Why Depression Won’t Win: An Easter Reflection

I am a girl who feels she is not enough. Perfection seems like it should be possible and yet I fall short. I snap at my kids. I am jealous of other women. I am irritable, selfish, materialistic. I see my sin. I struggle with depression, shame, and fear. And I know I would be stuck in a spiral of hopelessness and darkness if it wasn’t for this one truth:

Jesus loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

 I MAY NOT BE GOOD ENOUGH, BUT I AM LOVED

Jesus saw in me a girl worth dying for. He saw me as a girl who can be redeemed.

In Him I am new. The old is gone, the new is here. I may still carry shame and unworthiness in my heart, but the cross and the empty tomb proclaim that I am valued and set free.

When I reflect on His undying love, I have hope. When I remember His promise of abundant life, joy creeps into my soul. When I begin to comprehend that the grave couldn’t hold Him and darkness couldn’t hide His light, I weep with relief. Because if He could withstand the darkness of death and rise in light, maybe He can bring unending light into my life.

Because of Him, I live.

Christ is risen, friends.

Blessed Easter.

-Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the
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As a Christian Perfectionist, I feel like a failure (intro to my sermon)

A month ago I preached what has been called my “best sermon yet.” While it didn’t feel that awesome to me (I was tired and a bit uncertain) I do believe that God had something to say. Here is the introduction to the sermon. If you want to hear the whole thing, listen here or get it on iTunes here (11/9/14 “Clothe Yourself in Christ”).

During my sophomore year of high school, I woke up each morning at 5:30 in order to spend 30 minutes reading my Bible and praying before getting ready for school. During those times, the Spirit moved within me as God’s word began to impact my life as never before. I read about love, forgiveness, life. And as I struggled with depression for the first time, I experienced comfort and acceptance in God’s presence.

Those times were precious to me.

I desired my friends to experience this life and I’m sure I came across pushy and judgmental as I awkwardly told them they needed to read the Bible, too. But it came from this deep desire that they know God.

This season was sweet. And it was short. Summer vacation came and so did my late nights watching every episode of Wonder Years on Nick @ Nite and sleeping in. As I went on, still following Jesus, I felt pangs of guilt in my conscious that I should have been better at reading the Bible. The few times a week here and there were not good enough. I believed I was not doing well as a Christian. My youth group meetings, church services, and FCA meetings confirmed this. Read your Bible! Pray! And for 30 minutes. In the morning. Because that’s when Jesus did it. While it was still dark. Before everyone else got up.

If you check this off of your list, you will be ok.

And as I read scripture, I began to see that there were behaviors that would please God and those that God did not like so much. So, as I read, I tried to change. I would search for ways that I needed to change and try to learn how to be the girl God & others wanted me to be, on my own.

If you can hold your tongue, not swear, never drink alcohol, dress modestly, if you could just be perfect, sweet, humble, kind, quiet, then you will be acceptable as a Christian woman. Then you are good enough.

But I have a temper. I used to scream at my little sisters and smack them, hard, if they got in my way. When I was 15 or 16 I left a stinging hand print on my 7 year old sister’s back. I was horrified with my sin and vowed to never hit anyone again. I refrained from my sisters and have avoided spanking my children, terrified of the wrath inside of me.

And there’s this thought in me, if only I was better at following Jesus I would not have a temper. If only I just did more to follow Christ, then maybe I could have myself under control.

As humans, we tend to view ourselves as one of two ways. Either we work our butts off to prove to everyone that we are good enough, terrified of failure, constantly trying to perfect ourselves on our own. Or we feel that we are not good enough and give up trying to be, accepting that no one, not even God could love or help us. We are perfectionists, trying to “make it” on our own. Or we believe ourselves to be failures and give up before we even try.

Any one of the individuals on either side of the spectrum are desperate, whether we will admit it or not…

Listen here for more…

clothe in christ

Why I’m Grateful I Screw Up

The Way of Gratitude: Day 6 (originally posted here)way of gratitude (2)

Reading this, I remember why I’m naming our dog Gracie. Grace is amazing. In the full sense of that word.

Last night, I didn’t post about gratitude. I didn’t feel it. I was worn out from lots of housework, only to find that the hose from the washing machine fell to the floor during a load yesterday causing the laundry room to be soaking wet.

Not. Fun.

As I cleaned up the mess at 10:15 pm, I recited to myself, “Be grateful. You have a washer and dryer. Be grateful.” And I was for a moment, as I remembered walking up and down three flights of stairs to use machines across the courtyard from our apartment 7 years ago…

But I didn’t want to write about that.

I was feeling tired, whiny, and stressed when I went to bed.

And this morning… I woke up with a sense of guilt.

“I didn’t blog. I didn’t follow through on my commitment. I wasn’t grateful enough. I haven’t done enough to… to…” To do what? Oh that’s right, it comes down to this: “I haven’t done enough to please God.” Yup.

My entire life I feel I’ve been running around trying to do the right thing to make God happy. Because, maybe if I don’t sin, things would go well for me. Because maybe if I did things right, I would have his approval. Because maybe if  I was perfect on my own, he wouldn’t have had to die for me.

That is such a backwards expression of Christianity, yet it is one that is incredibly prevalent in a society that for years has used the church as a place to learn how to live moral lives. The Church is no longer a place to receive grace, but often a place to just receive a message on how to “do it better.” Completely focused on behavior. Not on the message of the cross.

What’s been forgotten is what Paul said to the Galatians who were backtracking to follow the Law instead of living in the New Covenant of Grace.

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. (Galatians 5:4 TNIV)

Nothing we do is good enough. And, conversely, if we try to save ourselves by doing good things, we alienate ourselves from Christ and his grace.

To be a Christian is to believe that it is through Christ’s death, his sacrifice ALONE, that we are saved and to give up all attempts to be good enough. To be a Christian is to confess, “I cannot do it on my own. God, forgive me. Help me.” And to be a Christian is to receive God’s forgiveness.

But when we try to be good enough with our own striving, we are strapping the rules and regulations of the law back on our backs like backpacks full of bricks. We have in effect rejected Christ’s work on the cross when we try to be good enough.

My writing this blog or not, my “being the best I can be,” my efforts that eventually fail… these things are all covered by God’s love. That is true grace. Forgiveness when we fail and have nothing to offer.

My not blogging last night producing such feelings of guilt is obviously an overreaction, but I am grateful for that feeling, because I was reminded that what I do or don’t do won’t affect my standing with God. I am his child. Period.

What I do or don't do won't affect my

I am eternally grateful that I don’t have to strive to make it up. God has already forgiven me of anything wrong I could possibly do.

Yes, I’m grateful for Grace.

I hope I’ve made it clear why.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1 TNIV)

Leah: A Ragamuffin

Day 14 of 31 Days of Connecting

The other night Tim and I watched “Ragamuffin,” a movie about the life of the musician Rich Mullins.

As Tim and I watched Rich meet with Brennan Manning and as Brennan Manning taught Rich about God’s love for the first time I was brought back to my seat in Bethel’s Great Hall as Brennan Manning (I can’t write his name without saying first and last, it’s just impossible!) taught me about God’s love. It was as if I had never been taught the gospel before. In tears I purchased the book, got in line for an autograph, and asked the elderly man for a hug. Surprised, he did.

I went back to my room trying to wrap my head around such words as “grace” and tried to actually accept that it was for me. I tried to grasp “forgiveness” and kept repeating the phrase: “You shouldn’t should on yourself”… just trying to make it stick.

That was 13 years ago.

I still forget. 

I still try to win God’s favor. I still try to be perfect. I still try to live as if I don’t sin, denying the sins I do commit, and harming my ability to connect with others in the process.

Because I believe to be connected with your true self is to understand yourself as a sinner who is saved by the marvelous grace of Jesus.

No more masks. No more facades. But face to face with the harsh truth that but for Christ’s death on the cross, I would be lost.

He didn’t want to lose me.

And because of this grace, I am free to live as I truly am. When I see my sin, I can confess it, find forgiveness, and be equipped to live without it.

This is such a long process. Life-long. Though we can experience great healing and wholeness I don’t believe anyone ever experiences complete holiness in this life – no one except Jesus of course.

And so, we continue to fall back on God’s amazing, extravagant, prodigal, glorious, humbling grace until we see Him face to face.

And then we will truly live.

Please watch this two minute video of a piece of a Brennan Manning sermon. It could change your life.

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:15-16

And Then I Was Angry…

Days 10 & 11… & 12? of 31 Days of Connecting

I’ve known for awhile that I wanted to write about the year of 2013 – or as I call it, The Year of Mourning. And I’ve known if would be hard – and it is. But I’m grateful for such a receptive and encouraging audience. You guys are the voice of God to me as I work.

This is it. Part 3 of my story. (It started here.)

*****

They say grief has five stages: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. I had clearly been living in denial of my loss for far too long. At the beginning of my mourning I felt a deep sadness settling into my soul. Each of the losses was felt, individually and collectively. I carried them with me.

But, one of the losses took awhile to come to my attention. Actually, I didn’t perceive it as a loss, because I thought it was my fault. I thought I was doing something wrong. And I thought I was the one responsible to fix it.

It was the loss of financial security.

For several months, our income amounted to about two thousand per month. With a mortgage, medical bills, student loans, and other ongoing expenses we struggled to get by. Well, I struggled.

I thought the loss of our financial security was my fault because I believed I wasn’t handling the money correctly. I wasn’t saving enough. I wasn’t being thrifty enough. If only I tracked every penny every day, if I only bought sale items  and used a coupon with every item I purchased then maybe things would be alright. Since I sometimes forgot – since I sometimes paid full price for a box of cereal or a gallon of milk, since I bought myself a t-shirt at Target for $5, it was my fault we couldn’t stay within our tight budget.

And I thought I was in the wrong because I shouldn’t be depending on financial security. Oh the spiritual abuse I heaped on myself was heavy here. If I only trusted God, then we would be ok. If I only trusted God, it wouldn’t matter how much we had, because I would be content. If I only trusted God, then life would be rosy. No problems. No pain. No loss.

But I didn’t.

And I just didn’t want to acknowledge these losses: The loss of security. The loss of trust in God. Because if I didn’t trust God, what kind of pastor would I be?

But God didn’t let me hide that loss – He didn’t want me to go on living as if I trusted Him when I didn’t. He didn’t want me to pretend I was ok with our low income. In fact, He forced me to face it.

It happened one night when Tim and I were talking and Tim said to me, “I want to give the house to God.”

Come again?

“What do you mean?” I asked, defensively.

“I want to entrust it to Him. I want to surrender it to Him and use it the way He wants us to.”

I looked around our living room. The sofa we got at a garage sale, my Target armchair, the bookshelf Tim made after we got married, my electric piano…

And I saw us having to get rid of it all.

“No!” Fear, frustration, panic, and a sense of abandonment filled my heart.

Hadn’t we done enough for God? We moved to Colorado so I could go to Denver Seminary in order to spend the remainder of my life serving Him. We made financial sacrifices within our careers in order to honor Him. We stayed in Colorado to serve Him. I had given up family, friendships, and finances trusting Him. And He didn’t seem to care a wit about me in return.

How could He ask for my home, too?!

Bitterness crept into my heart, my defenses were up and my claws were bared. There was no way I was going to back down, not now.

If God wanted me to acknowledge my losses, I was going to. And He was going to have to deal with it. Because I was done. I was done trying so hard to please Him. I was done acting like I was ok with where He had called us. I was done being the placid, submissive, loving daughter of God I felt I needed to be.

Anger was here. And it wasn’t going anywhere for awhile.

I didn’t talk to God for a week.

*****

Dilemma: What do you do when you’re not talking to God but are one of the leaders of a prayer and worship ministry? What do you do when you’re not talking to God and have a church wide prayer event in the middle of your strike on God?

I went reluctantly.

I felt like a fraud.

Thankfully I didn’t have any responsibilities at that prayer event or I would have had to tell somebody I couldn’t talk to God. I was in hiding.

Did I have to pray?

The first thing the leader of the event did was invite us all to take a moment to be alone with God. To pray, to worship, to get ourselves ready to pray together.

Begrudgingly I went into our church’s prayer cave. I could hide here, I figured.

Sitting alone, in silence, David’s words crept into my heart. How long, Lord? How long will you forget me?

I pulled out my phone, searched for this phrase in my digital Bible, and found the rest of Psalm 13:

psalm 13

I brushed away the tears. The psalm became my prayer. His unfailing love? His salvation? His goodness to me? I wasn’t so sure. But if God was willing for these words of pain to be His Word, then maybe I could speak them to Him, too.

How long will I be alone? How long must I mourn? Grieve? How long will I be sad? How much longer do we need to be here? How many more goodbyes do I need to say? Please answer me. Please relieve me of my pain.

I went through the evening as one reciting the multiplication table: rote. I knew the motions. I knew the words. I just didn’t have the heart.

Then, the leader of the event asked for us to break into small groups, lay hands on, and pray for the staff members and their spouses who were there that evening. I was completely caught off guard. Did I want to be prayed for? I didn’t know. Could I be prayed for? … Sure.

I watched as groups of people migrated to the staff; then three, a mere three, came to Tim and me.

Yes, these three could pray for me. I trusted them.

I don’t remember if we talked first. I don’t think so. They just started praying.

I surrendered to their voices…

One woman who I’ve known for a long time, but not well, spoke – and she spoke my heart.

She spoke of how I love people deeply. Deeper than others love.

And she prayed about how it must be so hard for me to be away from my family when I love others as much as I do.

How did she know that?!

She prayed for strength.

She prayed for healing.

I wept.

31 days of connecting

“Praying Our Goodbyes” – Words of Wisdom from Joyce Rupp

Day 9 of 31 Days of Connecting

Thank you all for your encouraging words concerning my recent posts. It’s healing for me to finally write about it – I’m overjoyed that God is using it to heal you as well. 

When I began to grieve, I realized quickly that I needed help. Because I had shoved some of my feelings down for well over a decade, I didn’t know how to mourn my losses. Writing them down helped – but it only helped me realize that they were there.

How does one begin to sort through the mess of pain and tears that causes your stomach to ache, your chest to heave, your heart to burn? How does one begin to understanding the feelings of shame, abandonment, and helplessness that comes with grief? How does one begin to see why we feelings like these are good, helpful, or even healing?

When I began to grieve, I turned to a book I had on my shelf for a couple of years, but had never opened. It is called Praying Our Goodbyes by Joyce Rupp. Within pages, I found hope and confidence that this journey through the depths of heartache was exactly where I needed to be.

I would like to share some of Rupp’s words of wisdom with you, today. I hope that as many of you are seeking healing in your own seasons of mourning this book could become a resource for you, as it is for me:

One author speaks of an “existential loneliness” that permeates every human spirit, a kind of unnamed pain inside, deep within us, a restlessness, an anxiety, a sense of “all aloneness” that calls out to us. I prefer to name it an “existential ache.” It is a persistent longing in us, and it happens because we are human. It is as strongly present in us as autumn is present in the cycle of the seasons. I believe that this ache is within us because we are composed of both physical and spiritual dimensions. Our body belongs to the earth but our spirit does not. Our final home is not here, although “here” is where we are meant to be transformed by treasuring, reverencing and growing through our human journey. No matter how good the “good earth” is, there is always a part of us that is yearning, longing, quietly crying out for the true homeland where life is no longer difficult or unfair. 

Every once in a while we get in touch with this truth in us. It is not a sadness exactly, not a hurt or a pain as such, but some tremendously deep voice that cries out in bittersweet agony… It is the autumn in all of us, the truth that life can never stay just as it is.

This inner ache is felt especially when we sense the mystery of life or the supreme uniqueness of who we are. It is present when we recognize the fleetingness of all that we know and all that we cling to upon this good earth. We have a strong longing at this moment to hold onto all of it, and we realize the impossibility of doing so. We seldom put words onto this melancholy. We only dimly sense its presence. But it colors our moods and pervades our activities and weaves its way through our unconscious. It is present in our edginess or in blue days that seem to have no cause. It raises its voice in our inability to concentrate or to feel full satisfcation even when everything in our lives is going smoothly. It makes itself felt when, perhaps just for a brief moment, we recognize our mortality and the swiftness with which time passes…

This loneliness, paradoxically, joins us with all others in their aloneness. There is a great strength and comfort in this. It is only when we are willing to meet the absolute truth of that aloneness within us that we are no longer alone… that we are able to break through to a level of consciousness that assures us of the magnificent bonding that we have with other humans and with God. We begin to see the ache as a natural part of our humanity and of our inner journey… We realize that we are not the only ones who are going home, that we are not the only ones who are still unfinished, that we are not the only ones whose lives calls us to many partings before we are one with the eternal hello

If we are attentive to the inner ache, and if we grow in accepting its truthful message, then we will more readily move through our own particular goodbyes. We will be more open to the growth of the human journey.

– Joyce Rupp, Praying Our Goodbyes, (Ave Maria Press, 2009) pp 7-9 (italics and bold are my emphasis)

I will continue sharing my journey, tomorrow.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

For the first time, I acknowledged my loss…

Day 8 of 31 Days of Connecting31 days of connecting

My journey of 31 days is taking a little turn. Over the next days – as many as it takes – I want to share my recent story with you. It started here, yesterday. Please start there. I pray that hearing my story of connecting – of REconnecting – will help you connect with God, others, and yourself.

In January 2013, I felt life was going really well. Ben was one, Jack was four, my depression was under control, I had excitement for Scum of the Earth Church and sensed that God was bringing something new to our community through a movement of prayer and worship.  I had hope of redemption and faith that God brings things around for the better – hope that I had been missing for a few years. At last God had reminded me that He brings joy to life, not just endurance.

So, when we held our first night of prayer and worship at Scum, I was filled with anticipation and expectation of what God would do.

The evening was beautiful as people came and saught the LORD. And God was moving. He was redeeming. He was encouraging. He was speaking. I was honored to be part of it and more confident than ever that this was where I was supposed to be.

Then one of our leaders asked my husband, Tim, and me to pray for his health. I prayed. Tim prayed. When we finished, he turned to Tim and told him how impactful his prayer was. That there was power in his hands.

He said nothing to me.

I felt myself fall to pieces. My confidence vanished. I was hurt that he didn’t recognize God’s work in me – I feared maybe God wasn’t working in me. I battled with my insecurity and shame until I finally told Tim, “I feel useless.”

Tim then wanted to ask that same leader we prayed for to pray for me. I was horrified and scared to discover where these feelings were coming from. Was I under spiritual attack?

But we asked the leader, and he prayed over me. Then he said the thing I least expected. He said that fear is often connected to grief. He told me I need to consider what I’ve lost in my life and how that has affected me and caused me to fear. My fear and insecurity was not an outside attack, but God was healing me by revealing my deep pain.

I was bewildered. I had never considered myself as needing to grieve. However, within 24 hours, I had a list of lost relationships; more than 20 individuals whose relationship with me had been severed in some way. From middle school friends to professional mentors. From relatives to peers. From best friends to boyfriends. Deaths. Illnesses. Moves. I had said goodbye to so many people and I felt the hurt of them all.

For the first time I acknowledged my loss.

And my pain.

I wrote in my journal:

Sometimes I fear no one loves me as deeply as I do them. That Tim could not be as crazy about me as I am about him. Or that friends don’t want my friendship. Or even, Lord, that I have to earn your favor… Now, being away from family, having few friends, or even close co-workers, I feel afraid of losing more, being rejected all over again…

I began to grieve.

day 8to be continued…