Change

I believe there are times in life when pain and difficulty are the best teachers.  They say that there are certain stressful situations which, if experienced too often, can actually lead to a decline in one’s health, among other problems.  Namely:  Moving, changing jobs, adding children to your family, divorce, death, or sudden financial downturn.  I think I’ve captured most of the big ones.   

Two summers ago, my family and I experienced a few of these simultaneously.  A very large turnover to infrastructure at my wife’s work left us (and still leaves us) with a lot of confusion in all the ‘paperwork’ areas of a career.  This happened around the same time that we adopted two children from South Korea, bringing them home within a month of each other.  We also endured a move which promised to be better for our family in that it would increase our space for a growing family, bring us closer to the support of Leslie’s parents, and bring us closer to Leslie’s job in order to shorten her commute time.  A move, a significant change in Leslie’s job, and the addition of two toddlers to our family all happened in the space of about two months. 

Once the dust settled from our unpacking efforts, I found myself hurting.  I didn’t exactly know why.  My kids would see me walking through the house and ask me if I was okay.  I felt depressed – sad, actually.  Maybe it was the distance from everything I had known and been comfortable with.  As much as I wanted to move and have a place with more space (as an introvert in a large family, I like to have plenty of caves to escape to in my home), but at the same time I rather liked being closer to places that were familiar. 

We tried to keep attending our church in Louisville.  We tried hard.  We left the house very early to make the 50 minute drive to church.  We packed a lunch for seven (not fun, by the way) each week so we could picnic at the park after the service.  Our new toddlers would not allow us to eat out at a restaurant and maintain our already fragile sanity.  Unfortunately our church, whose members had been graciously supportive of our adoptions, did not have a large space for children’s ministry.  It was a strong children’s ministry, just not very big.  Leslie and I wanted to stay after service and talk to the other adults.  More often than not, we were pulled, pushed, cajoled, and hijacked by our children who were either strapped to our backs or who marooned themselves on our shoelaces in a sea of big feet standing around them.   

It was too much.  At one point, I remember feeling very angry on the way home and telling Leslie, and the car, and probably many of the cars driving by, that I felt like we were a circus.  That was pretty much the beginning of the end of our attempts to stay.  We took some time off of church to calm down and re-think our approach.  We decided to attend at a large church that Leslie attended as a teen, mainly because they had a large children’s program that would more than accommodate our large family.  Leslie and I attended a Sunday morning service for the first time in I don’t know how many months as a couple sans kids.  It was nice, so we stayed.  Eventually, we moved on to another church.  More sadness followed, at least for my part.   

In the past two years I have lost almost all contact with our former community.  Though I miss everyone, I know that I share over half the blame for that loss.  The grief and depression were very hard on me. 

Fast forward about a year:  This past Sunday, we attended the first ever service of a new church-plant in the Fort Collins area, called Overland Church.  It was an exciting experience to see the birth of a new church.  That was something I have never experienced before.  It was also the first time in a very long time that I remember standing in a church service where the majority of the congregation sang enthusiastically.  I felt like I was back in my men’s choir in college all of a sudden.  It was a wonderful feeling. 

The changes that took place over the course of two years have definitely changed my perspectives on life, friendship, and community.  I suppose that’s what happens.  The depression I felt was a kind of grief – I had lost the community which I loved.  I had to face the reality that I would be starting over in a new community.  Here are a few of the pitfalls that I both fell into at times, and at other times avoided.  Maybe this list will help you too if you’re going through something like what I have described above: 

Resentment –

Sometimes it’s people who pull you through dramatic changes in life.  In my case, I had to wrestle through feelings of resentment toward my own family.  It was, after all, because of the changes in my family that initiated our move.  I think the most healing thing for me was to be able to talk about my feelings of loss and to express my needs to my wife.  This took a lot of courage on my part, but resentment is a very isolating feeling – it pulls us away from others.  The opposite, I think, is clearly communicating the needs and feelings I’m experiencing, and that communication drew me closer to my wife and subsequently to the rest of my family.

Social Media –

The pitfall of social media is the lie that if you stay connected online, you are truly connected in a relationship.  The truth is that there is so much more to relationships than a few simple text messages.  I need to hear your voice.  I need to see your facial expressions, your body language, your physiological reactions to what I say.  Sounds weird, right?  But most of the studies I’ve read say that there is a direct tie between hours spent on social media and loneliness.  We only think that we have connected relationally, when really we’re starving.  We lock ourselves in this prison called “Facebook” and eat stale-bread all the time, then we say that we have eaten.  Text messages are stale bread.  Instagram posts are Saltines.  A phone call is a bowl of hot soup.  A face-to-face conversation over coffee is a burger and fries.  Working alongside someone on a project over a long term, shoulder to shoulder?  That’s a fine steak and potato.

Depression –

A certain amount of sadness will accompany any large life change.  The worst thing you can do is to stuff it down and pretend it isn’t there.  Let yourself grieve.  Take a walk.  Take a walk through an old cemetery, if you have to, or sit in a church, or go some other place that allows you to be safely sad for a while.  Set aside some space to feel those feelings of sadness for a while and express them, then get up and go about your day.  Make a plan to come back on these little “dates” with yourself to feel whatever you are feeling inside.  And, if possible, talk with a friend or a spouse about your feelings.  Allow another person in.  Of course, if your depression is debilitating and severely affects your life and your relationships, you should seek professional help.  There’s no shame in getting what you need.

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