#NotInMyName

After the horrendous attacks in Paris, many muslims took to twitter to show their support for those suffering from terrorism, invoking the hashtag #NotInMyName.

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I saw this on twitter and found it very moving. I am not a Muslim, but have read books on Islam. Several of them were written by Ravi Zacharias, who emphasized awareness among Christians that not all Muslims desire war and destruction, but that many do want to share their faith in peace. And just as Christians bristle with annoyance when we’re reminded of what we did during the Crusades, they too hide their faces in shame at what extremists do in the name of Allah.

I applaud them for standing apart and for their desire for peace.

Today, I read an announcement by Alabama governor’s office, stating they would not be allowing any Syrain refugees to enter Alabama.  This comes as a result of one of the Paris bombers having entered Paris on a Syrian refugee passport. There is still some debate among media as to the accuracy of this information, which will probably be cleared up in a few days, but true or not, this does not change how I feel about the actions of Governor Bentley.

I think it’s shameful, foolish, ignorant, and heartless.

Have we as Americans become so fat on our privilege, that we have become willingly ignorant and neglectful of the needy and helpless? I wrote a poem about this once, when I was struck by how self-focused and blind we can be. We have so much, and care so little.

To make matters worse, shortly after I read this announcement, I read this article on CNN, stating that this diseased thought is sweeping our nation. With over, 12 million refugees fleeing the crisis in Syria, we were only willing to take about 10,000 of them here. That’s better than nothing, but it’s only a drop in the bucket. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate that terrorists can exploit their situation, but seriously, 99% of those people are running from ISIS. They’re just people; homeless, starving people. Oh, and half of those 12 million are children.

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Shame on us for this display of cold selfishness. Shame. On. Us.

It’s times like these when honestly I am not proud to be an American. That is not to say that I’m not thankful, I am. I love my freedoms, my home, and my family. I would be the first one to grumble if they were taken away. But I’ve also reached the point where I think we’ve become so used to being and having that we could use a dose of cold hard reality. Most of the world does not be and have like us and many of them are tired of hearing us complain that our light and sweet carmel latte is not hot enough. Or that we don’t have the space or the money to help the starving homeless multitudes.

I am taking this chance to stand apart. Like those muslims I admired, who were brave enough to declare they did not support the extremists of their group, I am saying that Christ loves the needy, reaches for the lost, and desires those who follow him to do the same.

I am saying to you America, Not In My Name!

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World Vision for Syrian Refugees

UNHCR – UN home for Refugee Crisis

Depression and Anxiety 101

I am one of many that suffer from anxiety disorder and depression. I’ve been told by friends and family that this is something you don’t talk about, but I am going to talk about it. I am tired of the forced shame from others who don’t understand what it’s like.

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I love birds. I think they’re beautiful and graceful and fun and cute, but I would never want one as a pet. How can something born to fly be truly happy in a cage? The ones whose owners shower them with love must be content, but I always imagine they know something is missing. That beyond those bars is a wide open space where they could spread their wings and feel fresh air lift them to the home they truly belong to.

When my anxiety is at its worst, I feel like a bird in a cage. It’s like I’m a prisoner within my own body, trapped where I’m forced to watch the world move, breathe, and interact without me. Depression is very similar. I’ll wake up with the inexplicable feeling that I am incapable of living today, or sometimes with the wish that I wasn’t living at all.

I spent years doing “the natural thing.” I read books on what to eat and not to eat. I cut out processed sugars, caffeine, and white flour. I tried just ignoring how I felt. (That should have worked because I wanted so badly to be well. I hated everything about how I felt and how it made me behave.) I went to pastors and preachers who encouraged me to “find my joy in the Lord” and exhorted me that anxiety is sin. All I needed to do was confess my sin and the Lord would heal me. Some of my panic attacks took place facedown on the floor, screaming aloud for God to forgive and heal me. Spiritual leaders would shake their heads and say, “You’re not truly letting go.”

I avoided medication like poison. People told me, “You can’t go on medication! You’ll get addicted and live the rest of your life doped up.” I was even trained to mistrust councilors and psychiatrists because they would just tell me it was, “all your parent’s fault.”

By the time I turned 27, my life was pathetically reduced to a sort of weary day to day drudgery. I never spent more than 10 minutes by myself. I refused to go anywhere without my husband or my mother beside me. Some evenings I would wake up choking with tears, unsure when they could have even started. My husband would hold me while I screamed and shook, rocking me gently until my body gave out and I dropped back into an exhaustion induced sleep. My friendships dwindled and died because I couldn’t give them quality time and was too ashamed to tell them why. I had an imaginary bubble of protection with a 45 minute radius from my house. Anything outside it was impossible to perform.

I was a bird in a cage.

I hated it. I hated my body. I hated what I was doing to my husband and my marriage. I hated being a burden to others and constantly demeaned myself for how selfish I was behaving. I hated being friendless. I hated the secrecy and shame. I even stopped trying to get council from other Christians, especially when I moved to a church where if someone mentioned anxiety and depression, allusion was often drawn to pill popping sinners who escaped conviction through medication. I gave up, and sat down to silently watch others live through the bars of my prison.

I was very sick. But I got sicker.

Because that’s when the depression hit, doubling in force after my miscarriage. I now hated living in general. I was too much of a burden on others. I wanted to set them free. I wanted die. I told my husband this, over and over. That I wished he hadn’t married me and had married someone normal. If it hadn’t been for my relationship with Jesus Christ, I would have attempted suicide. God and my husband’s never-ending, patient love were the only things that held me back from believing the world was better off without me.

My husband convinced me to ignore the voices and get help. I went to a councilor. I went on medication.

That was a little over a year ago. Since then, my life has filled and blossomed, slowly but beautifully. I have driven three hours from my home with my husband. I’ve seen and done things that I never dreamed I’d have the courage to experience. I’ve spent lovely long hours at home and rested in the blessed peace of being entirely alone to read and write. I rediscovered my love for life because I had the tools I needed to participate in it with everyone else.

I am not ashamed of those tools. I was sick. I am getting better now. People with Cancer should not be ashamed of chemotherapy. People with diabetes should not be ashamed of insulin.

I still have bad days and weeks and months, but they are so much better than the bad days of before. And frankly, I would rather spend the rest of my life on Prozac then crawl back into that wretched ever shrinking bubble. God gave me life to use it, for him and others. God made me because he loves me and wants to give me true joy.

This post has two audiences.

For the first: I understand how you feel, but please don’t wait to get help. Talk to someone who loves you enough to support you and just do what you have to do. Don’t wait. Never wait. Take it from someone who waited far too long.

For the second: Don’t fight against people like me getting the help we need. You don’t realize how flippant comments like, “SSRI’s are the real reason for gun violence,” do more than sting. They can tear gaping wounds into the spirit that fester and bleed for years. You don’t know who your cruelty and ignorance is preventing from getting help. And if you claim to be a Christian, it is flat out ungodly to deny help to the suffering and needy.

I would give anything to have those 27 years back, to have gone to Chris and Sarah’s wedding, to have toured Israel with my father, to not have cancelled the original plans for my honeymoon. I can’t change the past, but NO ONE is going to prevent me from living the rest of my life.

I am a bird who tasted freedom from its cage and, as God is my witness, I swear I am going to fly.

© Rachel Svendsen 2015

What Do You See?

I’m in the living room of my apartment. It’s 5am. I’ve been up most of the night reading “The Art of Asking” by Amanda Palmer. I left the finished book and my booklight in the bedroom, lying beside my sleeping husband. He hates to wake up and find I’m missing. He wanders from the bed half asleep, like a child who has just woken up from a nightmare, rubbing his eyes and muttering, “you left me”.

I’ve been slightly absent blogwise as of late. Why? Because I’ve finally hit it. That moment in life where you look around, where you’ve been, what you are, what you know, believe, hope, dream and say, “Crap. Who am I?” My husband calls it an existential crisis. I had to ask Siri what that meant. (Don’t judge! It’s the first one I’ve ever had.)

I was raised to think, feel, be, and do certain things. I’ve had many relationships where I was told what to think and who to be. I acquiesced for many years. Now I find myself looking at the world in a completely different way. It’s as though I’ve suffered for 28 years from a mental stigmatism and someone just handed me a pair of glasses. The world has come into focus but the sudden change left me with a crushing migraine.

One of the biggest changes I’ve had inwardly, is real compassion.

I’ve always been a softie, crying at films or books and crumbling into a hot mess when someone near to my heart experiences any sort of discomfort, but I think I missed what it meant to have real compassion for the people around me, those other lives that you brush with your fingertips throughout the day. I would see things, read things, hear things, and snap judge. A lot of people do this. Everyone probably. But I never realized until recently how wrong it was. Everyone has a heart, everyone has a story. Some guy cuts you off in traffic and you flip him the bird. Sure he could have hit you, but maybe his life is in crisis, maybe he’s just been diagnosed with cancer and flying down the highway makes him feel like he can run away from the fact that his body has turned against him. You don’t know. I don’t know.

Walk a mile in their shoes.

I hate canned phrases. They loose meaning, taste, texture, and nutrients from overuse. Yet this phrase keeps coming back to me lately. Walk. A. Mile. In. Their. Shoes.

We don’t try to see others, not really. When the lady at the checkout counters says, “How are you?” she’s just passing the time of day and expects the canned “fine” in return. A few weeks ago my husband and I were in line at Target. The lady asked me “how are you?” and I replied instinctively with a cheery “fine,” when in reality my heart and head were tangled and screwed into a gordian knot. I’m surprised my lie didn’t merit the tile floor below me splitting open to swallow my mortal flesh.

All that to say, I think I see people now. I haven’t learned yet how to deal with it, but I can see them. The man who holds the door for me at the library and smiles his “good afternoon” more with his grey eyes than his lips. The angry lady at the grocery store who is harassing the checkout girl. The checkout girl being harassed by the angry lady. The man on the side of the road, shivering in the cold, clutching a sign for food.

If seeing is a sign of life than maybe it’s the first sign that I’m beginning to live. If I live then maybe I can use my life to touch the needs in people around me.

So it’s 5am. I’m confused, awake, tired, frustrated, scared, hurt, and alive. ALIVE! Alive with a chance to live my life, not through others, but my own life. A chance to step out and try and touch the needs in other people with the gifts that I’ve been given.

I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know where to start. I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I’m not even sure where this post is going! I guess I’m just hoping to be seen by someone. My husband sees me. He knows me. Sometimes I think he knows too much of me. But right now I just need to know that someone else out there sees me too.

Can you see me?