When the Fog is Thicker than Normal

I have a history of depression.

Lately it’s been more of a current event.

Some people wonder what it means to have depression. How is it different from just a “normal” bad mood? Doesn’t everyone go through low points? Is it really a medical diagnosis? Sometimes I even ask myself these questions, even though I should know better. My brain knows how to internalize even the slightest hint of disapproval or questioning in another person’s eyes or tone of voice. Sometimes everything seems to point to the fact that “depression” is obviously just a fancy word that someone came up with to shut those of us up who can’t accept that we are really just melodramatic, overly sensitive and lazy.

When my sanity returns, I remember that I don’t have to win a philosophical argument on psychiatry or defend the vocabulary of mental illness to speak about my personal experience. And speaking up is important, not only for my own mental health, but because there are so many others out there who think they are alone and need to hear a word of encouragement and hope from a fellow sufferer.

Depression is a hard thing for me to open up about. I’ve been burned before for revealing too much. I’ve realized the hard way that some things are better shared with more private audiences than on a public forum. Even in a safe, private setting, I often struggle to summon the humility to discuss where I’m at openly and honestly. It all feels like something I should be over by now. It certainly wasn’t on my life roadmap to call the doctor complaining about fatigue and other symptoms I thought must be hormonal and have HIM be the one to suggest that perhaps we should switch my antidepressant. I mean, for years now, any adjustment to medication has been at MY suggestion, not the doctor’s. I thought I was the expert on this thing, but somehow, this time, I missed the key signs.

For me, the biggest clue should have been the apathy. Nothing is really that important when I get depressed. Lots of things start to slip because, you know, who cares. And then, all of a sudden, my normally manageable tendency to procrastinate turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy of never being good enough. I try to tell myself that I AM good enough even though a lot of my behavior is not really my best. Or that I’m not good enough, but it’s okay. I mean, that’s why we need Jesus, right? It’s okay to be perfectly imperfect, right?

These affirmations fall flat, because at the end of the day, things are not okay when you’re depressed. And coming out of depression requires you to admit that first.

Yes, I need Jesus. We all do. No, I’m not perfect, and I don’t have to be. But depression isn’t about making good or bad choices. Depression removes your power to choose and clouds your judgment. It becomes a fog that is impossible to see through without help.

Help for depression involves doctors and therapists, because mental illnesses really are medical conditions. I’m not sure there really is a “normal,” but I do know depression is more than just a bad mood. And while everyone may go through low points, and everyone certainly has her own burden in life, not everyone’s lows qualify as depression and not everyone’s burden is mental illness. Sometimes I wish it wasn’t mine, but it is.

Even though it can still creep up on me when I’m least expecting it, today I know I don’t have to walk through depression alone. God is with me always, even in my lowest points. Even when I doubt Him, He is there. I just have to keep trying to seek and strive for God in honest and real ways. Sometimes that means turning my prayers upside down.

Instead of asking to be filled with the knowledge that everything’s okay, sometimes I need to cry out to God that everything is NOT okay. This admission of powerlessness and acceptance is often exactly what I need to start to see God again through the fog. Sometimes I see Him through the people He puts in my life exactly when I need them. Other times, it’s through moments of clarity He gives me deep inside my soul. It is in those moments that I have come to realize that none of us are ever truly alone.

If you’re struggling with depression, know that there is a healthy way out. You are not alone. Things might not be okay right now, but you can still just put one foot in front of the other and do the next right thing, no matter how hard that is. And trust me, I’m not going to suggest that the next right thing for you to do is to exercise! Even though that seems to be a popular recommendation for depression, for me, it usually has to start much, much smaller!

Like, with getting out of bed.

Sometimes it’s just getting one FOOT out of the bed. Maybe even just one TOE!! It might be brushing your teeth. Or taking a shower. Or making an appointment. Or reaching out and texting a friend. Or a million other baby steps that feel like they might as well be giant leaps between two mountains. Things might not be okay right now, but if you just keep trudging along, reaching out and looking up, things will be okay.

I have a history of depression. And lately it’s been more of a current event. But having depression also means I have a history of incredible spiritual awakening and renewal, and I’ve learned to be grateful for that. My depression can create a pretty thick fog in my little corner of the universe, but when I do see the light shining through, it is all the brighter in contrast to the darkness. No matter what, by God’s grace, the future looks bright.

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Confessions of a Sporadic Church Going Jesus Freak

I have a confession to make.

Until this past Sunday, I hadn’t been to church in a while. Like, since April.

I love God. I love Jesus. I pray many times every day. I just took an unplanned, extended leave of absence from church.

And that’s not even what I need to confess!

What I need to confess is that I really worry what you think about it.

Even though I have worked hard to shake this whole people-pleasing character defect, I still really feel the need to please you. And so, I have to come out publicly (or at least on this blog) about my sporadic church attendance. I need to risk your disapproval so I can remember I only need God’s approval.

It all started with Love Lives Here Plano – you may remember I had a mental breakdown via blog post about this (https://seeingthroughthefog.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/love-lives-here/).

Well, the event turned out beautifully. Don’t get me wrong. None of our difficulties magically disappeared. The biggest room in the building we rented, where we had originally planned to have our evening program, ended up closed off due to low attendance. And we still haven’t figured out how to fully reconcile the budget, although God has worked some pretty awesome miracles in that area.

The bottom line though is that Love Lives Here Plano was perfectly imperfect and just what it was supposed to be. Even though a few of the workshops had to be cancelled, those that did go on as planned exceeded expectations. One workshop leader even thanked me for allowing her to participate in such a special event. She made a point to tell me how amazed she was at the honesty and transparency in her small group. The attendees echoed the speaker and shared that the workshops had a deep impact on their lives. I wonder if I would have these kinds of observations if each workshop had 30-40 women instead of 10-15.

Despite an ad on a major radio station, our vendors did not see hundreds and hundreds of women, but they were all (well, almost all) happy to be there. About half way through my obligatory purchase and apology to each proprietor, I realized it really wasn’t necessary. They understood you don’t always get the turnout you expect, and they all made sales. Even if it wasn’t what they’d hoped for, when I got out of my own way, I saw that they really were happy to be there. Most of them made significant connections with other vendors and participants that have continued to thrive and contribute to their business and personal growth well past the event.

The evening program was honestly one of the highlights of my life. Around eighty-five women total came, fifteen with free tickets we gave to a local crisis center. Serving these women was an unexpected blessing. As the keynote speaker, I delivered a twenty-minute speech and then led the participants in an interactive activity where everyone wrote at least one thing she wanted to let go of on a paper heart. Each table then ripped up their paper hearts and taped them onto a large puzzle piece. Volunteers gathered the puzzle pieces, and we fit them together on a large poster board at the front of the room. The end result was a picture of a large heart with a cross in the middle – a powerful visual that showed that when we give God our hearts, even when they are in broken pieces, He uses them to create something more beautiful and incredible than we can imagine.

When I gave my speech, I had one of those moments when you feel like you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. I knew it was good. I knew God was there. It was confirmed in my heart that speaking is one of my gifts. Afterwards, I got nothing but positive feedback – everyone said I was funny and had a good sense of timing. Many people came up to me in tears. Several of the aforementioned vendors, many of whom originally intended to come to Love Lives Here only to sell a product, were among the most moved. One woman just kept repeating the word “phenomenal.” I knew in that moment this would not be the last time I would stand up in front of a group and say similar words of encouragement, and I have already had the opportunity to speak part of the speech again.

You may be wondering what all this has to do with my break from church. Well, even though Love Lives Here came off beautifully, it still left me exhausted. And while that’s not an excuse to skip church, it is the first domino in a chain of events, emotions and thoughts that led me to where I am right now.

There were many things in my life that needed attention after being somewhat or a lot neglected while I had put on this event. I felt like I had been living a pretend life. Then, the week after the event, we got the call from my son’s teacher that turned our world upside down. All of a sudden, I went from event manager, public speaker and writer to mom of a “special needs” child. I thought this was God’s way of telling me to just let go of this dream. I couldn’t possibly have this extracurricular passion in addition to a full time job, marriage and children, especially now that one of those kids had to be carted around regularly to therapists and specialists. I couldn’t possibly spend time writing and speaking when clearly, I needed to spend any free time I had becoming an expert on neurological issues in children.

I now realize that God is so much bigger than I gave Him credit for. Of course, He would not put it in my heart to write and speak if I couldn’t somehow manage it along with everything else. In fact, He usually picks people who seem least able to do what He asks so that all the credit and glory goes to Him!

Nonetheless, for a while, I got lost. I fell into a depression that impacted more than just my church-going. If you read my blog regularly, you would have noticed there was a big gap in original posts between April and July.

I am excited to report that I went to church this past Sunday, and that I will be a regular attendee next year, as the Fifth Grade small group leader. I know that I belong in regular worship with a community of believers. We are not meant to do this thing called life and faith by ourselves. I have not been convicted that my sporadic church attendance qualifies as “sin,” but nonetheless I have asked for God’s forgiveness and am back in the habit. What God has convicted me of is that I really need to work on my continued obsession with how you perceive me. I was starting to feel like I had a dirty, little secret from my Christian friends, and I’ve learned the hard way that secrets are bad.

In closing, I really want to ask you to please not judge me, but well, that would just be perpetuating the problem. So please judge me all you want. I need to learn that your judgment is not what matters. I’m wearing a shirt I got at Love Lives Here that says “He Loves Me,” and that is all that matters.

Secret #6: Be Present

Ironically, this post about being in the current moment is something I wrote six months ago. Our computer crashed (again) last month, and this time, I lost some of my writing that was just in MS Word documents. Hopefully you can overlook my hypocrisy here, because I really feel the need right now to have all the blog posts I have published anywhere in one place, that is NOT a local hard drive! Tomorrow, I promise I will start posting again about what is going on with me RIGHT NOW!

Be Present

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 118: 24

The sixth and final secret to seek God is to be present.

Lately, it seems we are bombarded with messages about this very topic. Verizon had an ad campaign that featured the hashtag “#bepresent.” Over the holidays, American Airlines ran a great commercial with the tagline “This Christmas, enjoy the gift of presence.” As a society, it seems we are less “present” than ever.

When I am present – or focused on what is right in front of me right this second – I am closer to God. I put myself in a right relationship with God when I recognize that all I can really control is what I do in this moment. When I’m trying to do five things at once, when I’m obsessing about the future or the past, or when I’m escaping from reality through unhealthy habits, I make myself too big or too small. I forget about God.

Let me give you an example. Earlier today, I decided it was so critical to get this devotional written that I needed to do it while I walked the dog. I had the brilliant idea that I could dictate the post into my phone’s notes app! It was really going to be a beautiful devotional. I was going to start it off by telling you I had secretly made a New Year’s resolution to take walks, and that I wasn’t living up to it, but when I just remembered to “be present,” I realized that it didn’t matter because right in this moment I WAS taking a walk. Somehow, it sounded so much better in my head. I was going to wrap it up by talking about that American Airlines commercial and how you can’t have “the gift of presence” unless you experience the “presence” of the Holy Spirit. Seriously, you would have loved it.

Unfortunately, you will never get to read it, because as I was trying to be Super Woman, I missed something that was right in front of me, and it caused me to stumble, literally and figuratively. I didn’t notice that one of the sidewalk squares was quite a bit higher than the others, and I stubbed my toe. Hard. It was the kind of toe stubbing that radiates through your whole foot. And then through your whole body. And then makes you limp. And quit trying to be Super Woman.

From that point on, I awoke to the irony of my situation and decided that I would actually just try to “be present” for the rest of the day. At first, I had to really focus on what my five senses perceived to stay in the current moment. I realized it was a beautiful day! I heard birds chirping, felt the sun and wind on my face, and noticed how insanely cute my dog is. For the rest of the walk and after I got back home, I had to continually re-focus my thoughts back to the present. I was shocked at how many times I had to do this! I began praying to God to help me stay in the current moment. Instead of reaching for my phone, or Facebook, or some other distraction, I asked God to guide me and show me the next step whenever there was a moment’s pause.

I have heard many people talk about how life is best lived when you just focus on doing the “next right thing.” The trouble is sometimes I can’t quite figure out what the “next right thing” is. Is it to do the next load of laundry? To reply to the back log of emails in my Inbox? To play a game with one of my kids? Because I was so focused on staying in the present today, it was easier to pause, take a deep breath, pray for guidance and discern what the “next right thing” was.

God is in the now. He’s right here. Right now. He wants you to rely on Him one step at a time, one moment at a time. He wants you to “be present,” not because the word “presence” is a really cool word that can have lots of double meanings, but because when you live in the current moment, you let go of everything else. You have to. Every day, every moment, really is made by the Lord, as the Bible verse above states. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

The Ultimate Teacher

When I was a kid, teachers took role by calling each student’s name out loud. When you heard your name called, you responded with a loud “Present!” I don’t think any of us understood what the word “present” meant or why we said it. We just said it to let the teacher know we were there, because that’s what we were taught.

Ironically, this memory of saying something I didn’t fully understand helps me today to understand what people mean when they say be present.

Just like I said “Present!” to mean “I’m here!” in school, another way I know that I am present today is when I answer with an “I’m here!” when called upon.

For example, if I’m in a room with my family but off in my own world, I won’t answer right away with anything like an “I’m here!” if someone calls out my name. I’m not present even though my body is physically in the room. Similarly, I am not present on a spiritual level if I don’t respond when God calls me.

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”

Isaiah 6:8

What a beautiful verse! The next time I hear God whisper into the deepest parts of my soul, I hope and pray the words “Here am I. Send me!” come to mind. I know this hasn’t always been my first reaction to God’s calls.

Just like I can get distracted in the physical world by any number of things and miss what is right in front of me, I can easily miss that God is right in front of me. To truly be present on a spiritual level, I have to practice the other five secrets for seeking God:

  1. Be Still – Before you can answer God’s call with an “I’m Here!” you must spend quiet time with Him so you can recognize His voice and block out any other distractions.
  2. Be True – It’s impossible to be present if you are not comfortable in your own skin. You must first learn to be true to who you are, even if it is different from everyone else around you.
  3. Let Go – To be present – in a place where you answer “I’m here!” when God calls your name – you have to surrender everything in your life to God.
  4. Get Uncomfortable – Sometimes the places God asks you to go are so far outside your comfort zone that your immediate reaction is to say no. It is only when you realize the truth that transformation requires you to be uncomfortable that you can say “Yes! I’m here!” to God.
  5. Change Your Perspective on Pain – It is most difficult to be present when we are in pain. But when we change our perspective of pain so that we see it as a teacher, and as a path to spiritual progress and peace, we can say “I’m here!” to even the most difficult tasks.

In what areas of your life can you work to be more present?
Is God calling you to do something that you have yet to respond to with an “I’m here!”?

Being present doesn’t mean we say yes to every opportunity to serve that comes our way, but it also means we don’t always say no. It means that when we hear our teacher take role, we are awake and alert. And when our names are called, even if we don’t understand fully what we are saying, we respond as we have been taught and say “Here I am Lord. Send me!”

This post was originally published as a series of devotionals called “Six Secrets to Seeking God” on The Sisterhood’s website (http://www.tothemoonsisterhood.com).  

Secret #5: Find Purpose in Pain

One look at the news confirms that suffering is a universal condition. Pain does not just apply to the people of Bible times or third-world countries – it is everywhere. Even in the lives of those of us who could easily classify all our problems as “first-world problems,” hardship is real.

The fifth secret to seeking God is to change your perspective on pain.

I can’t count the number of times I have said to one of my children, “You’re okay. You’re okay. Stop crying.” I had to learn the hard way that my words, while well-intentioned, were not always the best way to parent. After many dollars in therapy, several books on parenting and a lot of trial and error, I realized I needed to tone down my nurturing “it’s okay” instinct and just let my kids hurt sometimes. It’s natural to want to protect our children from harm, but kids also need to know that it is okay, in fact healthy, to feel pain.

Just like we must allow our children to feel pain sometimes, God allows His children to experience trials and tribulations in this life because He ultimately knows what’s best.

Now, I certainly don’t want to make light of or trivialize suffering. I can’t possibly understand why certain things happen the way they do, and I am not sure that “everything happens for a reason.” What I do know is that walking through even the worst kind of adversity can make you stronger in a way that nothing else can.

So often in today’s society, we think any time we have a painful thought or physical ailment, we must try to heal it or stuff it as fast as possible. We view pain as weakness, but pain is an inevitable part of life, a necessary experience that helps us grow physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. In the Bible, pain and suffering are repeatedly discussed not as weakness, but as strength. As gifts to be celebrated.

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Romans 5:3-5

What hardship are you trying to outrun today?
What suffering are you trying to go around instead of through?

Could it be that God put something difficult in front of you to produce perseverance?

If there’s nothing distressing you today, thank God! Ask Him to strengthen you and prepare you to embrace the next difficulty as an opportunity to develop character.

If you are struggling with something, cling to the truth in Romans 5:3-5. If you don’t have the energy to rejoice, find a way to at least hope. Hope that somehow, some way, your current pain will create endurance, perseverance, character and even more hope within you. It will be a hope that surpasses your current limitations and understanding. For we have a hope through the Holy Spirit that “does not put us to shame.”

My Crazy, Unexpected, Empowering Natural Childbirth Story

The best example I have from my personal life of when pain strengthened my faith was one I never would have expected to have. Before I had my first child, I was completely against natural childbirth. I don’t mean that I respected every woman’s decision but just personally intended to get an epidural. I mean, I thought you were just plain crazy if you chose natural childbirth!

When it came time to have my first child, things didn’t quite go as planned. I barely made it to the hospital in time. My water broke in the lobby while the receptionist asked if I’d pre-registered. I was fully dilated by the time some nurses pulled me into the closest room they could find, and my daughter was born before they could get an IV in, much less have an epidural administered.

Three years later, when it was time to give birth to my son, my outlook was very different. Because of how easy my recovery had been and how magical my time was with my daughter those first few days, I actually chose to have natural childbirth!

Before I continue, please, please, please do NOT think I am in any way suggesting that every woman should choose natural labor!!! I understand now that whether a woman schedules a C-section or has the baby in her bathtub, her choices are very personal ones that only she can make. I no longer judge anyone! Every person’s journey is unique, and I only give my natural childbirth story to show how pain, by its nature, has the capacity to transcend the human realm of existence. It’s important not that you experience the same kind of pain that I felt, but that you don’t run from whatever difficult situation you encounter when you follow your inner voice.

Back to my story, giving birth to my second child was much different than my first. First of all, my labor lasted 9 or 10 hours, not 30 minutes. My son was over a pound bigger than my daughter. And even though I didn’t go into the experience to be “empowered,” or to have an experience to share with others, once again, God had other plans. As I experienced the worst pain I have ever felt, I had no choice but to give up. I could not face it by myself. The pain was so bad, the only thing I could do was to cry OUT LOUD for God to help me. I literally said “God help me” OUT LOUD over and over again, until finally my beautiful son was born.

It was through that pain and vocal trust in God that I got a different kind of view into His nature that I had not seen before. I experienced first-hand God getting me through something I could not do by myself. I realized deep down in my soul that really, truly, even when I am not enough, He is.

Time and time again, I have recalled my natural childbirth experience, and it has empowered me. I say “God help me” over and over now when I don’t think I can get through something, and I KNOW He will get me through it. If He pulled me through the worst pain imaginable, He can pull me through anything.

“Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’”

Matthew: 19:26

I’d read the verse above many times, but until I’d experienced it first-hand, I didn’t really get it. For you to take the knowledge from your head to your heart that truly all things are possible with God, you cannot run from all of the pain in your life. The pain in your life is an opportunity for you to experience the truth that God can do things for you that you cannot do for yourself. His power is truly capable of doing those things which are impossible without Him. I’m living proof.