Forecast

The weather’s been sketchy the last few days. Today’s forecast boasts “Showers with scattered storms and patchy fog mingled with sunshine.”  Brad looked at the radar and started discussing the instability of the atmosphere. Little showers pop up and fall apart. The sun peaks out, heats everything up, then hides. The air, saturated with moisture, smells damp and springy. It’s difficult to plan any outdoor activities. Weather in Iowa is notoriously unpredictable, but this is different. This is shifty, changeable weather from minute to minute.

I’ve often compared chronic and major depression to a fog, skewing and distorting reality and making the journey slow and arduous. But the last several weeks, it’s felt more like today’s weather: changeable and unpredictable. One minute I’m walking in sunshine and the next, I’m caught in a downpour of painful memories, self-loathing, and isolation. It’s been exhausting, living in this low-pressure system. I’ve dealt with depression now for 30 years so I have the coping skills down and employ my full arsenal regularly. But sometimes, when the tears blind side and the inner accusations mount, my weapons seem useless and my attempts at alleviating the pain, futile.

John records for us in his book in the Bible that Jesus said: “The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy but I come that you may have life and have it to the full.” As I grow and walk through life, I continue to realize that the “full” life doesn’t mean a pain-free life or a happily-ever-after life. It doesn’t mean living in a sunny and 75º degree life all the time. It means living in a redemptive life. It means that nothing is wasted; no joy or pain that we experience is trivial or useless. Full life means growing and loving not in spite of the pain, but because of it. Full life means we’re never alone even when it feels like it. Full life means there’s always Someone going to bat for us. The writer of the book of Hebrews talks about the Great High Priest who constantly intercedes or advocates on our behalf. Even when it doesn’t feel like it and we can’t see the effects, things are happening behind the scenes. We have the best possible Person making sure we’ll be ok in the end. I know it’s true. It’s just, some days it’s hard to believe the Truth because the atmosphere is so unstable.

I’m glad it’s Easter tomorrow. Jesus coming, living, dying and rising again doesn’t mean the pain is gone on earth. It doesn’t mean there’s no struggle. It doesn’t mean life is happy and perfect all the time. It means there’s redemption in the pain. It means I don’t walk this road alone. And neither do you, my friend. I have no idea what your skies look like today. Maybe your marriage is failing. Maybe your kid walks a dangerous, self-destructive path. Maybe you’re staring retirement in the face without a penny to your name and it scares you to death. Maybe the brokenness and pain of the past cripples you to live in the present. I have no idea. But Jesus came to offer hope, stability, and redemption.

 

 

 

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When the washing machine breaks…

The washer broke yesterday. Daryl, the repairman, asked if it sounded like a jet engine when it was spinning. Yes, Brad answered. It’s the bearings, he replied.

I demanded much from that washer and it delivered. Over its lifetime, I estimate it washed almost 9,000 loads. If the old washer could talk, it would tell tales of late-night loads of barf-filled sheets and early morning spins of the basketball uniform worn the night before and needed immediately. Four kids and two adults (and lots of college kids) used it for jersey’s, Pizza Ranch uniforms, sweaty running gear, dusty work clothes, frosting-filled aprons, towels, and the occasional delicate.

It had a good run; then it died.*

And the washer dying? Almost sent me over the edge–into a full melt-down mode. In the middle of telling myself to get a grip and stop freaking out over the washer dying, I stepped back and thought of our lives the last few weeks.

In the past 16 days…
We welcomed one child back home and said goodbye to another.
We celebrated an engagement, two new jobs and a birthday.
We ate meals, worked our jobs, cleaned our house, hosted guests and made two unplanned trips.
We bought a wedding dress.
We mourned with a broken-hearted sweetie.
And the washer broke.

It was the dead washer that broke this camel’s back.

My friend sent me an Andrew Peterson song earlier this week called Be Kind to Yourself. He wrote it for his daughter, but it speaks to me in the middle of my mess. Many of us are good at being kind to others, but being kind to ourselves can be difficult. Every fault, every frustration, every past mistake, every instance of shame & regret, every dumb word spoken comes rushing back in moments of frailty and we mercilessly beat ourselves up. I’m so frail, people. I suspect, no matter the tough mask you wear or the high walls you build, you’re frail too. And instead of being kind to ourselves in our frailty and humanity, we scold ourselves and try to muscle our way through it. If you’re like me, something stupid like the washer breaking may make you doubt God’s love. It’s ridiculous, and yet I believe we all do it. We doubt that the Creator of the Universe could actually love us. I regularly doubt it. I’m not proud of that fact, but it’s true. Doubt is why I write so many “It’s the Little Things” posts; the posts are my exercise in practicing belief. I believe learning to be kind to ourselves is also an exercise in practicing belief.

Yes, I need to get over myself and look at the big picture. Yes, I need to rejoice and give thanks for the countless blessings given to us. Yes, I need to remember and believe and practice faith. And yes, in all of that, I can be kind to myself and not beat myself up for feeling stretched thin.

I don’t know what your broken washer is today. I don’t know what *thing* will feel like too much. I don’t know what may cause a meltdown in your heart today. I guess I just ask you to join me in trying to remember God’s love and be kind to yourself in the middle of the good, the bad and the ugly.

 

*(side note–perhaps that should be on my tombstone: “She had a good run; then she died.”)

 

It’s the little things.

it’s warmth and shelter in the middle of the storm
it’s card games and Mario Cart and wii
it’s lingering over books
it’s baking cookies and bread to enjoy together
it’s a selfless man who constantly and consistently works hard with no need for a spotlight
it’s food for sustenance and enjoyment
it’s soothing, soul-feeding music
it’s more than enough of everything even when my warped view tries to tell me otherwise
it’s reading Truth freely and without constraint
it’s sharing memories over old photos
it’s prayers prayed with the same, loving man for nearly 3 decades
it’s the love and affection and friendship of mothers and daughters and sisters
it’s laughter, unforced and free
it’s a future Hope of more than enough Grace
it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…
and there is a God…
and He does love us…
it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big.

It’s the little things.

it’s waking up to a world covered in a million white sparkles
it’s time spent with my sweet mom
it’s phone calls with my sisters
it’s the countless games of cards played around the table
it’s praying as each loved one came and left again
it’s finding meaning in the mundane
it’s knowing growth will come
it’s the words of hope and comfort that sooth the weary soul
it’s hope that life isn’t lived in vain
it’s experiencing peace and rest amid a strife-filled world
it’s conversations so long and meaningful that your coffee gets cold
it’s help with the dishes
it’s the joy of hearing familiar voices after long absences
it’s laughing until you cry
it’s sharing struggles and rejoicing in victories
it’s finding a draft you meant to post two weeks ago
it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…
and there is a God…
and He does love us…
it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big.

Diffused Light

In 12 hours I’ll be back home again…not the ideal thoughts on the Monday morning after a break, but it gave me the motivation I needed to get up and get going. I like my job. I really do. But each morning I wake up dreading the day for whatever reason. No, it’s not “whatever reason” it’s that when you struggle with chronic depression, mornings are particularly hard. The day ahead feels daunting. I’ve found over the years that once I’m going, it’s fine; it’s the initial thoughts that need to be overcome. Anyway, this morning I got up, got dressed, read my devotions, and chose to put on a smile. I don’t mean a poser-fake sort of smile, I mean the this-is-your-life-you-are-truly-blessed-even-if-you-don’t-feel-it sort of smile. Every morning I have to remind myself that how I live this life and view this day is a choice–depression or not.

Anyway, I walked out my door and I found a stunning white fur-covered world. Fog caused frost to settle all over the trees, decks,power lines, the antenna on the car and each leaf and twig and blade of grass. Anything and everything that the fog touched, frosted. I was beautiful. Stunningly beautiful. An otherwise dismal, cloudy day transformed to a magical world. Once again, I thought of the beauty in the midst of the dismal. Beauty in pain. Beauty in suffering. Beauty in confusion. Beauty in the fog.

The roads were fine, but the fog hung thick and allowed only limited vision. As I drove through the cloud tunnel, the monochromatic world around me, I saw a small break of diffused light. It wasn’t bright yellow. No round orb was visible. But a brighter light glowed and for that moment, it allowed me to see a little further down the road. Instead of the 100 feet in front of me, I could see a bit more asphalt.

Once again, I was reminded how much depression is like fog. The sun isn’t blocked out completely, but vision is impaired. I often deride myself for struggling to get out of bed in the morning, but driving through the ground-level clouds, I thought how natural it is in the diminished vision to slow down, be careful, and just concentrate on what’s immediately in front of you. As soon as I look beyond the day (or sometimes the hour) I’m overwhelmed because all I see is hazy white. My vision is impaired. But if I simply look at the road in front of me, trusting that the pavement will lead me, I’m ok. Alert. Possibly on edge, but ok.

I have no idea what your fog or struggle is today. It may be finances, a crappy marriage, hurting kids or chronic illness. I have no idea. But I pray that, whatever your situation, you will look to God and take heart. The Light of Christ will never leave you even if His light and presence are diffused by struggle. And believe it or not, there is intense and immense beauty right in the middle of (and sometimes because of) the fog.

Hand-me-downs and leftovers

I’m all about hand-me-downs and leftovers. The youngest of three girls, I grew up in my sister’s clothes and, in general, loved it. Even today, I still benefit from my generous (and incredibly stylish) sister. And leftovers? They’re my friend. Chicken chili or lasagna the next day? Even better than the first time!

But hand-me-downs or leftovers in a relationship? No, thank you. No one wants to feel like they’re getting leftover time, money, affection or attention. No child wants to feel like they come second to work or church or siblings. No friend wants someone who only calls when it’s a crisis or they need something. No spouse wants to feel the leftover energy or affection or love from their significant other. Hand-me-downs and leftovers leave us feeling like we don’t deserve any better. We don’t just feel loved less, we feel unloved, un-cared for and ultimately rejected.

To recap…

hand-me-downs from your stylish sister that save you money–good; hand-me-downs of affection–bad.

leftover food–good; leftover time, energy or love–bad.

Apply that to a spiritual relationship and it magnifies the feelings of worthlessness. If you think you get God’s leftovers or His crumbs, then you constantly feel like the kid with dirty shoes who can come in but needs to wipe their feet and stand in the corner. No warm welcome or seat at the grown-up table for you. No sir. Be quiet and wait until someone more important offers you what’s left. Be happy with hand-me-downs and leftovers from God’s children who are well-behaved, more faithful and frankly, just better than you.

Yeah. That’s how I’ve felt lately. I’m not gonna lie (and believe me, I wish I could), September was a crappy month. Many times I wished someone would wake me up when it was over– just like the Green Day song. Saying goodbye to kids (real, grown-up goodbyes), grieving both old and new losses, coming to terms with past hurts, dealing with physical illness, and enduring depressing thoughts left me cold, sad and tired. To be brutally honest, the cumulative effect of all this gunk, is thinking, feeling and believing that all I get or deserve from God is hand-me-downs and leftovers. Why should I get anything else?

But here’s just one of the many problems with thinking and living this way: if you live thinking you’re impoverished, you believe you have nothing to offer. You either believe what you could offer isn’t good enough or you believe that you don’t have enough resources. And then, perhaps, you get some weird self-pitying pride mixed in there and the whole thing turns into an ugly mess of self-accusations and self-defamation and a faulty, dangerous view of God and self. Brutal.

So how do I (we, if you can identify with anything I’ve written) interrupt the cycle? One way to start is by remembering and believing Truth.

If we believe we’re children of God, then here’s the Truth:

We’re not given hand-me-down rags; we’re dressed in the King’s own robes. 

We’re not invited to a rickety table of leftovers; we’re invited to a feast.

Because of God’s love and Jesus sacrificial gift of his own life, we’re invited to share in His bounty and sit at his table.

“Is anyone thirsty?
    Come and drink—
    even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
    it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

“Come to me with your ears wide open.
    Listen, and you will find life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you.
    I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David…”

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
    Call on him now while he is near. ~Isaiah 55 1-6

I know when you’re struggling it’s difficult to see Truth, let alone believe it, but I pray these words bring hope and encouragement to your mind and heart today, friend.

Always seek peace

Walk away from the evil things in the worldjust leave them behind, and do what is right, and always seek peace and pursue it. 1 Peter 3:11

Quoting Psalm 34, Peter wrote this advice to the early scattered Church. It strikes me as both humorous and ironic that the hot head Peter–who cut a guy’s ear off— preaches to “do what’s right and always seek peace…”. I guess Peter learned throughout his life to practice what he preached. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get tired of always striving to do what’s right and always seeking and pursuing peace. Sometimes, in my heart, I want war. Like Jo in Little Women, “I crave violence” (not really–but you get it). Sometimes, I’m so hurt or angry or disillusioned that I just want to tell somebody off or be a hot head like Peter and draw my proverbial sword.  But just as I get ready to take my best shot, verses like the one above shoot through my mind and heart and I’m stopped in my tracks.

We’re wired to defend ourselves aren’t we? It’s our instinct to protect ourselves and our loved ones. We don’t want to wait for God’s salvation or His vindication. As moms, wives, sisters and friends we want to protect and shield the ones we love. And we certainly want to defend ourselves or at the very least, be understood. But I learned years ago during an especially difficult bout with depression, that we have to be willing to be misunderstood. We can’t possibly explain to everyone our reasons or rationale behind every decision and even if we could, would it matter? Would simply explaining ourselves mean that people then understood us? No, we could expend copious amounts of precious energy explaining our lives and decisions to anyone and everyone who would listen and we would still feel misunderstood on some level. But I digress…back to the anger issue…

In the book Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculeé Ilibagiza, she shares her personal faith journey during the genocide of 1994. Her story is gripping both for the real drama played out in her life, but also for the way she dealt with the people who murdered her family and ripped her homeland apart. One passage in particular struck me:

I knew that my heart and mind would always be tempted to feel anger–to find blame and hate. But I resolved that when the negative feelings came upon me, I wouldn’t wait for them to grow or fester. I would always turn immediately to the Source of all true power: I would turn to God and let His love and forgiveness protect and save me.

“I would turn to God and let His love and forgiveness protect and save me.” She lived Peter’s words. She sought peace and pursued it even when it the world would have given her permission to vindicate. I found her life and example inspiring; I want to live Peter’s words as well as these from Paul:

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.  Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.  Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying.  When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!

Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.

Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,

“I will take revenge;
    I will pay them back,”
    says the Lord.

Instead,

“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
    If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
    burning coals of shame on their heads.”

 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. ~Romans 12

 I don’t know what pains you today. I don’t know what anger or bitterness or sadness you carry. I don’t know who hurt you or your loved one. I know my own hurts. I know my own seeds of pain, buried deep in my heart. I know the people who’ve caused pain–the ones I don’t want to love or seek peace with. But I know the only way to live a full life of mercy, grace and love is to forgive and forgive and forgive. And I know the only way for a peaceful heart is to love others as I love myself and trust God for vindication–if He deems it necessary. I pray for a forgiving and peaceful heart for you as well, friend. Whatever struggles you’re in the midst of, I pray God’s peace to rule your heart.