Thursday, October 4, 2012

On this depression…

I have depression. 

For years I have only talked to family and close friends about my depression.  For the most part, I keep my depression private.  However, within the last few days someone I love has been hit with depression.  So now – I am out.  I plan on staying out.

My depression hit when I was in 8th grade.  My mother found me hiding underneath a counter in our bathroom.  I still do not know why, but I could not move.  My mother had to coax me out.  Two weeks later, I was seeing a counselor for major depression.  I had a good home life.  No one had hurt me.  I had depression.  In 8th grade, I began taking anti-depressants.  It was hard on my family.

When I was a freshman in college, I tried to kill myself.  I swallowed a bunch of pills with a bottle of vodka.  My friend (thanks Shane) found me and carried me to the hospital.  Because I tried to kill myself I had to spend three days in a mental hospital where I received a TON of medicine and a TON of therapy.  I tried to kill myself because I felt alone and like I had no support.  My father called me crying and asked me, “Stephanie, can you please never do this again?”  My suicide attempt hit my father the hardest.

Two years ago depression hit me again.  I was in a rough marriage and again felt alone.  One day I sat on my bathroom floor and cut my legs again and again until the blood ran over the bathroom floor.  I decided to see a counselor.  I started taking medicine again.  This is the first time I have ever admitted to cutting.

Depression is like alcoholism.  It is real.  It is hard.  And when it hits – it hits hard.  I, most likely, have a chemical imbalance.  Due to that imbalance, if I do not monitor how I am doing I am susceptible to bouts of depression.

However, I am still alive.  Frankly, there is no reason I should still be here today.  I should have died my freshman year of college.  But by the grace of God – and because of the love of family and friends – I am here today.

So what do I do?  What do I do to live with this?

First, I admit that this is a problem for me.  If an eighth grader has depression but has a good home life – odds are they are not a miserable sinner being punishing by Satan. Thinking that mental illness is caused only by sin is STUPID, and does nothing to address the problem.  My depression is difficult, but it is not more than me.  It is a part of me, but it is not all of me.  I am bigger than this. 

Second, I accept help.  I see a counselor if I need to.  I take medicine if I have to (by God’s grace I have been off medicine for over a year!!!).  I let my friends (thanks Bri) or family (thanks Mom) call me every day if I need it.

Third, I understand that I cannot do this alone.  I talk to God.  I talk to friends.  I talk to family.  I have a great group of people who are here for me.  It is really hard sometimes, but when I need help – I have learned to ask.

I hope for two things when it comes to depression.

First, I hope that people stop being such judgmental jerk faces about it.  Less than a month ago I heard a co-worker bash counseling and say that going to a counselor makes you “Weak.”  That mentality, in my opinion, is what pushes people toward suicide.  Depression is real.  It is a problem.  People need to see that.

Second, I hope that people can find ways to live with depression as I have.  It is manageable.  People will help.  God is there and will always be there.  Depression is big, but it does not have to be bigger than any person. 

If you have been judging people with depression – stop.  Depression is real.  And people with depression often feel alone.

If you have depression – stop.  Find help.  Depression is real.  And you do not have to do this alone.

Thanks to all of my family and friends who have been with me over the years.  And of course, thanks to God.  For grace.  For life.  For second chances.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

On quitting…

I am a lot of different things to a lot of different people.  Some of those things are good – like daughter, kind, smart.  Some of those things are less good – like sarcastic, cold to strangers, and I have no tolerance for stupid people.

The one thing that I can tell myself that I am not – is a quitter.  In my life, I can think of three things that I quit or walked out on.  I quit taking piano lessons when I was in eighth grade.  I quit a marriage that was killing me.  I quit a job that I was not satisfied with.  Otherwise, everything else I have said I would do – I have done.  I cannot say that I have started a task and left it unfinished.  The vast majority of the time, if I say I will do something - I will do it.  If I do not say I will do something – it means I have no interest and will not do it.

When I was young someone once promised something big to me – a trip.  That person promised me that they would take me to Six Flags.  They promised not once, but three times.  That trip never happened.  Through this I learned the pain of making promises and not keeping them.

When I was sixteen I went to Australia.  Before I left all of my friends said they would write and send letters.  I wrote hundreds (yes hundreds) of postcards to my friends and family.  Besides my parents, only one friend stayed in contact with me (thanks Shane - a friend who has always been there).  Through this I again learned the pain of making promises and not keeping them.  However, I also learned a valuable life lesson…. Find friends that love you – and value them – treasure them – respect them.  And above all else – your family will be there when everyone else is gone.

The people that make it through life are not the smartest people.  They are not the richest people.  They are not the people with houses or cars.  They are not the people that have found their security in temporary things.  They are the people that have endurance.  These people have endurance because they have built their security on solid ground.  The people that make it without faltering do so because they have security in an unmoving permanent structure.  To me, that structure is God. 

Life moves up and down.  It goes through hills and valleys and rivers and canyons.  Things can be amazing one minute and terrible the next.  This does not mean we are hated.  This is simply the way life will go, because life is constantly moving. 

Two days ago I woke up and was happy.  Four hours later, I was crushed by life.  It isn’t the first time this has happened.  It will not be the last.  However, I will not quit.  I will not give up.  I will endure because I am grounded in a secure force.  To quit would be to give in to temporary pain.  To quit would be to go back on promises I have made.  To quit would be to abandon people that have stuck around when everyone else walked out.  To quit would be to not endure.  I will not quit.  And but for the grace of God go I… into whatever comes next.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

On Blue Like Jazz...

My fiance calls my debate and speaking style “laser-like.” I am not much for rambling, and I am quickly annoyed by people that blabber on unnecessarily.  However, for whatever reason, I saw a movie this past week-end and my mind cannot form one concise thought or argument on how the movie impacted me.  Thus, I shall do the unthinkable, and attempt to ramble.

Blue Like Jazz.  A tiny movie about a Texas boy with divorced parents who was active in a Baptist church.  After the boy discovers that his mother is having an affair with the church youth pastor, he abandons his plan to attend a Christian college and opts instead for a crazy hippy liberal college on the West coast.  While there, he questions his faith, doubts his beliefs, throws down God and Christ and everything Christian.  By the end, of course, he somehow manages to balance the bad things Christians have done to him and the people he loves with his love of God.  Yes, it is a feel good movie.


At the end of the movie, the boy apologizes.  He apologizes to his friend who was raped by a priest.  He apologies to everyone who has ever been hurt by a Christian in the name of their God.  For whatever reason, I want to do that too.

If for some reason, a Christian has hurt you – I apologize.  I apologize if you have been raped, or hurt, or beaten down or degraded or made to feel less than.  I apologize for the churches you have attended that have told you God will not love you because you are X or Y or Z or have done A or B or C.  I apologize for the kids that picked on you when you just wanted to be left alone.  I apologize for the priest or pastor that told you that you could not be a priest or pastor.  I apologize for the pain, the hurt, the grief, the agony.  I apologize for all of that.   It is ignorant to think that I have never caused anyone pain – so I apologize for myself.  I have messed up a lot.  I have hurt people.  For that, I am sorry.

Not too long ago, I lost all of my faith.  For a long list of reasons, I lost all hope I ever had in God or Christ.  I cursed everything religious and any person who practiced a religion.  I thought they were dumb, na├»ve, stupid and condescending.  I hated God.  I hated Jesus.  Most of all – I hated everyone who called themselves a Christian, but actively practiced hate (yes, I see that irony now).

One day I woke up, and everything I loved felt like it was gone.  On that day, I felt like I had no friends, no family, no job, no education – and no God.  My options, frankly, were suicide or to find everything I thought I had lost.  Obviously, I did not choose the former.  Instead, I walked into a Lutheran church in a Polish part of Milwaukee.  I don’t know why (grace, most likely), but that day – everything started coming back to me.  An old man who was greeting in the church said hello to me.  He invited me to coffee after the service.  I did not stay.  I came.  I attended service.  I left. 

I left, and then… I started going back to church.  However, I did something different this time.  I hated going to church growing up.  I thought it was boring, dumb and I remember leaving feeling like I loathed myself.  Ick.  So instead, I came back on my own terms.  I went to dozens of churches and dozens of denominations.  I listened to some Catholics, a Unitarian, a few Lutherans, a crazy Charismatic guy – and a TON of other people.  I did what very few seem to do… I was lost, and I searched until I felt found.

Along the way, I realized what I think the main character in the movie realized. I realized that God does not hurt people and that religion does not hurt people.  I realized – that people hurt people.  Some of those people call themselves Christians or call themselves Muslims or Atheist or…..  At a Christian place where I use to work I once had a lady tell me, “We are all Christian here, but we are all humans first.” 

That is the simple truth of the movie.  We are all human first.  And, frankly, some humans REALLY suck.  They hurt a lot of people.  And I am not sure if there is anything worse than someone saying “It is okay I am hurting you because God said so.”  People do that so they do not have to take accountability for their own actions.  People do that so they can give themselves more power to be hateful and cruel.

For what do I hope? 

I hope for honest and respectful discourse about the insanely diverse beliefs that we all have about God.  Or about a lack of God, or the existence of multiple gods,  and everything in between.  I have had dozens of conversations with people regarding their religious beliefs – and not one person shared all the beliefs of another.

I hope that people admit that they are humans first.  We mess up.  We are not perfect.  I know of a college professor who tells he students that he has not sinned in years.  Pft, yeah right dude!  Giving off the impression you are perfect does not make me envy you, it makes me feel inferior to you and thus fear you.  We question God, we question the world, we question people, we questions our faith, we question lots of things.  It is human to think.  It is human to err.

I hope we can forgive.  Confession time.  I was once soooo bitter about things that had happened to me that when I would say the Lord’s prayer I would say “And forgive us our trespasses” but would leave out the “as we forgive those that trespass against us.”  That is right, I was asking people to forgive me but doing nothing to forgive others - not my best moment.  I cannot say I have forgiven everything in the world and should be a keynote speaker at a forgiveness convention (for that - call my fiance - dude is a pro!).  I can say that I have learned to forgive and move along. I can say that it always gets better.

I hope that we can just get better.  Starting… right…….now.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

On the measure of a man…

About a week ago at 5:30am my boyfriend texted me from Alaska saying “I just cut down a tree!”  My boyfriend and I texted a bit more about the size of the tree, the type of tree, and how the tree deserved to be cut down (you know, for swaying and stuff).  Eventually he texted me something like, “I feel so manly” to which I responded “I am proud of you, but tree or not, I have always thought of you as manly.”

This line of texting got me thinking… how do you measure a ‘man’?

By cultural stereotype, real men do things like… degrade women, shoot at stuff, swear, drink, use chain saws, drive something loud, and beat up stuff.  Wow, that sounds awesome….

My father, by many stereotypical measures (not the ones I just listed), is incredibly masculine.  Over Easter we shot clay pigeons with 12 gauge shot guns.  After we finished shooting we put the three shot guns back in the gun cabinet – which my dad built.  We then proceeded to sip beer and watch a war movie on my dad’s big screen tv, while discussing the hour long shooting venture that just occurred.  I have seen my father cry three times – all three from incredibly tragic events.  My father is a caricature to many of my friends.  “Oh Steve…” my friends say, as they watch my father drive his F-250 while blaring country music and driving down the highway going 80 to a hunting lesson for his loyal red Labrador passenger. 

When it comes to being manly, I have never heard by father say anything about his actions being tough or masculine.  I have never heard my father say “I shoot guns and hunt because that is what men do.” When it comes to what is not manly, I have never heard my father tear down another man for doing something society deems “feminine.”  While I have heard other fathers call men “pussies” or “fags” for piercing their ears or wearing capri pants, I have never heard my dad use derogatory language about the actions of another man.

On the measure of a man, my father has only told me there are two things that make someone ‘manly’.

At one point, my father was discussing a guy he knew who was treating his wife poorly – for no apparent reason other than selfishness.  My father did not degrade the man or tear him down.  The only words my father said were, “Some men do not understand that real men take care of their business.”  Point taken.

At another point, my father lost a business he built from the ground up in a terrible series of events.  Asking my father about how he was feeling his only words were, “The real measure of a man is not whether he falls, but how many times he is knocked down and gets back up.”  Point taken.  Single tear begins rolling down cheek….

My boyfriend does not shoot guns – although he can.  My boyfriend does not drive a big truck – although I am sure he could if he felt like it.  And, come on, cutting down a tree in the Alaskan wilderness with a hatchet is TOTALLY awesome.  But I have always thought of my boyfriend as manly.  To me, my boyfriend is manly because he takes care of his business and he gets back up when he is knocked down. 

However, when I think even more about my father’s measures – I am not sure they are exclusive to males.  To me, the best people – he, she, ze, his, her, zim - are the people that take of their business and the people that get back up when knocked down. 

In a world of possession, making sure we are responsible and take care of things can feel like a huge task.  Life can throw challenges at us where we respond by feeling bogged down, tired, beaten, discouraged, depressed, heartbroken, and every other cruddy emotion in the world.  What will matter is not the car we drive, the stuff we shoot, or the trees we cut down.  What will matter are the people we take care of along the way, and our ability to endure the challenges we encounter.  Those two things – to me – are how you measure a man.  Well, I should say, those two things – to me – are how you measure a person.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

On gold...

I have tried to write this several times without being too sappy or trite – because sappy and trite are things of which I am fond.  However, it could not be done.  With that warning, here goes.

On Gold…

The first time I met “Mary” she was less than two months away from her death.  She was nearly catatonic, and the only words she would ever speak were “Oh come let us adore him.”  Mary’s skin was paper thin, and I could every blue vein in her tiny body.  She had these huge shiny brown eyes – where – when you looked into them – you felt a sense of kindness you never knew existed.  On her left hand she wore tiny gold band had left a permanent mark on her forth finger.  When I walked in the room to meet Mary, everything felt different.  The sun was setting and as it sank in the sky it came through the windows and lit up Mary’s hair – making the gray strands appear golden.  Mary was – the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.  Every patient and nurse at the hospice was drawn to Mary despite the fact that she could barely move or speak. 

I have heard stories about gold since I was a young whippersnapper (yeah, I know I still am).  I remember hearing that gold was the most precious of all metals.  It is so precious it was gifted to Christ, thought of as God poop by the Aztecs, and is traded in tons every day around the world.  For hundreds of years, gold is a thing for which people have sailed across oceans, killed women and children, starved nations and raped the earth.   

Beyond being a tangible metal, gold is also quite symbolic.  Several religions tell of beautiful things called auras.  In simple terms, aura is the energy that a person radiates. Some believe that auras can be so astounding that within moments of meeting a person, you can tell whether his/her energy is bad (and you want to run away) or good (and you feel drawn in).  The most sacred (and rare) of all auras is the golden aura.  The golden aura is symbolic of wisdom, intuition, divine protection – and – enlightenment.

Moving away from metals and auras and back to Mary….  Since Mary could not speak, the first time I met Mary I decided to read to her.  The hospice has only two books on file – both of them by Helen Steiner Rice (cheesy rhyming wizard to the stars).  With one hand I held the book and flipped through the pages and with the other I grasped Mary’s thin flesh.  I read a few terrible rhyme schemes straight out of cruddy Hallmark cards before I landed upon another story about gold.  This one was titled, “The Windows of Gold.”

The story is about a little boy who lived on a mountain.  Shining off in the distance from the boy’s mountain home he sees gold.  The little boy admires the gold so much that he leaves his mountain town to find it.  The little boy walks and walks until he comes to a city.  In the city, he finds that what was shining was not gold – but the reflection of gold from the city in which he came.  The story ends on …. “Is not a far distant place, somewhere.  It's as close to you as a silent prayer.  And your search for God will end and begin.  When you look for Him and find Him within.”

At this point, I am reading to a dying woman - watching the gold radiate from her body.  So yes, I started crying. 

That is the thing about gold.  People spend years searching for it.  They give it to others, they think it is God poop, they kill for it, rape for it, search for it, do everything for it.  However, I saw gold.  I saw the most precious thing in the world.  And I did not find it by murdering women or children or digging through the mines of another country.  I found gold radiating from the aura of a dying woman.  It was so strong that it radiated from every pore, every cell and every gray hair on her withering body.

Mary will forever be one of the most amazing people I have ever met.  She is amazing because she was the first person I met who realized that gold is something that comes from within.  Mary found gold through a life of prayer and devotion, as symbolic in the only words she would speak… “Oh come let us adore him.”  However, that is not to say that there are not millions of ways to find gold within.  Prayer, meditation, silence, mounting climbing, baking, sewing, knitting, hiking, anything that involves self reflection.  Gold is there.  It is in all of us – just waiting for that moment when we realize it has been in us all along.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

On a moment...

On a moment…

I work for a billion dollar company that hires thousands of people throughout the world.  As a worker for my company, I work within another billion dollar company that employs thousands of people throughout the world.  So, as you can imagine, on most days I feel quite small.  To add another level, I work for a data company that produces something like 40,000,000 new bits of information every single day.  That means I learn something new every day, but it also means that most days you are left feeling relatively inadequate and uniformed.

But today – just a few seconds ago - I had a moment.

I was asked to pull data for someone.  I am the lowest possible person on the totem pull where I work.  But a manager asked me to pull data that she wants to share with a vice president of some company in New York City.  The thing is, in order for them to get the data I need to go through this fun legal process song and dance (the treaded third party agreement – shudder….).  At some point during this several hour long ordeal - my brain clicked.

I realized that I am a peon sitting at the desk of the largest cereal maker in the world pulling data for the largest market research firm in the world.  BUT in order for this cereal maker to move with this other company in New York City – they need my help.  Yes, someone else on my team could do it, but it is on me.  And at this moment, if these two companies want anything – I am the conduit, the power cord, the electric tape holding it all together. 

So I will manage the legal process.  I will pull the data.  I will do everything that I can to help.

But in my world of billion dollar transactions where no one knows your name – for this moment – for this one split second – what I did mattered.  I helped.  I was supportive.  I was there.  I did my job.  I had a moment.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

On priorities...

(from a few weeks ago...)

Today, I was blessed to attend a very big event at work with six or so of my co-workers.  The event was suit and tie.  There were 500 people.  The food was catered – there were FOUR CHOCOLATE FOUNTAINS – there were presidents – there were CEOs of companies floating around - there were huge powerpoint presentations – and the words ‘synergy’ and 'holistic'… you get the point.  After about one hour of presentations, I looked to my left and to my right and I realized “Crap – I am the youngest person in this room of 500 people.”  I felt totally overwhelmed and thought “Why am I here?”

To make things more intense, I was seated next to my boss.  I will call him “Boss Dude.” Okay, I was not seated next to just any boss…  I was seated next to an “Executive Vice President” who has enough power to crush my life and my career.  Seriously, this guy manages thousands of people and has enough sway to do just about anything he wants.  Boss dude flew in from some big city just to attend this event and meet my co-workers.  I was excited, flattered, and nervous about sitting next to this bro-ham.

A few speakers did their thing, and then it was time for a break.  The first thing “Boss dude” did was get up and walk away from our table.  Everyone else at the table did what people do and have a discussion, but boss man made it clear he could care less about having discussions with his employees.  Then, when Boss Dude came back he was… miserable.  He talked about how many meetings he had, he talked about how he missed his family, he talked about how he was just ….. BLAH.  Every time someone at the table spoke he brought the conversation back to himself and then said something negative.  I kept trying to be witty, another worker kept trying to be witty, we were all trying to be positive and nice.  However, this Boss Dude must have been having a bad year, because he had the ability to suck ALL of the joy right out of the room.

As of right now, I feel bad for the Boss Dude.  From what he told me directly, he travels quite a lot, sees his family very little, and has a high stress job.  From all that I gather – he is miserable.  From what I deduce – he does not even see how miserable he is. What fascinates me about the Boss Dude is that every other person around me seemed to idolize him – or at least his title.  They did not seem to enjoy his presence, but they listening to him ramble on about how miserable he is. I hope that Boss Dude is happy.  I am sure he is a nice guy with a lot going on.  However, he is just missing the point of it all.  He does not seem to know what his priorities are and that they are in conflict. 

After about an hour of listening to captain negative’s miserable ramblings - I became overwhelmed with happiness.  I was overwhelmed for three reasons: 1) I realized that I may not have the power this man has or his stature.  However, I am incredibly happy.  He has worked hard.  He is accomplished.  But he is miserable – so what is the point?  2)  I realized that although Boss Man could crush my career, he has no power over me other than what I give to him.  I felt like others at the table kissed his butt a little bit and let him be a jerk.  Being me – I did not do that.  He was complaining for a while so I asked him, “Do you even like your job?”  I did not care if my question hurt or helped my career, because at that point we were just two humans having a conversation.  My question stopped him in his tracks.  He did not even know if he was happy.  3) I was on a track to have a miserable life.  I could be rich – or at least wealthy.  I could have had stature and power over people and a big house on a hill.  I could be stuck in a job where my co-workers are judgmental and unaccepting of who I am.  However, I left that life behind me.  I realized that life was not what I wanted, and trying to attain that life was slowly killing me.  I had the power to realize I was unhappy – and I changed it. 

There are so many things that make up a life.  You have work, family, church, hobbies, kids, goals, the dog, travel, vacation, meetings, the bills, money, your pride… you have so many things.  Trying to align these things carefully to maintain happiness can be quite a difficult task. I was happy I was invited to the event, but the table at which I was seated was filled with misery and discontent.  So you know what I did?  I left at the break.  Yeah, that is right.  I could have stayed and let Boss Dude suck the soul from my body.  But I left.  I then called my boyfriend to tell him about the event - that I love him - that I miss him - and that I am so happy to see him tonight.  I imagine that if I stayed I would have brought home anger and misery.  I do not want that.  I know what my priorities are.  Although I do struggle to keep those in line, I feel like leaving the event today was a reminder of how I am the only person to control my priorities.

If you are in a room full of 500 people and you cannot look around and be amazed – you do not get it.  I was amazed at the chocolate fountain; while the Dude Boss would not get up from his table (I know, right!).  If you are traveling all of the time when all you want to do is see your family – you do not get it.  I am not saying travel is good or bad, or family is better, or that I know what the formula to life is for every person.  What I am saying is that if your priorities are in conflict, it will often lead to discontent.

Today, I was easily the youngest person in the room.  However, as I sit here typing I really believe that the Boss Dude (and a few other people in the room) could stand to look around and ask themselves…. “Why am I here?” and more importantly... "Is there somewhere else I want to be?"

Monday, May 7, 2012

On poor Christian leaders…

It has happened again.  I was going through some survey feedback and someone said, “You are too expensive for a Christian business.”

Really?  What is that suppose to mean?

By saying anything is too expensive for being a Christian business, you are implying that “Christian” anything should be cheaper, more affordable or less expensive.

But why?  Why do people have this expectation that Christian stuff should be cheaper?

I have also heard a lot of people I know complain about tithing.

“They just EXPECT me to give them MY money?  It is my money, and they are a church.”

What is that suppose to mean?  Name me ONE other service in your life where you can walk in, expect the service people to me ALL of your needs and you pay nothing?  Oh yeah, there are none, because they do not exist.  How much you feel you need to tithe is between you and God.  But it is hard for me to imagine that you go to church every week and God says, “Just leave, give them nothing, that’s totally awesome.”

Three things:

Thing one:

Churches are a business.  Well, not exactly.  But keeping up a church involves many of the same things need to keep a business up.  Many church services exist in buildings that must be maintained.  Maintaining a building involves: rent fees, maintenance fees, upkeep, electricity bills, water bills, etc.  Buildings are managed by people: secretaries, maintenance, treasurers, etc.  Church services – be they Sunday service or extra-curricular – are run by people.  People – need – money – to live.  People want so badly to believe that churches are run on some type of magic where they can survive simply off of wishful thinking.  But, well, that just isn’t true.  Churches – need – money – to exist.

Thing two:

At the end of the day, whether you like it or not, we live in a capitalist economy.  And even in a socialist economy, things still get paid for via taxes.  So if you want a good or service, you have to pay for it.  I get that things are tight and money as tight and – let’s be honest – you are really cheap.  How do I know you are cheap?  I know you are cheap because I work in market research, where the bottom line is the only thing that matters.  You, my dear consumer, are cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap.  You want everything for the cost of nothing – including any “Christian” service.

Thing three:

I am quite sick of the expectation that those who are Christian servants should be very poor and suck it up.  I have heard people use the “they are servants of Christ” to justify paying people WAY less than they deserve.  Christian professors get paid way less because they are “doing God’s work.”  Missionaries, pastors, priests, nuns… they are expected to live, eat, and take care of their families – all while serving dozens of people – making below poverty line wages.

“Well, God calls his servants to give up earthly goods and just be poor.”  If you think about it, we are all called to do God’s work and to serve God’s people.  So if you give me that thinking, then it is fair for me to expect that you should live sparsely as well.

The thing is, excluding those rare tv pastors who rake in money, I don’t know a single pastor or pastor’s family who lives above the median income.  Every single pastor I know – by government definition – is poor.  Which means, my dear church-goers, you are living every day of your life okay with that fact that the person you want to serve you at your wedding, your funerals, your family’s funeral, and basically – every beck and call moment of you life – sometimes doesn’t have enough money to: pay rent, buy groceries or even buy clothing.  

That, to me, is wrong.  The fact that people expect someone to be at their beck and call, but then give them nothing for it – is not right.

Pastors and missionaries don’t need to be millionaires, but neither do you!  They do, however, deserved to have enough money to take care of their needs.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

On being nice…

I had a strange thought whilst walking around the park pondering things to my little self.

In third grade, our teacher (Mrs. Stewart – yes, she had a beehive) gave everyone in the class a list of each other’s names.  Then, we went down the list and wrote two or three nice things about everyone.  For Christmas, she pinned the compliments on little pretend gifts on the bulletin board Christmas tree (yes, back when Christmas trees were street legal in public school).  Our Christmas gifts to each other were compliments.

I remember going to the tree for days and feeling disappointed.  I was sad because all that I wanted was for someone to say that I was beautiful.  I remember other girls getting compliments under the tree about how attractive they were.  One girl was “cute” and another was “pretty.”  However, I was sad when I got to my compliments, because they said that Stephanie Klomsten is “nice” and “smart” and “good at Math.”  I can still remember rolling my eyes.  I kept those compliments for years, staring at them in agony. 

Nice, I thought, is a cookie cutter compliment. Grandmothers are nice.

Smart, I thought, did not matter if you didn’t have the looks to go with it.  Ugly people are smart.

Good at Math, I thought, was worthless because no one cares about Math skills (you know, except bankers, and stock brokers, and scientists and EVERYONE).

Today, I take back all of the resentment I had about those compliments.  The thought finally hit me… “What if all of those things are true, and they are good?  What if I really am nice and smart and good at Math?” 

So I thought a bit more about it.

Except for a stretch in ninth grade where I was a devil woman and a cruddy phase my junior year of college, I think I am pretty nice.  I like being good to people and helping them.  I care about how other people are doing.  I genuinely want people to be happy.  I am nice.

Perhaps I am smart.  I feel guilty even saying or admitting that.  Like saying you are smart is bad or cocky.  I have been told I am smart quite a lot – at least once or twice a month.  What if… it really is true?  I know there are people smarter than me, I see that.  But on the IQ curve, I am closer to the top than the bottom.  I am smart.

What if I am good at Math?  I feel terrible saying that, like I am bragging.  But I can’t say “It isn’t like I have never been in the top of my class” because I have been in the top.  And I can’t say “It isn’t like I use Math every day of my life and get paid for it” because it wouldn’t be true.  Sure, I am not sending rockets into space, but when I am in Math classes, I do well.  And I do Math every single day of my life.  A few hours ago I sent off a research project with no less than 100 Mathematical equations perfectly presented in a lovely chart.  I am good at Math.
So I take back the resentment.  I take it all back.  Who cares if I am not pretty or beautiful or whatever?

I am Stephanie Klomsten.  And I am nice.  I am smart.  And dang it, I am good at Math.  I can even make you a chart to prove it, well, if you would like one. 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

On asking for help.

I suck at asking for help.  Just plain and simple.  I. SUCK. AT. ASKING. FOR. HELP.


At one point a few years ago I was set to move from an apartment to a house.  One of my friends asked me about the move, and our conversation went something like….

FRIEND: When are you moving?
ME: I don’t know, in a few weeks.
FRIEND: When were you going to tell me?
ME: I don’t know.  Well, I guess you know right now.
FRIEND: Who was going to help you move?
ME: I was going to help myself, I guess?
FRIEND: How were you going to move your couch?
ME: I don’t know – very carefully I guess.
FRIEND: So are you saying you weren’t going to tell me when you were moving and you weren’t going to ask me for help?
ME:  Um, no? Is that bad?

I wasn’t trying to be rude.  I wasn’t trying to leave someone out of my life.  It just never struck me that I could/should: a) tell someone when I was moving, b) ask someone for help and that c) people are willing to help me.  In the end, I got help moving and everything settled in safe and sound.

Two years ago I was getting tested for epilepsy after I had passed out from having my blood drawn and had a seizure.  The test uses an electroencephalogram (EEG), which my best friend Mandy uses in her research on language acquisition.  I remembered her using an EEG and called to tell her I was going to get one, but did not think to tell her the why.  The conversation went something like….

ME:  Hey, don’t you use an EEG in your research?
ME:  Cool!
MANDY:  Why do you ask?
ME:  Oh, because I am going to get one.
MANDY:  Wait, why? What?
ME: Yeah, I am going to get one.
ME:  Oh, yeah.  I passed out after having my blood drawn.  And then I guess I had a seizure.  They are worried I could be epileptic or something.
MANDY:  What? You are getting tested for epilepsy and you are just telling me now?
ME:  Um, yeah.  I guess.
MANDY:  Steph, that is a really big deal.  Who else did you tell?
ME: I think I told my mom.
MANDY: So, you are getting tested for epilepsy and you told your mom and me.  Don’t you think you should be telling people or something?
ME: Um, I guess.  I am telling you now.
MANDY:  Seriously?

I wasn’t trying to be difficult.  I simply worry I am: 1) oversharing, 2) complaining or 3) making people worry unnecessarily.  Don’t worry, I don’t have epilepsy.  My body just freaks out when it knows its beautiful life force is being drained from my precious body….

So why do I suck at asking for help?

Well, I am just going to go ahead and blame society.  Okay, there is more to it then that.  However, I think the American culture we tend to value independence.  We all drive to work, we like to live alone in apartments, we get groceries alone, shop alone – we bowl alone.  Although being independent is great, there are some serious not-so-awesome parts.  

Like, how on earth was a 150 pound woman going to move a 400 pound couch by herself?  She wasn’t.  It would have been physically impossible. 

And what would happen if I was epileptic?  How could I drive to work alone? And what would happen if I had a seizure and needed help?  I would need a ride to work. I would need someone to be at home if I had a seizure.

I think that perhaps the greatest tragedy our time is that we have created a culture where we tell people they should not ask for help, that if they do ask they are weak, and that we should not help people because we are enabling them.  Do some people abuse the system and suck our resources?  Yes, they do.  However, there are also millions of people that need help and – like me – are too terrified to ask for it.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter who asks for help or why.  At the end of the day, every one of us is a child of God.  God did not create billions of humans so we could fight it out alone and do everything by ourselves.  We were created to help each other, and to serve each other.

This week I went to the Emergency Room.  I was having severe stomach pain.  In rare form – I called someone to ask for their help – my boyfriend.  He was visiting his parents an hour away.  However, I called – and he came.  I had just had my blood drawn – and yes – I had a seizure… and he was there.  If God is within all of us, then that means that when you reach out for help from another person you are really asking for God.  As I woke up from passing out, I called out for God.  And God came.  He didn’t come in the form of bright lights or singing angels.  He came in the form of a man who loves me very much and cares for me very deeply.  The next day as I worked on feeling better, I asked for help from God again.  And he surrounded me with my boyfriend’s family.  When I was not feeling great, they helped – they were there – they showed me the love of God.

So.  Yes. I suck at asking for help.  But as I evolve in life, I have gotten so much better.  In less than a year I have gone from not telling anyone about getting tested for epilepsy – to calling and asking for help when I need it.  And you know what?  It is awesome.  I deserve help.  I deserve love.  And so does every other person in the world.