Poems, Personal Stories, and Observations

Archive for the ‘Personal story’ Category

Mood Disorder?

First, a disclaimer: I am not a psychologist, and have no psychological training except a few college classes and one five-day workshop. However, I have been in and out of counseling/therapy since age 12 or 13 (I’m now 66), sometimes with a break of many years. So, any psychological terms I use will be my understanding of what they mean, as a layperson.

My main diagnosis through all these years has been mild to moderate depression, or dysthymia. If I understand correctly, dysthymia comes under a broader category called “mood disorders”.

There are many opinions about depression, including “Just pull yourself together,” “It’s because of your sins,” “It’s a lack of faith,” “It’s from ‘stinkin’ thinking’ (irrational, untrue, or unrealistic thinking),” and “It’s a chemical imbalance in your brain.” Of course, all of these can be true, or overlapping.

I am often (not always) in a state of low-grade melancholy, for whatever reasons, as noted above. I could even add the excuse of my cultural background, which is Hungarian. My parents grew up there and then emigrated to the United States. From what I have read, melancholy is a common characteristic among Hungarians. Again, this could be for many reasons. One of my theories is that Hungary, for hundreds of years, has been overrun by foreign powers and has been constantly at their mercy (if there was any mercy). At any rate, melancholy does seem to be common among Hungarians, indeed, many eastern Europeans.

But, today I would like to share a surprising recent occurrence for me, perhaps a small miracle. The other day, I was in the typical, mildly low, mood. Sometime around 5:30 p.m., it was like someone turned on a switch. I was happy! I felt loved, and worthwhile, like God, and some people, loved me! It was inexplicable! I repeat, it was literally like a switch was turned on in my mood. No longer the negative thoughts like “Nobody likes me,” “I’m evil (or at best, worthless),” “Things are going to turn out badly,” etc. Lest this sounds frightening to anyone, let me be clear; I sometimes have these thoughts, but I don’t give in to them. They are like attacks that happen periodically. I have found ways to combat them. I am not miserable anymore, as I was in younger days. I have the hope of Jesus Christ, which is what keeps me alive and functioning and purposeful. Speculating on where they come from could be another blog post.

Like any mood change, I cannot explain what happened. I’ve even had the opposite happen. I will be in a mildly low mood and plunge into a more severe depression. Happily, this happens less and less in my life.

What can I learn from this? I believe God is trying to tell me, “Don’t rely on how you FEEL. I am with you despite any moods, feelings, or thoughts. I never leave you. Do not base your worth on how you feel, or how others treat you.” Whether I feel happy, sad, or in between, I mustn’t take that as my major reality. My major reality is that God is present and will not abandon me. THIS IS THE REALITY, not what I FEEL!

Confession

Whether you confess to a priest, a minister, a trusted friend, and/or privately to God, repentance and confession are powerful things. The Bible references confession, including “When you realize your guilt in any of these, you shall confess the sin that you have committed.” (Leviticus 5:5), “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16a), and ‘”[Jesus] … breathed on [his disciples] and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”’ (John 20:22-23). Stating our sins explicitly brings them out in the open, into the light. I believe Jesus knew that unconfessed sin was like an untreated wound; if not exposed and cleansed, it would fester.

Once, when I confessed resentment at being hurt or misunderstood, the priest advised, “Think of the hurt like a knife in your heart. You pull out the knife. Now you have a choice. You can keep dwelling on the hurt and/or stab the other person, or you can say to Jesus, “Jesus, I give you this knife and my hurt. You take it. I ask You to handle this because I cannot.”

I don’t always get such helpful advice when I confess, nor do I always have a dramatic experience as some do (for example, a radical experience of cleansing), but I trust that Jesus IS cleansing me and granting me the grace to grow in love for Him and for others.

[Perhaps I should add that wounds from others, or from our own sins, should not be ignored, but neither should we wallow in self-pity. Sometimes the wounds are so deep that we might need counseling from others, or serious therapy. But learning to let Jesus heal our wounds is a big step.]

Don’t be afraid to confess! Unlike with people at times, God will take you back, and all you confess and repent of will be forgotten in the ocean of His mercy.

The Campground from Hell

Early in our marriage, my husband Tom and I decided to go on a camping trip in northern California.  I was pregnant with our first child.

On arrival at the campground, the person registering us asked, “Do you want to be in the adult or family section?”  Tom and I looked at each other, as if to say, “Huh? This is a campground!”  We finally blurted out, “Family section.”

Once we had gotten our tent up, I was puttering around, and I think Tom was getting ready to make dinner.  I had brought along a small “candle lantern.”  While checking it out, I unthinkingly touched a forearm to the heated metal, and burned my arm so that there was a 2-inch by 3-inch brown spot on it.  It was bad enough to need ice, so we made a quick trip to a local grocery and bought a bag of ice.

After dinner and clean up, we probably stayed out at the picnic table at least until dark, and may have been watching for stars.  Then we crawled into our sleeping bags, perhaps around nine or ten o’clock.  There had been some thumping noises in the camp, but we couldn’t see who was making them or what caused the noises.

As I attempted to sleep on my back, because of my pregnant tummy, while holding a bag of ice against my burn, we increasingly noticed the loud thumping noises.  From the voices and sounds, we surmised that a group of college men were throwing rocks or heavy pieces of wood at some big logs; at least, that was our theory.  This went on for two or three hours.  We finally heard a car come into the camp (later we learned it was a police car), and the noise abated.

“Now we’ll be able to sleep,” I thought.  But a noise we hadn’t noticed before made itself known.  It was a radio from another camp, loud enough to keep us awake.  By this time it was somewhere between one and three a.m.  Finally, I said to Tom, “Look, you don’t have to do this, but if you feel particularly brave, could you go over and ask that person to turn off their radio?”  Tom decided he was brave, left the tent, and I heard him walking towards the noise of the radio.

I may have prayed, not knowing what would happen, “Please, Lord, don’t let some angry person attack my husband!”  After a few minutes, the sound from the radio ceased.  Soon I heard the approach of footsteps, and Tom came back into the tent.

“Well, what happened?” I asked.

“I found the camp where the radio was playing.  A man was sprawled, sleeping, in his Volkswagen van, with the door open and the radio playing.  His campfire was still going.  I tried to speak to him softly, but there was no response.  So I gently reached into the van, turned the radio off, and then came back here.”

I really thought that was a brave act, and told Tom as much.  We did fall asleep shortly, even though we felt it was … the campground from hell.

 

Thank God for the Fleas

When my parents were World War II refugees, they lived in various Displaced Persons camps run by the U.S. and other Allies. Sometimes it would be so cold that there was frost on the INSIDE walls of their “accommodations”.   (I don’t know exactly what their living quarters were like,)  At some point in there, my older brother (a baby!), one paternal uncle, and my paternal grandmother also lived in the same camp(s). At least they had shelter!  Traumatic as it all was, thank you Allies (and, ultimately, God), for keeping my family alive!  Others, as you know, suffered considerably more: in concentration camps, in battles on land, sea, and sky, and elsewhere.

LIFE IS A GIFT! And, I’m so grateful to live in a home with heat and hot water.

Corrie ten Boom was in a concentration camp during World War II, because her family had hidden Jews in their home.  She decided to take seriously the Scripture, “… give thanks in all circumstances …” (1 Thessalonians 5:18), so she gave thanks for the fleas in her barracks.  Sooner or later, she learned that the guards would avoid her barracks as much as possible, because of the fleas.  In that way they did not get as much abuse as they might have.  Perhaps most of us are not as faith-filled as Corrie ten Boom, but there is certainly a lesson to learn from her.

War is probably horrific for everyone touched by it, but perhaps it’s appropriate to also remember the positives.

Why do some (or perhaps all of us) encounter great trials and tribulations?  I propose a few reasons here, several or all of which could occur together:

  1. We are being tested by God.  It can be an opportunity for growth, to trust in Him more.
  2. We are being chastised by God.  ” … for the Lord disciplines those whom He loves, and chastises every child whom He accepts.” (Hebrews 12:6).  This is a good thing, because it shows that God loves us enough to correct us.
  3. We are suffering for our own or other people’s poor choices.  We make bad decisions, or others take out their frustrations on us.
  4. It’s just part of the fallen human condition.  Because of original sin, we all suffer consequences such as illness, accidents, death, etc.

No matter the reason, we must trust that God is with us through these difficulties.  I don’t see any other reason to hope.

 

 

 

Blueberries and Junk Piles

“… most marital arguments cannot be resolved.”
How about that for a startling statement?  Read on …

Now that my husband is retired, we have more “opportunities” to learn about each other’s perspectives.

Many years ago, I did learn that certain of my husband’s behaviors were not deliberate attempts to hurt me, though they often felt like it.  Now I am learning that we truly do see things differently, which is why we often have (usually settled amicably) conflicts.

Take the case of the blueberries.

One day we were beginning our breakfast routine, and Tom said he was going to put some frozen blueberries in his bowl.  I said, rather harshly, “Please eat the fresh blueberries first.”  A little while later, he asked me, “Why was it so important that I eat the fresh blueberries?  I like the frozen ones, because then the milk (or half and half) I pour on them freezes a little and it reminds me of ice cream.”

So I had to explain that I hate for food to be wasted, and I wanted the fresh berries used up before they became rotten.  Why didn’t I explain that, instead of being harsh with him?  Maybe I assumed he would have the same perspective I have, namely, the need to not be wasteful.  But he was seeing blueberries in a whole different way.

Then there’s the case of the junk pile, or piles.

I came home and noticed that my husband had kindly put out the trash bins on the street in anticipation of the following day’s trash collection.  When we went for a walk the next morning, he mentioned that he had started breaking up some items in the side yard, to “clear up more junk,” and had put them in the trash collection.  I said, “What exactly did you you put in?”  He named some items, and I said, “Wait a minute, I was going to give those to Goodwill or freecycle.org.”  “But I’m trying to clear up junk like we agreed to, and it was in the junk pile.”  “But,” I said, “the junk pile is in [area A], not the area you were clearing.”  He replied, “I thought the junk area was the whole side yard, and those items have been there for months.”

Well, besides us never having explicitly defined the actual junk pile area, and me leaving items out for a long time (because I needed to clean them before giving them away and I had procrastinated on that task), I realized that we needed to have a lot more communication.  “Why,” I asked, if he wasn’t sure about throwing something out, “did you not ask me?” “Because you weren’t home and I wanted to get the task done.”  Anyway, I thanked him for his effort and rushed home, but the trash collector had already come.  [By the way, afterwards I did clean up some remaining items and most have been given away successfully.]

So my point is that many disagreements have to do with misunderstandings and assumptions.  They aren’t necessarily examples of people being mean to each other.  Perhaps my husband and I have not talked enough about our perspectives, priorities, and what values are important to us (in this case, my value of frugality or not being wasteful).

In the book “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work”, by John M. Gottman and Nan Silver (Harmony Books – 2015), on page 28 the authors state, “… most marital arguments cannot be resolved.  Couples spend year after year trying to change each other’s mind — but it can’t be done.  This is because most of their disagreements are rooted in fundamental differences of lifestyle, personality, or values.  By fighting over these differences, all they succeed in doing is wasting their time and harming their marriage.”

The Selfish Cells (2)

The lumpectomy surgery was successful!

The one lymph node they removed was cancer-free, halleluia!  But, they did find some cancer on one of the margins, so I’ll have another shorter surgery, scheduled for 11/30/2018, to remove those cells.

Radiation will perhaps start in early January.

The Selfish Cells

Well, once again, cancer has visited me.  (See: The Kidney Stone Miracle .)

A routine mammogram in September eventually led to a breast biopsy on  October 1st, and I learned on October 4th that it was cancerous.  The good news is is that it was small (Stage 1), and Grade 1 (usually slow growing).  (Ladies, please get yourself checked regularly!)

Surgery (lumpectomy) was today, October 23rd, 2018.  They took out one lymph node, also.  So, I will keep you posted on how things go.  I’ll have radiation for sure.

Just recently, I came across an excerpt from Ann Voskamp’s book, The Broken Way: A Daring Path Into the Abundant Life.  She is sitting in the waiting room of a doctor’s office.  Another woman is there, talking about her “cancer checkup”.

The woman says, ” ‘You know what? … Dr. Reid says … that in our human bodies, the cells that only benefit themselves are known as cancer.’ ”  Ann goes on to write, “How had I never known that cancer is the cells that only take for themselves?  Cancer is what refuses to die to self.”

 

On Prejudice (Mine)

I am prejudiced — but, hopefully, each day I get less and less so.  I attend regular meetings of Prejudiced People Anonymous (well, at least in my mind).

It started early in life.  It was in the air, in my culture, all around me.  “That group …, ” “Those people …,” “That church …,” people around me would say.

But, as I grew older, I realized that prejudice was wrong.  Sadly, the damage was already done.  I fought against the ideas in my head, but they still came.  I felt helpless, knowing that my attitude was wrong.

It didn’t help when some people would confirm my prejudices.  Yes, some people who were “different” did bad things to me.  But others were good and kind.

Over the years, it helped to learn about other cultures and religions, their background, and what they have suffered.  The more I had contact with people who were “different,” the less prejudiced I became.

One of my turning points happened like this:  I had been attending night classes at a state university.  I was walking on campus to my car, when a woman of an ethnic group that I felt most afraid of (or most angry at?) was coming from the other direction. She said hello and was very friendly and had kind words. Suddenly it hit me that I did not deserve her kindness, after the bad thoughts I’d had against her particular group.  It was a grace received, again — undeserved.  I realized that it wasn’t the person’s group that mattered, it was who they were individually that mattered.

There is hope for sinners, even for people like me!  God can change our hearts!  If you are prejudiced, pray for God to show you the beauty of each person.

The Curious Case of Grandma’s Ashes

When my grandmother died in 1986, she was cremated and the ashes brought to my parents home. For some unknown reason, my parents did not have her ashes buried, and they sat in a box, sometimes not even in the house but in their garage, for nearly 26 years. This is how she was finally laid to rest:

In 2008, my sister Mary’s younger son, Brian, through his college, had a semester abroad in Hungary, specifically the city of Budapest. Hungary happens to be our place of ancestry, as our parents, and my grandmother, were born there. My parents came to the U.S., along with my older brother, in about 1949 and Grandma Anna came in about 1951. So Mary and her husband decided to visit Brian that April, and to combine that trip with a visit to our relatives there.

Mary had never been to Hungary and it was a thrill for her to meet many family members and to visit places of family history. One relative she met was my Aunt Rozsi (the “zs” is pronounced like the “s” in the English word closure), later to play a part in this story.

On their return, my husband Tom and I were infected with Mary’s excitement about her visit to Hungary. We decided that we would also go, along with our children. It sounded like a good time to introduce the children (not to mention Tom) to my background, while they were both still at home. So we made our plans to visit that very same year.

Meanwhile, Mary had the brilliant idea that we should take Grandma’s ashes to Hungary and perhaps we’d be able to have her buried in the land of her birth. I researched the laws online regarding carrying human ashes on an airplane, but the question of legality was a bit unclear. It did not seem, however, that any serious trouble would occur. We did have the official paper stating that the box contained human remains. Still, I was unsure and decided to keep the ashes in my checked-in luggage so that during carry-on inspection, it would not become an issue.

Well, we did get through without any incident, and arrived in Hungary with the ashes still in my suitcase. We had let the relatives in Budapest know ahead of time that we might bring Grandma’s ashes. When we got to Budapest and met my Aunt Rozsi, we told her about the ashes. She enthusiastically agreed to see what she could do about arranging a burial.

My Aunt Rozsi is an incredible woman. In her late sixties or early seventies, she was still full of energy and did not hesitate to be out at night in the city of Budapest, moving about easily on public transportation. She is a short little woman who takes copious pictures of people, sometimes to their annoyance, but she is totally lovable.

So, while we were out touring the city one day, Aunt Rozsi spent the entire day arranging for a pre-ceremony, for the burial, and for a church service to follow. This involved a lot of bureaucracy, because my Grandma’s ex-husband, next to whom she would be buried, had a special cemetery plot, apparently protected by the writer’s union to which he had belonged. Not only that, but to coordinate the many people involved, official and unofficial, was a momentous task.

Well, she pulled it off! If I recall correctly, it was the next day or two days later that the funeral was scheduled! At least 10 or 15 relatives came, one from perhaps 50 miles away. It was a beautiful time, followed by a luncheon attended by everyone in Hungary who could participate.

We owe a great debt to Aunt Rozsi. Grandma was finally laid to rest, after 26 years. Rest in peace, Grandma.

Hot Dogs for Dinner

     (All temperatures are Fahrenheit.) Our heater was repaired last week, after about five days of non-operation. I was so happy that I cried from gratitude. It’s not that we’re experiencing frigid weather — I was able to warm the house up to a high of 66 degrees each day, by opening any curtains where the sun could stream in. Perhaps I’m a “climate wimp”. But, I had thought of how things might have been different — it could have been 32 degrees outside, it could have been a longer period of time, and so on.  I thought of homeless people, people who can’t pay their heating bills, and about refugees and migrants who suffer through miserable weather. And I was so grateful for the friendly repairman who promptly came, once the needed part for our 30-year-old heater had been obtained.  Not to mention, grateful that we could pay the bill.

This brought to mind another story, which happened around 1947, told to me by my mother. My parents and older brother had immigrated to the U.S., after being World War II refugees (displaced persons) in Europe for several years. They had been sponsored by my mother’s cousin, who had immigrated to the U.S. before World War II, perhaps being admitted on the strength of being a scientist. My mother’s cousin helped my parents to get a house. When they sat down to their first dinner there, they started to cry.  Why? The dinner consisted of hot dogs and perhaps some other items. They had never had anything as good as hot dogs in the refugee camp, and they realized that others like them were still suffering deprivation.

After 70 years, somehow I’m still reliving my parents’ story. So whenever I eat hot dogs, or my heater is working, I’m grateful.

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