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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Why Sympathy Spurs Shame, but Empathy Empowers

Day 28 of 31 Days of Connecting

When Jack was 3 or 4 months old, we went to a family friend’s house for lunch. Not knowing them well, I mostly kept to myself, hiding myself in Jack’s needs. When he finally went down for a nap, I had no choice but to engage in conversation with these strangers (commence awkward introvert small talk). After a little while, the mother asked me how things were going as a new mom. She asked, “Have you been brought to tears?”

Relief filled my heart that perhaps someone might understand what it was like to have a son who had colic, who knew that emotional fatigue overwhelmes a new mama, and that sometimes the only thing to do was to let out a sob or two, so I responded emphatically, “Oh Yes! Just last week, I burst into tears when I was nursing Jack.”

“Really?”

Her surprised and inquisitive look let me know I had it all wrong. I could sense pity coming from her gaze, but I didn’t want pity, I wanted understanding. I wanted to know things could be ok. That all moms shed these tears. Yet in that moment I only received: “Really?”

Ashamed, I looked at my feet, mumbled something about, “Don’t all moms?” and quickly changed the topic or perhaps even left the room.

Writer, speaker, and shame researcher Brené Brown has helped me understand that in that moment what I wanted empathy, but what I received was sympathy. Brown wrote this:

“[Sympathy says], ‘I’m over here and you’re over there. I’m sorry for you. I’m sad for you. AND, while I’m sorry that happened to you, let’s be clear: I’m over here.’ This is not compassion.

“In most cases, when we give sympathy we do not reach across to understand the world as others see it. We look at others from our world and feel sorry or sad for them… When our need for empathy is met with sympathy, it can often send us deeper into shame – we feel even more alone and separated. Empathy is about connection; sympathy is about separation.” (I thought it was just me (but it isn’t), 2007, p 51)

day 28

Whenever I meet a new mom, I find myself longing for her to feel safe with me, to know that though I haven’t been in her exact situation, I get it. Sometimes we are brought to tears. Sometimes those tears don’t stop. Sometimes we want to walk away for awhile. She needs to know that she is not alone, but that someone, somewhere is sitting with her. Loving her. Shedding tears with her.

Then, through that empathy, maybe that mama can be encouraged, empowered to continue on.

<<To hear Brown speak on this topic, and to see some great animation, click here.>>

What our friends need most from us…

Day 27 of 31 Days of Connecting

I fully intend to listen well. To be a good friend as my friends have been to me. To support them as they have supported me. And yet, I find myself doing it again. Focusing on me.

While she shares her struggles feeding her baby boy, I’m trying to think of ways to fix him as I “fixed” my sons (sort of ignoring the reality that her struggles with reflux, allergies, and other traumas are nothing like mine).

While she shares her problems with her marriages, I find myself comparing her relationship with her husband to my relationship with mine. And instead of listening, or letting her know I was listening, I am now rattling off my own story.

Or, while she is sharing a triumph, a milestone with her kid, I find myself feeling defensive and as if I am failing in some way because my sons didn’t walk until they were 19 months old, didn’t talk until they were 2 years old and are generally clumsy with the gross motor skills.

And the worst yet, is that while she is crying over her struggles, her pain, her need, I find myself uncomfortable with her circumstances and instead of sitting down and mourning with her, I am emotionally distant, offering my well-meaning-yet-missing-the-point-entirely advice, followed by an emotionally empty truism.

The unfortunate thing is that we think that when we’re doing these things we are empathizing. Unfortunately, the reality is, we are not focused on the other person or caring for their needs at all, but are thinking of our own. We are uncomfortable in their pain and while we think we are trying to make them feel better, we are actually trying to make ourselves feel better.

What our friends need from us is not to hear how our circumstances were worse or better. They often don’t even want advice – (a safe rule is don’t give it unless asked). What our friends need most is for us to get down with them, offer a shoulder to cry on, and to be with them.

What our friends need most from us is us.

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And that is what makes all of the difference. When we do this for one another, suddenly we are not so alone. Suddenly, our circumstances seem manageable. Suddenly, we are validated in our needs, our feelings, our very selves.

The next time I am with a friend, I will try again. I will shut my mouth and let her talk. I will put myself in her shoes and allow myself to feel her pain. I won’t try to make myself feel better by trying to fix her situation, or minimizing it, or allowing myself to feel like a failure. I will just be with her.

As she has been there for me.

Day 27

 

31 days of connecting

Why I am Grateful for My Friends

Day 22 of 31 Days of Connecting 

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:23-25

Day 22

I hold on tight to my friendships. It’s because I don’t have many of them. And that’s not because people don’t like me (as I once believed), but because I thrive with a few close friends.

My closest, dearest friends are those who encourage me towards love. The ones who teach me how to love, who love me, and reveal to me that I am lovable. They let me know when I am seeing myself poorly. They let me know when I am being overly harsh with a leader, my husband, or my kids. They listen.

I learn to love from them because they love well.

They don’t assume my circumstances are the same as theirs, but let me talk.

They let me feel my feelings, validating each and every one. But they point out the error in my beliefs when they are present. Because though my feelings are valid, the beliefs driving them often could stand for correction.

My friends don’t assume that their way is my way. They don’t tell me how to parent my kids, but encourage me as I figure out how it will work best for me on my own. They know I am not the same as them. They know my kids are not the same as theirs.

My friends have hurt my feelings. My true friends have let me tell them that and have apologized. And I am safe with them to confess my faults in the same way.

My friends let me cry. They don’t try to make me stop. They don’t tell me everything is okay when it isn’t. They let me feel. They pray for me. They stand by me.

My friends see me not for who I am, but for who God created me to be. They don’t give up on me, but allow me to stumble blindly as I reach out for the hope that was promised in Christ.

Yes, my friends love well.

To those who have been this for me, thank you for being my friend.

And though we may not live in the same city, state or even country, I hope to never stop meeting with you.

How God Cared for Me

Day 20 of 31 Days of Connecting

The other day, in a fit of exhaustion, I posted a link to my sermon on trusting God. I promised that part of my story (which starts here) is part of the sermon… and it is.

But since I know most people do not have 30+minutes to listen to a sermon, I will try to tell the next part of my story here. Now. For those of you who did listen, thank you! What an honor.

Now where was I…?

Oh yes, God taught me that He wanted a deeper relationship with me.

About a month after that conversation with God in my car, I was still grieving. I was still uncovering the hurt I had buried, the distrust I felt, and the fear I had. I was starting to see other misunderstandings of God, like:

I believed God was grading me.

I believed God expected me to be perfect.

I believed God was punishing us financially because of something I must have done.

Yeah… that last one sucked. It was incredibly painful. After all, I had given up everything to follow his call, Tim had taken a huge risk in starting his own business, and there we were, barely making ends meet. But the alternative to my understanding was that God wasn’t providing for us financially because He wanted us to suffer for Him. Or He just wouldn’t provide because He doesn’t.

All bad ideas. All gross misunderstandings of the God who gave himself for us.

But I didn’t see that then. I just saw our grocery lists, our small pay checks, and our unpaid bills.

In April I went to a conference for pastors in our denomination and through the keynote speaker, God broke through the lies I embraced.

Together we read 1 Peter 3:7 which states Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. I know this verse by heart. I’ve sung it at summer camp, memorized it for youth group and heard it preached before.

But the preacher restated it: The God of the Universe has unlimited resources at his disposal, will you let him care for you?

Day 18

I felt my heart pounding in my chest as God called out to me. I realized how abandoned I felt by Him. How I thought He left us, financially. And the question rang out, “Will you let him care for you?” Followed by the fear in my heart: Would He care for me?

I went to my host home that evening praying and over the next several days I felt Love prompting me to trust Him. To ask Him for what I felt we needed and the promise that He would provide. I told my husband what God was prodding me to do and He said, “Good. Do it.”

How much do you need?

I thought… I hesitated…

$5,000?

Ok.

Really? Ok?! … $7,000?

Don’t push it.

I have never felt so sure in my life that God would answer my request. $5,000 sounded like a ton of money. I saw us catching up on our electrical and hospital bills. I saw the credit card being partially paid off. I saw myself breathing easily.

The next month came and went. I wasn’t sure how we did, financially. It felt good, but I didn’t take the time to check. I was too nervous! But then my husband texted me.

In May of 2013, our income added up to $5,000.84.

I couldn’t believe it. Numb with distrust, I thought surely that was a coincidence. But the more I considered the amount – the exactness of it – the almost to the penny answer to the prayer I had prayed – the more I was convinced it was God showing me He provides.

I can scrape and worry and count and stress and do all I can do to try to control things, but in the end He cares for me.

He cares for me.

We have not continued to receive $5,000.84 each month. In fact, many months we have been back at the bottom of the barrel, again being creative to get by. But you know what? I’m not afraid any more. God cares for me. He provides for me. He loves me.

I know that now.

I struggle trusting God with money, what do you struggle with entrusting to God? A relationship? Children? Career? An Illness? The God of the Universe desires to care for YOU. Will you let Him?

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:12-13)

31 days of connecting

God doesn’t use sticker charts.

Day 3 of 31 Days of Connecting

I have been potty training my kids for what seems like an eternity. They each have sticker charts and when they receive a certain number of stickers, they win a prize. The charts point towards the goal – put your waste where it needs to go. But my kids don’t seem to understand the goal. While I want dry pants, they want the sticker.

We can easily confuse our time with God, our time of devotions and prayer like my kids confused the goal of the stickers. When I first began taking time alone with God on a regular basis, I was amazed at how close He felt through His words in Scripture and His presence in prayer. I did it because I wanted to. But over time, I did it because I felt obligated. I felt that if I did not do it, I was not a good Christian, I was not a good follower of Jesus who set the example of getting up early in the morning when everyone else was sleeping to pray.

I do not wake up. I push snooze. What does this say about my relationship with God? I feared and condemned myself for this laziness. When I heard another sermon emphasizing taking time with God, I felt guilty and alone. Surely God could not love me.

But then I read these words.

When we use spiritual practices to gain secondary things like spiritual cachet, success, approval and respect, we rob the discipline of its God-given grace… Spiritual practices don’t give us “spiritual brownie points” or help us “work the system” for a passing grade with God. They simply put us in a place where we can begin to notice God and respond to his word to us.[1]

I had my goal confused. What I was striving for was not connection with God, but a check mark next to my “Good Christian” title. When I was trying to read the Bible, I did it not to hear from the Lord, but to be able to show others (and myself) that I was good enough.

God is not countingGod is not counting the number of chapters we read in our Bibles or the hours we spend on our knees. He is not recording the days when we sleep in, because our five year old had bad dreams throughout the night. He is not desiring us to keep spiritual practices because they are the end. They are not the end. They are the means. They are gifts. The ways we connect with God.

What has been your experience with spiritual disciplines? Have they given you a guilt trip? Or have you been free to enjoy them as the God given gift of Time with Him?

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. Hosea 6:6 NIV

[1] Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, (Downers Grove: IVP, 2005), 18-19.

31 days big

A Time to Hold and a Time to Let Go: To Rosie

 315341_10100239460586499_147706896_nThere’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth:

A right time for birth and another for death…
A right time to cry and another to laugh,
A right time to lament and another to cheer,
A right time to make love and another to abstain,
A right time to embrace and another to part,
A right time to search and another to count your losses,
A right time to hold on and another to let go…

Ecclesiastes 3:1-6 (The Message)

I remember meeting her for the first time. My mom had seen her on the humane society’s website and asked me to check her out. She just had a feeling Rosie would be a good fit for our family.

They led me into the family room with her and she was so calm, so serene. While other dogs jumped and barked and peed all over the room, she allowed children to pet her. While in the family room, she sighed and placed her head on my knee. In that moment, she won my heart completely. I placed the deposit and called my mom to come get her.

Though I was in college when she joined the family, every time I came home Rosie greeted me as if I had raised her. Her tail would fly and her body would fold in half in my arms as we greeted one another. I thought when we moved to Colorado she would forget me, but no. Every time I came home, she loved me. And I loved her.

I remember her coy looks, her begging my dad for food (who always gave her a little something and trained Jack to as well). I remember her pushing her way under our feet at the table or next to the couch. She would run hard next to my husband whenever he took her out – whether she could manage it or not.

And the cabin – oh the cabin! You could not say the word without her running to jump into the back of the van. As we packed the vehicle, she would beat the suitcases into it, terrified that we might not take her to her heaven. And when we arrived, she tore down that steep hill to the beach. Within moments she was up at the top again, dripping and smelling of fish.

This summer, it was clear her strength was fading. She struggled to stand. She could hardly walk. Yet when we went to the cabin, she still raced to the water. And she faced the consequences. I thought she wasn’t going to last the weekend as she lay in the grass, her chest heaving for lack of breath.

Before flying home, I said goodbye. I knew it was the last goodbye.

Though she was not really my dog, I held her in my heart. She was so so good. The perfect fit for our family.

A girl’s best friend.

Today I say goodbye for good.

And I let go of you, entrusting you to the Lord, who created you.

We love you, Rosie.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.

– Jesus (Matthew 10:29 NIV)

Five-Minute-Friday-4

 

(Confession to my Five Minute Friday friends: this took a little longer than 5 minutes. Rosie deserved it.)