Anxiety/Worry, Faith/Spirituality

“Who’s Depressed?”

While going through some books at my parents a few months ago, I came across an old book. The cover has a black and white picture of a little boy sitting in a wash basin and the title of the book read, “Who’s Depressed?”. This made me laugh. We were a few weeks into COVID and I felt like God had planted this book in my path because, yes, I was raising my hand on this one. I was depressed. Our whole country was on the verge of a new type of Great Depression. More like a Deep Depression. I looked through it and discovered that it was a book written by mom’s aunt Ann (whom I have spent time with as a little girl) recounting stories of humor and hope during the Great Depression. Her uncle Ed Christensen is the main character. She described him as a “bright and shining thread” and said “whatever our circumstances, we could depend on fun and laughter whenever he appeared. Ed frequently pulled practical jokes…Similar happenings were going on all across our broad land. Each of the anecdotes emphasizes those human characteristics inherent in us which enable us to make the best of things in difficult or unusual circumstances.”

I didn’t start reading this strange little book until a few days ago. My attitude about all things COVID related has really stunk and my heart and mind are getting more cynical and edgy by the day. Who’s Depressed? Well, seems like a good time to see who else might agree with me, so I dove in.

A couple of days ago I woke up, angry as usual about all the loss and chaos and craziness in the world right now. I drug myself into the living room and started reading my usual “inspirational” books that hadn’t been living up to their name lately. I was still complaining to God in my head when I came across a story in this book called “Helping Hands”. It was a story about how H.K. Williams, my great grandfather, had picked up two hitchhikers. They soon revealed that there were 5 others in their family and they had travelled from Minnesota looking for work. They had all lost jobs and were living in a park across town in Idaho Falls. He dropped off one boy at his home and then went with the other to the park and loaded the rest of them into his truck. They worked for and lived with him and his wife for the next few months until jobs became available. Side note-my great-grandparents had 11 children of their own. A couple were away at college so she only had to feed 15 people every meal.

Ann notes: “Because of the helping hands extended by H.K. And Margaret Williams, a deserving family was enabled to get back on its feet economically and survive the worst effects of the Great Depression.

Good timing. God timing. We are all struggling but certainly not like that. It’s a different, isolating Depression. I won’t really go into that right now because my lesson is not so much about how they had it way worse than I do and I should shape the heck up!

The lesson I heard when I read this story was that one important and powerful thing I can do during this pandemic is to serve. Serving others helps them and helps me.

The first few weeks of the pandemic I gave this a shot. I went through FACEBOOK and found out who had birthdays coming up and drove a card to their house. I think it really touched those people’s hearts. Then I quit because I let self pity and resentment at the state of the world consume me.

white black and red person carrying heart illustration in brown envelope
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

After I read this I made an effort to reach out to a few friends, clients and neighbors with a gift or card or encouraging text/call. am going to make a point to look around me and see if I can somehow be a “bright and shining thread” to even just one person a day. Maybe I can serve my way out of my gray, negative, helpless-hopeless-heaviness. Those attitudes are just not working for me anymore.

I don’t know a lot about my ancestors, but now I know this much. I am going to try to carry this attitude of serving with joy and kindness and resilience on to those that come after me. If you raised your hand when I asked, “Who’s Depressed?”, maybe you can join me.

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Faith/Spirituality, gratitude

The “Good mood of the soul”

I really wanted to write about sleep this morning. Probably because “spring forward” was 4 days ago and I am extra-tired from waking up in darkness and laying awake, unable to get to sleep at my normal bedtime. However, as I started reading this morning, I noticed a recurring them running through each author’s insights: Joy. So, as it goes in so much of life, sleep will have to wait.

I love how Methodist pastor Anne Robertson explains joy. She says that ancient Greeks described joy (chairo, in Greek) as “the good mood of the soul.” What a full description for such an indescribable sense of being. It’s not a feeling, stirred by kind circumstances and memorable and cherished events. Joy, unlike happiness, can be a state we live in even when actual happiness is impossible. Brene’ Brown says, “I’d like to experience more happiness, but I want to live from a place of gratitude and joy.”

And that seems to be one of the key ingredients to living a life marked by joy; gratitude. I realize this sounds simplistic, but when we keep in mind that “it could be worse”, we will alleviate much of the complaining we do about our current circumstances. When we choose to focus on the good in our lives, or even absence of the bad, we are choosing to live in joy. We don’t have to think very long, to come up with people we know who live or have lived through horrific circumstances and tragedies with an aura of joy radiating from their spirit. Nor do we have to think too hard to bring to mind someone we know who lives in a constant state of ingratitude and joyless-ness, even as they float through circumstances most people would envy. It’s about attitude, and gratitude. It’s about perspective and choosing to see through the lenses that God prescribes, rather than our own smudged, scratched and smeared pair of glasses.

Only with God’s vision see clearly and face the endless flow of problems of this life with good cheer. In His presence we have a joy-a peaceful and restful state of soul and spirit-that no one can take from us (John 16:22) and that no turn of events can threaten.

Joy, it seems, is found most commonly in, well, the common. I remember very clearly my first “outing” when I was finally released to be out in public after my leukemia treatments. I had been neutropenic (having no immune system and susceptible to any and every disease) for weeks and was finally free to leave my house. I went to Hyvee. To a grocery store. And I could not have been more grateful. I was overwhelmed with joy. I had a deep appreciation for the very activity I used to dread; grocery shopping. What had previously been a drudgery, was now a luxury. My perspective had changed. I was fully present and engaged in my day to day, mundane life because I had been rescued from death’s doorstep.

Now…I was lucky. Because it is far easier to have this amazing perspective when you have been taken to the edge of actual death. But it can still be done. And I highly recommend that you learn it today by choice, rather than having to learn it in the pressure-cooker of heartache, tragedy or pain. If we seek joy in the small gifts of everyday living-in the tucking in of a child, the observation of nature, the delightful taste of a well-prepared meal, the aroma of coffee in the morning, the fact that you can drink and bathe with running water, and the thousands of tiny blessings we take for granted-we might actually obtain it.

Happiness is fleeting. It comes and goes with the wind. But joy doesn’t have to be. It can be your underlying “constant”. The stillness of soul that comes from a heart bent toward unconditional gratitude. Without joy, we live deflated and defeated. We pump ourselves up with activity and vacations and entertainment and accomplishments, but when those things wane or falter, we are left lifeless and flat. Our remedy, our prescription, for living in joy, is gratitude.

“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize

how good things really are.”         -Marianne Williamson