it is a struggle for me—a constant battle for balance.  It is most assuredly fed by my ADHD and my difficulty in switching gears.  (A common symptom for people with ADHD is a broken internal ‘gear-shifter’ due to chemical imbalances in the brain.)

God’s Thinking

Old habits die hard.  I was governed by my left brain for decades.  Everything was logical, analytical, and rational—until I got into recovery over 12 years ago.

In recovery I started to see and experience things from God’s perspective, like the Beatitudes and their upside down thinking:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:3-6

be-stillWhen Jesus came into the world, he challenged people to use their right brain—to see things from God’s perspective and to live by faith.  He challenged the Pharisees and biblical scholars of his day.

He turned water into wine.  He walked on water.  He fed 5,000 with 2 fish and 5 loaves of bread.  To top it all off, he had more food leftover than when he started.  These are things of the Spirit and are derived when we open ourselves up to getting in touch with the invisible things of God.

Coming Up for Air

Throughout this year even though I’ve been consumed with the situation at work, I’ve protected my weekly appointment time with God.  It kept me sane, refreshed and focused on the bigger purpose of why I was called out of retirement back to secular work.  My prayer times also gave me a break from left-brain thinking.  That alone wasn’t enough to inspire me to write though.

With new boundaries in place and a greater attempt at balancing my life, I hope to invest in some writing time again.  It’s been a five-year journey, so maybe I really needed a break.

Like the Israelites spent 40 years in the desert learning to trust God, I too have been leaning on Him and learning to trust.  I sense my time in the desert may be coming to an end or at least I’ve reached a temporary oasis.  The Lord has given me some new inspiration and brought meaning out of this wilderness season.

swim-air

So with this post, I am officially coming up for air and hope to surface more regularly, taking bigger gulps of air and the Spirit of God in the process.

If you’re in a wilderness season, don’t despair. God is nearer than you think.  I’d love to hear how He is stretching your trust muscle.  May this serve as inspiration and hope on your journey.

Parenting a Teen with ADHD ~ The Journey toward Graduation

Maybe you think ADHD is just a label and isn’t even a real diagnosis.  I fell into that category myself in the past, have struggled with it for years, and didn’t really chose to learn how to live with it.  My denial was great.

Being diagnosed with ADHD is a life-altering event and commonly leads to an identity crisis that can be devastating to adults.  (I’ve lived through that as well.)

What is on my heart about this today is to write a bit about the journey and the challenges we have faced in our home with a teen who has ADHD.  Maybe in doing so others will seek treatment for themselves or someone in their family.  And maybe it will garner more empathy for those who have ADHD.

school daydreaming

I haven’t written much about this because of my own personal struggles with it.  At times it feels like a curse. However, as I’ve come alongside my son, I’ve learned to give myself grace and accept him in his struggles as well. My son agreed to my writing this post, and helped me with it as well. Out of respect for his privacy, I won’t use his name (although he didn’t mind if I did).

Living with ADHD in High School

We’ve been in the home stretch in our house for the last few weeks.  You know the feeling—the end of the school year rush—late nights working on final projects—preparing for exams—writing papers—band concerts.  The pressure mounted.

It is this way at the end of every semester in our home, not just the school year.

This year is worse because my youngest child is graduating from high school.  Much of the time it feels like my husband and I are also in high school with him.  We remind him of his school commitments.  We regularly check in on his day at school and check-up on his assignments too.  It’s been a lot of work—the total opposite of his older brother.

My son graduates in a few days.  And I felt guilty because until now, it’s been hard for me to get excited.  Don’t get me wrong…I couldn’t be more proud of him and what he has accomplished.  As a parent of a child with a learning disability, it’s been tough to watch his struggle.

homework help

My son was diagnosed with ADHD at the start of high school and we’ve been challenged with how to help him ever since.  He has been through alternative health care regiments, altered his diet, taken supplements, done energy and body work, and completed brain training classes.  I’ve also sought counseling support for the emotional ups and downs in our family and for my own psycho-education.

We didn’t try medication until we ran out of other options and had lost all hope.  The medication has helped to a moderate degree, but it isn’t the panacea that it is made out to be.  As they say in ADHD circles, and I’ve come to learn in my own ADHD struggles, “pills don’t teach skills.”  So this summer, we are planning to work through Smart but Scattered, a book designed to help with executive functioning skills.

A Journey to Diagnosis

Although very intelligent, my son’s grades started to suffer in junior high school.  It was at that time that we started to seriously consider he had ADHD.  But there were unmistakable clues years before.

He doesn’t have the physical hyperactivity that lots of ADHD boys have early on in grade school. He is a quiet sort of young man, who is easily distracted and can’t seem to pay attention to his teachers.  It wasn’t really noticeable when he was young, but I bet if you asked his teachers, they probably would’ve said he had it. Unfortunately that was part of the problem.  Those teachers couldn’t or wouldn’t tell us because it is against the school district policy.

Report CardWhen we finally took him in for testing in the summer before his 10th grade year in school, I had to make copies of my son’s report cards all the way back to Kindergarten.  (It was a good thing that I scrapbook and had all of those documents organized!)  The doctor reviewed her findings with us and pointed out patterns that we hadn’t previously noticed in the life skills areas of his report cards.  There it was as plain as day, clues that he was not fitting in with the other kids, having problems working in groups, and being slow to engage in class.  We had no idea until she connected the dots for us.

But my son knew.  Before going into his first appointment, I sat in the car and talked with him about the possibility of a diagnosis of ADHD.  He calmly said, “Mom, I know I have it.”

“You do!” I said with surprise.  “How do you know that?”

“Because I know people who have it, and I noticed they have some of the same problems.”

We proceeded to have a heart to heart about it, followed by prayer before going in to see the doctor.  One thing I’m still grateful for is the continued ability to talk at a heart level about it.

Unfortunately the medication that was prescribed by that doctor created intense headaches and other symptoms that just made matters worse for him.  We tried other health care options again, until finally settling on a different type of medication for him (and me).

Another thing we learned is that it is a long process to find the right medication and dosage for each patient.

Becoming an Advocate

Getting the official diagnosis started us on a new journey of advocating for our son in school.  We had friends who had been down this road before.  I listened to their stories, took their advice, and sought their prayers.  All the while this was going on, we went down the road of seeking accommodations at his school.

Even with the support of friends, I wasn’t prepared for the battle that laid ahead for my son.  It started with trying to get a Guidance Team meeting with the school.  These meetings included the school psychologist, my son’s guidance counselor, the special education teacher, his teachers, and the principal.  Our first meeting with this team was six weeks into the school year. By this time, he was already treading water to stay afloat in some classes.

Quoting an email I received from the school psychologist back in 2012, the purpose of the Guidance Team meeting was “to determine to what extent, if any, the diagnosed condition may create a disability, and if there is a disability as a result of the diagnosed condition, does that disability create a substantial limitation for the student which would then have us consider if he is eligible for any type of support plan.”

parent advocateThe phrase “substantial limitation” was underlined by the school psychologist, not me.  That phrase came to be the basis for an uphill battle for the entire school year.  My heart ached for my son as the minimal accommodations he received didn’t help release the pressure he felt to try and keep up with his assignments.  It wasn’t until the middle of his junior year that significant accommodations finally made a difference for him, allowing him to get passing grades in his hardest subjects.

I personally attribute that to the change in the school psychologist.  The new psychologist understood my son’s disability and was sympathetic to his cause.  At one point in time, when I was losing hope again, I reached out to her.  Her openness to anonymously sharing the experiences of other students with ADHD led us back to medication for my son, and ultimately a plan that got him to this point in his high school career.

You know your kids better than anyone, so advocate, advocate, advocate for them.

Finishing Well

In a few days, my son will receive his hard earned high school diploma.  His diploma not only represents an academic milestone, it represents to a large degree the building up of his character.

We are looking forward to celebrating.  It is a celebration of his perseverance and his ability to integrate and learn more about himself—his strengths and his weaknesses.

My son will have ADHD for the rest of his life.  My hope and prayer is that this journey through high school has prepared him to advocate for his needs and to embrace his ADHD as a part of his unique giftedness.

I know I have learned a lot through these years as well.  I faced my own mothering deficiencies, was stretched outside of my comfort zone, and experienced valuable lessons in trusting God.  My son has helped me to be a better parent and to work through my own struggles with ADHD.

We did it together.  

I’m proud he finished well. 

Congratulations Son!

Want more information about ADHD, check out any of the resources below:

Come Hungry to the Table

What are you hungry and thirsty for? Love? Purpose? Connection? Healing? You’ve been invited to the Feast. Will you accept the invitation?

Celebrate Recovery on the Plateau

Come hungry to the table. You will be satisfied. Come hungry to the table. You will be satisfied.

When I started recovery several years ago, I was hungry. No, I don’t mean that I was literally hungry for food. Although at Thanksgiving time, that would be a natural assumption.

I was hungry for change. The hunger for change didn’t come without the need for healing. Unfortunately, it didn’t (or doesn’t) come overnight.

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On Mission for God, Part 5 ~ Getting Nervous

There it is—that old familiar feeling of fear. This time it is accompanied by the old mantra that I’ve struggled to banish from my mind for the last few years…  “I don’t know what I’m doing.”  It’s been months since it’s surfaced.  Yes, there have been doubts along the way.  But now…I leave in less than two weeks!  I think Satan is up to his little tricks again.

god-is-in-control1

The Need to Control

One of the reasons this is so hard for me is because it triggers many of the issues that brought me to my knees and to my first Celebrate Recovery meeting ten years ago—my workaholism, perfectionism and need to control.  I’m stumbling over them again as I try to fit in all that needs to be done before I leave (what I want done).

It is a struggle to let go and let God. This is the biggest layer of letting go and trusting God that I’ve ever had to do.  It is one of the biggest sacrifices that I’ve ever had to do in a ministry setting as well.

But isn’t that the way God works?  He is always stretching us and chiseling us to be more like Jesus.

 

Check out God’s Chisel (above video), by the Skit Guys, based on this very message.  They perform regularly at the annual CR Summit at Saddleback Church, where I saw them last month.

The Loneliness

Although I am partnered with two male missionary colleagues across the world, it feels like a very lonely call to me. Our connections are limited by a 9-hour time difference and other work and ministry commitments.  We each have our own roles in the mission.

My partner in France is working on the training materials.  My partner in Spain is organizing and hosting the seminar at his church.  I’m up to my eyeballs in fund raising, speaking, writing, and preparing to leave the country for three weeks.

My French missionary partner preparing Spanish training materials.

My French missionary partner preparing Spanish training materials.

My loneliness partly stems from working in isolation at home. But it also is highly triggered every time I send out an appeal for donations or prayer support.  I hate asking.  I hate facing the silence (and perceived rejection).

It triggers the abandonment issues of my past and brings my little Ardis screaming to the surface.  Last week my angst over this sent me to my counselor for a short session to look at more unresolved hurts.  The tears naturally came like I hadn’t felt in a long time.

Little Ardis is scared about taking these steps into the unknown.  She remembers what happened last year—the culture shock and not having a voice.  Adult Ardis is soothing her.  SHE is trusting God and taking steps of faith.

Normalizing the Growth Process

The stress I am under right now is normal for this type of situation. I am facing a lot of ambiguity.  I have since I started down this road four years ago when I reached out to Rosa and stepped into the healing of my mother wounds.  I have had to normalize so many things in my life since then—a family connection in Spain, my writing ministry, Pedro’s film composing pursuits, and now out of the blue, being called into missions.

growing-pains

And with growth comes pain.

That is a big part of the message I want to convey in France and Spain. In order to change our patterns of behavior and face the hurts that are keeping us from living the life that God intends, we have to embrace the pain.  It is not easy.  It takes time.  It takes courage—lots of it.

When you use the biblical 12-steps of Celebrate Recovery as your guide, Jesus is with you every step of the way. Once you start to notice the change, you don’t want to go back.

It brings Freedom!  It brings Hope!

So, yes, I am getting nervous. It is normal.  I’m not going to let it stop me or slow me down.  I know that God has called me to do this—regardless of the outcome.  It’s in His hands.

He told me to “GO.”  I need His permission not to go.

mission

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19, NIV)

Please join me in prayer for this mission (September 24 – October 16, 2014) for the Word to take root and start a renewal of spiritual growth in France and Spain.

A Question of Sanity: Mental Health & the Church

A week after the sad news that actor and comedian Robin Williams took his own life, the shock has worn off. His suicide has brought a lot of talk to the forefront about mental health issues. That’s about the only good that can really be said about something as tragic as this.

robin-williams-quoteQuestioning Our Sanity

It also goes to show that you never know what will drive a person to take such a drastic and irrevocable act. I’ve had moments in my own life when I’ve wondered how I was going to get through another day. I’ve also had periods of severe depression and questioning my own sanity.

In those dark moments, what has made the difference is my relationship with Jesus. I long to be with Him, but not at the expense of what it would cause my family. That is what I think in my rational moments.

When you suffer with mental illness or depression it is easy to get caught up in negative thinking and feeling like there is no way out.

Over the past few years since the healing of my mother wound, I’ve become free of a lot of the ‘demons’ and internal voices that wanted me to believe I was not sane, too different, too emotional, too whatever.

stop-the-stigma-of-mental-illnessA Change in Perspective

As I came to understand that some of my own compulsive behaviors were not necessarily defects of character, but were symptoms of my ADHD, I started to give myself more grace. And eventually I turned to medication—something I never could’ve done in the past. I watched what medication did to my mentally ill mother. It scared me and scarred me.

I’ve been on medication for my ADHD for over eight months now. It isn’t a panacea, but it has made a difference in my life. Better yet, my son’s successes with medication for his ADHD have turned his life around. Because of our experiences, I am now a believer in the need for medication. No more white-knuckling it for us.

Mental illness, depression, and yes, ADHD, are real health problems in our society. They have carried a stigma for far too long. Isn’t it time that changed?

Mental Health & the Church

I’ve been blessed to be a participant in and serve in Celebrate Recovery (CR), a Christian 12-step program that helps people deal with their hurts, habits, and hang-ups. Those hang-ups are often thought of as addictions like alcohol and drugs.

depression quoteUnfortunately, the general public commonly believes that CR is a program for ‘those people.’ Being in CR has shown me that we are all ‘those people’ because we all have some sort of struggle that we need Jesus’ help to overcome—including depression, anxiety, rejection, and struggles with shame and worthiness.

Because of my passion for spiritual and emotional healing and my affiliation with CR, I was particularly pleased to hear about a bigger movement in the Church to address mental health issues. In March 2014, the Gathering on Mental Health and the Church, involving Catholic and Evangelical cooperation, was hosted at Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA.

Celebrate Recovery: A Safe Place to Share

Saddleback Church is also the founding church of Celebrate Recovery, where I recently attended the annual CR Summit. Just as CR has been one of the signature issues at Saddleback, Senior Pastor Rick Warren is also taking on the role of mental health in the church as a signature issue there. And John Baker, founder of CR, is developing new teaching materials to address mental health issues.

Your struggle is not identityI’m excited to see the implementation of this new information in our teaching materials. CR leaders are not trained counselors or medical professionals. As facilitators of spiritual and emotional growth, we are also keenly aware of how emotionally empty, depressed, or alone people can feel when they enter recovery. (We’ve been there ourselves.) We are on the lookout for suicidal tendencies and refer people to the help they need. Our chief focus is to provide a safe place for people to share their struggles, to feel accepted, and to know that they are not alone.

Depression feeds on isolation.

After a personal testimony was shared at the conference in March, Pastor Rick Warren commented to the presenter: “Your chemistry in your brain is not your character and your illness is not your identity. You are a follower of Christ who struggles with mental illness, but your struggle does not define you… Jesus defines you.”

Overcoming that kind of stigma and identity struggle is just one of the ways Jesus shows up through the ministry of Celebrate Recovery. It gives hope to the hopeless.

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Looking for a Celebrate Recovery program in your area? Click here to find a meeting near you.

For more information about Celebrate Recovery or to read recovery related blog topics, check out CelebrateRecoveryOnThePlateau.org.

In Search of a Mother’s Love

There is a hunger inside of me sometimes.  We are all born with it—the desire for love and relationship.  From an early age we are taught in life how and who fills that need.  It is generally filled by our parents.  In most cases, the responsibility falls on the mother.  But what if that mother isn’t equipped to take on that role or isn’t capable of bonding with the child?  What happens to the inner need?

Longing for LoveThe Longing for Love

The need doesn’t go away; we just find other ways to fill that emptiness and hunger for love and relationship—in either healthy or unhealthy ways.  I didn’t know that or understand the affects that my mother’s mental illness had on me until about ten years ago when my unhealthy ways of relating and compulsive behaviors finally caught up with me.

I’ve done a lot of healing work and spiritual growth in that last decade.  I now serve in a ministry where I can come alongside others who are also struggling with the hurts from the past and seeing themselves as God sees them.  Even though I know with my whole heart that Jesus came to give me life and ultimately fill my need for love, there are still times when life can get me down.

I still have a longing to be known and to know others.  It is a longing for deep relationship.  It is the search for a mother’s love that was lost.

Looking for Love

I’ve lived my whole life this way—being self-sufficient without close siblings and without involvement and emotional attachment from my parents.  I didn’t know what I was missing because I didn’t experience it.  Now, after a decade of healing and recovery work, I know.  I know because I have started to more intensely experience the loss of the women in my life who helped me to heal.

michelle-ventor-reason-season-lifetime1When I started recovery, I had virtually no female friends—only a few through work.  I didn’t know how to be a real friend.  As I started my recovery journey, I observed real authentic vulnerability in other women.  I was hungry for that.  I let down my walls and embraced this new way of relating.  There was freedom gained by not being a secret or thinking that I was the only one who experienced that depth of pain.

Those bonds formed felt sacred to me.  They became my mother, my sisters and my daughters.  Those relationships have been hard to let go of over the years.  Insert the ever increasing presence of social media, and I begin to wonder who my friends really are.  Do I want quality in my relationships or do I want quantity?  I choose quality, but that has its cost too, as it’s hard to fit in the time to maintain the intimacy.

Missing my Mother

Mother’s Day 2014 marks four years since I last saw my mother alive.  Her passing and end of life forgiveness poured love back into me in a whole new way—her love and God’s love.  And still the loss of never getting to know her as a person keeps me searching at times for the love and mentoring of a mother.  My inner child (my little Ardis) still longs for my real mother’s love.

look_into_the_mirrorI wish I could’ve had more time with her.  She’s generally not far away though.  If I slow down long enough to look for her, she stares back at me in the mirror, smiles, and tells me that she loves me.  The knowledge and hope that I will see her again in eternity makes the longing fade into the distance once more.

May your Mother’s Day be filled with the love of your family or other important people in your life.

This post is listed on Christian Mommy Blogger/Fellowship Fridays and Missional Women/Faith Filled Friday.

JFK Assassination, One Girl’s Grief

You don’t have to be a history buff to know that Friday marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy (commonly referred to as JFK).  The magazine stands at the grocery check-out counter are filled with commemorative editions of that painful time in American history.  Television programs are airing with their historical accounts as well.

One of many magazines and books I've collected about JFK over the years, 1988.

One of many magazines and books I’ve collected about JFK over the years, 1988.

50 Years Ago in Dallas

It was a day that changed America; maybe not much different than the events of 9-11 are for this generation.  Kennedy’s assassination also marked the loss of a sense of safety and security in our lives.  It was a time when Americans came face to face with evil in our country—the first signs of terrorism on our soil, so to speak.

The assassination of JFK sent shock and grief into our nation and the world.  All eyes turned to America.  In 1963, television news wasn’t the 24/7 force that it is today.  It was in its infancy stages.  In fact, the first televised presidential debates were held between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon in 1960.

For four days in our nation’s history, November 22-25, 1963, people were glued to their television sets.  We watched clips of the unfolding of the story: the President’s body flying back to Washington DC, people filing past his body lying in state at the U.S. Capitol, the horse-drawn carriage of the flag-draped coffin slowly proceeding to Arlington National cemetery.

JFK, Jr. models courage and honor at the tender young age of 3 years old.

JFK, Jr. models courage and honor at the tender young age of 3 years old.

In the midst of this sorrow, we also watched the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald, the suspected assassin of JFK, by Jack Ruby on live television.  Then there was the emblazoned image of little 3-year old John F. Kennedy, Jr., saluting the coffin as it passed by in front of him.  It was definitely a grief that shook our nation.

50 Years Ago in Seattle

What if that day was also the much anticipated birthday of a bubbly 4-year old girl?  Maybe the grief of the nation was also the grief that shook this young girl who desperately desired and wanted the attention and love of her own parents.  Instead her wants and desires were overshadowed by the grief of our nation.

Kennedy's body lies in state--a grief that shook the nation.

Kennedy’s body lies in state–a grief that shook the nation.

What if the disappointments that surfaced on that day for that little girl went on to fuel and magnify other losses, and the belief that she was unimportant and unloved?  What if a few years later, that same little girl, watches as her mother is taken away after suffering a nervous breakdown?

What if she keeps longing for answers to what happened and why, but she doesn’t get resolution?  These are sad things to think about, for sure.  I know because that little girl was me.

Unanswered Questions?

I, like the rest of the world, will probably never know the real answer or motives behind what happened 50 years ago in Dallas, Texas on November 22, 1963.  Yet as my 54th birthday quickly approaches, I’m getting answers to some questions that my 4-year old Ardis has been longing to know.  It is a gift from above to finally get more clarity on my life and move forward with it.

Eternal flame and burial site of President and Mrs. Kennedy, Arlington Cemetery

Eternal flame and burial site of President and Mrs. Kennedy, Arlington Cemetery

So I look at the passing of another year’s reminder of the assassination of JFK through a different lens.  It is through the lens of someone who carries 11-22 as a joyful marker of her birth, while also still processing the reminders of a painful childhood.  I’m grateful that the Lord is giving me the ability to hold both of those realities in the palm of my hand and know that He is turning my healing into hope.

The Reality of Culture Shock

I’ve heard it said that ignorance is bliss.  After my summer in Spain, I’d have to say that ignorance is definitely not bliss.

With all the physical, mental, and spiritual preparation I did for my trip, I never once thought to research what it was like to live in a foreign country.  I heard of culture shock, didn’t really know anything about it except for the general term, and didn’t think for a moment that it was something I needed to be aware of.

Beautiful monuments, statues, cathedrals, and architecture--constant visual reminders that I wasn't in America. (Plaza Mayor, Madrid)

Beautiful monuments, statues, cathedrals, and architecture–constant visual reminders that I wasn’t in America. (Plaza Mayor, Madrid)

What is Culture Shock?

Merriam-Webster.com defines culture shock as “a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation.”

All the while I was in Spain; there were no outward signs of culture shock.  I thought I was adjusting well to all of the changes in environment (except the heat).  My host family repeatedly told me how well I fit in with the Spanish lifestyle.  But inside there was something much deeper going on.  I pushed the anxiety and the doubts about what I was going through aside.  I took each day as a new day to experience Spain, and document everything I could in any free moment I could steal away to myself.

Acting like a stereo-typical tourist, while also fitting in with the Spanish lifestyle, Madrid

Acting like a stereo-typical tourist, while also fitting in with the Spanish lifestyle, Madrid

My Quest for Answers

After I returned home, I did some research on what it is like to physically live in a foreign country.  I found out that culture shock is a real psychological phenomenon.  I stumbled upon it while doing research for some of my earlier posts about Spain.

There is a lot on the internet about culture shock, and this is not intended to a be a lesson about it.  I did find out though that there are four phases: honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment and mastery.  Clearly I never made it to a point of mastery, but was definitely trying to quickly adapt through the other three phases.  Another source listed them as stages: wonder, frustration, depression and acceptance.  Just as surprising to me was finding out about reverse culture shock.  All of this explains why I had a hard time re-entering my life in the U.S. and also explains the bouts of depression I experienced.

The psychological effects of culture shock.

The psychological effects of culture shock.

In my quest for answers to what I had gone through, I started to follow blogs of other non-natives living in Spain.  I found sites from ex-pats living in Spain, ESL teachers, pilgrims journeying on the Way of St. James, and the like.  It was a relief to be able to observe their experiences, communicate with them, and most importantly to know that I was not alone in what I was going through.

I’ve also spoken with some missionary friends.  One pointed me to an article on “trailing spouse syndrome”.  I had never heard of that either, but reading that served as another relief for my emotionally weary soul.

Brave or Naïve?

Many people have told me that I was brave to go to Spain alone like that.  Every time someone said that I thought, “but I won’t be alone.”  I was going to live with people I already knew.  Little did I know how this would affect me.

I think that since Pedro, our Spanish host son, so easily adapted to family life in America, and never said anything or showed any evidence of his own culture shock, I just took it for granted that my transition would be smooth as well.  He fit in with us so easily; I think I forgot he was Spanish.

Being brave? No, it's just a unique way of mailing a letter. (Toledo, Spain)

Being brave? No, it’s just a unique way of mailing a letter. (Toledo, Spain)

I am so grateful to my Spanish family for hosting me and opening up my eyes to life in their country.  I miss Spain.  I miss my Spanish family—all 26 of them.  I know I’ll return someday and am already planting those seeds for a trip with my husband.

So was I brave or naïve in journeying to Spain for six weeks last summer?  It was definitely brave!  I have no regrets—only gratitude to my heavenly Father for the experience, the lessons, the love, and the hope He has given me for how He wants to use it for His glory.

Showing off my bravery by eating new foods--pulpo de gallego, a Spanish favorite (Octopus Galician style)

Showing off my bravery by eating new foods–pulpo de gallego, a Spanish favorite (Octopus Galician style)

Living in the Shadow of Mental Illness

It’s no secret that my mother was mentally ill—not now anyway.  I’ve written about it on my blog and was the basis for my published story in Journeys to Mother Love (Cladach Publishing).  Chapter 8 in the Table of Contents reads: Distanced by Mental Illness, Walking my Mother Home, by Ardis A. Nelson.  There it is; my lifelong struggle in black and white on the page for all to see.

Chapter 8 is my story.

Chapter 8 is my story.

I’ve heard from many people how they resonated with my story.  It is usually in regards to how they are caring for a loved one at the end of life or it touches an accord with those whose parent has died.  It gives them hope and encouragement for the journey no matter how recent or faraway the experience was.

Distancing Myself

My story isn’t just about how I re-established contact and cared for my mentally ill mother at the end of her life though.  The bigger story is how I distanced myself from getting to know myself as well.  At 53 years old, it is what I am still working through.  It is the theme of the memoir that I hope to someday have published.

The Bible tells us in Matthew 10:38 that as followers of Christ we all have a cross to bear.  My cross seems to be the legacy that I have of living in the shadows of a mother who had mental illness.  Even though I had amazing healing when my mother died (as mentioned in my published story), I can still revert to my negative way of thinking and seeing things through the filter of mental illness in my family.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Many people live in the shadow of mental illness.  They were raised in a family with a parent who was mentally ill.  Or maybe they grew up hearing stories about crazy Aunt Sue or Uncle Joe.  I know I did; and it wasn’t just about my mother, but others in the family as well.

When I was growing up there was a huge stigma attached to mental illness.  There were barbaric practices perpetuated on mental patients—witness the movie, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” from 1975.

Jack Nicholson's character receiving shock therapy, a barbaric practice, in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

Jack Nicholson’s character receiving shock therapy, a barbaric practice, in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

I saw that movie in the theater when I was 15.  The movie hit way to close to home as my mother was in and out of mental hospitals and had shock therapy when I was in elementary school.  Watching that movie scared me and maybe even scarred me emotionally.

Last November when I started work on my memoir as part of National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, I watched that movie again for the first time in over 30 years.  It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, but I think that was because I watched it more for historical reasons and for context in my memoir writing.  In other words, I detached myself from my emotions.  I thank God that wasn’t my fate.

Emotional Highs and Lows

At this stage of life with hormones raging out of control, it is hard at times to not let that dark cloud and fear of mental illness grab a hold of me.  It seemed to hit me particularly hard after my time in Spain.  It’s no wonder.

The movie is still playing, although at times it may feel like it's over.

The movie is still playing, although at times it may feel like it’s over.

I’ve been on an emotional high the last few years as I stepped into the world of publishing as a first time author, launched Pedro’s professional music career, and prepared for my trip to Spain.  It has often felt like a dream to me—or as I’ve openly expressed—like a movie with Pedro’s music as the soundtrack.

Three months after my return home, I’ve finally re-adjusted to life in America.  As I slowed down and re-focused my attention on my own self-care, at times it felt like the credits scrolled by on the screen and the music stopped playing.  Just like in the theater, all that was left was the mess on the floor to clean up—most notably a body that was exhausted and sometimes depressed.

Rejecting the Lie

I’m discovering some profound things about myself as I work through this next layer of healing.   I know it is what God is requiring from me so that He can more fully use me for His bigger purpose.  As I do, I am clinging to my identity in Christ and not some worn out lie or stigma.

Are you believing a lie from your past?  Who will you believe—our heavenly Father who loves you, or the Evil One, the thief and father of all lies?  What are you doing to flip the switch in your thinking? 

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10, NIV)

Turning to the Dark Side

I’ve been blogging for over two years and recently reached a blogging milestone of 100 posts.  I started out slow, blogging when the mood hit me and now consistently post once a week.  That may not sound like much, but at times it has been a chore—to either fit it in my schedule or to force the writing to come out.

100 postsThe Growing Pains of Blogging

My blogging has grown a lot over the last year.  I’m now starting to see that my focusing on Spain for so long was mentally draining on me.  I pushed myself physically while traveling and also mentally to blog while there.  I don’t regret it because at least for me personally I’m glad to have documented my trip in that way—not the standard travel log.

I’m starting to get my writer’s sea legs back now with inspiration that comes from deep within.  That is what led me to writing and blogging in the first place so it feels good.

But blogging isn’t always a feel good thing for me.  I think if bloggers were really honest with themselves, they’d have to admit that they’ve felt some anxiety or tension at one time or another when it comes time to publish a post.  It is a scary and vulnerable position to put yourself out on the internet for all the world to see—especially when you are sharing your personal story.

Then there are the voices within that tell us that the number of followers we have or the number of ‘likes’ on our posts somehow dictates our value or is a true indicator of our writing skill.  (I know I’m not alone in my thinking.)  It happens I’m sure in any creative endeavor.  We have to be sure of ourselves and our message.  That is where my identity in Christ helps me.

Publish IconPublishing Humiliation

In my quest for healing, I recently discovered that my publishing fears were deeper rooted than just the typical “will people accept me” or like my writing.  I was having a particularly hard time releasing my worries in publishing a post, and then it all came back to me.

When I was in college, I turned from my desires to be a journalist to something much more analytical—an accountant.  Sometimes I hung out with the crowd at the college newspaper, never writing stories though.  My first semester communications courses brutally killed that dream.

My extracurricular passion was serving as the music director at the college radio station.  During a period of transition in management at the radio station, I wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper.  I don’t remember what it was about specifically, but it wasn’t a flattering piece.  I got a lot of flak for that letter.  Worse yet, the station manager wrote a rebuttal to the editor in the next publication.  I was publically humiliated in front of my peers.

I could go on and on about how I might have felt justified, or whatever.  The point is that when I publish a post on my blog, sometimes that humiliation is triggered in me—the deep fear of saying or doing something that will be misunderstood or land on someone the wrong way.  Recognizing that trigger has helped me to release that fear.

Getting comfortable behind the mic again at WMCR (25th college reunion)

Getting comfortable behind the mic again at WMCR (25th college reunion)

Writing Crossroads

At my one year blogging milestone, I wrote a piece about writing for “An Audience of One”.  I like to think that audience of One is my heavenly Father.  Realistically though, I sometimes get in the way of that.  I know that my writing serves to inspire some of my friends and family.  I’m very grateful for their acknowledgments of that.  In my darker days, it is just what I need to encourage me to keep going.

Now that I’ve passed my second year blogging milestone, I feel like I’m at a crossroads with my writing.  I enjoy blogging, but realistically I’ve felt more like a blogger than a writer this past year.  I’ve been so busy and focused on Spain that my memoir has sat dormant on my computer since November 30, 2012—the last day of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  It was a labor of love to churn out over 30,000 words in 30 days.  It was also very intense and emotionally draining.  Oddly enough, I’m considering picking up that work in progress in November, but not with that kind of intensity.

I need a writing discipline in my life in order to tackle the huge project ahead of me.  NaNoWriMo was that last year.  So I am preparing myself for the next leg of my writing journey.  If my memoir is ever finished and sees the light of day, I’ll have much bigger fears to overcome.  Until then I’ll keep training that ‘publish’ muscle one post at a time.

Shakespeare blogger

PS.  If you want to know what I learned from my second year of blogging, it is to not be concerned about the length of my posts.  When I started blogging I followed all the suggestions about size, content, etc.  But I’ve noticed that my favorite author blogs don’t publish short posts.  That doesn’t stop me from reading to the end.  I’m not concerned about my word counts any more.  I read for quality and depth of story, so that is what I am shooting for here as well.  Thanks for your interest in my work and reading to the end!

  • WELCOME to my site!

    I'm an author, writer, speaker, mentor & mom. I've struggled to find my voice all my life as I lived in the shadows of a mother with mental illness. Thankfully that was not the legacy that she handed down to me. It took a lot of recovery and deep healing work to rise above it.

    I am thankful to God for Making Me Bold in the process. Now I use my writing and speaking voice to help others on their journey to turn healing into hope.

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