Friday, December 30, 2011

These Cities

Rodney Square in downtown Wilmington, Delaware
Image via Wikipedia
I'm finding myself thinking a lot today about crime and the city. 

The first thing that grabbed me was an article from the News Journal that mentioned in passing that my city, Wilmington DE, had the third highest crime rate for cities our size. http://goo.gl/69PJh

The next thing I read was about the spike in murders in Philly, just 20 minutes up the road. They're going to top the homicide list this year.http://goo.gl/Xi1Og 

And then we have Camden, also right near us with a similarly grim crime outlook being listed as the 2nd most dangerous city in America.http://goo.gl/WiIzl

So what's the deal with the Delaware Valley here? I love living here. I think its one of the best places in the world to live and I LOVE our cities, seriously! Yet for some reason, there's an element of our population that's just living crazy. What are the spiritual forces over these places that is causing all of this? I just don't know. What are we to do as Christians against these dark forces?

I know that God has called me and my family to live in this city, but it would seem foolishness to some to choose to live here. I know that this is a good place filled with good people that God loves. If we choose to abandon these cities and leave them to their fate, how can we live with Jesus' command to go to the poor and oppressed and make disciples of them.
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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Sad Jason Has a SAD

Over the past month, I had been working on trying to write up a post about how I had been healed of depression and anxiety when I suddenly realized I was struggling again with depression.  Ugh!! So frustrating.  I have a great testimony of what God has done in my life and how he has seriously delivered me from the pits of despair.  I still hope to post it sometime soon, but it just rang hollow given my current emotional state.  

I have noticed over the past several years that I've manifested symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but this year they're really kicking my butt hardcore.  Most years, I drift seamlessly from moderate inactivity during the fall to full on inactivity during the winter months.  I go from not doing too much at all physically to doing absolutely nothing at all.  However, this year was different.  

Starting in May, I decided I had enough of being a fat blob.  I was going to start eating right, get running and walking and get my butt into gear, and I did!  I lost almost 60 pounds, ran a few 5k's and felt amazing!  So when SAD hit me starting in late October and November, it was like getting knocked over by a brick wall.  I included this graph of my total miles per month from runkeeper.com (which i love!) to show just how bad it has been for me.


I hit a high in August of moving my sorry butt 87 total miles, but I've dropped every month since then.  I went from 59.3 total miles in October to 16.1 in November.  Its more than just the bad weather.  I was motivated to get out in the cold.  I got cold weather gear that I was excited to try out, but every day when I got up, I just didn't feel it.  Then when I got home, I just didn't feel it.  I have had zero energy this entire month.  

Being a good medical scientist, I looked up common symptoms of SAD and discovered that I wasn't simply being lazy this past month. I was hitting on symptoms of this same old disorder that has plagued me.

Fall and winter seasonal affective disorder (winter depression) symptoms include:
    • Depression  - CHECK
    • Hopelessness - NOT SO MUCH
    • Anxiety - SORTA
    • Loss of energy - DOUBLE CHECK
    • Heavy, "leaden" feeling in the arms or legs - NO
    • Social withdrawal - THIS IS BECOMING AN ISSUE I FIGHT AGAINST
    • Oversleeping - OH DOUBLE YES
    • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed - CHECK
    • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates - NOMNOM 
    • Weight gain - SADLY YES - 10 POUNDS SINCE MY LOW IN OCTOBER
    • Difficulty concentrating - WHAT?

Ok, I'm convinced.  I has a SAD, but I don't want to take it lying down.  I've decided to fight against this with what ever little bit of energy I can muster.  I don't have the answers and I don't have a clear strategy yet.  here's got to be a way out of this.  I hate that I lose all life momentum for four months and then spend the next few months after that digging myself out of the hole that SAD has put me in.   

Pray for me dear friends!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Writers Release: The Start of New Relationships

Vector image of two human figures with hands i...Image via Wikipedia
Let me first and foremost make a point about my previous post about the end of relationships.  I can't fully say that I outright lost a lot of relationships.  I would say that what I lost was a lot of 'relational capital'.  Allow me to explain by sharing a few jokes I used to tell.

The first is that I used to joke with friends that weddings were great because it was the only time that you ranked your friends. Okay! You stand here, you're my number one man! You! You're number two.. etc etc.  I've been 'worst man' in some friends weddings and still considered it quite an honor.  Its a joke, but it does that there are levels of friendship that we naturally tend towards.

I used to joke with another friend about people being 'A-list' and 'B-list' friends.  What seemed to have happened is that folks who I considered 'A-listers' seemed to bump us down to the 'B' or 'C' list.  The problem is that we didn't get the memo, so we treated folks like they were really good friends and they didn't return the honor.  People that were 'B-list' friends bumped us down and 'C-list' folks just walked by like they didn't know us anymore.  Suddenly, there was a relationship gap that had to be overcome.  Its not like we weren't friends anymore, its just that we weren't as close as we used to be.

Even though this has been troubling to my spirit, I have found some refuge in God's word to me.  One of my favorite scriptures is found in Romans 8:28 which says that "we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."  That piece of scripture has given me a lot of hope over the years.  It doesn't say that everything is going to work out great for us.  It doesn't say that everything is going to go our way.  What is says is that God is going to work good out of all things in our lives.  That meant that even when I was in the midst of trial and turmoil, God was working out a way to turn that bad stuff good.  I know that it wasn't God's will that I lost those relationships, but he can and has made good out of that situation.

If you had talked to me about it in 2007, I could have never imagined leaving my old church.  My plan was to retired there, however God had other plans.  Over the past few years, God has taken us through a process where we left the safety of our old church (under great and wonderful circumstances) to start a new church in Wilmington, Delaware.  Part of that process was a maturation of our faith and a deepening of our love with Jesus and his call for the city, but part of that process was because our ties weren't as strong as they previously had been.  I don't know if we would have been able to make the leap to a whole new city if those old relationships had held us back.  I'm not saying that God caused our old relations to decline, but God giving us the opportunity to move forward to a new city was the 'make good' on that.

So as we've progressed from a small community group in the city to a full fledged church plant, God has brought new relationships to our lives.  We've met amazing new folks in the city and have made some amazing new friends.  I've found myself sharing my life with people I didn't even know existed two years ago.  This has been such a great inspiration to me and a sign that God will make things work together for His good.  I'm loving living in Wilmington and the longer we live here, the more folks we get to know and the bigger our community in the city grows.  Its a good thing!
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Friday, November 11, 2011

A Return to Armistice

2011-02-04_Flanders Fields Waregem_8Image by janheuninck via FlickrI have a bad habit of stepping in it, and I think I'll revisit that habit of mine by complaining about 'Veteran's Day.'  This is likely a cause that will make some infuriated, so I'll try to keep my complaints brief.  My main complaint is about the seemingly subtle shift between the original name of 'Armistice Day,' (as its still referred to in much of the world) to the current name "Veteran's Day."  You can call me an old grandpa for wanting to stick with the original name, but hear me out here.

Armistice Day was established to commemorate the end of the 'War to End All Wars.' It was made a national holiday as you can read in this excerpt:
On June 4, 1926, Congress passed a resolution that the "recurring anniversary of [November 11, 1918] should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations" and that the president should issue an annual proclamation calling for the observance of Armistice Day. By that time, 27 state legislatures had made November 11 a legal holiday. An act approved May 13, 1938 made November 11 a legal Federal holiday, "dedicated to the cause of world peace and to be hereafter celebrated and known as 'Armistice Day.'"   ( History.com
Take note that the wording of the holiday included the perpetuation of peace between nations through prayer and good will actions.  The federal holiday was in fact, "dedicated to the cause of world peace".  That doesn't sound anything like the current holiday that we celebrate.

In 1954 the name of the holiday was changed to 'Veteran's day to not exclude all the folks who fought in WWII, and I think that was a big mistake.  When you change the name of the holiday, you change the focus.  Instead of focusing on peace, we shift our focus to the veterans.  We honor those who have made war instead of the ongoing work of preventing war.  That shift turns the day from one of solemn remembrance of the folly of war to a day where we can beat our chests, talk about how great the US is and say great things about our military without any critical examination of the fact that we're currently involved in conflicts in more countries than you even know about.  Its actually quite a big change from one word to the other.

So I'd like to honor armistice today.  I'd like to celebrate peace and I'd like to use this opportunity to pray for its return to this country.  We haven't known real peace in this country since the end of World War One and we are long due for its return.

Jason
11/11/11 11:11am
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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Writing about Writing

I've heard that if you want to write, you should write something everyday.  Some days a lot will come and other days not a lot will come.  So this is me writing about writing, or at least my lack of ability to write.  I would say from an output standing its been a good experiment so far.  

Charts & GraphsImage by Evan Hamilton via Flickr
  • Productivity has increased 500% over last years numbers.  
  • Worker satisfaction is at a two year high. 
  • Quality is down from 2008 and likely needs improvement.  However, we're just happy to be back.

So I've spent the week talking about what's gone wrong over the past few years.  I'm going to be turning it around in the upcoming week and talking about what's gone right.  As I mentioned in my first post back, 2011 might go down as one of the most transformative years of my life.  Seriously! I've got a lot talk about!  So if you've been reading this so far, thanks for your patience. Stay tuned because good things are right around the bend.
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Friday, October 14, 2011

Writers Block: Physical Illness/Depression

Panic attackImage via WikipediaContinuing onward in my series of self examination and naval gazing, I want to spend some time around the development of my mental illness between 2009 and 2010.  Around the time I was writing this blog I experienced some major mental illness that almost became THE defining characteristic of my life.  When I look back on that time in my life, I had so many good memories and experiences tainted by anxiety, panic, and depression.    

I had my first ever panic attack in April of 2008 and I wrote about it here.  That was the first time anything like that had ever happened to me and it was terrifying.  I thought I was having a heart attack and was about to die (these are very common thoughts and sensations for panic).  I ended up in an ambulance and got the full work over.  The doctor said nothing was wrong and they sent me on my way.  I felt pretty uneasy about the non-diagnosis, but more or less assumed that it was just an isolated incident, and for the most part it was.  I didn't have any major panic attacks.  However from that moment on anxiety began creeping into my life more and more.   

I can't really pin down when it started because its not like something like this has a clear start and stop date.  All I know is that I would find myself waking up in the middle of the night with my pulse racing and sweating.  I would having Susan listen to my heart and take my blood pressure, just to get some assurance that I wasn't going to die.  That poor woman put up with so much from me.  The typical pattern was that symptoms would come on out of no where and would quickly escalate.  After 20-30 minutes things would start to get better and I could go back to sleep or whatever.  It would happen when watching TV, when driving, while talking on the phone.  Anytime, anywhere.  It was never quite as bad as the time that I went to the hospital, but it was definitely affecting the quality of my life.

I didn't' realize it at that time, but I had fully developed an anxiety/panic disorder.  If you're not familiar with this, it can be described by the diagram at the side.  For me, it might start with a weird chest pain, which might plant the thought, 'maybe you're having a heart attack' in my head.  That thought would scare me which would cause me to start breathing a bit faster.  That fear would raise my pulse which would make me think there IS something wrong.  All of these sensations would increase pain in the chest causing the cycle to keep on going.  It wasn't unless I could sit down, be still, focus on breathing or get my mind off of what was going on that these things would stop.  


Since these things would happen all the time, any time, any where.  I started getting agoraphobic.  I didn't want to ever be too far from home or too far away from Susan, since she was the safe person who could talk me down from the fear.


By the winter of 2009, particularly January and Februrary (about the time I stopped blogging.. hmmmmm) this cycle had fully taken over my life.  I met with counselors and tried researching what was going on but it didn't make things better.  In March of 2009 I ended back in the hospital with another fulll blown panic attack.  This one happened while I was at work.  Despite the obvious interruption at work, it was really embarrassing to fall apart like that in front of my co-workers.  The worst part is that when it happened, I was actually trying to write my prayer shield begging for help when it happened.  Where was my God when I needed him?  This was one of the low points in my life for sure.

After that ER visit, I decided to visit as many doctors as I could to see what was wrong with me.  They worked me up side and down the other.  I even met with a cardiologist to make sure there was nothing wrong.  After we ruled out any physical cause for the chest pains, my doctor figured it was likely was being caused by anxiety and depression.  So in April of 2009, I started taking Zoloft and Xanax to help, and they did.  I was thankful to be on the meds because they finally gave me a holiday from all the anxiety.  Zoloft seemed to put up a short barrier between me and reality.  It was almost as if I had a quick half second more to process and react to stuff.  I would get a chest pain and wouldn't react immediately; it gave me almost a half second to say 'hey that's probably just anxiety or heartburn or something.'  That really seemed to help prevent anxiety attacks and after being on the meds for several months, I felt relieved that I could maybe live a normal life.


But is a medicated life a normal life?  If you need to rely on drugs to think right, you have a diminished quality of life.  Its never optimal to be on drugs unless you need to be.  Of course, you have to do what you have to do to survive, but I really hated the side effects of Zoloft.  That weird barrier thing affected more than just anxiety; it affected all of my emotions.  I felt like I was living just slightly out of phase with the rest of reality.  The drug also messed up relations between me and my wife (that's all that needs to be said here).  Worst off, it made me fat.  I don't mean chubby, I mean fat.  I went from being overweight to full on obese.  In 2008, I dieted and lost a decent amount of weight, but while on Zoloft I gained it all back plus some plus some more.  I had never been so large in my life and I hated it.

So is there any good news in this?  Is there any redemption for our hero?  As not to leave you with any cliff hangers, the answer is "YES!!"  Absolutely, God has been faithful and has delivered me from this trap.  Today, I am fully healed, cured, and free of anxiety, praise God!!  However, I want to save that for another post.  
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Thursday, October 13, 2011

Writers Block: A Sense of Failure

writer's block - crushed and crumpled paper on...Image by photosteve101 via Flickr
Another cause of writers block is 'a sense of failure' and boy-howdy did I have one surrounding this particular endeavor.  

When I first started this particular blog, I had only really imagined it as a place where I could journal my thoughts and the things that God had been sharing with me.  Prior to kicking things off here, I had come through a very long dry time where God had been really distant.  Then allofasudden, things broke through and there He was again in such a vivid and amazing way.  I knew I needed to start journaling and writing about it.  


Once I started writing though, something surprising happened. I started getting comments, feedback, discussion.  It was wonderful and exhilarating.  Even more surprising was that some of the comments were coming from folks around the country, not just my friends.  Folks that I didn't even know were having conversations with me.  I had thoughts that maybe God was maybe bringing an audience to me.  After all, he was telling me things, I was writing those things down and people were interacting with me.  THIS was beyond all expectations and was exhilarating.  


And then, things started to slightly go down hill.  I'm not sure if I can chalk it up to be an inexperienced writer or maybe it was the constant conflict that surrounded my content, but my early success was not to be long lived and eventually the audience dwindled.  This was discouraging.  I went from feeling surprised and successful to lonely and discouraged over the course of that year.    


By the end of my prolific writing year, I felt like a total failure as far as communicating my ideas went.  I had hoped to enact some change in the world through the words I typed, but I just felt like nothing had changed and nothing had moved.  Things were the same as they ever were and all I had succeeded in was giving myself an anxiety disorder.  


When I try to analyze what went wrong, perhaps part of the problem was that early on I lost sight of what the original purpose of the blog was.  Having an audience changed the way that I interacted with it and changed my tone.  This place quickly stopped being my personal journal and became a preachy sounding board for what God was showing me.  I think I could have gotten away with that change if I were a better writer or a better teacher, but I'm just not there yet.


As always, God has a redemption story for this failure, but I'll get to that in a future post.  
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