My Favorite Sermon on Lent: The Hero’s Journey of Bilbo Baggins

A few days ago we entered the church season of Lent. Maybe you went to a Mardi Gras party or Ash Wednesday service. Maybe you have decided to give something up to help you focus on this season of penitence and reflection. According to my Facebook feed I gather that social media is a pretty common choice to give up this year.

Or maybe some of you are like me and have decided to take on a practice to bring you closer to Jesus during this 40 day journey towards the cross. My daughter and I are doing a program called 40 Acts that gives you a challenge of kindness or generosity by email each day. Others may go to a Lenten study or commit to reading their Bible more.

Whatever you choose to do to celebrate Lent, I can guarantee you that there will come a day in the next 40 days when your choices and your journey will become difficult. When you will wonder why this matters at all and contemplate just throwing in the towel. Does God really want us to struggle with sacrifices and challenging ourselves? Can’t we just rest in grace?

It makes you wonder if there was a point during Jesus’s 40 days in the desert when he thought about giving up. I can’t imagine isolating myself from my community for 40 days, going without food for 40 days, resisting temptation after temptation for 40 days. It must have been exhausting. You wonder if it brought Jesus to the end of his Son of Man rope.Well, Jesus was not just Son of Man but Son of God, so maybe the 40 days was easier for him.

But the one I really wonder about in today’s Scripture readings is Noah. Long long ago there was a time when things on earth got so bad that God decided to start over. Noah and his immediate family went into the ark with two of every animal. This part we like. We romanticize it as a children’s story. Noah and the animals. In fact my baby shower was Noah and the ark themed as my kids came in twos.

But what happens when we think about the time after Noah was shut up in the ark and before the dove came back with that olive branch. What must it have been like during those 40 days of rain and destruction?

When I think about these scriptures about Jesus and Noah another story comes to mind. And though this story is fiction, I think it carries a lot of truth.

It is the story of Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit and his Unexpected Journey.

I love this story so much because I see so much of myself in Bilbo. I too am a slightly chubby creature who likes nothing better than being at home and having tea and cookies. I too do not like it when unexpected things happen like wizards visiting or dwarves coming over unannounced for dinner. I like a nice, quiet, boring life sometimes. But life for Bilbo was not meant to be boring. The wizard Gandalf and the company of dwarves talked him into setting off on a journey. A journey in which they would hike many miles across the land to the Lonely Mountain in order to steal a precious jewel from the fierce dragon Smaug.

Now when I first read this book I thought no way is this Hobbit going to make it against a dragon. He doesn’t have it in him. But as I read on I noticed the Hobbit began to change. You see the dwarves and Bilbo did not go from Bilbo’s Hobbit hole straight to the Lonely mountain and take the jewel and the mountain back from the dragon straight away. Like any good hero’s journey they had many side adventures first.

In my youth, this annoyed me. I wanted them to go from point A to point B, get things done and move on with life. But as I have aged I have learned that the path is often windy and filled with unexpected things. For Bilbo it was first an encounter with mountain trolls, then a scary mountain climb where he almost dies, and then a long pass under a dark, tomb-like mountain filled with orcs.

And each time Bilbo faced a new foe or difficulty, he rose to the occasion. The once lazy, slightly apathetic Hobbit became quicker and more clever. He learned how to use his gifts and rely on those around him to support his weaknesses. Sure there were many times that Bilbo wanted to give up and just back to his cozy Hobbit hole. But he pressed on with the journey. And spoiler, in the end it turns out he has what it takes after all. And when he finally makes it back to his cozy Hobbit hole, he is never the same Hobbit again.

Because for Bilbo, it was never about defeating the dragon or getting gold. It was about taking a journey that would transform him into a new person.

I think it must have been like that for Noah too. After all, did it really have to take 40 days to destroy everything on earth and start over? God made the world in seven days in the beginning, surely 40 days were not necessary to recreate it? And did Noah really have to go through the agony of bobbing around in that little ark while the rain of all rains pummeled the earth?

I find it interesting that the rain that fell during the flood was not just any rain. Back in Genesis 1 we see the third act of creation is God creating a dome called sky to push back the deep, dangerous waters of Tehom, the waters of chaos to bring a place of safety, order, and life to earth. God then contains other waters into oceans so land can be formed and life can live outside of the deep, dark waters.

When God sends the rains in Genesis, he is essentially ripping a hole in the dome called sky and letting the deep, dangerous waters of chaos re-enter earth and destroy all everything on the land and in the air. It is an undoing of creation.

While the epic waters fell, everything Noah had ever known died. I wonder if Noah ever wondered in the midst of the never ending rain and destruction if God would get carried away and destroy him too?

But during this time all Noah really had was God. All he could do is pray and wait and trust God with his future, with the world’s future.

I think that all that time and waiting and trusting must have changed Noah. Anytime you go through an ordeal like that it changes you. It makes you a new person. And Noah needed to be a new person, for he was entering a world made new. As the person charged with carrying on life, he needed to be close to God, to trust God with any and everything.

Maybe the 40 days weren’t for God, they were for Noah.

And so it is for us. As we look ahead to this season of Lent, we know that it is given to us for our transformation, for my transformation and yours. It is to take me from the slightly chubby, sometimes lazy, and often fearful person and change her into someone who is bold to reach out in love and generosity to the world.

It is to take you from where you are to a few steps closer to who God wants you to be. And of course this journey will be challenging and full of unexpected things. For that is how all 40 day, change you into someone new journeys always are. The trick is to keep walking the path, keep looking to God, keep letting God make us into the person God knows we can be.


When Christmas Turns Upside Down

In the famous words of Joni Mitchell, “It’s Coming on Christmas.” It is the time of year when we deck the halls and sing the carols and watch the heartwarming movies and trim the tree. And these are good things as they remind us of the hope and light and love in the world and how it comes to us.

But this year I just can’t.

I’ve tried. We have the tree up in our house. It is up with about half of its pre-lit lights not working and totally undecorated.  I went to Lowe’s to buy some outdoor decorations in the spirit of Clark Griswald. But the wreaths and bows are still laying in the floor of my garage.

What is the problem you wonder?

I could blame it on two sinus infections in two months or how I struggle with depression in December, but I think its more than that. This year there is a bigger block.

I don’t know how to sing Fa la la about Jesus’s coming when so many people in this world are still suffering on their different crosses.

This week we watch as modern day massacre plays out in Aleppo. A massacre that would seem unbelievable were it not for the very real details laid out on social media. I struggle to even imagine what is happening much less how to respond.

For months we’ve watched as our nation’s indigenous people have suffered trial after trial in trying to protect the small amount of land they can call their own from outside forces that they believe would cause their land and people harm. I try to understand how after so many years of mistreatment these souls can have the courage to peacefully endure tear gas, rubber bullets, and water canons in sub freezing temperature to protect the heritage they hold dear. Even though the Native community has received some good news of late, I still feel no peace about their long term future.

Much closer to home, in the state of Georgia in the last month six police officers have been killed in the line of duty. Two at a traffic stop, two responding to a dispute between neighbors call, and two responding to a domestic dispute. These were good guys doing what was for them a regular days work. Now they leave a hole in the lives of their families and communities.

I would try to cheer myself up out of my gloom and tell myself it is not my problem. Except as a Christian, as a human, I know that it is my problem.

I’ve done a good bit of supply preaching of late and the Scriptures have been filled with not cheer, but warning and exhortations. Stay awake! Pay attention to what is happening around you says the first Sunday of Advent. The warnings go on to tell us what we do to the least of these we do unto God.

Then John the Baptists comes and tells us to repent. To prepare the way of the Lord. Prepare for the same Lord who tells us the story about the least of these. And the exhortation to get ready coming from a guy who lives in the woods wearing camel’s hair and eating locusts and honey.

And then we hear the story of Mary and Elizabeth. A story that could be sentimentalized were it not for Mary’s great magnificat. A poem that tells about bringing down the powerful and and lifting up the lowly. Talks about filling the hungry and sending the rich away empty.

So in the midst of these words and warnings I think I’ll just keep that tree bare for now and be okay with that.

Maybe it is alright to cry a little in Advent. Maybe it is okay to feel the pain of the not yet, the pain of a world in need of its redeemer. A world that needs Jesus to come again and again until all things are made new.

When Christmas comes I will celebrate. For God has come to be with us. Even in our tragedy. Even in our pain. And this presence is our hope and salvation.

But for these last days of preparation, I will tell my heart it is okay to be sad. For my sadness means I am paying attention to the wounds of the world. I am seeing the places that need to be covered with healing and light and love.

Because Jesus’s coming does not mean I get to just sit back and drink eggnog and be happy about the birth of a baby.

For this is the baby born in the dirt of a stable to backwater parents who had very little rights in their own home land.

This is the baby that with his parents had to flee from their home and run for their lives. The refugee baby that was sheltered in a nearby land while countless others were massacred.

This is the baby that when you look in his eyes, it makes you get up and walk a different way for you have seen the world in a whole new light.

So if your Christmas has been turned upside down, Take heart. You are not alone. Let’s keep watching and waiting and looking for the Christ child in our midst.

For he is coming. One way or another. He will always come.


A Sermon on Psalm 121: From Night Wrestling to Mountain Blessing

Just a week and a half ago a hurricane hit our state for the first time in over a hundred years.

Like many of you, I grew up visiting our beautiful coast regularly. As a youth I often went to summer camp at Epworth By The Sea on St. Simon’s. It is a sacred place to me as I grew up in God’s grace under those old live oaks. But it is also special place to me as those oaks saw me not only grow in grace, but also just plain grow up from a child to a woman. I went from a scrawny girl away from home for the first time sleeping in a tabby cabin, to a teenager getting her first kiss on the Epworth pier during a youth weekend, to a young women attending her first ministerial retreat for Methodist clergy, all under the oaks of Epworth. That is a lot of life for trees and piers and tabby cabins to hold, but hold it all they did.

As a child my family vacationed in Savannah for a week every year. And then as young woman I returned to Savannah to serve my first church. Jason and I lived in our state’s first city for four years and through ministry and life I fell totally in love with that beautiful town and its people. On my Fridays off I would often meet Jason downtown for lunch and then spending the afternoon in Forsyth Park to read by the fountain and soak up the beautiful life that park holds. But occasionally on Fridays I would drive out to Tybee to take communion to one of our shut-ins in a nursing home there. After reading Scripture and praying and taking the bread and wine with my parishioner, Barbara, I would walk the beach and let the sand and waves carry the cares of my week away.

So the night that Matthew hit my beloved Tybee and St Simon’s, I was as sleepless and restless as Jacob long ago.

Would everything be okay? Would my friends and family on the coast be hurt? Would they lose their homes? Would the landmarks and touchstones I knew and loved so well survive? Would I recognize the world I woke up to tomorrow?

The fate of the Georgia coast was not the only thing that kept me up that fateful night. As the hurricane hit our coast, more chaos and scandal hit our nation in the storm that has been this year’s presidential election. As I drifted in and out of sleep the winds of the hurricane and the winds that have been whipping our nation merged into one big storm in my mind. A storm whose potential damage kept me wrestling with fear. I wish I could say as morning broke I was a changed woman. That I received a blessing. But our life is not always as quickly resolved as the Biblical narratives. I continued to worry and struggle for days even as we left for not the coast, but the Georgia mountains for our fall vacation.

On the way to our cabin I read over the Scriptures trying to find something that would speak to us all. Some word from God that would shine light on these confusing and changing times. So as I looked for comfort in Scripture as we crossed out of the Piedmont into North Georgia I came upon today’s Psalm. “I will lift my eyes to the hills, from where will my help come from? My help comes from the Lord.” And for the first time in days I took a good, deep breath.

I don’t know about you, but the mountains have always brought me peace. Something about their largeness and ancientness reminds me of God. Their constant presence reminds me there is a God much bigger and stronger and older than me that can do mighty things. And this God that made the mountains is with me still. Through my every day. Through our every storm. If God can make mud into mountains, surely God can handle the chaos in my life now.

The mountains were a sacred place for the Israelites as well. When people wanted to draw close to God they went up one of the Holy Mountains and miraculous things took place. Bushes burned. Laws were given. God was present in real ways. So I had always read this Psalm as one that offers us the mountains as a comfort. I will lift up my eyes unto the hills and then remember my help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth.

But after reading commentaries this week, I found Psalm 121 can be read another way. Psalm 121 is one of the Songs of Ascents, a group of Psalms that were prayed when pilgrims would travel to Jerusalem.

Now any journey is dangerous, but especially so in ancient times. One never knew what was lurking around the bend. So in this context I wonder is the mountain a comfort, or an obstacle on our journey?

This makes sense to me too. As much as I love mountains, there have been moments on what were supposed to be peaceful hikes that the terrain got tough and I was praying hard to God to “let not my foot be moved” for if my feet slipped on that windy perilous path I might very well plummet many feet to my death.

So is the mountain then a call to prayer for God to help us through the hard places in our journey? For setting out on any new journey brings fear and worry. For we know at some point the times will get tough. Unseen danger may arise. And we wonder on the pilgrimage if we will ever come back and find home like we once knew it again. For you see pilgrimages are times of change. Change for people and places and nations. And if you are like me you don’t want the things you have known and loved to change.

You lay awake at night wondering if you will ever see the live oaks at Epworth again or if the fountain at Forsyth park will stand. You just want something Unchanging you can hold onto while everything uncertain swirls around you.

As we were driving along Ga 400 and I was reading Psalm 121 another memory came to mind. I told you that during my time in Savannah one Friday a month I would go and visit my parishioner, Barb. Barb was not much older than I am now but she was quite sick. In fact Barb was so sick that we all knew she had already started the journey that will lead her from this world unto the next. As I visited with Barb every month in that nursing home by the sea, she would always ask me to read Psalm 121. I would read it from the King James and she would say it by heart along with me. “I will lift my eyes unto the hills, from whence commeth my help? My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.” And every month as we said these words together she would squeeze my hands with tears in her eyes and small smile on her face. I would often look at her and marvel that though so much had changed for her and so much uncertainty lay ahead, this Psalm brought her such peace. It was if she could see into the distance, see that last mountain to cross and look at it without fear because she knew. She knew she was not alone. The Maker of Heaven and Earth was with her. And no matter how bad and scary things got God would be helping her feet make every step of the way.

And when you know in your core that the God who made the mountains is keeping you and everything in this world in God’s hand, even the mountain slopes and the storms aren’t so scary anymore.

Because no matter what changes the journey will bring, the unchanging God will be with us.

Loving us, helping us, keeping us. And that is more than enough peace and strength to keep us walking on our way. Amen.

What It Means To Take A Knee

I will admit that when I first heard about Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem before one of the 49ers footballs games, I didn’t quite get it. Part of the reason for this is the way the media and everyone else was phrasing it. Kaepernick didn’t stand for the national anthem. Can you believe it? Does this guy hate America or what?

As I heard more about his actions, I began to understand that Kaepernick was doing it as a protest against racism in America. An understandable action for sure. But during the national anthem? That is a pretty sensitive moment for most Americans. A moment for national pride and respect.

And then I went to a USA Women’s soccer game in Atlanta. On the ride up my daughter, her friend, and I were all taking about our favorite players and how we couldn’t wait to see them in action. My daughter’s friend told me how her favorite player was Megan Rapinoe. She went on to say how she was worried about not getting to see Rapinoe play as Rapinoe had been taking a knee during the national anthem and her coaches weren’t pleased. Just to clarify I asked her, “Why is Rapinoe taking a knee?” Our friend replied, “Oh you know because of all the racism in this country. All the bad stuff happening to black people. She wanted to support Kaepernick in his protest of all that is going on.”

We went on to talk about a girl in her class who is taking a knee during the pledge of allegiance every school day because there isn’t actually “liberty and justice for all” right now. Apparently her teacher is not impressed.

We went on to talk about the Constitution and its Bill of Rights and specifically our First Amendment right to peaceful protest. We talked about our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, what it means to be the land of the free and the home of the brave, and other such things.

And then we got to the game and I forgot all about our conversation. We were so excited to be in the Georgia Dome and see our women play! And then the national anthem was playing. And there before my eyes was Megan Rapinoe silently, humbly, bowing down on one knee while the national anthem was sung.

And I don’t know it if was because she was a white woman or because she was on a soccer field or what, but suddenly I got it.

You see my kids play soccer. My son started when he was quite young. At that age kids often got hurt and fell down. Maybe they tripped or got tripped or were hit by the ball. This happened so much in the game with little kids dropping like flies that the league had a certain practice. When one kid saw that another player was down they immediately took a knee. One benefit of this practice was to alert the ref that there was a hurt player on the field (after all there are ten little kids running constantly, it is hard for one ref to keep track of them all.) Also, it helped to keep any other the other kids from accidentally running over the hurt kid and making things worse (they were little kids, these things happen).

So when I saw Megan Rapinoe taking a knee that night it all  clicked.

She was taking a knee to alert those in charge that there were people in her country, on HER TEAM so to say, that were injured and hurting.

She was letting everyone know that it was time to stop the game, check on the hurt person, and see what was needed to be done to heal their injury. Because we need them to be strong and well. Because they are a part of OUR TEAM and we need all our team healthy and strong to play the best game.

It turns out Rapinoe did play that night. She came in during the second half. And the boos raised the roof of the dome. And the girls got sooo upset. I told them to calm down as Megan had thought through what she was doing and surely knew there would be consequences. She just believed in what she was doing enough to face those consequences. Those are the ropes of social protest. And so they cheered for her throughout the game as loud as they could to counteract all the repeated boos.

Flash forward two weeks later and we are at a high school football game in another town as a part of my husband’s high school reunion. As the national anthem played two things happened. My son put my hand over my heart (To be honest I never quite know what to do during the anthem. I grew up standing at attention to the flag and singing along. I guess things have changed). One second later my daughter turns to me and says, “Should I take a knee?” I looked at her with big eyes and said, “Do what you think is right baby.” I watched as she slowly lowered half way down, panicked, and then stood back up again.

We all talked about the anthem moment in the car later. It turns out my husband was thinking the same thing as my daughter but backed out too. My daughter’s reason was this: She was already in a place where no one knew her or her heart. She already thought she stood out in a sea of pretty conservative white people (she is Chinese adopted and a socially liberal 13 year old). “I think they would have just ended up hating me and not understood what I was trying to do,” she said.” She obviously remembered the boos from the GA Dome. I talked about how I was again surprised it was time for the anthem to play (I really don’t get out enough) and hadn’t had time to think things through.

And such is the dilemma of social protest. Will people understand what you are doing? Will you change the way people see things or will they just hate you?

I guess that is why most social protests are planned well in advance with a lot of thought and with preparation to face the consequences.

So, Now that I have had a few hours to mull things over, I have made up my mind and am prepared to face the consequences.


Here is me belatedly taking a knee.


And it is not because I hate America, or because I don’t respect out veterans or troops.

I love my country. My Dad is a Vietnam vet. Half my friends are either vets or active duty military wives (we live in an Air Force town) and I respect and support them to no end.

I am not taking a knee because I hate America. I love my country. If I hated it I would just leave.

But I love my country and all of its people so much that I know we can do better. We HAVE to do better.

I believe in our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution and our National Anthem so much I want them to ring true for all our fine citizens.

And the hard truth is right now they don’t. Some of my fellow Americans are hurting right now.

And it is not just the police shootings. (By the way I don’t hate police either. My most beloved friend is in law enforcement so I get it is a hard, hard job. Cops have my respect, love, and support too.) The shootings of late are the tip of an iceberg of institutional racism in our country. Racism that manifests itself in many different forms but boils down to the fact that many white people see and treat black people as “other”rather than “neighbor” or “team mate” or “friend.”

I truly believe we can stop the game for a minute to look at the hurts of our black brothers and sisters and then try to all heal the hurts together. I truly believe things can be better if we ALL roll up our sleeves, join together, and do the hard work of trying.

We have done it before. We ended slavery. We stopped many ingrained racist practices in the 60s like segregation and Jim Crow laws. We just need to try again and change the hurts that are happening today.

I believe in our country and I believe in its people and I know we can do better . We MUST do better to be who we say we are.

So here I am down on one knee with my hand over my heart, singing about the land of the free and the home of the brave, hoping, striving for it to be true for all Americans.

Will you join me?


Adventures in Anxiety and Depression: Switching Meds

After I filled you in on my med change decision in  The Search for Normal: A Struggle With Anxiety and Depression I felt I needed to give an update. I am almost a week into my journey of changing anxiety and depression medicine after getting my results back from Genesight. Overall, the week has gone smoother than I may have thought, but there have definitely been bumps.

Some of those bumps of course are self created. During my appointment with my psychiatrist we decided I would move from taking 20mg of my current medicine (a full dose) to taking 10mg for four days and then taking 5mg for four days. We hope by then we would be ready to start the new med.

I gotta tell you that first night I went ahead and took the full 20mg again. My husband seeing me take the 20mg pill just looked at me and said, “Aren’t you supposed to be weaning down?” I replied, “Yeah, but we have a lot going on tomorrow, I’d better go with 20mg tonight.”

If you can’t read between the lines, I’ll  just tell you I was scared of weaning down. Scared of how it would make me feel. Scared of how I would react.

The next night I didn’t feel much braver, but the hubs looked at me and said, “Take the 10mg. It’s labor day weekend. We’ll be around with you for days.”

Sidenote: I really love my husband. He should be made a saint or something. 

So I opened the 10mg sample bottle I was given for just this task and took the leap. Then I chased it with my nightly dose of Klonopin and went to bed. Best not to overthink these things.

The first couple of days were not that bad. From time to time I could feel myself “checking my emotional temperature,” but nothing catastrophic was happening. I was a little cranky and anxious but I think a lot of this came from my own nervousness about the endeavor.

For here is one of the horrible truths about anxiety. You are often your own worst enemy. Since I have had bad experiences going on a new med before (read previous Search for Normal post for Paxil nightmare story), my mind and to some extent my body remember this trauma. They tense up and brace for it to happen again. The fear that is created by the dread is enough to make me feel worse. It is a self perpetuating cycle.

So I tried to simultaneously keep my self busy and be gentle with myself. There was a lot of movie watching and reading and cuddling kids and dogs. Mostly I just pressed on with it all. Two days of 10mg down, two to go. Just keep swimming.

All this while I know there is another step coming. My doc told me to drop off the prescription at the pharmacy right away as she knew there would probably be some dance between her and my insurance company on getting them to cover it. She thought that since we had the genesight results and my reports of side effects from my current med that we should be okay.

Well, let me just tell you. It was not okay. After haggling back and forth my insurance company told her that they were refusing to pay for my med. Even though it was on their formulary. Even though Genesight called it one of my best. Even though she has seen patients do great on it, recommended it for me and asked for me to be given the drug.

They refused to pay.

Why? Because the drug is expensive and they want me to try every cheaper option first. Even if it is not the best drug for me. Even though there is a chance the cheap drug will either not work as well or give me difficult side effects.

After losing the fight with my insurance company my doc called me and left me a message that we were going with a new drug that she thought my insurance might cover and to stop by to get the script so I could drop it off right away. Because of the dance.

But instead I had a panic attack. Because it had taken several minutes of my Doc giving me a pep talk on how she felt good about this new drug and how it was going to be great for me and how it wouldn’t cause horrible side effects like I’ve endured before or even the less horrible side effects of weight gain or loss of labido. . . .

(Okay, let’s just pause a minute and let it soak in that I’ll tolerate gaining 50 pounds and having to be talked into being intimate with the love of my life because both the experience of acute anxiety/depression and the side effects I’ve endured from other meds, yes you Paxil, were so bad that being obese and unsexy seemed like workable and even preferable options.)

It took this five minute pep talk to convince me this new drug was going to be okay. That I was going to be okay. Because I could trust the science of the Genesight test. Because I can trust my Psychiatrist. There was a lot of trust that went into me agreeing to change to this new med.

And then. Then my insurance company goes and blows all that trust building and bravery out of the water by refusing to cover this new med. And to pay it out of pocket would cost $200 a month. Or $2,400 a year. We could do that. But why should we have to? When I have an illness and there is a drug that will treat that illness but my insurance company just doesn’t want to spend that much money on me even though I pay them a buttload of money in premiums each month for just this sort of thing.

So after getting the phone message from my Doc I am crying and having a panic attack in the bathroom where my children can’t see me, frantically looking up this new med. A med I have not had a five minute pep talk about. A med that was not the first one my Doc pointed to and said, “I really like this one. This one will work really well.” And as I’m reading reviews on the new med which I know nothing about they are very mixed. Some people had horrible reactions, for some people it just didn’t work, and some called it a life safer.

Because here is another horrible truth about anxiety and depression. Even though there are wonderful meds out there that can help treat the illness, finding the right one for you is really a crap shoot. The drug that saves one person’s life causes another to fall into a suicidal hole. The drug that calms one’s person’s raging fear can ramp another up into a nightmarish fit of anxiety and irritability.

I cannot even describe to you what some of the side effects of psychotrpic drugs feel like. I can only tell you that the experience of them was so bad I would not wish them on my worst enemy. The best I can approximate is that it is like a drug trip gone VERY wrong. And my experience was not even worst case scenario.

And the worst thing is you are not experiencing these roller coaster rides as a strong, healthy individual. You go in already weak and broken and then the drug messes you up even that much more. 

Until you either ride out the first few weeks of your body adjusting to the drug and finally hit stability and then healing or you find the right med that works for you with no bad stuff on the side.

And then it is like a miracle. Because you suddenly feel so much better. And you never had to feel so much worse to get there.

And that was the real hope of the Genesight test for me all along. That I would find the right drug that made me feel so much better without having to deal with so much worse. Not even 50 pound weight gain and decreased labido.

After a talk with my husband (saint I tell you) I work up the courage to drop off the second drug at my pharmacy this morning. Because Genesight said it was good and my Doc choose it second. And I have to believe she wouldn’t send me home with anything that was bad for me even if it isn’t best.

And as I’ve typed this post I’ve gotten not one but two automated two from my pharmacy telling me they cannot fill this med until they get prior approval from my doctor. As if her prescription were not approval enough.

And while I wait for my Doc and my insurance company to agree on SOME medicine I can take for my illness, not my inconvenience nor my personal problem, but MY ILLNESS, I press on. I keep taking the 5mg of my old drug for a few more nights even though I can feel a difference now. It is nothing horrible or unmanageable. I can just feel that this net that was keeping me lifted up above the abyss of sadness and angst is slowly loosening its hold. It takes less to irritate me or work me up now. I feel a little more fragile. I cannot do as much in a day without coming to the end of myself.

So I’ll keep reading fiction and watching movies and drinking herbal tea and breathing deep and singing along to the radio loud and doing the hundreds of things I’ve learned through years of therapy and trial and error that keep the abyss at bay. And I’ll hold tight to the family and friends that surround me in a delicate time and hold me up and push me on and keep me going.

But there are moments when I am just so angry. Angry I have this disease of anxiety and depression. Angry that science and medicine are still so clumsy in treating it. And I’m furious at my insurance company that when I need them most they do their job in providing for me the least. That they refuse to do their job so they can improve their bottom line. That they take sick people’s lives which are already hard and make them even harder.

I pray that one day mental illness will get the treatment it deserves. Both from good science and research and from insurance companies who do their damn job.

Until then friends, just keep swimming.


The Search for Normal: A Struggle With Anxiety and Depression

As I’ve written before, I have struggled all my life with anxiety and depression. That being said my symptoms wax and wane. Most of the time I am really functional. And then there have been the few times I have really crashed under the weight of it all.

I had one of those crashes two years ago.

(Thanks Facebook memories for celebrating the anniversary of this. How thoughtful).

The crash was bad enough and I was wise enough that I got some help crawling out of the anxiety and depression filled hole I was in. I got back in therapy. I went to a psychiatrist for the second time in my life. I got on some good anxiety meds and an SSRI (medicine used to mostly to treat depression but that also handily helps with anxiety. OCD be gone!)

Within weeks I was feeling better. Within months I was feeling really better. About six months in I realized I felt better than I had in YEARS.

It was like I had been so low level sick for so long I forgot what having a healthy mind felt like. It was a revolution.

I felt so great I asked my Doc when I could come off the drugs.

You see when I had my first crash in my 20s, I only took Klonopin and Paxil for about a year. I got a lot better and then I got off the meds. I couldn’t wait. The Paxil had several undesirable side effects including causing me to gain about 50 pounds.

The memory of the Paxil year was so strong I resisted medication for decades. Then when I had the bad crash two years ago, I had a long talk with my doctor who reassured me the drugs are better now and that she wouldn’t stick me on something I wasn’t happy with.

Let me tell you how scared and reticent I was two years ago to take that SSRI again after all those years . My Doc was really patient with me and ramped me up slow. To my surprise it was really smooth getting on the med  (unlike my experience with Paxil which aggravated my anxiety. My hands shook for weeks getting on that med. And don’t even get me started on the random dots of light I saw from time to time. Side effect city).

But the new drug was much better. And I was much better. I have gained 50 pounds over the two years I have been on it, my one bad side effect. My Doctor and I go back and forth on if its the medicine that is making me gain weight or my lack of anxiety and OCD that lets me enjoy eating again. Say what you want about OCD but it is a GREAT diet aid.

OCD me: Must not eat cookies. Cannot eat cookies. NO cookies.

Without OCD me: Cookies smell good. Cookies taste good. Eat cookies. Love all the cookies. Cookies best thing ever. Life is Wonderful!

But I digress. About a month ago I heard that there was this genetic test that could tell you which are the best psych meds for you. I figured, “What the heck, let’s try it.” It cost a few hundred bucks but the science of it all totally seduced me and it would give me information (including what pain meds work best for me) that would help me for the rest of my life.

So I swabbed me cheek and sent in the test thinking it would tell me I was on all the right meds. After all, I felt so much better.

So yesterday I had my follow up appointment with my Doc to review my test results and guess what we found. My SSRI fell in the “not as useful for my particular type of DNA” category. It also fell in the “has a lot of side effects for my DNA” category. Maybe it is not just the occasional cookie I now eat that made me gain 50 pounds.

Now I know this is good news in many ways. My Doc immediately pointed to a SNRI med in the “best” category that she loved and wants to switch me to. “You’ll do a lot better,” she said. “I thought I was better,” I replied. She looked me in the eyes, “You’ll be even better than you are now.”

I know this is good news. But a part of me  feels so sad. Not just because I have to come off one med and start another. which I dread (Thanks Paxil. No surprise you were in my “worst” category).

I feel sad because I am starting to realize that I have never known what “Good” feels like. I have never experienced life except through the lens of anxiety and depression. I couldn’t know what normal brain chemistry felt like if I tried.

Now part of me already knew this. I look at people who seem so strong and hearty and happy all the time. People who don’t get crippled by fear or depression. I wonder what it must feel like inside their selves.

And a part of me knows that even as a child I was scared a lot. That fear lurked around every corner. That I was withdrawn and slightly sad most of the time. There is a portrait that hangs in my parents house of me around ten years old. In it I look for all the world like my puppy just died. I have always hated that portrait. Because I know the artist captured something of my essence that day. And that essence’s eyes were so sad.

Not that I have never been happy or carefree. Not that I haven’t learned how to cope with anxiety and depression. Our deepest weakness bring our greatest gifts after all. I have a lot of gifts from my old pals anxiety and depression. I am caring and deep and thoughtful and know about a thousand ways to calm myself and others down.

But at the end of the day I have to admit my best happy and carefree moments were still bordered with anxiety and depression. Even though I am doing better now, when I am truly honest with myself there are days when I still really struggle. It is never as bad or as long as my worst of times, but it is there.

So it is with mixed emotions that I embark on the road to “even better.” Can my anxiety and depression ever really be cured? What will “even better” feel like? Will I even recognize myself?

But the thought of being able to do things I have never done lures me. I want to be able to walk across a swinging bridge with my family and laugh instead of having a panic attack. I want to board an airplane without thinking twice. I want to take a job without worrying how it will impact my anxiety and depression.

I don’t know if “Even Better” will let me do all those things. But I think I have to try.

So here’s to the ongoing uphill road to getting better. To finding my new normal. It is a little scary to think about climbing up this new hill. But hopefully it will be worth all  effort.

Do you have anxiety and or depression stories? Feel free to share. Our common knowledge makes us stronger.







Glitter from Heaven: A Sermon on Exodus 35 and Luke 9

I am preaching at a local church this morning on the Transfiguration. I liked how the sermon turned out, so I thought I would share in hopes it would bless you.


When I looked over the Scripture choices from the lectionary for this week, I accidentally picked the ones for yesterday, which was the Feast of the Transfiguration. Even after I realized my mistake, I pressed on with the transfiguration scriptures, one because I like the transfiguration story and two because I LOVE this passage from Exodus.

I don’t know if you know the history of this Scripture or not, but today’s Exodus passage is actually the reason why Michelangelo’s sculpture of Moses and certain paintings from that same era depict Moses as having horns growing out of his head.

Moses, with pointy horns on top! Now most people attribute this to what they call a mistranslation by St Jermone when he was converting the ancient Hebrew into Latin, back when people read the Bible in Latin. It turns out the words for “horn” and “gleaming or shining” are quite similar, with only a vowel or so difference. This week I found out there is a whole controversy on the internet on whether this was a mistranslation or not. Some people say the horns are actually horns of light and some refer to a “horn of truth” that was a thing back in Ancient times.

Personally, I think these people on the internet have too much time on their hands. But I love the horn controversy for two reasons. One, it shows us words matter. And two, I love the point of both of these translations.

Moses was changed by his time with God up on Mount Sinai. He came so close to the Almighty in this time, that either he shone with the very glory of God or he grew some sort of horn. (I gotta admit, I fall in the shining with light camp on this one, let’s just go with that!). This light filled transformation of Moses was so startling that it scared the Israelites. Moses took to wearing a cloth over his face so that they people wouldn’t be so spooked out by his God induced gleam.

Man I love this. Gleaming with God. Getting so close to the Holy One that some of the God light just rubs right off on you. Since I geeked out on the Hebrew words this week, I’ll tell you the Hebrew word for this God light is Shekinah. That just sounds right doesn’t it? Shekinah. It just sounds like sparks of divine light flying off God and lodging themselves into our souls.

Have you ever met someone who glowed with this Shekinah, this God light? Maybe not so much so that you were scared of them, but enough that you noticed something was different? I think this is what we talk about when we say a woman simply glowed on her wedding day or that we knew someone was pregnant because they were glowing. Now men can glow too. When they hold their child for the first time or when they are in love. When we are in the midst of a truly holy moment, it makes sense that God’s light would shine extra bright in us.

But have you ever met someone who seemed to gleam with God’s light all the time? Someone who spent so much time with God on such a regular basis they were radiant?

Well, we know there was one person on earth who was like this. Jesus. When Jesus takes Peter, James and John, men who were described as weighed down with sleep up on another mountain, he reveals his true self to them. I am thinking the guys were glad they made themselves stay awake once they got to the top of the mountain to see what came next, because what came next was that Jesus takes off the veil he had been wearing so to say and shows them his true essence in all its awe and wonder. The Greek words that describe Jesus’s clothes as dazzling white in our translation can also be translated as “flinging glitter.” I kind of like that better. Jesus was so radiant with God’s glory that is was if he was flinging glitter from himself. The thing about glitter is that it sticks to everything. I can do a glitter craft project with the kids and three days later still find glitter stuck on my skin. I wonder how long James, John, and Peter had some of that glory glitter on them. Surely being in this holy moment wore off on them, transformed them to a degree too.

Do you think that can still happen with us? That if we show up and spend time communing with God on a regular basis that some of the glitter will rub off on us? That we can shine and gleam with God light too?

This question reminds me of an old story. A disciple once asked a teacher how we can know God. The teacher responds, there is nothing we can do to know God. It would be like us trying to make the sun rise. The disciple gets upset and asks “Why have I been spending so much time in prayer and study of Scripture? Is it all for nothing?” Then the teachers answers, no my student, we do these things so that we may be awake when the sun rises.

I encourage you today to stay awake. To seek God so fiercely that you will be there when the God’s glory is revealed to you. And then you too will be transformed into a version of yourself that is a little more like Christ, a little more full of his light and covered with the glitter of heaven. So that we may shimmer and shine for others, leading them step by step closer to the source of all light and love.