Don’t make me Feel Bad

I’ve had conversations with several friends recently who’ve told me they’ve avoided using social media because, “it makes them feel bad.”  That, if they’ve had a good day, and other people are having a bad day, then other people bring them down, and if they’ve had a bad day and other people are having a good day, they feel bad that they aren’t having a good day.

I’ve fallen victim to allowing social media to dictate how I feel, too, and I think it’s totally wise to avoid it if it has that much effect on our moods.  But, I also think we are too preoccupied with “feeling bad” and how to “feel Aunt Patty and Finn crying about the ocean 2good.”

Our culture has taught us to avoid things that make us feel bad and focus on things that make us feel good – cars, clothes, shopping, food, mani/pedis, technology.  We’ve taken this even further.  Jobs.  Relationships.  Even churches.  We consistently choose what makes us feel good and avoid what makes us feel bad.

But why do we feel bad?  Do we feel bad because of false guilt? Do we feel bad when we really shouldn’t? Like, for example, if you feel bad because you don’t measure up to someone who has more than you (comparing yourself to others).  Or, if you feel bad because you physically aren’t able to help someone you know needs help (guilting yourself for your own limitations).  These examples aren’t healthy versions of “feeling bad.”  These are examples of shame.  Shame is feeling bad for something you shouldn’t feel bad for and have no control over. God doesn’t want you to feel bad for these kinds of reasons.  Do you feel bad for something that shouldn’t cause you to feel this way?

Or do you feel bad because something is causing fear in you?  Do you avoid topics that are uncomfortable or disheartening because you can’t handle feeling bad?  Do you see bad things happen to good people, and you can’t imagine these things happening to you, so you avoid anything to do with them?   Friends, God doesn’t want you to avoid things that are scary or depressing or hard because you’re afraid.  God is Sovereign, and He wants you to transform your mind, not conform your mind.  (Romans 12:2)  When you give in to fear, you’re doing what everyone else in our society does.  People all around you choose the things that make them feel good and bring them comfort.  Are you avoiding the hard and scary things that God could use to change and refine you because they make you feel bad?  Are you avoiding people in your life that you could bless because they make you feel bad?

Do you feel bad, but you shouldn’t, or do you feel bad because you should?  There’s a good kind of “feeling bad.”  This type of feeling bad is conviction, and God gives us our consciences so we can hear Him speaking to us about how to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ (2 Peter 3:18).   This may take a variety of different forms – from making a change in your own life to learning how to reach out to others.  Is God trying to speak to your heart to move you to compassion or to take action, but you push Him away because you “feel bad”?

There are lots of reasons we shouldn’t “feel bad.”  But, there are lots of reasons we should.

I know that, often times, in my own life, “feeling bad” has led to so much good.

Let’s stop being so scared of “feeling bad” and figure out why we feel bad, if we need to get rid of this feeling, or if we need to allow God to use this feeling to change us.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Ephesians 2:10

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Sweet Soul

Recently, at a friend’s thirty-one party, I had to answer the grab-bag icebreaker question, “What is your favorite bumper and why?”  I couldn’t think of anything clever off the top of my head, so what did I do?  I cheated, of course, and googled “bumper stickers.”  The first one that caught my eye was perfect.  So perfect.  And I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Such a perfect bumper sticker.

Such a perfect bumper sticker.

My Stella Rose, who was born on October 4th and passed away today – October 9th - four years ago, changed my view of people forever.  She burned the value of each in every person into my heart in a way that nothing else could.  Because every person IS a soul…and every person HAS a body, not the other way around.

When I was pregnant with Stella, I was terrified of what she would look like when she was born.  I knew she would not look like a “normal” baby.  Even though we had not undergone any genetic testing when I was pregnant with her, because she had major problems with several of her organs, I suspected that she had some sort of syndrome.  Babies with syndromes often look – I don’t know a nicer way to say this – scary.  I knew Stella had all limbs and all the fingers and toes, but I did not know much about her facial features.  Even though I had tons of ultrasounds during my pregnancy, it was rare when I caught a glimpse of her face.  Most of every ultrasound was focused exclusively on Stella’s heart.

It sounds so shallow now, but I was worried I would have trouble loving her or bonding with her because I wouldn’t think she was “cute.”  What if her appearance was so different that I couldn’t recognize her as my baby?  What if I couldn’t bear to even to look at her?

As I younger person, I wasn’t really afraid of people with disabilities or how they looked. But, raising my own child with special needs was a completely different ballgame.  It terrified me.  Having a husband with a Special Education degree who had taught children with significant needs made always made me wonder (well, more like worry) that God would give us a child with special needs.  And, He DID.  Even before I knew the specifics of Stella’s condition, I had a feeling.

When Stella was first born, she didn’t look that different to me, but during the first five days of her life, the way she looked seemed to change every time I saw her.  The baby swollenness decreased, and Stella’s disproportionate and malformed features became more and more apparent.  Mike came back from the Egleston with pictures of Stella on his phone, and I barely recognized my daughter.  Her appearance was a bit startling, as were the tubes that were connected to her.

As the week went on, and Stella’s heart failure worsened, her body and face swelled horribly.  It was devastating to watch.  And I haven’t really shared some of the “scary” photos until now, because I was worried about what other people would think.  But, I’m not worried about sharing them anymore.  This is her story.  This is what happened to her, what she looked like, and what I watched my precious baby go through.

In the end, it didn’t matter to me what my daughter looked like.  I loved her.  I still love her.  I will always love her.

God brought this sweet soul into my life to teach me many things, one of which is to see the soul in every person, no matter how their “shell” appears – larger or thinner or “perfect” or disfigured”, no matter what abilities or disabilities or special needs she has.

God brought Stella into my life to show me how He LOVES. And to show me how to love a child with special needs as my own.

During the five days Stella was alive, I saw her SOUL.  From the moment she was born to the moment she died in my arms, I saw her, and connected to her on such a deep level that didn’t require her to look or act like a normal baby.  God gave me a new understanding of love when he gave me the gift of Stella.

Less than a year later, we chose to adopt a child who did not look “perfect.”  And, I love her.  Deeply.  I’m not sure that would have happened if Stella hadn’t changed our hearts so much.

It is just so amazing to me that God creates souls.  Every person IS a soul, and every person has a body.  Not the other way around.

 

 

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Walking on Broken Shells

Last week, we visited Orange Beach/Gulf Shores Alabama for the first time.  Ah, the glorious beach.  It’s my favorite place to be.  Although I could do without the sand in every crevice (you know what I mean), God’s presence is always undeniably there.  This time was no exception.

Almost every day during our vacation, we were blessed with great weather.  Except for one day: Tuesday.  From noon onward, it poured down rain.  Lightning lit up the ocean, and thunder shook our fifteenth-floor condo long into the night.

The state of the beach on Wednesday evidenced the effects of the storm.  The sand was damp and pitted; the sea was a bit murky and still somewhat agitated.  Patches of broken shells littered the beach as far as the eye could see.  It was difficult to walk into the ocean without painful shards underfoot.

I love hunting for shells. With Pearl’s help, I had already collected a Ziplock bag full of shells on Sunday and Monday.  We had accumulated mostly small gray-striated bits of clam shells and smooth, white shells, and many bits of shells that appealed to Pearl’s non-discriminating four-year-old taste. :)

But on Wednesday, the shell hunting was infinitely better.  The calm after the storm:  the perfect condition to look for “treasure.”  Whole shells that are different, special in some way – a different shape, different color, or different size than what’d you’d find every other day.

A real-life metaphor.

I’m such a sucker for these.  I’ve always been one to see connections to my own life in nature.  God speaks truth to my heart through His creation.  He’s amazed me, challenged me, and comforted me with His nature lessons.

broken shells closeup

Broken Shells on the beach after the storms.

As I picked through the broken shells, my heart was moved.  I thought about the storms we’ve been through as a family, how the lightning has blazed and the thunder has shaken us.  How the waves have pounded us, then died down, then pounded us again.  How when the storms hit on Tuesday, the beachgoers disappeared – just like friends abandoned us because they were scared of the storms.

And how, in the aftermath of the storms, it is uncomfortable to walk through the residual debris.  It’s copious and sharp on your feet.  It takes effort to sift through the “junk” to find the treasure.  But, if you persevere, the treasure you find is far more beautiful than you could imagine.

And if your feet are calloused, because you’ve walked on broken shells before, the search for beauty in the aftermath of the storm is not nearly as painful.

My sweet hubby made his way out to the deeper waters, past the buildup of jagged shells, and dove under until he found me a perfect, unbroken fit-in-the-palm-of-my-hand-sized conch shell.  Jackpot.

The "Jackpot" Shell

The “Jackpot” Shell

Have you endured the storms and walked on broken shells, persevering until you find the treasure?  Are you willing to wait out your friend’s storm and walk on the broken shells with her? Do you embrace the hard times – whether yours or another’s - and allow them to strengthen you?

I promise you, the treasure you find in the aftermath of the storm is worth the discomfort (and even the agony) of the journey.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  James 1:2-4

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