What do you think of this?

Niagara WhirlpoolWhen I opened my eyes for a moment I could see only mangled icons of sky, cloud and sun. I could see ripples ruined as they sailed above me into my nose and toward my right foot. Each concentric circle got larger and larger until it faded from my field of vision. I couldn’t move my legs and I was fairly sure my back was broken. But my arms began to sync with my brain and started frantically trying to pull my body away from an undercurrent.

I didn’t know where I was or how I’d gotten there, but I sensed danger very close by. I knew enough not to reopen my eyes or I’d lose my contacts to the rippling water. But my first sighting had been paper-thin slices of blues, aqua and dark greens. Bubbles made me think surf was around me somewhere.

Out of nowhere, a couple quick scenes flashed onto the insides of my sealed-tight eyelids. Brush, bramble and nakedness. Another person, a man, stood before my mind’s eye with his arms extended in a shoving motion. It was him – my tormenter – glaring over the craggy edge down toward the water. I tried to stop moving so he’d think I was dead, but the current kept pulling me to my top left side.

Instantly, I knew where I was. I was laying a few inches under water below one of the Niagara Gorge’s tallest cliffs. Craggy walls of stone, littered by small trees and brush, rose before me up to the bright blue sky. I knew opening my eyes would render me blind, and would need them to spot a passerby if I had any hope of staying alive. So, I kept my eyes shut and began to swim with my arms as fast as I could – toward my right foot.

The fact that I was still alive was unfathomable to me. But the fear that my tormenter might make his way down to the river’s edge to confirm my demise caused a surge of adrenaline and I was able to pull myself up toward the shoreline. My hands flailed and found a soaked log stuck at both ends in bramble and muddy rock.

The churning growling I’d heard in the water was the infamous Niagara Whirlpool. Known to residents and tourists for its wild wonder, the massive swirling giant is nothing short of a vortex in water, a God-sized drain down in the Devil’s Hole.

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Faith or delusion?

FAITH CAN BE PRICKLYI try not to remember the worst moments because reliving them is so easy and so cruel. During my first long-term battle with depression I didn’t have the recurring nightmares I would have later on, but I did suffer from spiritual delusions.

Somewhere in the midst of this two-and-a-half-year slog, I met a man who prayed for hours each morning. He knew God’s will because he spent time with God. And he had faith.

I was convinced that forcing myself to pray and fast and do everything super spiritual was the magic bullet to knowing God. But all my efforts were doing was drying out my spirit and leaving my soul in a crumbled pile of doubt and self-loathing.

At the time I was 18 to 21 years old and still part of my church’s youth community. I made an appointment with our pastor and told him I wanted to die – felt hopeless – and he told me that was because I’d never truly experienced God. Describing three levels of faith, he told me I’d reached stage 2, but not 3. In his understanding, faith began with mental ascent (stage 1), led to emotional faith (state 2) and progressed to faith with volition (stage 3), which he explained was faith in your gut, down deep assurance.

The pastor prayed with me and sent me on my way, never again mentioning our meeting of my feelings of hopelessness. Sadly, his good intentions had the reverse effect on me, leaving me feeling even more like a failure because I hadn’t arrived to this level of volitional faith. How can someone just force themselves to believe? It reminded me of being a kid and trying to force myself to like green beans.

I don’t believe it was intentional, but this pastor didn’t take me seriously. He seemed to be too busy creating a culture of feigned faith inside the young people at our church. I left his office feeling worse about myself.

I took what he said and tried the best my newly minted adult mind could. I knew I was in trouble, though, even as I sat in his office … because of Gideon.

Gray: The color of depression

Yellow_Rose_Gray_BackgroundWhat does it feel like? Depression feels like gray. It’s not black; no, black would be death. And white would be life. Depression is gray, shrouded in the spotlight of misunderstanding, suspended between the two exits.

Today there is no escape. Sure, there have been a few flickers of cornflower, powder and sky, but quickly the gray sucks the color out of them. I’ve been in bed at least three times today, not including when I first woke up. I ambled out to the living room, sat down with a mug of coffee and turned on the TV. The news felt too overwhelming a subject to tackle, so I turned to Rizzoli & Isles. I enjoyed the show, until the gray swooped in and made me question why I thought it was a good idea to get out of bed.

I’m afraid of depression because it creeps up on my out of nowhere. I can sense that it might be near sometimes, but by then it’s almost too late to get away. Today I made a mental list of my favorite things, had my husband do the interviewing. Went for a walk. Ate chocolate. Got busy doing chores, read a novel and spent time with the dog.

I am getting through today but I’m so worried about tomorrow. Knowing that I’m getting out of the house to go to my part-time job lightens my mood a bit. But the fact that I can only get out and do something productive when I do the one thing I despise more than anything in the world is just depressing.

The PTSD that came from teaching years back still talks to me in its thin, reedy little voice, making even driving by a school troublesome. Being inside a school for a whole day brings shades of depression back in heavy waves on good days. Going into a day of teaching already battered by depression feels like I’m willingly walking into a splintered mind.

Peppy Christian Music for Down Days

Sometimes depression just creeps over you without you even knowing it. Thankfully, God is our great Healer and we can rest in hope that He will heal our wounded souls and we’ll smile again soon.

When I find myself in the throes of depression I feel stronger when I listen to positive Christian music. Whether it’s classified as praise & worship music or not, listening to messages of hope and God’s truth seem to really alleviate the sorrow I experience.

Below is are links to some of my favorite songs to listen to when depression threatens to sink me. Some aren’t available on YouTube but you can find them on Amazon.com or iTunes.

Lord You Are Good — Israel Houghton & New Breed

Reaching For You — Lincoln Brewster

Sing, Sing, Sing — Chris Tomlin

Happy Day — Jesus Culture

Courageous — Casting Crowns

Our God — Chris Tomlin

Let Your Glory Fall — Phillips, Craig & Dean

My Praise — Phillips, Craig & Dean

New Day — Avalon

I Will Not Be Moved — Natalie Grant

Greater — Mercy Me

Open Up the Heavens — Meredith Andrews

Here are some more you can look up:

Your Great Name — Natalie Grant

You Are God Alone — Phillips, Craig & Dean

I Ain’t Givin’ Up On Jesus — Michael English

Let My Words Be Few — Phillips, Craig & Dean

Only You — Phillips, Craig & Dean

Overwhelmed — Big Daddy Weave

Start A Fire — Unspoken

There’s Hope in Front of Me — Danny Gokey

Shades of Sunrise: How Hope Appeared

IMG_0988Just thinking about those early sunrises, walking from my car into the building

Crunching through the ice and snow on the ground

A song in my head, bursting through my lips, not caring about who saw or heard

My only hope was knowing You were around

In the whispering wind, in the golden sunshine, I saw my tomorrows

Painted in yellows, oranges and blues

Stretched across the sky in brilliant shades rising from the river’s tide

Something softly spoken in the hues

You’d ripped me away from the clouds of sin and sadness

Drove the dark of doubt away

Tore away the veil of depression that had smothered me

Even as they were covering the grave

You saw me there, locked away and fighting my own mind

Don’t know how I got to that place

And I heard Your words clearly, above the demons chasing each thought

And gave another second chance because of grace

Do You remember those moments, surely destined to die in shame

A tormented and tattered soul

Somehow You made me believe in better things to come

Even as You made me whole

Those days seem so long ago, cemented in history

A decade next year

But this morning it feels like yesterday

And again I need You near

 

The void as a kid

Galaxy Shame CC FreeI’ve tried to think back to examples of times when I’ve been in the void. There are plenty of examples, but one that stands out to me most is actually a situation from my childhood.

When my sister and I were kids, our parents took us to church and often, we’d visit our grandparents after the service. They had a big, in-ground pool and we loved to swim. Sometimes, our mom wouldn’t let us take a dip, and we had to longingly watch our cousins dive and do cannonballs and splash around.

There we were, in our Sunday best; outsiders in our own family, at least that’s how it felt. Unable to be a part of what everyone else was doing.

In some ways, I remember feeling the embarrassment that turns your face red when you spill milk. In my case, that happened at a fancy banquet hall during my grandparents’ wedding anniversary party. My father chided me in front of the family and I got more upset because I felt so unworthy — demeaned and shamed.

From my limited, 8-year-old perspective, I was instantly the pariah of the party and I couldn’t stop crying. The vacant feelings on Sunday afternoons sans swimming held the same sting of shame for me.

I see now that 25 years ago, I had the self-esteem of Swiss cheese. Why? Perhaps because I wanted to fit in, or maybe because I felt alone. But if I valued myself as God values me, that void would have been replaced with peace, love and security.

See, I bought a lie about myself, all the way back when I was a child, and it said I was unworthy of the wholeness others had. I wasn’t good enough to have that acceptance, even from my family.

But in John 14:6 Jesus said He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. I’ve learned now that when the void creeps in, growling in my ear that I’m no good, it’s time to pull out the truth test. What does God say about me?

He calls me His child, His love. So much so that God sent His Son to carry my sins and sorrows — even the void — so I would never be condemned to again. He did all this even before I loved Him, and He calls me justified even when I don’t feel or act that way. There’s not a void in the world that can empty my soul of that truth.

Depression: Describing a new emotion

Without God Im Nothing CC FREEOne of the things I know to do when I get depressed is watch the news. The connection to the outside world helps me feel less lonely — less disconnected from activity. I’ve grown to ache from this emotion that I’ve been unable to completely define and describe. Perhaps it’s sort of extreme loneliness — something akin to feeling alone in a crowd.

But there’s also an embarrassment, a shame involved. It’s like being the lone single woman at a marriage conference — not only do you not belong there, but you also feel like you’re not good enough to participate. That brings such shame.

And then, because you’re the odd one out, it feels like the spotlight’s on you, amplifying and highlighting your inadequacy. Such solitude. Deep sorrow and disconnection.

It seeps into the cracks that are already there, leaving an emptiness like a vacuum.

Disconnection + Loneliness + Inadequacy = “ this feeling.”

I’m calling it “the void.”

A kid’s movie describes the term “void” very well. The Neverending Story refers to it as “The Nothing,” and it sucks up happiness, peace and joy, and in its wake leaves a sludge of sorrow.

In the movie, a boy hero named Atreyu goes on a quest to stop “The Nothing” from taking over the land of “Fantasia.” This place is shaped by the dreams of humans, but as humans have stopped dreaming, the land is being swept by “The Nothing” and is near its own extinction.

The sadness that is drowning Fantasia is so thick that it even overtakes Atreyu’s horse Artax, who is unable to escape his sorrow. He begins to sink into the bog of sadness, even as Atreyu frantically tries to pull him free. But the horse gets sucked into the intolerable travail and cannot escape.

At one point, Atreyu meets an ancient tortoise named Morla, who is unable to advance the boy’s quest.

“If you don’t tell me, and The Nothing keeps coming, you will die too…,” Atreyu tells Morla.

The tortoise replies: “Die? Now that, at least, would be ‘something.’”

In order to save Fantasia, Atreyu must find the boundaries of the land. However, he is told the place has none.

Does this “Nothing” sound familiar to you? To me, it sounds a whole lot like my as yet unnamed emotion.

Depression is selfish

White Rose on BookWhen God called me into His saving grace at age 25, I already knew the catch phrases, buzzwords and clichés of modern Christianity. I had asked Jesus to be my Savior and Lord when I was just 6 years old.

But this second salvation was different from what I knew as a conversion experience. All the youth group meetings, church conferences and Bible studies couldn’t dredge me out of the sludge of selfish pride I’d been sucked down into for years.

Yes, I said pride. I know it might sound harsh to blame myself for the deep depression I battled for most of my young adult life, but it’s true. I recently watched a sermon video online from Grace Church Nashville. The pastor, Lindell Cooley, set something in perspective that had never before occurred to me in the way he put it. I’m paraphrasing, but the crux of his statement was to point out that we humans are quick to be offended at things like famine, discrimination of man against man, and other affronts to our fellow humans. But how often do we get worked up when God is dishonored?

And He is dishonored, defamed and demonized daily by us all through idolatry. And that’s how I selfishly dishonored God. My depression became greater in my life than God was.

If I could give you a day-by-day picture of what my life was like during two specifically difficult seasons, I wouldn’t be doing justice to the emotional torture that Hell slaughtered my soul with. At most times, it was a moment-by-moment thing. Most days, I couldn’t sit in one place long enough to watch a 30-minute TV sitcom. My mind was so weak that I couldn’t focus on anything but the pain, which was a continual thing for me back then. In fact, one of the things I enjoyed most once the Lord freed me of this Hell was the stillness to do simple things like watch TV or read or walk the dog.

That just goes to show you how messed up I was. I couldn’t get the focus off of me long enough to even let God inside my soul.

I remember very clearly one night I spent laying on the bed, a small table lamp lighting the room. A good Christian friend of mine was on fire with the love of God and had a hardy Bible reading regimen. I wanted so much to be where she was with Jesus. I remember bringing my old leather-bound, rice paper Bible, engraved with my maiden name, onto the bed with me. I opened to Romans 8:

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

Free. I wasn’t condemned to live in this tailspin forever. I was free to feel again without fear. Without shame. Without doubt.

But how?

In another scripture, I read what I needed to hear and so desperately wanted to believe.

“Don’t be worried on account of the wicked; don’t be jealous of those who do wrong. They will soon disappear like grass that dries up; they will die like plants that wither.”

That passage is found in Psalm 37: 1-2. The writer goes on to encourage trust and happiness found in God alone.

This particular passage hit me hard because the sinful life I was living held such a draw for me. I wanted what the sin-filled world had to offer, and after years of pursuing and living out those desires, my heart no longer had the softness Jesus’ love had once brought to it.

I want to be clear about this, though. Jesus’ love was never misplaced or AWOL; He was always right there waiting with open arms. But my own heart was so hardened and weather-beaten from constant rejection of His love that I believe God had given me up to my own evil desires.

This is a hard topic for many of us. You might be reading this, thinking, “Did she just say God had given up on her?” No, most definitely not. Rather it was me who had given up on God, and in His infinite wisdom and mercy, God allowed me to choose to walk away from Him.

Missing these kids

I’ve had this song on endless loop tonight. I believe I’m on my sixth or seventh time in a row. I miss the days back when I first heard the message and sweetness of its simple lyric.

It was 1998, and I was spending the night at my friend Sarah’s house. She lived in Buffalo, about 45 minutes from me. So it was a treat when we got to do a sleepover, at least for me. That afternoon, I sat down with her younger sister Beth and listened to a song by this group Avalon. Beth wanted me to listen to “Adonai” so I could hear how high Jody McBrayer’s voice got. I feel in love with the song, and decided that one day I should gather some friends and sing it in church.

I got that chance several years later and it was a lot of fun. I took the second  verse and the second part of the bridge. That likely means nothing to you if you aren’t a singer or musician. Basically, I got to wrap my vocals around the more upbeat and building portions of the song. We did three-part harmony and it sounded great. But never so great as that first time I heard it on the top floor of an old home in South Buffalo.

Except for the other night.

I have two dear teenagers in my life who I absolutely adore more than any others. Jake and Hannah live back in New York with their dad now, so I don’t get to talk to them as much. But we have some hilarious and special memories from over the years. I miss them, so much. And I wish they could be here with me and Brent. But they have two parents who love them and want to see them succeed. Texas might be just a bit too far for Mom and Dad to handle. I understand, but I still want them.

The other night I dreamed about this song, “Adonai,” and the message of love it offers to our great Jesus. In the dream, I was sobbing over the lyric and memories it held for me. Then I sat down with Hannah and told her about the song. “I love that song,” she said to me in the dream. “Have you read the book?” She told me it was about Jesus and the priests and offerings that came before him. As she went on to explain the plot, I was overcome and had to ask her to stop telling me about it. “Don’t tell me anymore,” I told her through tears. “I won’t be able to make it if I hear anymore about it.”

Then Hannah disappeared and I went from chair to chair, room to room, unable to disguise my intense sorrow and grief over not seeing Hannah anymore. I could not stop sobbing, putting my head down on tables to hide the tears. It was one of the saddest dreams I’ve ever had. I woke up during the night grieving while awake.

So I am praying to my sweet Adonai, for these two beautiful jewels in His crown. And that they will hold this in their hearts ~ “One timid, faithful knock resounds upon the Rock of Ages. One trembling heart and soul becomes a servant bold and courageous. You call across the mountains and the seas, I answer from the deepest part of me ~ Adonai, I lift up my heart and I cry, my Adonai! You are Maker of each moment, Father of my hope and freedom. Oh, my Adonai”