Not Scary- FUN!

My two year old daughter is terrified of all things that make noise.   Anything can send her into hysterics- the garbage disposal, the bathroom fan, the ice machine on the fridge, half of the toys she owns…

In order to contain the terror, my husband and I have a phrase we keep repeating whenever she is screaming in terror… not scary- FUN!  She dutifully repeats this back to us- not scary… fun… This pattern has repeated itself over and over often enough that now, whenever she hears a loud noise, she comes sprinting towards us, hysterically half-laughing, half-crying, screaming NOT SCARY- FUN at the top of her lungs.  Other times, she buries her head in my shoulder, weeping, repeating not scary- fun.  Sometimes I wonder what kind of psychological damage we are inflicting upon her young mind.

Then I shrug, and turn back on the hair dryer.

not scary- fun

I may not be afraid of household appliances (with the exception to the vacuum cleaner) but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things that send me into hysterical fits.  Things like walking into a room of people I only know marginally well, and being expected to socialize.  Buying airplane tickets.  Making decisions that will affect other people. Leaning in and engaging in conflict.  Adulting in general.

There is so much about living life as a human that feels terrifying and unpredictable.  The stakes can feel so high.  Decisions, even tiny ones, can have huge consequences.  If you allow yourself to feel truly alone in the midst of this, the weight can be crushing.

I cannot count the times in my life that I wanted to run and bury my head in someone’s shoulder, to be held and reassured.  But we are all trying too hard to seem confident and put together to allow ourselves to do this.

Today, I was reflecting on some of my life mottoes- quotes and phrases that stick with me. and I noticed a common theme:

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every situation where you really stop to look fear in the face.  You are able to say to yourself, I have lived through this horror.  I can take the next thing that comes along.  You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
-Eleanor Roosevelt

Fake it ’til you make it.

Here is the World.
Beautiful and Terrible Things will Happen.
Don’t be Afraid.
-Fredrich Buechner

Yoga Pants.
Messy Bun.
Coffee’s Brewing.
Get it Done.

When I stop to think about it, all of these quotes lead towards the central truth in one of my favorite passages of scripture…

You have not been given a spirit of timidity and fear, but one of power, love, and self control.
2 Timothy 1:7

The spirit in you, it is created in the image of God.  We live our lives in full view of the loving eyes of our Savior.  Every day is written in his book.  Every tear is collected in his bottle.  There is nothing that can hide us, remove us, or exclude us from His love.

We feel timid, we feel fearful, but this is not who we are.  We are immortal souls, who have one shot at this life we have been given.  It’s a divine opportunity to do our best, to give our all.  To love big, fail big, and learn and to stretch our wings.  The Spirit that is in us is greater than the spirit that is in the world.

Who would you be, if you were freed from the spirit of fear that is holding you captive?  What would you do, if you were unleashed to be the person you truly are on the inside?  How would the world change if we gave ourselves permission to really try?  Perhaps then, the words would ring true…

Not scary- FUN!

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…

vhovolsyr

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.

 

Snowstorm Sabbath

2015-02-26 09.01.32

One of my favorite things about living in the South is our kooky reaction to winter weather.  As the first flakes of frozen precipitation begin to fall from above, we feel compelled to act as if the sky itself is falling.  School is cancelled.  There is a run on the grocery store.  Motorists on all major thoroughfares immediately smash into fellow  vehicles.  We stack up our firewood, pile on the blankets, and drink mug after mug of hot chocolate.  It’s amazing.

We have just weathered one of those storms, and, as we emerge from the blizzard of 2016, I find myself realizing what it is that I love so much about our winter panic- in the midst of the storm, everything stops.  We stay at home.  Engage with our families.  Cook luxurious meals and excuse ourselves from going to work, to the gym, to board meetings and the other obligations that fill our days.  We shelter in place.

In essence, we take a sabbath.

I cannot tell you how much the last few days have meant to me.  I have had real conversations with my family.  I have gotten down on the floor and played with my children. I took moments to pet my dog.  Wash my dishes by hand.  Talk to my neighbors.  I have marveled at the beauty of nature, and listened to good music.  In essence, I have taken time to stop and truly enjoy this beautiful life I am living.

In typical Southern fashion, the weather today is heading towards 50 degrees.  On the street outside of my office I see people in winter parkas walking next to others in t-shirts.  And I find myself a bit sad about the thaw.  Because although I appreciate the return to normal patterns and schedules, I know I will miss the freedom and space created by the snow.

For the record, no, I am am not wishing for an eternal winter. But I do find myself asking what it is about these snow days that are so meaningful.  What practices can I carry forward into the sunshine?

Here are some questions I have been asking myself in the discovery process… maybe they will resonate with you as well:

What do I cherish the most about snow days?

What elements of this time can I begin to incorporate into my own sabbath practices?

How can I hold myself accountable to engage deeply in relationships with those I love in the midst of my busy-ness?

Are there any new traditions I can put in place in my life to capture some of this whimsy and peace I love so dearly?

even in darkness

139

I had a conversation a few weeks ago where someone asked me what I thought about times in one’s life when you don’t feel God’s presence as strongly as you once did.  While the person seemed to be asking me an open ended question, I felt the tension of needing to give the ‘right answer’.  I knew that what I was supposed to say is that when you feel far from God, you just grit your teeth, double down, and wrestle your way back into the Light.  So, in my shame and cowardice, that is what I said.

But here is the truth.

I am in that place- the valley.  I have been for a while now.  And right now, today, I don’t have the strength, or even the desire to pull myself up by my bootstraps.  I’m weary.  I’m battered.  And, paradoxically, I am okay with it.

Because here in this valley, I am in the process of learning one of the most valuable lessons I have ever been given.

Though I may waver, God is faithful.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.
 You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!
Psalm 139:1-6

Me? I am fickle.  I am bound by circumstance and perspective.  My view on life, on God, on everything, is bound by time and situation.  I can’t see my way out of this place.  Also- I am tired.  My days are consumed with watching small children, with holding down a full time job, with walking the dog, and doing the dishes, and the dozens of other small obligations that seem to crowd into my life.  When I reach the end of my day, I am just as often crashing into bed feeling like I narrowly escaped catastrophe as I am going to sleep with a prayer on my lips.  Right now I do not have the time, quiet, or capacity to be pursuing God like I ought to be.  Like I want to be

…and that is okay…

You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.
Psalm 139:16

Because God never changes.

His love for me is unwavering. No matter how I act, no matter what I do, His love for me remains.  Because Love is knit into His character just as firmly as fallibility is woven into mine.  God’s love is not based on merit, on effort, or on intentions.  It is based upon the fact that we are His beloved children, created by Him and treasured by him.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
    They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
    they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
    you are still with me!
Psalm 139 17:18

I am, by nature a do-er.  I grew up in a family known for their good works.  My temptation is always to view my worth in terms of my worthiness in terms of what I have done to deserve love, to deserve mercy, and (let’s be honest) to deserve applause.  Living life in a day to day race to the finish line makes me feel as if I am somehow not measuring up.  When a day goes by and my Bible remains unread, I imagine it glaring at me from the nightstand, resentfully neglected.    When the pile of Christian Living books on my bookshelf is covered by a layer of dust, I see this as physical evidence of my unworthiness, of my failure as a disciple.

And yet, when I read scripture, this is simply not true.  God’s love for me is not tied to my efforts.  Who I am, my identity in Christ, is hidden in something much more solid than my own efforts.  I am a child of God.  Dearly loved.  Redeemed.  Delighted in. Known.  Seen.  Treasured.  None of this depends upon or even reflects what I do to deserve it.

I am beginning to feel that this time of darkness is truly a blessing.  Though I don’t always feel competent successful in this phase of life, I can come to rest on the truth that God’s love is built on the solid truth of who HE is, not on the capricious reality of who I am at the given moment.

I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there.
 If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
 even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me.
 I could ask the darkness to hide me
    and the light around me to become night—
   but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
    Darkness and light are the same to you.
Psalm 139:7-12

When you next find yourself in the valley, straining to feel God’s presence, and feeling condemned by your own shortcomings, I invite you to see this as a time of invitation.  A time to rest, to reflect, to intentionally not try to climb your way out.  Instead, join me in the process of waiting and listening.  And trust that God’s love is still there, still unwavering, still the truest thing about you.  For this has been a lesson that is changing my life right now.

Yet also, realize this- when I speak of the valley, I am using present tense.  I think we often view these chapters of life as lessons that need to be learned, or times we need to endure before we can bounce back, invigorated and ready to overcome.  Yes.  I am learning.  Yes, God is speaking.  But, yes.  I am still here in this place.

Often we don’t know the reasons or the answers to why things happen to us.  And that is yet another time when the big-ness of God can be a comfort.  For he knows I am here.  I am not forgotten.  Though I may not feel the closeness with God that I crave, though I may not feel the delight I once felt, I know God is there.  And for now, that will have to be enough.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Psalm 139:23-24