Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Torrent of Depression

Have you ever experienced depression? I have many times. I believe I am prone to it, due to my melancholy disposition and the hypersensitive, hyperempathetic personality God has blessed me with. At times of my life, this has been enough to trigger symptoms of depression. Other times, God has given me circumstances that have triggered it (ie. miscarriages, postpartum stress). Still other times, my sin and poor choices have resulted in consequences that trigger it (ie. broken friendships, difficult marriage, career/school challenges). For the past few years, depression has hounded me and for the past year, it has gripped me. I want to share this because I believe this is something many struggle with and fear the taboo with which it is associated. There are also loved ones of these people that do not understand what they face and I hope that this will help.

Depression is my enemy. In the bible, there is much written about enemies taunting and chasing God's people.  At any given moment, they could be attacked by the surrounding tribes, chased off their thone, or persecuted for their beliefs. Fortunately for us, we live in a great country where the only enemies we have are stuck behind the mostly inpenetrable wall of our armed forces.  But that doesn't mean that Satan gives up. In fact, he has chosen to attack us in a stealthier way. That might mean alcoholism, prostitution, pornography, greed, envy, etc. For me, it is depression.

This is the way I describe depression. It is like being stuck in a dark, hot, cramped room. Your lungs struggle to breathe in the stale, humid, oxygen-deprived air. Your body longs to move, stretch, or rest but there is no room. Your eyes search for the faintest of light to focus on so that you don't go mad. It is a hopeless and lonely place to be. Simple things like going to the store, making dinner, or sending a text feel like impossible feats.

 Most people in this place will do anything to feel better. Sometimes, these are good things, sometimes they are crazy things. Days after losing my first baby to miscarriage, i ran my first 5K. It sounds like a good thing, but in fact the whole time I was purposing to torture my body--this body that failed me and my child. I crossed the finish line with tears in my eyes, and a lump in my throat, and self-hatred in my heart. Those who don't understand judge people for such efforts, such "coping mechanisms". We judge the girl who goes home with a random guy from a bar so that for one night she can feel like she is worth something to someone. We judge people who turn to food for comfort and therefore gain weight, or turn away from food and become anorexic, never considering what pain they might be masking.  We judge people and get frustrated when people don't act like the perfect spouse, friend, neighbor, parent, churchgoer, etc. during these times. We judge people for going on anti-depressants to ease their pain. Remember that dark, cramped room? For me, anti-depressants were like someone opened a window. Yes, it was still cramped, hot, and dark, but at least there was a breeze. Prozac was a blessing to me for a short time, but it couldn't save me from my circumstances. So last fall, I chose to stop taking it and allow God to intervene. (I have known people who chemically were not able to function without medication and for them, it is the way that God intervenes/provides a way out or relief. For me, I do not believe this is the case).

This summer I studied the Psalms of the Ascent, one of which is Psalm 124. It speaks of how God saves us from our enemy.

"If the Lord had not been on our side--let Israel say--
if the Lord had not been on our side when men attacked us,
when their anger flared against us, they would have swallowed us alive;
the flood would have engulfed us,
the torrent would have swept over us,
dthe raging waters would have swept us away.

Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
We have excaped like a bird out of the fowler's snare;
the snare has been broken,
and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth."

I don't know why God sometimes lets us remain in the cramped room for long or using the psalms analogies, why he allows us to be stuck in the flood, raging waters, grip of the predator, or a snare.  Maybe it is to teach us something. Maybe it is to teach someone else something (If you have been married to or friends with a depressed person, you know how much compassion, tolerance, and unconditional love it takes.) Maybe it is our stubborn refusal to just leave the room.

But this I know, if we are patient, if we are faithful and if we are willing to trust God, he will not only guide us out of the room, but we will destroy the room and burn the remains to ashes.  The following song reminds me of what it feel like to be set free from this depression. It is something I have felt for the past month or so and it is an incredible feeling. If depression haunts you, just know that I pray for you and I hope that God rescues you soon!

Alive Again, by Matt Maher
I woke up in darkness
sounded by silence
oh where, where have I gone?

I woke to reality
losing its grip on me
oh where, where have I gone?

Cause I can see the light
before I see the sunrise

You called and you shouted
broke through my deafness
now I’m breathing in
and breathing out
I’m alive again!

You shattered my darkness
washed away my blindness
now I’m breathing in
and breathing out
I’m alive again!

Verse 2
They never loved you
you waited for me,
I searched for you…
what took me so long?

I was looking outside
as a love would ever want to hide
I’m finding I was wrong

Cause I can feel the wind
before it hits my skin

Cause I want you!
Yes, I want you,
I need you
And I’ll do what ever I have to
Just to get through
cause I love you
Yeah, I love you!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Uncommon Friend: Encouragement

I was watching my friend's girls last week. Ellie, 6, came up to me as I handed her snack of homemade chocolate chip cookies and a banana and said, "You're a good mom." At first I thought, oh this is awkward--I'm not trying to act like her mom. So I said, "Well, thank you. Moms like to hear that kind of stuff." Ellie replied, "I know. I listen to how my mommy talks to other moms." That's when I realized, Ellie was only repeating what she hears her mom say to others. You see, her mom, Libby is one of the  most encouraging women I know. I could totally hear Libby saying to me (or someone else) after a tough mommy day, "Oh, Janine, you are a good mom."

I Thessalonians 5:11 tells us to "encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing." We need encouragement in this life! So let's give it to each other! When  I was in the most difficult times in my marriage, when friends asked what they could do for me, I said two things: Pray and encourage me to not give up. When my closest friend broke off our friendship and I thought it was because I was the worst person/friend in the world, I let go of all my pride and humbly crawled to the feet of my other friends and begged them to encourage me and tell me I was a good person and a good friend.

It also does good for us to give encouragement to others. When we look around us at who needs encouragement we open our eyes to the pain and strife around us. We start to see the world as God sees it. Check out one of my favorite songs is "Give me your eyes" by Brandon Heath.

"Give me your eyes" Video

Encouragement can take many forms. It might be in the form of a card. My friend Heather is great at picking out just the right one for the occasion. It might be a phone call. My friend, Katie, seems to get a sense every time I need someone to talk to. It might be a text. My friend Sarah is great at these quick and painless messages. It might be just sitting with someone who is at their bottommost point and saying, "It will be okay...someday." It could be as simple as hitting "Like" on a facebook status. Encouragement is easy, cheap, and it comes naturally because we all have a craving for it--we know what we would want to hear. Yet we are so slow and hesitant to hand it out.

Who around you needs encouragement? What little thing could you do TODAY to lift their spirit?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Uncommon Friend, Part 6: A Tale of Two Sippies

I opened the zippered side of the diaper bag, just before getting out of the car this morning. Oh no, I thought. I pulled out a sippy cup that I didn’t remember putting in there.  Much worse, we haven’t been using a diaper bag for awhile since Jonathan has gotten older.  Who knows how old that sippy cup is?! Then I notice the fullness of the other zippered pocket on the other side. Yep, another very old and probably very disgusting sippy cup. I thought I smelled a faint soured scent, but didn’t really understand what I was in for until I got back into the hot car after Jonathan’s appointment and the smell overwhelmed me! As I drove home I debated the worth of the sippies. Sure, they are $4.99, but it might be worth it if I don’t have to spend one whole minute cleaning it, where I have to smell and even touch the nastiness inside.

Don’t ask me how this connection came to me, but I realized that our friends are like sippy cups. Most of the time, our friends serve their purpose and we are blessed for it. Think of all the times you have put things like chocolate milk or grape juice in one and then you watch your toddler pitch it onto the light colored couch or carpet. When we don’t have a sippy cup with us, we miss it. I remember sitting with William in a restaurant when he was two. The server gave him a Styrofoam cup with lid and straw for his water. Within two minutes he had punctured a hole in the cup with a straw and 16 oz of water covered us, the table, and the floor.  Another time I was at lunch with friends and the restaurant tried to put a plastic lid on a regular glass cup. We had three big milk spills before our meals came! (Needless to say, the next time we went, they had purchased kids cups!)

We have also had that horrible experience of the lost and found sippy cup like I experienced today. These are like our friends when they require work. Maybe they lost their job, their boyfriend, or their cat. Maybe they lost their joy, their smile, or their hope. Like a sippy cup, this friend used to bless us, and it might bless us again in the future, but right now, it requires effort on our part.  We have to choose. Is the sippy cup worth it? Is my friend worth it? Or do I just throw her/it away?

 Here are some reasons to toss it:

·         It will only cost $4.99 to replace it. We all have a lot of women around us. There is always someone else to call, visit, email, go out to lunch with, etc. What's the harm is transfering our affection, time, and effort to someone else?

·         Actually, I had already bought another one last week; that one will do. Maybe we already have that great other friend. It makes this decision a lot easier.

·         I’ll just adapt so that I don’t need that sippy cup…I’m sure my 11 month old can drink out of a regular cup without it ever spilling. We turn to isolation or independence. We don't need friends, we tell ourselves.

·         If I try to clean it, it is going to make me uncomfortable because I’ll have to touch it and the smell might linger in the kitchen or on my hands.  To be the friend God calls us to be, we have to get our hands dirty. Jesus gave some of hismost intimate time to the dirtiest people around.

On the other hand, you might consider why you should keep it:

·         I might need it next week when I’m in a pinch and we need our drinks in the car with us. If we fall on hard times, we need an accessible friend. We want to keep our bases covered.

·         That one has been the most reliable one—it never spills when it is on its side. We all know it. Different friends have different committment levels for us. You know who to call in an emergency. You know who would sacrifice anything for them. Hopefully, you are that kind of friend.

·         I’ve had that one since he was a baby, I can’t give up on it now . This one makes sense if you are a borderline hoarder, like me. And as uncomfortable as I am throwing out sippy cups, I’m even more uncomfortable throwing out friends.
Here is where the metaphor breaks down. First, sippy cups have no feelings. They have no soul. A nasty sippy cup in the trash can will not cry itself to sleep. It won’t drive itself crazy trying to discover what it did wrong. When you turn your back on a friend because they are “spoiled” or have spent too much time in the wrong place (not the cupboard) and in the wrong state (not being clean), these are the feelings that result. Oh, my heart aches for the friends that I have thrown away simply because I cared more about my comfort and my joy than I cared for them.  I have learned from experience that it is highly unlikely that the person will allow you to dig them out of the trash once you have realized your wrong. I have also learned that oftentimes if the person digs themselves out and cleans themselves up, the love they once had for you has been replaced by bitterness and resentment.

Second, sippy cups are solely for our use.  We do nothing for them in return. Friends are different.  We can’t just base our friendships on what they can do for us. But when I look around, I see this perspective everywhere! Yes, even in the church. Maybe even especially in the church.  We know our needs and we seek out friends to fill those roles. As soon as someone stops meeting our needs, our affection for them starts to wane.  It is easier to throw nasty sippy cups away as our child grows older and their ability to control their little hands gets better, isn’t it?

My suggestion is that maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to throw away our “sippy cups.” I pity the person who throws out their sippy cups prematurely. May heaven help us when a visiting child holds a cup of grape juice over our carpet, and there is not a reliable sippy cup in sight.

Monday, August 8, 2011

I Love You, Too, Lord

Do you ever have one of those times where you feel like God decided to throw you a bone? This weekend was one of those times. Clearly I have had a difficult year. Broken relationships and frustrating circumstances made my glass-half-empty personality go into overdrive. On top of that, God hasn't let me take the easy way out at all this year. In my prayer time with Him, I have been encouraged to take the high road, love unconditionally, pray for those hate me/hurt me, remain faithful to people even as they cause me pain continually and don't care, etc.

Well, God showed me so much grace this weekend. He lavished his love upon me, you could say. It started early Friday as I drove from Toledo to Columbus. Oh the joy of a road trip without three children yelling their needs from the back! I do enjoy listening to the VeggieTales Ultimate Silly Songs on repeat, but this was the time to listen to Beth Moore share her sometimes humorous, sometimes serious, but always heartfelt and encouraging wisdom. In this particular clip, she suggested that it is never appropriate to say, "I love you" to God. What is always appropriate is to say, "I love you, too" because everything God has done and continues to do is his way of showing us he loves us. "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

If you've ever been to the midwest you know what it is like to drive through seemingly endless cornfields. Usually, those monotonous cornfields on US 23 are just a dull backdrop. That day they were as beautiful as the waterfalls of Ochos Rios, the mountains of my beloved Montana, and the breathtaking view at Magen's Bay. I love you, too, Lord.

I pulled my car into a Westerville driveway that I frequented on a weekly basis in college. I was met at the door by a beautiful little girl, the spitting image of her mother, Bethany. I first met Bethany as a freshman at OSU. I volunteered at my church to help babysit at MOPS. Bethany was the child care coordinator. She was a stay at home mom to two little boys and everything I wanted to be one day. In a moment where I literally thought the words were going to burst out of my chest if I didn't ask, I asked her to disciple me. She said yes and we both started crying because she said she was dying to ask me if she could disciple me. She was a rock for me in the craziness of college, when your head, your heart and your dreams for the future are going every single direction. She is gifted with visions from God. I know, I know. I'm very skeptical about such things as well, but hers is authentic and she doesn't throw it around all the time. This first vision she had for me was the week before George asked me out. She "saw" that God had placed a man in my life that I would form a great relationship with. Now, for most girls this would be a joke, but for someone who had never had a serious boyfriend and almost never got asked out of dates, this was big. Her second vision for me was on friday. I would really like to share it with you, but it really is too precious to me so I want to keep that to myself. What I can say, is that it makes my suffering worthwhile and it gives me such hope and encouragement for the future. To quote the great theologian, Timbuk 3, "my future's so bright, I gotta wear shades." Again, I love you, too, Lord.

On to Athens, where my good friend, Heather was willing to leave work early and drive an hour just to have lunch with me. My friendship with Heather is funny because we met on MySpace. Before you start imagining what THAT looked like, we had a mutual friend and we would ended up talking to each other on her page. Eventually we "friended' each other and that was that. I believe this was our third time seeing each other in person, but everything conversation with her is a blessing. She is very down to earth, whereas I either have my head in the clouds, or buried under six feet of dirt. She is funny, intelligent, incredibly caring, and an avid reader,  and we always have stuff to talk about. I saw something very valiant in Heather last year, when she had a difficult choice to make. Remember the mutual friend that introduced us? Well, we are no longer friends and it was very very contentious. There were several people that cut off their friendship with me as a result. They "took sides" the way we do in middle school. There were two women who chose not to, even though they knew all that happened, and actually were closer to my former friend. At the loneliest time of my life, Heather, and this one other woman, chose to believe I was still a worthwhile person to converse with. They chose to think the best of me instead of the worst. They had the courage to risk a friend's disappointment rather than heaping more coals on top of the already large fire that was burning on my back. Since then, Heather and I have a closer friendship and I absolutely cherished our fun lunch together! I love you, too, Lord.

Of course, there have also been friends who have always been there for me during my times of need. The ones who took buses visit me at OSU before I had any friends. The ones who helped me through high school when boys rejected me or I lost my position on the varsity soccer team. The ones who stood by me at my wedding and still uphold their promise to George and I  to encourage us in our marriage, to pray for our marriage, and to be there for us in our times of need. These were the girls I met at a cabin in Hocking Hills this weekend. Of course, some of them weren't able to make it and we missed them dearly. But Katie, Jessica, Jen, Melissa, and Marika, and I had a great time. We literally talked for hours and hours. There wasn't a single topic we didn't cover. Funny things. Serious things. Sad things. Happy  things. Weird things, or should I say, weird security guards and weird movies ("You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not.") I love you, too, Lord.

Sunday afternoon, I drove back home to my lovely, not-so-little family, who greeted me with a clean home, big smiles, squeeze hard hugs, and wagging tails.  I love you, too, Lord.