Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sleeping with Bread

I like the hush and quiet of winter, but I’m not fond of the early descent of darkness.

I struggle with depression.

There. I said it.

Depression is real. There’s no shame in having this diagnosis. Winter just happens to pack a little less light.

Winter is my consolation and my desolation. It’s a snow-laden breath of joy and a dark tunnel to navigate.

Depression is a diagnosis and a battle, so I listen to the Dr. and take my Vitamin D. I long for the seasons coming, when the sun releases unlimited amounts of light, warmth and a sustainable good mood.

The other night, after a long day at work, I lit a cinnamon scented candle and placed it on the coffee table.  The TV and the unopened mail became secondary as I stared at that warm flame, a glowing reminder of divine revelation, even in the darker seasons.

Especially in the darker seasons.

Lately, I’ve returned to a practice called the examen. It’s a simple exercise to recalibrate my soul to the heartbeat of God; to recount the high and low points and take lessons from both.

At the end of each day I ponder two questions:

For what moment today am I most grateful?
For what moment today am I least grateful?

This is a mindful way to: 1) evaluate my day, 2) hold onto what gives me life and 3) let go of what doesn’t give me life

I find I can fall asleep easier when thinking about life-giving moments.

The year before my husband died, a friend handed me a treasure of a book, “Sleeping with Bread”.  It can be read in one sitting. 

I was grateful for the gift, but little did I know the thin volume of wisdom would be a close companion to my Bible in my moments of deepest grief.

On the opening page, the book explains what it literally meant, once, to sleep with bread: “During the bombing raids of World War II, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. The bread reminded them, “Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.”

Today I was blessed and I will be blessed again tomorrow.

Today, something life-giving happened to me and it will happen again  tomorrow.

The examen is for me a healthy way to think over the good and the bad stuff that happens on any given day. It keeps the events of the day in balance. It keeps my depression from eating me alive.

Gratitude is the best antidote against the insidious chasm of depression.

Because I collect small, treasured moments anyway, the examen helps make me aware of moments that might easily slip by unnoticed. Each and every day contains divine shards of light – God-infused surprises that comfort and sustain.

Because we live in a broken world, each and every day also contains dread-moments, intervals of fear, times of sorrow, points of regret.

I need to stop and look at these, too, to evaluate what I liked least about my day. I need to remember all day long how the voice of God speaks through the difficult moments, too.

God often speaks through sadness and pain, and I want to hear His voice in the gloom.

Ideally, the examen should be practiced with a friend or a spouse. But, because I live alone, I usually review the day alone, just before bedtime. It’s really okay this way and ultimately I’m sharing my highs and lows with Jesus, my most trusted Friend.

Sometimes I light a candle. I mull over the consolation and the desolation of the day. The consolation is whatever helps me connect with God and others in meaningful ways. The desolation is whatever disconnects me. God speaks in both.

One day, for instance, I had an unexpected encounter with a Sudanese woman, an elderly grandmother with a childlike smile. To find ourselves together was unlikely, and it was a blessing. She wanted to know if she could “practice saying English” to me and I said, sure! She spoke, in halting sentences, of her grandchildren. She smiled every time she spoke their names.

I told her I thought her English was very good, and I could understand her well. “I can hear your heart speaking,” I said.

She beamed. “You have time to listen so I don’t feel in a hurry.” She added, “I can hear your heart speaking, too.”

That was my consolation that day, the sacred space in which God showed up and I was fully present for the occasion.

The desolation came in the same afternoon, when I learned about a 13 year old boy who took his own life. I didn’t know the child, nor do I know his parents. But as a mom, my heart was crushed to imagine what they must be going through.

Can I hear the voice of the Lord in my desolation?

Yes. His loving presence is with us, even at our most bereaved.

Another recent consolation: I had a chance to thank a policeman. My Roger was in law enforcement his entire career, and I like to honor his memory by giving a verbal nod to the men and women in blue.

This young policeman, Josh, was eager to hear my story. He listened carefully to my memories of a husband who loved to “serve and protect,” the logo emblazoned on his patrol car.

Josh talked about his family, his passion for helping others.  When we parted he said, “Thanks for the encouragement. I don’t hear much of that these days.”

There were hefty servings of desolation that day also, some shadowy moments when I felt misunderstood and frustrated.

Still, I went to sleep holding my “loaf of bread”, knowing I ate well that day of the nourishment of life – and that tomorrow, I would eat again.

Just as depression can be treated successfully, so can the winter blues. I will light a candle and tell God about my day. He already knows, of course. Psalm 139:16 “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

He already knows, but oh! How He loves to lean in and listen to His children. How He longs to be in fellowship with us.

Today I was blessed and I will be blessed again tomorrow.

Today, something life-giving happened to me and it will happen again  tomorrow.

The book, “Sleeping with Bread” is co-written by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn. I asked my local librarian to add it to the shelves, and I am thrilled to notice it has been checked out many times over the years.

This blog supports, timely gifts for all seasons. Please visit the link to see my newly-launched book, "Breath of Joy! Winter Whispers".

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