Why yes, I am a Christian on antidepressants…

Those of you who know me know that I am fairly private person. I am happy to share my story with anyone, but I am not the type who will shout it from the rooftops. So publishing this blog post terrifies me. But here’s the thing… I have had enough people in my life who seem surprised, disappointed, even betrayed when I mention the fact that I am on antidepressants. Someone needs to speak up. I guess that someone is me.

I have noticed there is this  thing in church culture- we are quick to affirm that other people should go to counseling, that it is OK if others are on antidepressants, but when one of us is struggling, we fall silent. It’s terribly hard to admit that you are the one who isn’t doing just fine on your own. But because of this, far too many suffer in silence. So, even though it goes against my nature to put this out here, here it is. I take a little blue pill every morning. And that is OK.

I have heard all of the arguments, doubts, questions about psychopharmacology. Isn’t taking a medication to change your emotional state covering up who you really are? Perhaps this is a thorn in your side, some way that God has created you to be. Shouldn’t you be able to pray more, trust more, eat better, do something to fix yourself? Isn’t medication the easy way out?

I remember the first time that I was truly depressed. I was a sophomore in college and I cried every day. I remember having a conversation in my dorm room and through my tears trying to explain that this wasn’t me. That I shouldn’t be crying right now. That all of this emotion wasn’t who I was. It didn’t make sense to the person I was talking to. And it doesn’t make sense today. But that doesn’t make it any less true. Depression had settled over my life like an itchy wool blanket. The me I knew myself to be was smothering underneath a thick layer of emotion that I couldn’t contain. 

But I didn’t get help then. I soldiered on. Then, a few years later, I (literally) ran half marathons around the fact that my dad was dying. I thought that exercising could cure the pain. I didn’t reach out for help. Neither did I when my first son was born and I wept through the entire first year of his life. 
It wasn’t until my daughter was born, when I felt the dreaded weight of the darkness rolling over my life again, when a trusted doctor gently suggested that I wasn’t doing just fine, that I finally reached out. And now, with a full glass of water each morning, I make a toast to life. 

  
We all know we live in a broken world. We all know that we ourselves are fallen. But when confronted with our individual brokenness, I fear that we feel pressure to fix ourselves. No one thinks that taking insulin for diabetes is cheating God’s ability to heal. People don’t judge women in childbirth for electing to have an epidural instead of enduring ‘the curse.’ But when the pain is psychic, we feel more skeptical.

I don’t feel that taking medication is limiting or changing who God created to me to be. Depression isn’t my identity. The struggle does not define me, nor does it take me deeper in my walk of faith. Instead it blunts me. It consumes me. It distracts me from this life that I love so dearly and my sweet savior who is ever present. Taking these pills, in my mind, is not walking away from a challenge set before me, it is more fully embracing the life I have been given to lead. 

So yes. I am a believer who believes in taking antidepressants. And if you are struggling my friend, if you find yourself in that deep hole, smothered by that thick blanket, trapped inside of emotions do not feel like they are yours… please.  Reach out. For counseling. For friendship. For humility and transparency. For medication, if that’s what you need. But mostly, reach out to others, and to God. This is not your burden alone to bear…

Selah. 

Please Don’t Give Up Chocolate for Lent this Year…

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Today is Ash Wednesday, the official start of Lent.  Which means that people all over the world will begin their Lenten fasts.  In my experience, however, these chosen fasts have more to do with crash dieting than with deepening one’s walk with Christ.

Having grown up in a tradition that didn’t talk that much about practicing Lent, I only had a vague idea of what Lent was as a high schooler.  If you were to ask 16 year old me what it meant to practice Lent, I probably would have told you that for 40 days before Easter you weren’t allowed to eat chocolate, soda, and you were supposed to go for a 3 mile run instead of watching TV every day.  In essence, Lent was a second shot at that failed New Year’s Resolution.  Other than the timing of the season, I didn’t know that Lent had all that much to do with God.

As an adult, I have come to understand what Lent means in the practice of the faith.  The season is meant to be a time of anticipation, a time of making room for Christ.  That is the purpose of a Lenten fast- to create a hunger for God, to create space in your life and your schedule to devote yourself to prayer and reflection.  In my thinking, the practice of Lent should draw you closer to God, creates a sense of fullness and satisfaction, not one of hunger or deprivation.  So let me ask you (humbly, gently); does giving up chocolate, caffeine, or fast food really create room and awareness of God in your life?

Is there another practice that could better accomplish that purpose?

I so often see people (and have been guilty myself) of choosing something for a fast that is really more of a diet plan.  In my mind I am thinking I am doing this for God, but if I also happen to lose a bit of weight in the process, that’s ok too.  As I reflect upon this, I realize that that is dancing a line very close to idolatry.  What am I really pursuing in this goal?  To draw closer to Christ, or to draw closer to my goal of the perfect body?

In the past few years I have decided that instead of giving something up for Lent, I will instead add something.  A daily (or if that’s too hard, regular) practice that serves to draw me closer to my savior.  To more deeply connect me with the author of life. To invite me into a time of personal worship.  This year, I am going to try and set some time each day to create.  As an act of worship.  Acknowledging that I am formed in the image of my Creator.  That practice speaks deeply into my soul as something I need right now.  Perhaps there is something your heart is whispering to you that would draw you closer to God…

Time each day to walk, outside, appreciating God’s marvelous creation.

A family meal each week, set aside to connect with each other on a deeper level.

Worship music in your car on your morning commute.

Reading the Christian book that has been sitting on your nightstand for weeks.

My challenge to you is to use Lent to enrich your relationship with Christ in a way that has no other outside benefits.  Let your pursuit of Him for the next 40 days be unspoiled by other secondary goals.

And may the Peace of Christ be with you.

 

Selah

So.  I haven’t written for a while.

There are legitimate reasons why.  Work has been crazy.  Sleep has been short. I’ve been reading through 1 and 2 Chronicles (not exactly a get up a cheer part of the Bible). Emotionally, I have been in a funk.  When I drag myself (and my toddlers) through the door at night, often there is not much energy, passion, soul, left.

All those reasons sound valid.  But here is the real reason I haven’t been writing:  I have been neglecting the thing that this whole blog is supposed to be about.

Selah.

I have forgotten to Stop.  And I have forgotten to Listen.

How many days have I just plowed through without pausing even once to listen to what the Lord is trying to whisper?  How many gentle lessons have I raced through like yellow lights with my eyes fixed on the next thing?  How many joyless days have I lived recently without margin?

restI believe that the rhythms of God are like those of music.  The rests are an essential part of the melody.  The song feels incomplete without those beats of silence.  It seems fitting that the word Selah can also refer to a musical interlude… a moment to stop and reflect, an intentional break in the text.

The writers of the Psalms clearly understood that life has a pattern and a tempo.  That our days, much like our music, were meant to have stops and starts, periods of activity and periods of reflection.  This is not a concept that is given much value in today’s culture.  And yet, I get the feeling that something essential may be getting lost in the frenetic rush to the next thing.

When you are working on a project for your job- do you ever take a moment to intentionally disengage?  To step back and look at the big picture?  Or do you stare at the blue screen until the words stop making sense?  When you are with your family, do you take a moment to stop and breathe deeply and marvel- to truly see these human beings God has blessed you with?  Or do you find yourself instead trying to sneak moments to check your updates on your phone?  When you eat- do you even notice your food?  Savor the flavor, the texture of this wild and magical world?  Who else on the planet has their daily choice of global cuisine at their fingertips?  Yet I find myself spooning pad thai and queso fresco the same way I might eat oatmeal- mindlessly.

When was the last time I gave myself permission to take a beat during my day?  When is the last time I paused- to think, to pray, to marvel?  What would these stolen moments have cost me, truly?  And would it be worth the price to gain the feeling of mindfulness, to know that I am actually living my life?

Thinking of a concept like this, my proclivity is to rush to guilt.  To feel bad about the fact that I haven’t been nourishing my soul, and to resolve to add this to my ever-lengthening to do list for the next day.   But I have the feeling that the practice of selah may be one that refuses to allow me to remain in control.  That to learn how and when I need to pause and to reflect, I need to learn to listen to my life, listen to my soul.  That feels to me more like a building of awareness than a task to schedule.

It feels… intimidating.  inconvenient.  Yet also necessary.

The glorious thing is, we serve a God of new beginnings. One who wants us to succeed, and is constantly whispering encouragement and blessings over us.  I have a feeling if we take a step in faith, he will meet us more than halfway…

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
Lamentations 3:22-23

Cans of Veggies and Wet Feet

 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.
 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus.  Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God;  so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.
 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”
Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”
“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
John 13:1-9

I had a bizarre dream last night.

I was being discharged from the hospital.  My room was filled with plastic bags of canned vegetables (why? who can even know) that I had to take to the car.  However, after lugging them down the stairs (in my hospital gown), I found that my car had been moved.  My friend offered to drive me around to look for the car, but in the process she kept not listening to my directions, turning the wrong way, and running into walls.  I couldn’t find my car, and my arms ached from holding up the heavy bags.  I was anxious to the point of frenzy, still woozy from my illness, and unwilling to surrender my burdens. 

And then I woke up to the sound of my one year old crying.  Now I am no dream analyst, but I can pretty much tell from this dream that I have some control issues.  And some feeling-out-of-control issues.  Starting my morning in this manner left me feeling a bit jittery, and like there was something I NEEDED to do, a small alarm ringing in the back of my mind.

And then today, I sat down to meditate on Jesus washing Peter’s feet.  As I sat in the silence and imagined that moment, I began to have some of the same reactions as Peter.

But wait- Jesus, I serve YOU, you don’t serve me!  Yes.  This sounds good.  And this is a principle I adopt more often than not when it comes to life as a disciple of Jesus.  But it is totally backwards.  When I view myself as a servant of God, and don’t first allow Jesus to minister to me, I am operating on human terms.  My service to God is earning me favor.  It keeps me feeling secure, righteous, and in control.

Laying down all my gold stars, all my good works, all my efforts, and allowing Christ to cleanse me is a powerful act of surrender.  It is saying that I can’t keep things going smoothly on my own.  There are too many cans of vegetables (I know- it’s bizarre- but let’s roll with the metaphor) and the car keeps moving.  I will never finish the task on my own.  And I am not meant to.  Because if it were possible for me to be good enough on my own, then Jesus sacrifice for me would be a cosmic waste of time.  And oh how I am in need of that sacrifice.  I need the redemption.  I need to be forced to admit that I can’t do it all by myself.  I need to be willing to be humble enough to allow God to minister to my soul- my heart, my needs.

The martyr on the Cross should always remain Christ.  When I look at my life and realize that that I am casting myself in the role of suffering servant, it’s time for a reality check.  For if I can’t humble myself and allow Christ to wash my feet, how can I possibly accept the enormity of his sacrifice for me? If I am unwilling to first be ministered to by Christ, then those who see my efforts will never see God shining through them, only the increasingly strident acts of a pretty good human.

If I keep trying to be good enough, responsible enough, DO enough to keep my life running smoothly, I will inevitably fail.  The truth is, we aren’t in control of our lives.  Sooner or later, something will happen that will prove to us beyond all doubt that WE are not in charge.  And when that happens, if all of our trust and valor is built upon our own resources, our defenses will crumble.  However, if we continually seek to submit to the tender ministrations of Christ, then we know the One who holds our future.  And we are able to stand in trust that God is sovereign, and that God is in control. Humility leads to trust, and trust leads to a deeper, truer life.

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Lean not on your own understanding.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
Proverbs 3:5

pathI love this verse.  The words to Proverbs 3:5-6 are the lyrics to the song that I sing both my children each night before bed.  My son came home from school last week and this was his ‘scripture’ for the week.  To hear his precious, 3 year old voice reciting these precious words meant the world to me.  Of the lessons I hope they learn from their mother, I hope these words rank high on the list.

So I was surprised to discover today that I have not been living as if I believe them.

I was watching this video today, as part of my Lenten devotionals.  The monk who is speaking tells of the lesson he learns from his dog- who greets each morning by springing out of bed with an exuberant yip.  This dog’s delight to face the day points to two things- first, an admirable lack of caffeine dependence, and second (and more importantly), an inherent trust in the faithfulness of God.  In order to take joy and delight in what our day holds, we must trust that the One crafting the day has our good in mind.  When we know this deep in our souls, we are able to engage our lives with a sense of lightness and whimsy.

How do you get out of bed in the morning?

I know I don’t spring out of bed.  When facing the day of late, my attitude has ranged from somber to resigned.  I look at the future with a sense of anxiousness, not adventure.  When did this happen to me?  I know the One who holds my future.  I believe his promise to work things for my good!  I delight in my work, my children, my friends… so why the sense of resignation?  When did my actions and attitudes begin to belie my belief?

And how to change it?

Resolution #1- Seek delight.
Daffodils.  Curly toddler hair.  trail mix.  thomas the train.   All wonderful, beautiful elements of my day so far.  Did I take the time to delight in them?  No.  I walked past, fixated on the next task in front of me.  Going forward, I hope to acknowledge these small gifts, allow them to bring to light the blessings and love in my life.

Resolution #2- View the future in light of the past.
I am amazingly blessed.  God has been so faithful to me.  Even when things logically should NOT work out- budgets shouldn’t balance, children should have been injured- I have been amazingly, miraculously blessed.  God is good.  All the time.  Why is this not my operating premise?  From here on out, or at least, starting today, starting right now, I am walking in trust.  God will provide.  God is good. He is the bringer of daily bread, and the one who directs my paths.

How are you neglecting to walk in trust? How are you leaning on  your own understanding?  In what ways is God calling you to walk in trust, to embrace delight, today?