Tuesday, January 20, 2015

That's Why It's Called Trust

I've been blogging a lot lately, which is probably a good thing.  I don't know.  At least I'm writing something.  I haven't been able to do that so much lately.

Depression--particularly the apathetic kind, to which I seem to be prone--is a beast.

I've got a day off today, which is a rare and wonderful thing.  I have stuff I should be doing--errands I should be running.  I need to go make a bunch of appointments--to see the eye doctor, to see the real doctor, to go get a massage someone was kind enough to buy for me.  But I decided to stay in today and just rest, just think about life.

I've been under Spiritual attack a lot lately, whether it's through insecurity or depression or anxiety or a fierce combination of all of those.  And mostly, people have been awesome about it.  I do get the occasional, "Well, here's a book to show you how to change your life around in ten easy steps," or "Hey, maybe you need to take these 'magic pills' that make you happy," or, perhaps the worst, "What sins have you been committing that have led to your depression and anxiety? God doesn't want us to be depressed or anxious.  You must be doing something sinful to cause these problems in your life."

I'm not perfect.  I make a lot of mistakes.  And honestly, the more I pray through what I'm going through, I think God is showing me how much he's working in and through my imperfections.  I don't have to be perfect.  I don't have to do everything right.

Right now, I'm struggling to get up in the morning.  I'm struggling to do simple tasks like make the coffee (which, ironically, is something that helps me get the day going).  I'm struggling to do my preschool planning.  I'm struggling to study music for songs I'm learning.  I'm struggling to read books, to write--something that has been second nature to me for so long.  The prospect of hanging out with friends or chatting over coffee is even something I sort of dread all of the sudden--even though I know I'll enjoy it if I just go DO it.  Everything is just suddenly so hard.

And, basically, I know I'm not doing all the things I could be doing.  I know I'm not doing all the things I should be doing.

Yet, God is doing so much in the midst of these things in which I'm failing.  Just last week, a dear friend and preschool coworker presented me with a gift card for no reason at all.  Well, she had a reason.  It was something that absolutely astounded me.  She gave me a little note with the gift card just thanking me for always having a friendly, encouraging word and a smile for her in the mornings.  I didn't even realize I was encouraging her.  I come into work most mornings feeling like I'm not doing all I should be doing.  But I do remember greeting her on those mornings, talking with her briefly, maybe giving her a hug that I needed more than she did.  Apparently, that was HUGE to her.  And all I can say is that I didn't really do anything--God did all of that through me.

And I wish I could just focus on little things like that all the time.

I need to confess a sin of pride that is just eating away at me.

It's a pride that is so sneaky that it disguises itself, quite well, as humility.  And I have a feeling there will be some song lyrics to come out of that before all of this is over.

The other day, someone me gave me a compliment.  Only, I didn't see it as such.  I know the person did NOTHING wrong.  I wasn't mad at him at all.  But what he said was devastating.  It shook me so hard that I wanted to retreat back into the turtle shell I've somehow developed as of late.

There are certain vocalists that I don't like.  Hearing them sing makes me cringe.  And this guy compared my voice to that of a vocalist I really don't like.

He meant nothing by it.  He was being nice.  But I respect his musical opinion very much.  And what he said sent me in a downward spiral like nothing else.  The ironic thing was, he also said something about how much he appreciated my humility.

But I wasn't being humble.  I was being the opposite of humble.

Because suddenly, I thought that if I sounded like that vocalist I don't like, then it meant I was a horrible singer (something he never said, but my insecurity was shouting at me).  I thought that if I was a horrible singer, I shouldn't be singing at all.  I thought that if I shouldn't be singing at all, then all the things I thought about myself and had worked towards were worthless.  If all the things I thought about myself and had worked towards were worthless, then I was worthless.

Because, as I might have mentioned in previous blogs, I can go from "just fine" to "worst-case-scenario" in less than 60 seconds.

Similar things have happened with my writing.  I lost a jump drive with a complete novel on it, one I was editing.  I had saved versions of it elsewhere.  I KNOW I had saved them in multiple places--including on email accounts so I couldn't lose them, but now I can't find them anywhere.  And after all the work I put into that book, I wonder now if the reason I lost it was because God never wanted me to write in the first place.  It makes me wonder if all the things I've wanted to do and be are things I was never supposed to do and be.  And if that's the case, who in the world am I?

And it really makes it hard for me to want to try again.

It's all pride.  It's all me putting trust in myself and in the abilities I was given.  And the thing is, those abilities are things God gave me--but they ARE NOT GOD.

And when you put your trust in anything besides God, no matter how good it is, you're sinning.

And that's how I've been sinning lately.  That's NOT to say that my sin has CAUSED my anxiety and depression.  Rather, God's just good enough to show me things as I'm walking with Him through whatever He's brought me to.

The anxiety and depression and whatever I'm going through are just ways God is showing me how NOT in control I am.  I can't despair of the season I'm in.  Nor can I will myself out of it, or just "try harder" or any of that nonsense.  I know I can't try harder.  I've tried to try harder.  That's when something else happens to knock the proverbial wind out of my proverbial sails.  BECAUSE THIS IS NOT ABOUT MY EFFORTS.  It's about God doing what I can't do.  And there's a lot that I just CAN'T do.

What I can do, however, is trust.

I can trust that God is using me, as I am--as weak, as imperfect, as broken as I am.  He's using me.
I can trust that He is in control.  I can trust He's leading me, even when I can't see what's ahead or what He's doing.  I can trust that where He's leading is not somewhere He doesn't want me to be.  I can trust that where He's leading is to something that is ultimately going to bring Him more glory.
I can trust that He's good.  I can trust that He's able.  I can trust that He loves me.

I'm scared.  I'm afraid.

And I know this is the year of "Do not be afraid, Part Two."  I know that God repeated in Scripture, over and over, "Be strong and courageous."  I figure He repeated that so much because He knows our fears.  Being strong and courageous is part of the battle, part of the struggle.

And there's mercy in the struggle.

So maybe my writing isn't something that I'm supposed to share with the world (I don't think that's the case, actually, but you know, just hypothetically speaking).  Maybe my voice isn't the greatest, and maybe my songs aren't a style a lot of people want to hear.

And maybe God is using me anyway.  Maybe God is using those talents He gave me anyway.  And maybe I need to trust in Him more than in those talents and things that I thought were what made me who I am.

As I told a friend yesterday, "Trust is hard.  That's why it's called trust."

It's a one-day-at-a-time sort of thing.  All I can do is put one foot in front of the other as He leads.

I'm sharing a song to close this post.  It's called "My Salvation" by Mitch McVicker.

"Lord, please change these driftings in my soul,
Cuz I've been fading just trying to grab control...

You're my strength
You're the tune I'm whistling
When I'm afraid.
So now I cling to You when I can't see.
Every day
You become
My Salvation.
You're my Salvation."


Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Survival Mechanism I Could Never Live With

About a month ago I did something that most people these days have done in their lives...sometimes on a daily basis.  I offended someone on Facebook.  They'd posted a picture with an inspirational quote, nothing big. They were well-meaning, and I wasn't offended by what they posted.  I just had a reply for it that I don't think they could appreciate.

Okay.  Back story.

Earlier that day, I'd been just flat out accosted by misunderstandings.  One person assumed I was angry when I was fine, and started walking on unnecessary eggshells around me.  The fact that they assumed I was angry ended up making me as angry as they originally assumed me to be (funny how that works).  But I just took Queen Elsa's advice:

Only my hair didn't look as awesome.

  Later that day, when I was minding my own business, a friend greeted me with the statement, "What's wrong with you? You look like something's bothering you."  I said nothing was bothering me, because nothing was bothering me, and I got an argument in reply.  "No.  Something's bothering you.  I can tell from the look on your face."  I restated, rather firmly, that nothing was bothering me.  In fact, the only thing bothering me at that particular moment was the fact that she kept insisting that something was bothering me.  "Well, I know something's bothering you because your voice sounds like something's bothering you."


Look lady.

But I just took Taylor's advice:

Sidenote: I think there should be an obscure American religions version of this song:
Shakers gonna shake shake shake shake shake shake
Quakers gonna quake quake quake quake quake quake.
...no? Okay.

About twenty minutes later, when I was again minding my own business, ANOTHER friend just flat out started attacking me with accusations that I was being rude to her. 

I'd run out of cartoon characters, pop culture icons, and catchy lyrics to give me advice of what to do in such situations, and I basically threw a Ruth Fit

You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.

I'd had enough.  People who were my friends were misinterpreting my facial expressions or my introversion and jumping to conclusions about my thought processes, and I felt attacked.  I felt like I couldn't even mind my own business without hurting someone's feelings somehow.  And since I have a whole mess of insecurities inside this crazy brain of mine, I pretty much went from being completely un-bovveredbothered to wanting to crawl under a rock and die the death.

That's actually a pretty common-place occurrence.  I can go from just-fine to worst-case-scenario in less than 60 seconds.  Call it a superpower, if you want to.  I call it a jerkface.  Incidentally, that's also the name of my elliptical.  Fitting, since I keep running in circles obsessively with both of them and never actually get anywhere.

Well, since I can't keep anything in, I put a little something on the Facebook about all these attacks.  Maybe I shouldn't do that.  People are always like, "If you're vague on the Facebook, it's because you want attention."  Actually, I just want prayer, which is usually what I ask for when being vague, but okay.

I prayed through it myself, and started realizing that the first two "attacks" weren't really attacks at all.  They were simple misunderstandings from concerned friends.  Maybe these friends were pushy, but it wasn't their intention to be harmful.  They cared.  The third attack really was an attack, but I started thinking about the possible reasons behind the attack.

She was attacking me.  Why do people attack?  Because they're defensive.  Why do people get defensive?  Because they're afraid.

And I took the focus off myself and put it on the other person.  She was afraid.  She misinterpreted my minding my own business to be something unkind towards her--I was preoccupied with what I was doing and trying to focus (something that's hard for me because I get distracted by shiny objects), but she thought I was ignoring her.  And that hurt her feelings.  So she accused me of some things that weren't true.  I sent her an email about it.  We talked.  We made up.  We're friends again.

But through all of that, the things on the Facebook still remained, and a well-meaning friend posted one of those inspirational quotes on my wall to help me feel better.  I don't even remember what it said, but it was one of those generic things about only letting people in your life who appreciate you, about getting rid of the people who hurt you.

And I understand why these attitudes exist.  They are survival mechanisms.  There are abusive people in this world.  There are people who will take and take and take and never give.  There are toxic people with horrible attitudes and actions that just poison everyone else around them.  I understand that.  And sometimes they abuse others so much that it's entirely healthy and good for those people to GET OUT of those relationships, to get away from those people, to move on in a different, more positive direction.

I've had to let go of some friendships that I realized were toxic.  I realized I was always apologizing for the sake of restoring the friendship, even when I hadn't really done anything wrong. I was trying to be the "Peacemaker," but no peace was being made because the other person didn't want to change. The other person was always quick to "forgive me" for my apologies, but she never admitted guilt of her own.  I eventually "defriended" this individual, but I never blocked her.  Because I'm praying that there's restoration one day.  I'll always pray for that.  I still pray for her.  I still think about her.  I still hope one day we can be friends again.

Because when it really comes down to it, it's completely against my nature to stop caring.  And I think there's a danger in taking the "Let it go" attitude too far.  I've only seen Frozen a couple of times, and it has some decent lessons in it.  The trouble is, too many people focus on Elsa's "Let it go" rampage more than they do on Anna's sacrificial love for her sister.  And "shaking things off" is great if you're talking about not caring too much about what people think, but it can go too far if you use that attitude to stop actually caring about PEOPLE.  And I think people don't know the difference anymore.  But I probably err too much on the other side and care too much about what people think WHILE I'm caring about the people.  And I just can't seem to stop caring about people.

I'm not trying to say I'm anything great.  I'm not.  I've got hangups and stuff as much as anyone else (see above comments about crazy brain insecurities).  But one of the perks about being an overly-sensitive person is that I do care about people.  Sometimes that care can morph into something ugly where I care too much about what people think or say.  But the flipside of that, the good side of that, is that the main reason I let things bother me so much is because I do care about people.

That's why, after I calmed down, I was able to sit there and think the whole situation through.  I was able to think through things and determine if a friend's comments were spoken out of love, or if they were spoken out of fear.  I was able to reach out to a person who had attacked and deeply hurt me because I realized SHE was hurting, too.

I could have just let this friend go.  I could have just shook her off.  The world would have told me to do just that.  I am glad I didn't.  And I know it's not always applicable.  Some people have been in situations where it's dangerous and unwise to seek reconciliation.  But I'm thankful that God has never looked at me, a rebellious child who has failed him time and time again, who takes so much and gives so little back of what I've been given, and He's never turned His back on me.  We're not God.  We're not able to take as much as He can take.  We're not able to give as much of ourselves as He has given of Himself.  But aren't we called to see beyond our own selves and our own fears and defenses and insecurities?  Aren't we called to forgive?  Aren't we called to love?

That love looks different in every relationship, every situation.  Sometimes it is more loving and more healthy to walk away.  But that should never be the norm, never the initial reaction.  My fear in this "let it go" society is that people are giving up on other people way too quickly.

And I looked at the inspirational thing my Facebook friend had sent me, and I knew it just wasn't fitting for me or my situation.  And I responded to it by saying something along the lines of, "If I had that attitude, it would mean I didn't care.  That's really just not my style."

And the relief I felt in posting that was just tangible.  I realized, again, that I really do like who I am.  It's something a lot of people misunderstand, it's something a lot of people just CAN'T understand.  But I like me.  I like me in all my insecure, over-thinking, obsessing-over-little-things glory.  I care too much.  And I dare to say that it's not always a bad thing.

I noticed that the entire post my Facebook friend had posted was gone a few minutes after I'd posted my comment on it, so I sincerely hope I didn't hurt any feelings.  As I've said, other people have other situations.  There's a place to let go of harmful people.  I just don't find myself in that place very often, and when I do, I never really stop caring completely.

That's why it took me the better part of a decade to get over a broken heart.
I don't even regret that.
I still care, in fact--not at ALL in a romantic way, but I do pray for him from time to time.  I pray that he's being a good husband to his new wife (and I'm thankful she's not me).  I pray God's leading him.

Because I'm not the sort of person to just forget the people who have hurt me.  I figure they were part of my life for a reason.  If they're not part of my life anymore, whether by their choice, my choice, or just chance, then I can still give them a passing thought or prayer. 

There are survival mechanisms and such that people adopt to get away from pain.  And I probably have a few of those in my crazy brain, too.  But I'm not able to turn off the part of my soul that cares.  In some ways, I guess it's inconvenient.  I just can't bring myself to regret even those relationships that have hurt me. 

And I can't bring myself to regret who I am.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Procrastination and Fear

It was a Sunday night.

I'd had a busy weekend.  Most of my weekends are busy.  This particular weekend was even busier--with an extra band practice and work and some side projects that were going to take up most of my time on Friday night, my whole Saturday, and my Sunday morning and afternoon, I knew I was going to have to plan well to get everything done.  So I told myself all week that I would have to be a grown up and set aside Sunday night to do some work for preschool.  I had a preschool work day on Monday and knew I would need to do some pre-planning for it.

So the weekend happened.  I had band practice and went to work and got all my side projects done.  Sunday night came.  I turned on my computer.  I looked at the folder on my computer's desktop--the one labeled "Preschool."  I looked at it for several seconds.

I clicked my internet browser on and clicked on my Facebook tab.  I played around on Facebook for a few minutes.  Or an hour.  I forget which.

I, again, had a stare-down with the "Preschool" folder on my computer's desktop.

I watched a few BuzzFeed YouTube videos.  Were Ashley and Andrew dating yet?

No.  Of course not.

I looked at that "Preschool" folder again.

I had to check Facebook again to see if anyone had responded to my hilarious status.  I had a couple likes.  That was nice.

I looked at the "Preschool" folder again.

I checked my bank account to make sure there were no fraudulent charges.  You never know when someone's going to steal your info.  Nope.  All clear there.

I checked the Facebook again.

I watched another YouTube video.  It had been a while since I watched David After Dentist, and you know, those older videos are still pretty hilarious.  How old is David now, anyway?  I should Google that.  Oh, My Lanta.  He's a teenager now.  I need to stop looking at this.  It makes me feel old.

And I looked at the "Preschool" folder.  Enough procrastination.  Do your work, Ruth.

I checked the Facebook again.

And then I started my preschool work.

Half an hour later, I was too tired to brain anymore.  My eyes were closing by themselves as I typed, so "Circle Time" became "Cieroiuadkjaofu."  I had to go to sleep.  My work was unfinished, but I figured I'd get up early and work on it.

Only, of course, I overslept.  I made it to work, but I had to use my work day to do my lesson plans instead of work on other stuff I'd intended to do.

And I realized I had a problem.


Now, I've always been a bit of a procrastinator.  I've never really had a problem with being a procrastinator.  But recently, I've started thinking about the reasons behind my procrastination.  And that was a slap in the face.  It wasn't what I was expecting, but I have to admit that it's true.

My procrastination is based on fear.

And since I'm doing a repeat in my "Year of No Fear" (last year just wasn't enough of a lesson), fear-based procrastination just isn't good enough.  It's just not.

There are several reasons why I procrastinate.

1. I'm afraid what I need to do is going to take forever, so I don't want to start.

I have been watching the same girls for 6 years.  They're older now, so I'm pretty much just a glorified chauffeur who yells at them to do their chores and homework.  But when the youngest one was younger, I would help her with her homework.

And by "help her with her homework," I mean "we met on the glorious field of battle."

There were tears.  From both of us.  Cries of outrage. Fits of fury.  You name it.

The worst part about it was that she would whine/cry/scream/fight/literally throw things before she would even START on her homework.  She'd complain for at least 45 minutes, and usually much longer, about how hard her homework would be, about how long it would take her to finish.  I would physically put her pencil in her hand because she claimed it was too hard to hold it.  I'd make her write her name, and she would AGONIZE for five minutes over that simple starting task.  Sometimes this sort of thing went on for an hour or more.

Then, when she finally started, she was done with her homework in ten minutes.  Ten minutes.  Homework time sometimes lasted an hour.  Only ten minutes of that time was actual homework.  The other 50 minutes was the battle before hand--the needless worry and anxiety that it would take FOREVER.

And sometimes, I act just like that.  I don't want to start because I'm afraid of the time commitment.  If I would just START doing what I'm supposed to do, it would be over quickly.  The work would be done.  But that fear of committing the time is just so hard to overcome sometimes.

2. I'm afraid I'm going to fail, so I don't even want to try.

I'm not a perfectionist, but I do want to do things well when I do them.  Sometimes I'm afraid that I'm going to fail before I even start.  So I put it off because I don't want to fail.  I put it off because I think it's going to be too hard.  I put it off because I don't want to make mistakes.  I put it off because I don't think it's going to matter, that no one will care or notice, that all my work will be in vain.  I put it off because I don't want to deal with the fear of being wrong, of being imperfect, of being not good enough.

I think that's probably the most relatable procrastination fear.

It's just hard to try sometimes.  It's hard to trust that the effort you put into something is going to be worth it in the end.

3. I'm afraid I'm going to succeed, and dude, that's a lot of pressure.

Have you ever done something really well, and then all of the sudden people expect greatness out of you all of the time?  What if you can't reproduce that?  What if people only like you because you did something well?  What if they stop liking you if you don't do it as well the next time?  What if they try to build a bridge out of you because they think you're a witch?  What if? What if? What if?

Go home, insecure brain.  You're drunk on lies.

4. I am afraid of gaining my soul, but losing the whole world.


That's the face punch right there.

When you get right down to it, that's the biggest problem I have.  I want to use "my time" on "my pursuits."  I'm like a dumb kid who wants to eat a steady diet of jelly beans, when my mommy wants me to eat my veggies.  It's fun to eat the jelly beans, but it's not responsible, and I'm going to eventually get sick.

I'd rather sit on the computer and waste time on silly things like Facebook and YouTube videos than do work that's important.  That important work requires an investment, and that investment is something that's going to turn into something eternally good--blessing children and their parents, and more importantly, furthering God's Kingdom.  Watching a YouTube video isn't doing anything but furthering my kingdom.  And my kingdom is kind of lame, quite honestly.  We don't even have pony rides.

But sometimes I act like I don't want to lose that kingdom, that tiny, insignificant kingdom.  Sometimes I act like I'd rather forfeit my soul in order to gain the whole world.  And what good is that?  Seriously.  What good is that?

It's not good at all.  And it's based in a fear that is really quite silly and selfish.  And it's just not good enough.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't have down time.  I need down time.  There's nothing wrong with Facebook or YouTube videos or reading or television or video games or whatever.  But there is something wrong with wasting time for the sake of wasting time.  There's something wrong with procrastinating because you're afraid.  And I'm guilty of both of these things.

And I'm just thankful the Holy Spirit has convicted me.  The hard part is now--putting the knowledge into action, making the changes.

God's been so faithful to me in this season of depression and anxiety and fear.  I'm learning so much.  I know He's going to get me through this season.  I just have to remember what's important.  I just have to remember that I'm dust, but with His breath inside me.

I want to breathe.  I want to live.  I want this life He's given me to matter.

Living in fear, living in self, living in just mere existence?  That's not good enough.

He's done too much for me.

He's done too much for me to live in fear.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

My Grandmother's Last Christmas Gift

*The following was written in July of 2014.  It took me over five years to work up the courage to write it, but I wasn't ready to share it yet.  I think the time to share has finally come.*

You never know when you’ll be ready.
For instance, it’s July of 2014, and my grandmother died in February of 2009.
I’m sitting on a screened in porch at a house where I’m dog sitting, and it just occurred to me that I’m ready.
For the past five and a half years, I've grieved my grandmother’s death and celebrated her life.  I've needed to write about it, and badly, but haven’t quite been able to do so.  I haven’t been ready.
Because how can I even begin to put into words who my grandmother was to me?  How can I describe the way I feel when I smell something that reminds me of her—a feeling that can only be described as her.  It’s more than a feeling or a scent or a sight or anything tangible, this presence that she’s left here, imprinted on my life and on who I am and on everything I've ever been or will ever become.
            But I do think her when I smell the aroma I now know is the scent of stale perfume mingling with even staler cigarette smoke.  When I was younger, the smell didn't have a name or components.  It was just the way my grandmother smelled, a smell that was so completely her and all the things I felt when I was with her.  It’s ironic that the masked, fragranced cigarette smell I associate so closely with her is what eventually killed her.  And yet, I can’t bring myself to hate that smell, for it brings with it the memories of all she meant to me.
            And I realized while writing that how wrong it was, because all she meant to me was really all I meant to her.  For that was the impression she made on me—that everything she was could be reflected in how she loved me, in how she loved others.  That’s why when I smell perfume and cigarettes, I feel safe.  I feel loved.  I feel important.  I feel all the things I was to her.
            I remember the seemingly hundreds of feral cats and sweet old dogs lining the porch of her house.  It was the house with the hollow concrete stairs leading up to the animal covered porch.  I’d make sure and jump on that step, just for the satisfaction of hearing the low hollow thump.  And those stairs eventually cracked (probably because I, and every other child in the family, jumped on them so much) and were replaced with something more substantial, and it’s all just a metaphor of how things never stay the same.  And my childhood has been replaced with something more substantial, but I still listen for the hollow thump of that step.  I still strive to breathe in a bit of her when I smell the perfumed cigarette smoke. 
            And at least my memories are good, for now.  They’re not as hollow as they once seemed.
            I remember Christmas.  There isn't anything more to say on that, and still I know I have to try to describe something that can’t be described.  For Christmas was always partially defined by her.  Christmas was never complete until we had gone to grandma’s house.  When most children longed for Santa to come, I’d anticipate along with them, but the anticipation carried on throughout the day.  I knew more was to come, and more would include family, food, presents, joy, togetherness, love. 
            My grandmother lived for Christmas, and I take after her in that.  But, oh.  It was her show.  She started her Christmas shopping in January, buying multiple gifts for everyone.  The tree was perfect.  In my childhood, I always thought it looked like the sort of Christmas tree one might find in a magical fairy forest, all white and shining.  The tree we had at home was green and plastic and boring, covered in cheap ornaments containing pictures of me and my brother and sister.  I knew those ornaments meant love, anyway.
            But my grandmother’s Christmas tree was the most beautiful tree I’d ever seen.  It was covered in magical snow that never melted.  When I got old enough to know better, I realized the white tree wasn't really covered in snow, but rather, in cheap aerosol flocking.  But there were pictures of me and the other grandkids in plastic ornaments scattered throughout.  And when I got old enough to know better all over again, I realized there really was some magic in that tree.
            Presents surrounded it, and everyone expressed a few words of guilt about how much we had compared to the less-fortunate before we ripped into those presents.  And parents would complain about how much stuff they had to carry home, while the kids would revel in their new treasures.  And grandma would sit in her chair and smile.  Everyone gave her gifts, too, and she loved them.  But the present she wanted most was one that she had given to herself—a family that surrounded her, a family she loved so much.
            I got older and my grandmother got older.  She was sick for a long time before she died.  And I didn't always cope well with that, and she knew it.   I wanted my grandmother to be young and beautiful, as I remembered.  I wanted her to sit on the stool behind her kitchen counter and tell me stories about when my mother was a little girl, or about how much she hated it that time granddaddy grew a beard, or about silly things I did when I was really little.
            I think back on it now and realize I should have asked her so much about her.  I should have asked her about her childhood, about her own grandmother.  I should have asked what it was like to grow up with so many siblings.  I should have asked her about how she met granddaddy, or I should have asked to hear again how they had to wait a year to get married because the minister said they were too young.  I should have asked how she felt when she became a mother, to my mother, for the first time, young and poor.  I should have asked her how hard it was to work and raise six children.  I should have asked her how hard it was to be a State Trooper’s wife, always on the move.  I should have asked so many things, just so I could know her.  Because it occurs to me that the only way I knew her was just as my grandmother, as the one who loved her family.  As the one who loved her grandchildren.
            As the one who loved me.
            And on the last Christmas I ever saw her, the last day I ever saw her, she gave me a gift. 
            When I was a child, I’d get many gifts from her.  I’d get dollar store trinkets that I thought were the greatest toys in the world.  I’d get more expensive toys that I’d brag about.  I’d get clothes and books and toys and music boxes and jewelry.  When I was older, in my twenties, she gave me a diamond cluster ring.  She had saved up and bought one for all her daughters, daughters-in-law, for all her granddaughters.  And to this day, it’s one of my most valued possessions.  It was something she wanted to do for those she loved.
            But the gift she gave me that last Christmas was more valuable than the ring or any other gift she gave me.  She was so weak.  She didn't even look like herself.  And I was shocked to see her like that.  My mom had tried to prepare me, but nothing could have prepared me to see my beautiful, strong grandmother in such a frail condition.  I don’t think I hid my shock well.  But she was my grandmother, and I loved her.  I took her hand.  I told her Merry Christmas.
            She said to me, “Ruth, I love you more than you’ll ever know.”
            That was the last thing she ever said to me.  She knew it would be the last thing she ever said to me.  I was too much in denial to realize it.  But she knew.
            And that was her last Christmas present to me.  It was the embodiment of every Christmas present she had ever given me.  It was, pure and simple, her love.
            My granddaddy remarried a few years ago.  He had been married to my grandmother for 60 years (and almost 2 months).  They celebrated their 60th anniversary on Christmas Eve.  She died a few days after Valentine’s Day.
            When my granddaddy told my mother, his first child, he was seeing another lady, a year or two after my grandmother had passed, he was so nervous.  He had only ever loved my grandmother, and wasn't sure how the rest of the family would accept his new relationship.
            He needn't have worried.
            Because when my grandmother had an opportunity to accept someone into the family, when she had an opportunity to love someone, she took it.  And we all followed her example.  No one in the family had trouble accepting the precious lady who would become my granddaddy’s new wife.
            As I was writing this on the screened in porch, thinking of Christmas while it’s the heat of July, the wind was blowing.  Now it’s calm.  And I’m calm, though there are tears of memories and love in my eyes.  I’m waiting for a Christmas that will never come again, longing for a smell that I’ll never smell again, hoping to hear that hollow thump that I’ll never hear again.
            And it’s all right.  The change I wasn't ready for I’m still not ready for.  And I think I've come to realize that I’ll never be ready for it.  It’s all right.  It’s just all right.
            Because there’s always room for more.  I can have the memories of the sounds and smells and feelings.  I can have the wintry chill in the air that enhanced my excitement of going to grandma’s house.  I can have this warm breeze that calms me now.  I don’t have to lose anything in order to gain anything.
            That’s love.  There’s always room.  And I don’t know if I’ll ever have a child of my own, let alone a grandchild.  But I hope I do, and I hope that if I do, she knows me.  She doesn't have to know that I’m insecure about everything or that I love Rich Mullins music.  She doesn't have to know that I once had a cat named Bradley that was my best friend, or that I got my heart broken in college, or that I used to sit out on borrowed screened in porches and write.
            Because, in a way, everyone we meet becomes a different person when we meet them.  We have a version of who we know them to be in our minds, in our hearts, that is just a little bit different from what anyone else knows in their minds or hearts.  And I don’t know who my grandmother was to everyone else.  I just know she was my grandmother.  I know she loved me.  And partly because she loved me, I know how to love others. 
            That was her last Christmas gift.
            I can’t wear it on my hand like a ring, nor can I play with it like a silly toy.  But it’s in the memories—the perfumed smoke and the hollow steps.  It’s in the summer breeze and the Christmas chill.  It’s part of the present, part of all I do, all I say.  Her love that always, always makes room.
            The windchimes chime now, and I am ready.  I’m ready to write.  I’m ready to live.  I’m ready to remember.  I’m ready to love. I’m just ready.

            I’m ready now.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Glory Shown (Christmas 2014)

Often, I find myself being drawn to the more mysterious places in Scripture. Some of my favorite passages are where God does something really unusual, such as when He wrestled with Jacob or when He spoke to Elijah in a still small Voice.  And I suppose it could be argued, quite easily, that the entirety of Scripture is the story of God doing something really mysterious and unusual.  It's the story of the Creator pursuing His creation. But sometimes the stories and characters in Scripture seem commonplace.  I think that people then got so busy "doing life" that they forgot the mystery.  And people today do the same thing.

One of my favorite mysterious stories from Scripture is about Moses.  Here's a man with a great and terrible past--with insecurities and hesitations.  He never really wanted to lead.  But God called him out.  By the power of God, he had spoken to Pharaoh.  By the power of God, he had done signs and wonders.  By the power of God, he split the waters so that the Israelites could be free from their Egyptian bondage.  And by the power of God, he led the people, with riches to spare, out of the land of Egypt.

He spoke God's words to the people, and the people vowed that they would do all that the Lord had spoken.  So Moses went up to Mt. Sinai to speak with God.  He was gone 40 days and 40 nights.

The people, who had so quickly vowed to do all that the Lord had said, just as quickly turned away.  Tired and afraid of waiting, they made a golden calf to worship in the place of God.

When Moses learned of this, he grieved.  God threatened to desert the people.  Yet Moses dared to intercede with God for his people, the people God had given him to lead.  And he knew that he couldn't continue to lead this stiff-necked people without God.  He knew that they needed God with them.

And Moses said, "Show me Your glory."

A few years ago, I tried to figure out exactly what glory is.  I know it's obviously something to do with having great honor, worth, and/or majesty, but I don't think I've ever heard a satisfactory definition.  It's a word that is frequently used and perhaps overused, but I'm not sure how many people, if any, really know what it means.  The closest I got to figuring out glory was by reading a thesaurus.  I found nothing really helpful in the synonyms (all of them seemed to fall short), but then I read the antonyms.  Base.

When I think of something that is base, I think of something lowly--the lowliest.  I think of something that is lower than anything else.  I think of something stuck on the bottom of my shoe, but not something even sticky or foul-smelling enough to worry about.  It just stays on the bottom of my shoe, trodden upon, ignored and forgotten.  Glory is the complete opposite of base.  It's the highest.  It's above anything else.  It's something so high that base fools like us can't even define or imagine it.

And that's what Moses asked to be shown from God.  He wanted to be shown GOD in all His fullness, in all His GLORY.  Moses knew that he needed to see pure glory if he were to continue leading the stubborn people of Israel, those wrestlers with God.

So God hid Moses in the cleft of a rock and covered him with His hand, for He knew Moses couldn't see His face and live.  After God had passed by, He allowed Moses to see His back, where He had been.  He allowed Moses to see the glory that had passed.  But He didn't let Moses see Him face to face.

Bethlehem was a small town, unimportant, as towns go.  There, not in a palace or a mansion or even an inn, but in a stable, Mary, Joseph, and the lowly shepherds were the first ones to peer into the face of God.  He didn't look glorious, I'm sure, all tiny and red and potato-headish (as newborns tend to be), and probably covered in birth goo.  He didn't have a lot of power and might.  In fact, I can't think of many things weaker and more helpless than a newborn human being.  There were many alive at the time who probably would have thought as little of this baby as they would of something stuck to the bottom of their sandals.

The Beloved Disciple wrote in John 1:14, " And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth."

The Word--Jesus--became flesh, and came down here to this base world full of base people.  And we saw His glory.  Moses' prayer was answered, not in the way he expected, and years after he prayed it.  What he had seen was a partial revelation, but He later revealed the full.  God showed us His glory--not just where He had been and in what He had done, but in what He was doing.  And the world finally could see God face to face, for God had become like us.  God was with us.  Moses had asked for God to be with them in the wilderness.  Those in the wilderness needed God to be with them in the time that Jesus walked the earth.  Those of us today in the wilderness need God to be with us now.

And because God, the Father so full of glory we can't even comprehend Him, chose to set aside His glory and come down here to this base world, in the form of a weak little baby, we no longer have to walk through the dark wilderness alone.

And the very act of setting aside so much for so little is a glorious act in itself.  It's one of those mysterious moments, when God does something really unusual.  That's probably why Christmas is my favorite time of year, a time to celebrate the miracle of God being with us.  Emmanuel.

We have seen His glory.  We are not alone.  He is with us.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

My "Mental" Illness

Depression has been in the spotlight a lot lately, particularly in the recent and tragic events of several celebrity suicides.  People are talking, and that is very good.  People are taking notice, and that is very good.  As someone who has experienced occasional depression, and who is currently experiencing depression, I am glad that more people are realizing the need to take depression seriously.

And I hesitate to blog about this subject for several reasons.  I know it's controversial.  Those who believe specific things about depression, whether it's because they've experienced it first-hand, by walking through it with a loved one, or because they've studied it, are very adamant in their beliefs. Matt Walsh wrote a blog shortly after the death of Robin Williams that got all kinds of backlash.  I'm not afraid of backlash, but I am afraid of hurting people, as Matt Walsh did in the writing of that blog.  I did like a lot of what Walsh had to say, but if he did anything wrong, it was that he did the same thing that a lot of people who oppose his ideas on depression and suicide do, as well.

A lot of people seem to think depression is the same for everyone who experiences it.  Even if they don't think that's what they're thinking, their attitudes towards suicide seem to indicate their true thought processes.  People go to the extremes of thinking that all people who commit suicide are either making a horrible conscious choice, or that all people who commit suicide are too mentally ill to think clearly.

I don't have all the answers.  It's okay not to have all the answers, by the way.  But in talking about this with some others via social media, I realized what my thoughts on depression are.  No one who is experiencing it experiences it the same way.  And I don't have the grounds to say that all suicide is always the result of a conscious, awful choice.  I've been in some dark places.  I've been in some very dark places where it was all I could do to fight the demons (that I believe are both literal and figurative) that told me the world would be a better place without me in it.  But I've never attempted suicide, and God forbid that I ever do.  I don't know what it's like to be in that dark of a place.  I've always had control of my thoughts, to some degree, even if it was all I could do to just keep telling myself to hold on until morning.  Morning always came.  The night was so, so long.  But, oh, morning always came.

Some people might not have been able to think clearly enough to realize that morning was coming.  I don't know.

So I can't make any blanket statements.

But, and this is a but that might offend or hurt some people, I think there's a danger in going too far in the opposite direction and saying that all suicide (and all depression, but I'll touch on that later) is always the result of mental illness.  Our society doesn't like to deal with things that just can't be easily dealt with.  We like excuses.  We don't like to blame ourselves.  And we don't want to speak ill of the dead.  It's easier to deal with something like suicide if we can tell ourselves, "This loved one who left us didn't choose to leave us.  It was the depression.  It was the mental illness that killed my loved one.  It's the depression's fault."

I don't want to be insensitive.  I've lost friends to suicide.  I've had friends who have lost close family members to suicide.  It's awful.  There's just no way around that.  There's no sense to be made of it.  Yet we're a society that wants things to make sense.  It's easier to say that suicide is a result of a disease than the result of a very, very bad choice.

In the case of Robin Williams' death, many factors might have been at play.  He was suffering from Parkinson's and might have been having hallucinations.  But the thing is, we really don't know what was going on at the time of his death.  Sometimes, we just don't know.

And that's okay.

It's okay to not know things.

I think that we forget that sometimes, and we try to explain things.  We try to make excuses.  We try to find ways to make things make sense.

The problem is, suicide doesn't make sense.

It just doesn't.

I don't wish to offend.  I don't wish to hurt.  The thing is, if you're upset enough by anything I wrote above, chances are, you've already been hurt.  And deeply.  And I'm sorry.  I'm sorry for what you've been through and what you're going through.  Surviving a suicide is a grief no one should ever have to bear.  It doesn't make sense, and sometimes this world doesn't make sense.  And I'm sorry.

But sin and death exist in this world, and really, they were never meant to.  We're all subject to pain and grief and loss and hardship that God never intended for us.  But when Adam and Eve fell from grace, sin entered into the world, and we all have to bear the consequences.  Sometimes the pain we experience is the result of our own sin.  Sometimes it's the result of someone else's sin.  Sometimes, it's just a result of sin in general.  And this world is a hard, hard place in which to live.

And this is something else that might offend people, but I've already taken offense.  I take offense to those who make blanket statements about depression.  I take offense to those who say that all depression is a mental illness.  If all depression is the result of mental illness, then, because I experience depression, I'm mentally ill.

And maybe people who make such blanket statements are trying to be encouraging by saying that my depression isn't my fault.  I don't think that experiencing depression is my fault either, necessarily, but I'm not comfortable with this idea that I don't have any responsibility in how I live as a depressed individual.

If I wake up in the morning and don't want to get out of bed, I still get out of bed because I have things I'm supposed to do.  Is it easy?  No.  If I'm at work and I numb and disconnected from reality, I still work and try to invest myself in what I'm doing.  Is it easy?  No.  My particular brand of depression is more numb and apathetic than sad (though if I let myself have a pity party and invite my anxiety, I can get ridiculously sad pretty quickly), but I learned a long time ago that life is a whole lot more than what I'm feeling.  If I don't "feel" what I'm doing, that doesn't make it less real.  What I do is still important, even if I don't "feel" it.

And others might not be able to overcome it that easily, and there are definitely days when I struggle more than others.  But my depression is NOT a mental illness.  And what's more is, I don't necessarily want to be rid of it.

I read something somewhere (I wish I'd written down the source, sorry) that made some statement that depressed people's minds were so distorted that they didn't realize it was preferable not to be depressed.  Maybe that's where I am.  Maybe all of these thoughts are just the result of a mental illness, and therefore I'm just absolutely crazy.  But I don't think so.

I've been depressed, on and off, throughout my entire adult life.  Seasonal depression almost always hits me in the autumn, but I experience it at other times, too.  And what I've learned is that I do tend to think more deeply when I'm going through seasons of depression.  Artistically, some of my best song lyrics and writing have come out of times when I'm struggling.  And maybe I should think to ask God if I could have creativity without depression, but I've always kind of figured that it's connected.  I don't mean just creativity and depression; I mean life.

Life is not just joy.  Life is not just sorrow.  It's not just bursts of creativity or comfortable silences.  It's a journey, and I seem to be taking the scenic route.  Others have had problems with that, but I don't despair of who I am.  Sometimes my depression helps me slow down and look at things others might have missed, or that I might have missed if I weren't looking.

I don't see depression as a mental illness.  I don't see it as a gift either, really.  It's just something that is, that's part of what I have to experience along with everything else in this wonderful, awful life.

And this is more than just that old cliche about the only difference between a blessing and a curse is how you choose to see it.  I just know that I've got a path in front of me.  I don't always see the next step.  I just put one foot in front of the other, and pray I won't stumble.  And sometimes I do stumble.  And sometimes I retreat back a few steps.  And sometimes things are harder than others.

But one thing I'm sure of is that there is mercy in the struggle.

There is so much mercy.

Because the only illness I have is the same illness the whole world has.   It's not really a mental illness as much as it's an illness of the soul.  It's called sin.  There's only one cure for it.  And I'm just grateful that through all that I've experienced, I've met one named Jesus who has saved me from sin and self forever.  I struggle.  Oh, I struggle.  But my hope is in Him.

I can't speak for anyone else regarding depression.  All I know is that He's the One who has given to me songs in the night and joy in the morning.

And I figure as long as I'm traveling along this road of life, that's the way it's supposed to be.

Monday, November 10, 2014

My Experiences With Essential Oils, So Far

This isn't usually the sort of thing I blog about, but lately my blog has had no real rules.  So, without further ado, I must admit that, my friends, I've become a hippy essential oil lady.  And in this blog, I will vomit just about everything I have learned about using essential oils.  Fair warning.

I post about my oil experiences a bit on "the Facebook," and so I get a few questions from time to time.  Lately, I've gotten a LOT of questions.  Essential oils are gaining popularity, and people are curious.  I'm no expert.  I'm still pretty new at essential oil usage (just started using them back in April or May), and I'm still learning.  I will still be learning, as there are many, many different oils, many, many different blends, and many, many uses for each oil.  But, since I keep getting questions, I thought I'd go ahead and write about my experiences with essential oils, so far.

DISCLAIMER: I'm not a doctor.  The statements I make here are based on my own experiences using oils and are not to be taken as medical advice or expertise.  If you use essential oils, please do your research on each individual oil or blend so that you can use them SAFELY (especially if you are considering using oils with children or if you plan on taking oils internally).  Please also keep in mind that not everyone has the same reaction or experience to each oil.  What works for me might not work for you.  I might be able to handle a particular oil or blend without diluting with a carrier oil, but each person needs to see what works best with their own individual skin and body chemistry.  Also, the uses I list below for these oils is not an exhaustive list.  There are many uses for oils, so do your research!  "The Google" is full of all kinds of info.

What brand of oils do I use?  I use Rocky Mountain Oils, which I either get from their website OR I order them from Native American Nutritionals.  The companies recently joined, and so both sites sell the exact same oils at the exact same price (unless there is a sale on one of the sites), and they are shipped within the same time frame (usually takes 3 work days to get my oils after I order them).  The reason I use both sites is because I've learned that sometimes one site will offer sales on certain oils or free shipping deals.  I have also found promo codes on various blogs that are useful only on one of the sites or the other.  I try to take advantage of any sales from either site in order to save money.  I like saving money.

RM oils are therapeutic grade, pure, organic, and not to mention, awesome.  I decided to go with RMO because they offer high quality at a lower price than some other companies.  I originally got into essential oils through a friend who is selling Young Living oils.  The oils I got from her were great--I have no complaints about their quality.  But they were EXPENSIVE.  RMO offers similar quality at lower prices.  And I can also go online and order whatever I need whenever I want it, without having to go through any multi-level marketing middleman.  It's nice having that convenience.  I personally don't care what oil brand you go with, as long as you do your homework and get high quality, therapeutic grade oils--especially if you plan on using these oils medicinally.  If you just want some peppermint or cinnamon oil to keep bugs out of your house, go get something cheap.  If you're using this on your own body or on your family--spend the extra money to make sure you're not getting something that can hurt you or your loved ones.  I looked around and read a lot. I read several other blogs that had tested different oils (I wish I had the money to do that for myself, but I don't), and RMO came out on top in many of those tests.

Here are all the oils or blends I have used.  I am still fairly new at this whole thing, so I do plan on using more oils in the future.  I also want to note that I haven't gotten around to purchasing a diffuser, and I'm still on the fence about whether I want to or not.  I'm not sure a diffuser is something I'd even use enough to justify buying one.  Other people use them and love them, but I'm bad at upkeep (*coughI'mASlobcough*), and I housesit so much that I'm often not even living in my own house for weeks at a time.  A diffuser would probably get buried under some laundry or knitting somewhere.  But other people like them.  So if you're looking into diffusers/oils that are good for diffusing, I'm not your girl.  Yet.

(*EDIT* I have recently started using a diffuser.  I don't have a lot to say on the matter, except I like it.  I don't feel knowledgeable enough to say much more than that.)

Melaleuca (AKA the oil that is hardest to remember how to spell...well, probably not, but still...):
Melaleuca is basically tea tree oil, except that tea tree is a slightly higher potency (I plan on purchasing tea tree oil from RMO, to see how it compares to Melaleuca, but that's not in the budget yet).  This was the first essential oil I tried.  I originally used Melaleuca from Young Living, and it worked well.  When that ran out, I purchased Melaleuca from Rocky Mountain.  Their quality is about the same.  RMO's Melaleuca has a slightly less pungent smell, but I noticed no difference in how the oils worked.  I have had dry scalp issues for years.  I use melaleuca in my shampoo, in hair oil, and a few other hair products.  The thing that really does the trick, however, is a scalp treatment I use once a week (the recipe is at the end of this blog post). This has been the only thing to help with my severely dry scalp--seriously, before I started using this, my scalp was flaking and peeling so badly that I felt like a leper.  As long as I use the weekly scalp treatment, my head doesn't even itch!  I also put a few drops of melaleuca in my skin toner (recipe below) and in my store-bought moisturizer.  Melaleuca is supposed to help with acne--and I'm one of those unfortunate adults who still has occasional acne breakouts.  I still get acne, but not as much as I did before using the melaleuca in my moisturizer.

Lavender: Everyone says that lavender is the most versatile oil, and it's true.  I use lavender to soothe (and heal) my severely dry hands.  I put a few drops in my store-bought lotion, and at night I use coconut oil with a few drops of lavender oil mixed it.  I slather my hands with the coconut oil mix and cover my hands with white gloves.  This has been the only thing that has helped really heal my dry, dry skin.  I've tried just about everything, so this was what really sold me on essential oils.  I originally got lavender oil from a friend selling YL.  When I ran out, I purchased a new bottle from RM.  I like RM's smell a little better, but the oils are really about the same quality.
I also use lavender with other essential oils in an allergy mix (recipe below).  The allergy mix works so well that I've been able to give up Claritin!  I put lavender in my hair products and in the weekly scalp treatments, facial toner, and in my store-bought moisturizer.
Last week I burned my finger on a hot pan.  Usually, such a burn would blister by the next day.  However, I just put a drop of lavender oil directly on the burn (it's one of the mildest oils--please don't try this with a different oil or blend without checking to see if it's safe), and the next day, you couldn't even tell I'd been burned.  Lavender's smell is wonderful and relaxing.  If you're going to try out essential oils, I recommend lavender as the one to start with.  NAN/RMO sells two different kinds of lavender.  I use the Lavender Bulgaria, as I read that it is a little more potent than the Lavender Hungary.

Peppermint: Another extremely versatile oil!  I use it in the aforementioned allergy blend.  If my back/neck/shoulder muscles are tired, I put a drop in a handful of coconut oil and slather it on my back.  I don't always use it in my scalp tonic, but sometimes I'll add a few drops to help cover the smell of the apple cider vinegar.  This is a "hot" oil for some people, so please make sure you test how your body reacts if you plan on using it.  I do just fine applying it straight to my skin, but you might need to dilute it with a carrier oil, like coconut oil, jojoba oil, or almond oil.

Pink Grapefruit: I originally got this oil because I thought it might help improve my mood to inhale it.  I love the smell of grapefruit! Inhalation didn't seem to make much difference in my mood, but I started reading about how some people like to put grapefruit oil in their water for weight loss.  I thought I'd give it a try.  I didn't notice much weight loss, but what I did discover is that putting a drop of grapefruit oil in my water not only gave my water a wonderful refreshing flavor, but it REALLY helped energize me.  If I'm feeling sluggish in the afternoons, I add a drop or two of grapefruit oil to my water.  It really gives me a pick me up to get me through the day.  *NOTE* Please educate yourself before taking any oil internally.  Many people who use oils choose not to take them internally, regardless of the oil's quality.  If you choose to take oils internally, make sure you are using a therapeutic grade oil, as many cheaper oils contain dangerous additives or are extracted using unsafe methods.  Some oils (such as melaleuca) are toxic and should NEVER be taken internally. RMO oils are safe to be taken internally if they are not toxic, but this is a decision you should make for yourself.  In other words, don't just go order a bunch of oils and start drinking them.  Do your research!  Make an informed decision!

(*EDIT* I have recently stopped taking any oils internally.  After reading more on it, I decided against using them in that manner.  I feel it MIGHT be unsafe, and even if it's safe, it seems unnecessary.  This is still a choice you must make on your own, and please do research.)

Lemon: Lemon is a great little versatile oil.  A lot of people use it in cleaning or use it to flavor their water.  As of right now, I just use the lemon oil in my allergy mix.  There are a couple of different kinds of lemon oils available from RMO.  I got the Lemon USA Pressed Peel.  It smells really, really good!

Rosemary: I use this oil in all of my hair products and in my scalp tonic, as it is good for hair growth and strength.  I love the way my hair smells when I use rosemary in it.  There's also a lot of evidence to support that inhaling rosemary oil is good for memory.  I'm not sure if it helps my memory, but the scent of rosemary oil does help me relax.

Bug Off: This is a blend of oils sold by RMO.  A blend differs from an oil single as it contains many essential oils that have already been blended by the company.  Bug off contains lemongrass and citronella, among other oils, which are useful in warding off insects.  I made my own bug spray with this (recipe below).  It worked just as well as something I'd buy from the store, only without the added chemicals--and for a fraction of the price.  I figure one bottle of Bug Off will last me through several "insect seasons"--well worth the investment.

Aligning: So far, this is the only oil I've used that I haven't just absolutely loved.  I do think it's helping, but for me, it hasn't produced the dramatic results it seems to provide for other people.  I'm still using it and testing it to see if I start to notice any real difference that it makes.
I have had back/shoulder/and neck issues and accompanying dizziness for months.  I was seeing a chiropractor, but that stopped helping, and it got too expensive.  Since this oil blend is known as "a chiropractor in a bottle," I thought I would give it a try.  I applied a few drops along my spine, particularly around my neck and upper back.  At first, all this oil did was make me dizzy.  As dizziness was one of my neck/back symptoms, I thought perhaps that I was just having a relapse.  But I noticed there was a correlation--I'd apply the oil, and a few minutes later, I'd start to feel dizzy.  As a result, I started using the oil only at night, right before bedtime.
I still apply this oil to my spine every night.  I'm no longer having sensations of dizziness, and sometimes when I apply it, I will note that it is a lot easier to pop my neck.  It might be doing its job, and I might just not know it.  I think the original dizziness was actually the oil working to realign my back and body.  I was feeling dizzy because it was working, but my body was used to being out of alignment and protested being put back in alignment.  But I'm not 100% sure.  With that being said, I'm not sure whether this blend is a good one for me or not.  I still have an almost full bottle, so I will  keep using it for a while.  Other people have used this blend and had a lot of help from it, so my personal experience with it is not to be taken as the norm.  But if anyone out there has used Aligning from RMO (or a similar blend from another company, such as Balance by doTerra or Valor by Young Living) and has experienced dizziness or headaches after using this oil, please leave me a little note in the comments.  I really thought I was going a little crazy when I started having adverse reactions to this oil, so it would be nice to know if anyone out there has had a similar reaction.  It does just go to show you that not everyone has the same reaction to an oil or blend.  And sometimes your body just needs to get used to an oil or blend. Note: This oil is dark, due to the blue tansy it contains, and it might stain clothes--but in my opinion, you'd have to really be trying to make it stain anything.

True Blue: Okay.  This is the stuff.  I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE True Blue.  Since having all my neck/back/shoulder issues, this blend has been an absolute life saver!  True Blue helps me so much with the pain, but it's also anti-inflammatory and calms tension!  It contains both peppermint and wintergreen, so it smells a bit like Winterfresh chewing gum, but it also contains blue tansy, which serves to calm and soothe.  I absolutely love the smell.  My body has started reacting to the smell of True Blue before I ever apply the blend to my skin.  I smell it and immediately feel calmer, more relaxed.  If I'm in pain, the smell serves to alert me to the fact that relief is coming.  I apply this product directly to my back, neck, and shoulders, placing a drop on whatever area is in pain at the moment.  Sometimes I'll slather on some coconut oil to my whole upper back region after applying the oil.  This provides exceptional pain relief and promotes relaxation.  I use this stuff almost every night before bed, and as needed during the day.  I've found I haven't needed it as much during the day, as it really seems to be keeping the inflammation in check.  I love this stuff.  I'm not exaggerating to say that it has greatly improved the quality of my life.  If you have pain due to inflammation or arthritis, please look into this blend.  *Note* This oil is dark, due to the blue tansy, and can stain clothes, but, as I said, you'd really have to be trying to make it stain your clothes.  I figure you'd have to be wearing a white shirt and apply drops directly to said shirt to really have any problems.  I mean, if you're clumsy, like me, just don't wear white while applying this oil.  Roller bottles are really good options for clumsy people who spill stuff, btw.

Feminine Aid: This is another blend that I just can't stop raving about.  I got this oil because I heard that it helped with three things that plague me: 1) Anxiety, 2) Depression, 3) GIRLY TIME CRAMPS.  I suspect it's the latter of those three things that give Feminine Aid its happy little name.  To be honest, it doesn't help too much with my cramps.  I did apply a little to my abdomen during my last girly time (yeah, I'm blogging about that, get over it), and it helped a bit.  It took the edge off my pain, but I still had to take ibuprofen to be functional.  I've read other reviewers say it was the only thing that helped them with cramps, so if you're having issues, it's worth a try.  It also helped my manage some of my, how shall I put this?--FEELINGS during girly time.
But I really wish this blend had a different name, because it's not just a girly time oil.  It's an every-day-can't-be-without-it oil.  I suffer from mild anxiety and depression.  It's manageable, but lately, due to all my back issues and stress and life in general, I've had a harder time of things. I figured I'd try this blend to see if it helped me deal with my anxiety and depression.  I put a drop or two behind my ears, on my wrists, around my ankles, wearing it much like a perfume. At first, I noticed it helped a little.  It would keep me a little more focused.  The smell was calming.  I was happy with it.
But a couple of weeks ago, this oil did something that absolutely astounded me.  I had had an awful day.  Just awful.  And I had a lot I still had to do that day.  So, during my short amount of time to myself, I did what any reasonable anxious person would do, and I started having a panic attack.  I've had them from time to time, but I've had them more frequently as of late.  I was having trouble breathing without hyperventilating.  I was crying.  I couldn't calm down.  I felt completely out of control.  I couldn't stop the negative thoughts from overwhelming me.  But I reached for my Feminine Aid.  I took a good sniff straight from the bottle (inhalation is the quickest way to get an oil in your system), and then I applied a drop behind my right ear.  Then I started to put a drop behind my left ear, but I noticed something.  My breathing had already become even.  I immediately felt calmer.  The bad thoughts went away, and I felt grounded and reasonable, immediately able to see life realistically instead of thinking the worst and letting it all overwhelm me.

Y'all.  That essential oil blend stopped a panic attack in its tracks.


That stuff is legit.

I am NEVER leaving home without Feminine Aid.

I'm a believer.

If you have mood issues, I strongly recommend this blend.  It's all kinds of amazing.
*Note* It took me a while to become accustomed to the smell, as it's very earthy and musty.  In my opinion, it smells very different in the bottle than it does on your skin.  On my skin, it smells like a nice musky perfume.  I think your body chemistry will change the scent a little, so if you get this and are turned off by how it smells in the bottle, give it time.

Immune Strength: I have only just started using this oil, so I'm still figuring out the best way to use it, as well as how well it works for me.  I was having some lingering sore throat/cough issues, and I thought I'd try this to see if it would knock it out.  I diluted some in coconut oil and rubbed it over my throat.  I also put a drop on each foot, near my toes (this is a HOT oil blend, so my foot is the only place I feel safe using it undiluted).  That seemed to help my breathing, but I still had throat pain/chest congestion.  After reading a little more on this blend, I did put a drop in a glass of warm water and drank it.  I did this two nights in a row.  I'm not sure if the oil is the culprit, but I had an upset stomach the second night.  I stopped taking it internally after that, but I did notice that the cough is gone, and my throat is feeling better.  That cough and sore throat had lingered for almost a month, and I finally feel like I'm over it.  I'm not 100% sure, but I think that drop of oil in the water I drank is what knocked out that cough.  I might try just gargling with a glass of water and a drop of Immune Strength the next time I have a sore throat.  I've read so many good things about this oil, so I'm definitely going to keep trying to figure out the best way(s) to use it.  I'm considering adding a bit to my allergy blend, but I haven't decided yet.


Note: When I use the word "recipe," what I mean is "this is the general idea."  Honestly, when I cook and when I use oils, I never do things exactly the same thing twice.  But here's basically what I do when I make certain things using essential oils.

Scalp Tonic:

1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
3/4 cup Water
3 drops Melaleuca Oil
3 drops Lavender Oil
3 drops Rosemary Oil
1 drop Peppermint Oil (optional)
1 teaspoon Olive Oil (optional) (if used, reduce amount of water)

Mix water, ACV, and optional olive oil.  I don't always use the olive oil, but I find that it helps improve my hair if I use it occasionally.  Hot oil is a good hair treatment.  When I use the olive oil, I microwave the mixture for about 30 seconds to get the oil nice and warm.  If I'm not using the olive oil, I don't worry about warming it up--although a warm mixture feels nicer on your head.  It's up to you.
Pour mix into an 8 oz. spray bottle.  Add essential oils.  Close bottle and shake vigorously for a few seconds.  Lean your head over your tub or sink and spray contents on your scalp, occasionally pausing to massage mixture into your scalp.  When bottle is empty, gather all hair into an elastic band, wrap your head in a towel, and leave mixture on for at least 30 minutes.  It won't hurt to leave it on longer.  I once forgot I had the treatment on, and watched a good 2 hour movie before remembering I needed to wash it out.
When you've left it on a bit, just wash your hair as normal.
I do this scalp treatment once a week, and my scalp doesn't itch or flake anymore!
You MAY want to follow all this up with a leave-in hair rinse which includes:
4 cups water
A "splash" (appr. 1 tbsp) ACV
3 drops Melaleuca
3 drops Lavender
3 drops Rosemary
1 drop Peppermint (still optional, but since you're leaving even a small amount of vinegar in your hair, the peppermint REALLY helps eliminate the residual odor that might linger after your hair dries).
Pour this over your head after you wash your hair, and just leave it in and go on with your life.
I don't always do the follow up rinse, but sometimes it helps my scalp even more. I do the follow-up rinse about once a month.

Facial Toner:

1/4 cup ACV
1 cup Water
3 drops Melaleuca
3 drops Lavender

Mix all ingredients in a bottle.  Apply to face as needed with a cotton ball.

Allergy Mix:

Equal parts:
Lavender Oil
Peppermint Oil
Lemon Oil

It's that simple.
You can put a drop of each on the soles of your feet, or you can premix a blend.  I actually use two different kinds of mixes.  At night, I use a mix of these oils in a base of coconut oil.  I rub the mix all over my feet, as this provides allergy relief, as well as makes my feet all soft and dainty!
In the morning, I use a roll-on bottle (can be purchased from RMO or NAN websites) with equal parts of the oils already mixed together.  I simply roll a little on the soles of each feet (particularly near my toes), and then put my socks and/or shoes on.  It sounds a little silly, but it really works!

If I'm feeling particularly allergic on a certain day, I'll get a glass of water and put a drop of each oil in it.  I'll gargle the oil water for a few minutes.  It helps even more.  Some people go so far as to take this oil mix internally by drinking it or putting it in capsules.  But usually, just putting it on my feet is enough.  I was taking Claritin every day, and I'm off it now.  The oil blend actually works better than the Claritin!

*I might try adding Immune Strength to my allergy roller, as it seems to help alleviate chest congestion and sore throat pain.  If I do, I will use much less IS than the other oils.  Maybe 1 part IS to 2 parts of the others.

Bug Off Spray:

Fill a 4 oz spray bottle almost completely with water.  Add 20-30 drops of Bug Off.  Shake well before each use.  Spray on Bug Off spray all over your skin before going outside in an area where you might be exposed to mosquitoes or other biting insects.

So far, that's my limited experience with essential oils.  But I'm always trying to learn more.  I want to try new oils and new blends, as well as learn new uses for the oils I already own and love!  Please share your own experiences/recipes/questions below.  I'm learning that there's a whole community of essential oil users--so let's help out one another!