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 #3: Let Go

I recently posted two blog posts with “secrets” for seeking God. These were part of a six-part devotional series I contributed to The Sisterhood blog. Because the third “secret” consisted of content I had already published here, I decided not to re-post it. I can’t very well just skip to “Secret #4” though, can I? That would be cray-cray. So, I am writing something new on the topic of “Secret #3,” Letting Go. Considering that it has been a year or more since I wrote what was published on The Sisterhood blog, this is sorely needed for me.

I originally wrote about how we hold on so tightly to things in this life, when we should just view them like waves of the ocean. We would never hold onto water, right? My previous post compared God to the ocean. Even though the waves change, when we stand in the shoreline, the water constantly swirls at our feet. Like the ocean, God is constant, even if the mechanisms by which He delivers His love change. It all sounded so good and beautiful.

But honestly, lately, it’s just flowery language and a nice-sounding metaphor. Since I wrote that post, I have had to let go of some significant things. I can tell you right now that I didn’t smile and think to myself, “Oh, how lovely! This feels just like water flowing though my hands! At least I can still feel water. It’s a different wave, but it’s still water after all. I’m so relaxed and at peace, just like I am when I’m at the ocean.”

Yeah, no. It felt more like being at Antarctica.

What I’ve had to let go of this past year pales in comparison to what many others have been through, but here is my list:

  • One very close friendship
  • The fantasy that writing and speaking could quickly become a high-paying job
  • Unbelief that I didn’t even realize was there about who Jesus is
  • Thinking that I could get rid of my severe adult acne without prescriptions
  • Needing other people’s approval
  • Many other things that I cannot mention, because they involve stories that are not mine to tell

In each case, I cried, or I fought it, or I got mad, or I did all three. In many cases, I continue to struggle through the process of surrendering these things. If I was to picture myself at the beach dealing with these issues, I would picture myself standing there bawling. Or screaming. Maybe with my arms raised in defiance asking “Why me?”

I can see intellectually that I have also gained so much this year. I see that God is always there, no matter what. I have felt His love constantly throughout every experience I’ve had. But it doesn’t make letting go any less painful. Sometimes life just sucks. People walk away and it hurts. You dream big and try big and get rejected. You have painful cysts all over your face, and nothing you do seems to make a difference.

Of all the things I had to let go of this past year, there is one thing I let go of that WASN’T quite as hard as the others. This past summer, when I was at the beach, I read a book by Jennie Allen called “Anything.” She implored her readers to really dig deep to see if they were willing to do anything for God. The whole time I was reading it, I thought “Yep, that’s me. I’m all in.” But then, as I read story after story of people laying it all on the line, sometimes even losing their lives, for Jesus, it hit me that I wasn’t willing to do the same.

I was certainly willing to surrender everything, even when it felt like being in Antarctica, to God, but I wasn’t sure I was willing to give everything for Jesus. As odd as that may sound, considering I was and still am a Christian, I had to let go of my intellectual understanding of Jesus and replace it with a surrender to Him on a heart and soul level. When I did that, I felt a peace and relief I had not known before. All of a sudden, it all made sense. Everything I’d been saying and writing and speaking about – that it’s okay not to be perfect, that brokenness is beautiful, that God is in everything, that everything is okay right in this moment – it’s all because of Jesus and what He did on the cross.

In 2016, I face so many new things I have to let go of. Changes will surely happen at work, like they always do. Relationships will continue to evolve, like they always do. I am sure something will be lost that I can’t even imagine right now. Right this second, the biggest thing I need to remember to surrender is Love Lives Here Plano, the women’s event on April 9th that I am working with The Sisterhood to plan. We are hoping to have 1,000 women attend. This is proving to be more challenging than I ever expected. Event planners already had my respect, but they now get even more. I’ve had to let go of many things related to the event, including who I thought would help plan the event, what the content would be, and how the event would be funded. I have not always let go of these things with grace. I know there will be more in the days and weeks to come that will be different than what I am expecting, and I continue to pray and give the event and everything related to it to God, asking Him to use it all for His purposes.

In all fairness, planning the event has also proven to be more rewarding and fulfilling than I ever could have expected, and I know it is going to be a phenomenal event. It just isn’t always easy to let go and let God run the show. In fact, instead of comparing letting go to the ocean, I think I might start comparing it to physically ripping open my chest and giving God my heart. That is what it feels like sometimes to surrender. Like I’m tearing myself apart and open for something that I cannot see. I may have gone a bit too far in the other direction…. I do have a tendency to be over dramatic.

Maybe, instead of making any comparisons or analogies, I just need to let things be what they are. “It is what it is” used to be an expression that drove me crazy, but now it is one of my favorites.

It is what it is. People walk away and it hurts. Someone who has never planned an event tries to bring a women’s conference to her city, and it is harder than she expects. No matter what, God is always there, through all of it. And because of Jesus, it’s all okay.

I am also speaking at Love Lives Here… and I’m speaking about Jesus! If you had told me ten years ago that I would be writing and speaking about Jesus, I would not have believed you. Maybe I would be talking about “my faith,” or “God,” or “spirituality,” but definitely not “Jesus.” I had told myself for so long that I was called to share with others about God without talking too much about “Jesus,” because my message might go over their heads, but really, it was because of me. I thought you might not be comfortable with “Jesus,” but really I was the one who wasn’t comfortable.

When I started asking God, on a daily basis, to make Jesus real to me on a heart and soul level, He did. Letting go of my old conception of Jesus Christ was easy, because the reality of His love and forgiveness soon flooded into my heart. Sort of like a wave of the ocean.