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The State of Numb

“Numb (adjective): unable to think, feel, or react normally because of something that shocks or upsets you”

 

The above is one of the definitions of numb, as stated in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, and, although it makes complete sense, no one ever warned that a state of numbness would overcome me during the loss of a close loved one.

 

I had figured I’d cry relentlessly, whether sad tears or happy ones from sweet memories. I knew I’d feel as if a piece of me were missing. What I didn’t know is that I would get to a point at which I didn’t feel anything.

 

At first, I thought I was suddenly heartless, and there are times I still feel that way, although I’ve been told by multiple people that this is normal. No one had mentioned that a stage of the grieving process can be complete numbness. Not even peace—just nothing.

 

Navigating the waters of nothingness is difficult. When you feel nothing and keep praying for peace or even more tears that don’t come, it’s hard not to feel like you’re a monster for not feeling something. There’s a song out by Lady Antebellum that states, “I’d rather hurt than feel nothing at all,” and how true that is! But when you don’t feel anything, you still need to live.

 

My life verses have been such a rescue in this time. For just about everything in life, I go back to Isaiah 55:8-9: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (KJV). No matter how hard it may be, I must keep reminding myself that God doesn’t act like us humans: He doesn’t even think like us! It’s frightening in a sense but comforting because when I can’t see the road ahead, when I can’t even see the next step, He’s there and already has it figured out in His way and timing—which is nothing like mine.

I’m still walking through this uncharted land in which nothing makes sense because I’ve never lost someone this close to me. What makes it more difficult is the fact that, at the time of writing this, the person has yet to go home and see our Father’s face. I’ve been watching this person actively pass for a week now, in a mostly comatose state, and numbness was the last thing I thought I’d feel.

As I continue on my way, I’m learning. I’m learning (again and again) that God is faithful, that He doesn’t leave us or forsake us, that He is love, that His grace is sweet and sufficient, that His mercies are new every morning. I cling to Him as my rock because He does know what He’s doing and simply wants me to be still as He does His work.

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We’re All Hurting. So Why Don’t We Talk About It?

Let’s be real: we’re all hurting. If not, then I maintain you’re in the minority.

 

After starting the recovery process years ago, I noticed how many people around me were hurting. I saw the benefits of recovery for myself and realized most people would also benefit from recovery and/or therapy.

So why aren’t we more open about our problems? Why aren’t more people in therapy or recovery groups?

For one, there’s still a stigma around therapy and recovery. For many people, if you tell them you’re in recovery or therapy, they immediately wonder what’s wrong with you and if they should even be around you. Your reputation is instantly tarnished. This is despite the fact that those same people are hurting inside because of a break up or the death of a loved one.

We want to display a good image of ourselves. We want people to think we’re smart, we’re beautiful, we’re upstanding, we’re successful, we’re godly. In short, we don’t want others to think we have problems.

But that’s the thing: we all have problems. We’re all trying to look perfect for each other, yet none of us are. It’s a big masquerade.

Many of our problems simply come from hiding behind these masks. We’re lonely, depressed, anxious, grieving, hurting. If we’d just open up and receive support, we’d feel better. Many of our wounds would be healed. We’d be happier.

Instead, we feel crushed by the pressure to appear perfect—like we have it all together. We feel trapped because we’re terrified of others knowing the truth. And it eats at us. Because of this, some feel they can’t go on another day, which is one reason why seemingly perfect people fall from grace overnight or take their own life.

I pray that our society—including churches—would be more transparent about personal problems. I pray it would become more “mainstream” for people to discuss their issues. I pray we would throw away the masks and be real with each other. I pray hurting people would feel less terrified of coming out into the open. I pray the stigma around therapy and recovery would end. I pray we would truly connect with one another.

 

There’s freedom in honesty. There’s freedom in true connection.

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Acquainted with that Song

While this poem doesn’t fit tidily into any of our three categories, I think it is more than appropriate to publish it this week in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. It is a profound poem, and I hope you enjoy it. – W.R. Harris

 

A Short Background of the Poem by the Author (Originally Published in TEACHING ENGLISH MIDDLE SCHOOL LANGUAGE ARTS: Incorporating 21st Century Literacies)

You probably recall from attending poetry readings yourself that poets often explain the incident that gave rise to particular poems. Invite your students to do this and model such an introduction yourself. That was done before reading the draft of the poem evoked by the Robert Frost poem, “Acquainted with the Night” read that day. Here is what I gave as background for the poem.

In 1996, I was a part of a team of teachers who, sponsored by Rotary International, served as ambassadors of education to Kenya, Uganda, and the French island of Mauritius. I had never been to Africa and was thrilled about the opportunity, but a little apprehensive at the same time.

Families who were curious about us and about our country often volunteered to be our hosts. On our last evening in Mombasa, Kenya, our new friends had a lawn party and invited members of the local Rotary groups and their families to attend. After dinner, they asked each member of our team to speak about our time in Mombasa. When I arose to speak, trying to compose myself and gather my thoughts, I looked up. Seeing the brilliant night sky, it all of a sudden it struck me that I could be standing on the soil of my ancestors; they could have stood in this same place and witnessed such a sparkly navy blue night.

As a fifth-generation descendant of African slaves, I don’t know where exactly in Africa my family is from. Nevertheless, standing there in the Kenyan night moved me deeply. Tears leaked from my eyes; primordial memories arose and clogged my throat; I couldn’t see; I couldn’t speak, but somehow I began to sing the old Negro Spiritual, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”  To this day, I have no idea why that particular song came to me. Nor did I realize how deeply lodged in my memory that experience had become—until I began patterning Robert Frost’s poem “Acquainted with the Night.”  It was then that I understood Epstein’s point that writing is a form of discovery.

Describing my African experience did help my students understand that we humans often do not know what we think or feel until we read what we write. I encourage you to write with your students, too. You, too, may unlock something memorable about an experience you have had and may write a poem you are willing to share with your students. Here is mine.

 

 

Acquainted with That Song

 

I have been one acquainted with that song.

I’ve sung the song in tune—and out of tune

I have held that high note oh so long.

 

I have sung the song—clear like a loon.

I have kept within the music’s beat

And swooped down low, yet staying right in tune.

 

I’ve sung that song and let my voice just soar

While deep within my soul, the words brought tears

That slipped right down my cheeks; my heart just tore.

 

That song, reminding me of trials sore

Experienced by people who did so long

For freedom, justice, rights, and so much more.

 

Freedoms they’d awaited far too long.

I have been one acquainted with that song.

 

—Anna J. Small Roseboro, “Acquainted with That Song,”

patterned after “Acquainted with the Night” by Robert Frost

Published in TEACHING ENGLISH MIDDLE SCHOOL LANGUAGE ARTS: Incorporating 21st Century Literacies (2010)Rowman and Littlefield: Education

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My Son, Bob

          Military men had come,

with news no parent expects to hear,

“Ma’am, yesterday in Sasebo, Japan, Navy officers

found your son in his apartment…

 dead.

 

“He didn’t show up to the ship.

They went to his apartment.

They found him…

dead.”

 

“My son is dead?

He’s never coming home!”

 

My son , Bob, is dead!

In the twilight, I reel in limbo

In that haunting ground

Between dread of awake and terror of nightmare.

 

Tension tightens my neck

Flows down my back

Becoming a fiery fist

at the base of my spine.

 

   That night…I lay in bed praying to process the news.

         Fingers clutch the fragrant bed sheet;

         Thighs stiffen into planks

         And toes tingle like ice cubes.

 

      (An image appears…)

 

       A doorway opens…

       I recognize the place.

       Bright light streams around two figures.

     I recognize the people.

 

     Standing there is Grampoppa,

     Haloed by light

     Light streaming all around

                                              Extending his hand in welcome.
                                              “Come on in, son!” he says.

 

                Behind him, is Grammamma,

                Peaking over his shoulder.

                Light streaming all around

                               Her welcome smiles from her eyes.

 

                “Come on in, son!” he beckons.

 

                The voice is familiar.  I’d heard it over the years.

                Grampoppa said that when the uncles were home for Mother’s Day Dinner.

               “Come on in, son!”

                He said it at Father’s Day and birthday gatherings.

               “Come on in, son!”

 

Grampoppa and Grammama are there to greet my son!

                 To welcome him home with them

                 In heaven.

                 I believe it.  

 

Heaven is home.

So, I’m content.

 

                 I sigh and breathe.

                 I believe it.

                All is well.  

 

Bob is with Grampoppa

Bob is with Grammama,

All is well.  

 

               I sense another voice,

               “Anna, my child. Your son, Bob, is home.

               All is well.

               See, he’s with family.”

 

At peace,

I drift into healing, comforting sleep.

 

 

Anna J. Small Roseboro, a National Board Certified Teacher, wife of fifty-two years, mother of three, is a published poet and author of fiction, and non-fiction texts, but is primarily an educator. She has over forty years experience in five states teaching English, and Speech to students in middle school, high school Education Theory, Curriculum Design, and Oral Rhetoric to those in college.  Now retired, she coaches new writers and early career educators across the nation, and emerging leaders at her home church, New Community Church of God in Kentwood, Michigan. Her website is http://teachingenglishlanguagearts.com/

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Immanuel: God is with Us

God sent His only Son to earth,

His birth to be a virgin birth.

Faithful Mary, young and scared,

Put faith in God, though unprepared.

The angel’s words were strange and new,

But God told Mary what to do.

Now Joseph, learning this, was shocked

And thought, before the people talked,

That he best put his bride away—

He cared for her, e’en to that day.

But Gabriel to him appeared

And told dear Joseph, “Do not fear,

For Mary carries now God’s Son;

The Savior of the world is come.”

The angel told him what to plan

To name the Babe that would save man—

So Joseph took his bride-to-be.

Around that time was a decree

Sent out from Caesar for a count

Of all the people in his lands about.

So Joseph took his wife and led

Them to the place called House of Bread.

He did not know that God had planned

To have His Son come as a Lamb.

On a quiet night in Bethlehem,

The Son of God was born to them;

And in a field where shepherds were

Tending to their sheep, were heard

Some angels in the sky o’erhead

Proclaiming Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.

Then how to find Him they did tell:

“The Babe you’ll find in swaddling clothes,

For who He is, nobody knows.

A manger serves Him for a bed,

With hay to pillow His little head.”

The shepherds hastened on their way

To see the Baby born that day;

And when they reached that lowly place,

Each shepherd fell upon his face

And worshiped Christ, in a manger laid.

Was this the way the Heavenly Babe

Had come to earth? In this meek way?

Did none else care that God had made

His way to earth with us to dwell?

Did no one care for Immanuel?

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Why Rejoice Over Suffering?

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of the Messiah and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (1 Peter 1:6-12)

 

Why would we “greatly rejoice” over “suffer[ing] grief in all kinds of trials”?

Scripture tells us in many places that trials can strengthen our faith. Think about it. Do you grow the most when life is easy or when life is hard? The hard times often make us press closer to God. We need His help; we are dependent on Him. The easy times don’t encourage as much dependence.

Scripture often refers to the purification process of metals: “when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10); “For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver” (Psalm 66:10); “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart” (Proverbs 17:3). As the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible puts it, “Ores of precious metals (the most precious of which was gold) would be melted in a furnace to separate out the impurities and produce purer metal” (note on 1 Peter 1:7). The analogy is fitting—like precious metals, our impurities are purged and our character is made more beautiful, so to speak, when we go through the furnaces of life.

Peter sticks to the metal analogy and affirms that our faith is even more precious and enduring than gold: “These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” The reason or end result of trials, he says, is “praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” Our faith and growth through trials glorifies Jesus. This is great news because God deserves the glory and we get to contribute to His glory. Indeed, our joy is interconnected with His glory—when His glory increases through our lives, our joy increases. We become more heavenly creatures.

Peter tells his readers they are even more blessed because “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.” Peter was with Jesus, but he commends his readers’ faith for believing even though they weren’t with Jesus. As Jesus said, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Jesus and Peter both imply that future generations who don’t physically see Jesus are blessed for not seeing yet still believing. This is especially difficult during hard times. However, it is also another reason to rejoice during and after hard times. If you cling to Jesus during trials, there is always reason to rejoice.

 

Question: Do you rejoice during hard times? How do you see God working in your life during those times? How can you learn to rejoice even more and serve God more during those times?

 

Prayer: Thank you for the trials in my life and how you’ve used them to make me more like you. Give me the vision to see how trials are changing me. Help me to have Spirit-filled joy at all times, especially when it’s hard. Amen.

 

This is an excerpt from a devotional book I’m writing on 1 Peter – W.R. Harris

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Yelling at God

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” – Matthew 27:46

“God, always the last resort of the helpless—God is sometimes so slow to act!” – Lew Wallace, Ben-Hur

This is a subject I want to address because I think people sometimes feel guilty about it. As with anxiety and depression, this can be sinful, but it can also be perfectly fine.

I know I yelled at God more than once during my bouts of depression and OCD. Sometimes you’ve been bent so much you feel you’re about to break. The natural response is to question God and/or yell at Him. Perhaps you’ve been in the same situation and you yelled at God and now you feel guilty. It happened to me. On top of all the other shame and depression and guilt I felt, I felt guilty about yelling at God. I thought He was looking down at me saying, “Jeez, will this guy ever get it together?”

Granted, you can hate God from the bottom of your heart and curse Him. That’s sinful, and perhaps some of you reading this book have been there. The good news is God always offers forgiveness. But you can also yell at God in distress, opening up to Him about your deepest thoughts and fears and frustrations. You can honestly question God to His face and tell Him why you don’t understand His reasoning. You can scream at Him to look at you and help you—you can even tell Him you’re frustrated at Him for not helping.

The sort of uber-spiritual, fundamentalist, puritanical theology discussed in the previous chapter would probably tell you you’re sinning and you wouldn’t do this if you actually trust God. But that’s a lie from the pit of hell. How do I know? Let’s look at Jesus.

On the Mount of Olives in the most difficult situation in history, Jesus prayed to His Father. Jesus knew what was about to happen; as God, He knew the future, so He knew He was going to follow through and hang on the cross. But the weight of punishment for humanity’s sins was so distressing that He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Jesus cried to God in His distress. What a wonderful Savior He is. He didn’t stroll happily under the guise of “I trust God, so I don’t need to be stressed.” Our Savior is not the spiritual guru of unattainable spirituality that you can’t relate to. He does not look at you in your struggles and say, “Ah, humans…” with a smile and a shake of His head. You are not alone in your suffering. Christ does not just understand your suffering, He has suffered with you. I wouldn’t want the savior of the uber-spirituals.

And look at David in the Psalms. He questions God and lays his heart bare before Him. He doesn’t always understand God’s ways.

I think God wants us to be completely open with Him. I’ll even go as far as to say I think God wants us—at least sometimes—to question Him. There is little in life that brings us closer to Him.

Talk to God. Open up to Him, even if it’s ugly. He can handle it. And if it’s done with a good heart, don’t feel guilty. Don’t let anyone else make you feel guilty about it either.

This is an excerpt from my book Anxiety and Depression Are (Not) Always Sins, which can be bought on Amazon at this link: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B075Z17W11