Something Better

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This last year has been one of the most challenging years of my life. I wish I could point at each challenge that I faced and say, “look how well I handled it” or “my faith never wavered”, but I’m not about those lies. I want to be real and genuine.

The truth is, I spent a lot of time this last year struggling; I felt distant from God and isolated from those around me. Some of that is from my own sin and stubbornness, but the other piece of it is that big, ugly elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. That elephant’s name is depression and he’s made his presence known in many aspects of my life. Depression has been something I have dealt with for years, but it became overwhelming this year.

The thing I learned about depression this last year, is that it doesn’t come on all at once. It wasn’t like I was happy and functioning one day, and then feeling hopeless and withdrawn the next. Slowly, over the course of a few months, darkness set in. Like when you’re reading at home in the early evening when the sun begins to set, and all of the sudden you realize you’re sitting in the dark because you haven’t turned any lamps on. So you need to get up to turn on a lamp so you can continue reading. Except with depression, getting up to turn on that lamp seems like an insurmountable challenge that you can’t possibly overcome. So you’re just sitting in the dark, hoping that you will muster the strength to get up or that someone will come in the room to turn on the light for you. This is just one of the metaphors that could be used to describe my experience with depression over the last ten years.

Depression is something that many people deal with, yet is something that is still very difficult to talk about. This last year, I learned the importance of reaching out and talking to someone who is capable of listening (that’s my subtle way of promoting going to therapy – it will change your life). I have some incredible friends who were instrumental in helping me to climb out of the pit of depression, but I couldn’t rely on them to pull me out if I wasn’t going to put some effort into it on my own.

That effort was a lot easier said than done. Especially when it took place during one of the most difficult years of my life. This year, I faced rejection and really truly doubted myself. I felt worthless and inadequate compared to my peers who were doing so well. I felt like a failure. It took everything inside of me to pick myself up off the ground and keep pursuing my dreams. Needless to say, all of this happening on top of an existing diagnosis of depression made it feel like there was nothing I could do to get my head above water. But I kept going. I knew there had to be something better for me.

During the week when I was devastated about one of my biggest hopes being deferred (which happened to be the week of the eighth anniversary of The Day I Didn’t Die), I came across this verse.

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40)

While this verse gave me so much comfort at the time, it was still so hard for me to believe that it was true. That God had planned something better for me than anything I could have planned for myself. Even with my own doubt, I kept going, holding on to that thread of hope that God had planned something better.

These last few months, I have been living out part of the “something better” God had planned for me. And it has been amazing. But is my depression suddenly cured? Absolutely not. In some ways, it’s been more challenging. I’ve been alone more than I’ve been around people. I’ve worked lots of hours in an environment that is amazing but also exhausting. I haven’t had the energy or motivation to do the things I need to do on my days off. I’ve spent a lot more time in traffic, causing all of this hidden anxiety about driving to come to the surface. It hasn’t been easy.

But you know what’s been great? Finding the sweet moments in the midst of the bitter ones. Taking long walks on the beach when it’s cold and empty. Going on adventures by myself and learning to enjoy my own company. Opening up to those around me about my struggles and being met with nothing but support and encouragement. Recognizing that hard days happen and it’s okay to take a step back when those days come up.

It is my hope that my words might provide some insight. If you are struggling with depression: know that you are not alone in the dark. If you have a friend that struggles with depression: let them know they are not alone in the dark. Please don’t just walk into that dark room, turn on the brightest light, and ask “what’s wrong with you?” Please don’t walk in with the equivalent of a votive candle and think that will change their life. Sit with them in the darkness until they feel safe enough for you to turn on a light.

Depression isn’t something that defines me. But it is something that is a reality in my life (and in the lives of many, many others). It’s not easy, but it’s real.

With eternal encouragement and good hope.

 

Unravel Me

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We’re facing the end of another year, whether we like it or not. With the year wrapping up, I have found myself doing the inevitable reflecting on all that has happened over the last twelve months. I was looking at a post I wrote this time last year called Unseen Moments where I shared some of the realities of my year and decided I wanted 2015 to be more about vulnerability. In some ways, I would say I succeeded in that goal. I shared pieces of my heart with those who are close to me. I cried in my office (and in my major professors’s office…and in a conference room…) because there were some moments this year that were too hard to hold in until I was alone. My surgery over the summer resulted in a lot of vulnerability – not being able to do anything for yourself creates a new level of vulnerability in admitting you need others in a very literal sense. On the other side, there were a lot of times this year that I could have been more vulnerable. I didn’t speak up in moments where I really wish I would have said something because of pride or fear (or sometimes both). I let things happen that I wasn’t okay with because I lacked the courage and vulnerability to stand up for myself. I closed myself off from people who had the potential to hurt me, after futile attempts to reach out to them. The theme that stands out to me from this year is how often I resisted opportunities to be vulnerable.

These last few weeks, I’ve been reading (aka listening to in audiobook format during my many hours in the car) Brené Brown’s book Daring Greatly, which is all about how the courage to be vulnerable changes everything. She brings up the fact that vulnerability is not a one and done process that you can add to your list of accomplishments. It is a daily and lifelong practice that comes in ebbs and flows. This provided a lot of comfort to me, as I felt that my inability to be completely vulnerable this year left me a failure. In reality, I made lots of progress and will continue to make progress throughout the course of my life. It is so easy for me to focus on the areas where I failed to live up to my own expectations. This is where I realize that my expectations are deeply flawed, especially in comparison to the Lord’s expectations for me.

The song “No Longer Slaves” has been on repeat in my car lately, from the opening line of You unravel me with a melody… to the ending …I am a child of God, it gets me every time. I am amazed at how the Lord continues to point things out to me in that song about who He is and about who He says I am. The idea that love has called my name is such a good reminder of the Lord’s hope for me over this next year – I am not called to be perfect, I am not called to be successful, I am called to love and by love. So many of the places that I find my mind revisiting from this last year are the direct result from the absence of love – insecurity abounds from the inability to see the love that the Lord has for me; bitterness comes when there is a lack of love for those around me; and the list goes on. The things I do with the presence of the Lord’s love are things I will never regret. Another line from this song that tends to put me in a place of awe is You rescued me so I could stand and sing. This one hits very close to home for me – this February will be eight years since the day the Lord rescued me. There is little doubt in my mind that part of the reason He chose to rescue me was so that I could stand and sing. This is something I want to do differently in the year to come. I spend a lot of time wallowing in family circumstances or in the fact that I am still single or in the fact that I still have unexplained health problems. But I was rescued not so I could spend time feeling sorry for myself, but so that I could stand and sing praises to the Lord.

With just a few hours left in 2015, I find myself really excited to leave it behind. It was a really hard year with having a dream opportunity taken away from me, saying goodbye to our sweet dog, undergoing hip surgery, and heartbreaking family situations. It was also a good year – I got to see many close friends get married, took really fun trips to California and New York, had a lot of sweet time with my niece, and made lots of exciting progress in my educational pursuits. With such a full year behind me, I am so excited to see what 2016 will bring. I can just feel that it’s going to be one of the best yet.

With eternal encouragement and good hope.

For Glory

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This season has been one of the busiest seasons of my life – it feels like I say that every season, thinking I have reached my capacity and then the next one rolls around and I find myself with even more things going on. During moments where I feel completely overwhelmed inadequate, I am reminded of how much of a blessing it is to have such a full life. One of my opportunities this semester was driving to and from Macon once a week, where I was fortunate enough to have a front row view of the sun rising and setting during my drive. Sunrises and sunsets always amaze me – I am in disbelief that something so extraordinary is something that we are gifted with every single day. I had almost four hours in a single day where I was in the car by myself, with no escape from my thoughts or from the things that the Lord wanted me to hear.

Whenever I would see a particularly stunning horizon at sunrise or sunset, I found myself speechless at the beauty and in awe of God’s creation. This was when I was reminded of the fact that I am also a creation of His – created for the sole purpose of bringing glory to Him. I am constantly experiencing insecurities about everything, doubts about myself and my worth. Seeing the sky reminds me that the same God who does that every single day is the same God who made me, so constantly questioning the quality of his creation in me is just insulting. I seem to have no trouble accepting the majesty of His creation when it comes to nature – I just can’t seem to accept the fact that He created me with that same majestic hand.

As the weeks went by and I saw more sunrises and more sunsets, I noticed that they were never the same. I was reminded of the fact that His compassions never fail, they are new every morning. I tend to forget that this doesn’t just apply to the sunrise every morning – we are fortunate enough to have the opportunity for a renewed spirit that reminds us of His faithfulness. The weariness and feelings of inadequacy that are so easy to fall prey to are nothing in comparison to the power of His glory. I spent a lot of time reflecting on why it is so much more difficult to accept that who the Lord created me to be is just as glorious as the most exquisite sunset. (I still never came up with a concrete answer to this, so any thoughts are appreciated.)

When looking at the glory of His creation, be it through the breath-taking sunset or looking into the beautiful blue eyes of my niece, I can’t help but stop to praise Him. I have to be okay with the fact that I am not able to come up with an explanation for why all of these things are true and why I believe every circumstance in my life exists for His glory. I just have to accept that fact I wouldn’t be who I am without His love, I wouldn’t be where I am without His guidance, and I wouldn’t be what I am without His grace.

 

With eternal encouragement and good hope.

Inspired by Hope

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Over the last year or so, my life has been busier than it’s ever been before. I’ll be honest – I feel inadequate and overwhelmed, at the very least. That being said, I have been continuously comforted by the fact that God has chosen me and has equipped me. This verse served as a huge reminder:

We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.                  1 Thessalonians 1:2-3

Work produced by faith is a really incredible thing to me – it is my goal to do everything in faith and to strive to bring glory to God. This verse mentions work and labor, which I have always thought of as interchangeable words. I’m sure there are some extreme differences that I am completely missing, but in looking up the definitions, one particular one caught my eye. It said that “work is the result of labor”, which maybe is something everyone knows and I am just ignorant to the English language. But I really like the idea that our work (produced by faith) is the manifestation of our labor (prompted by love). Sure, I could physically/mentally do all that I have to do on my own, but it is because of my faith in and love for Jesus that I am able to do these things at all. As things get busier, I tend to forget this reminder of what produces my work; I get overwhelmed with papers, and commitments, and all of the little details that never seem to get sorted out. I forget that it’s Jesus who is the one bringing forth everything and I try to handle it all by myself. Instead of doing this, I can’t help but wonder how much better my life would be if I just remembered that my best work is produced by faith in the one who created me?

Labor prompted by love goes along with work produced by faith in the ways mentioned above, but another aspect of this really stands out to me. The labor/work that is remembered is that which is done by love in our Lord Jesus Christ. So the times when I do things begrudgingly (which is way more often than I’d care to admit), it’s a whole lot less likely to be remembered. I have found time and time again that the things I do that are prompted by love are so much more fulfilling than the things I do that are prompted by selfishness or obligation.

Endurance inspired by hope is my favorite piece of this passage, because of how deeply I see this in my own life. There is absolutely no way that I would have the ability to endure anything in my life if I did not have hope. Hope that the Lord’s plan is so much bigger and better than my own is what has gotten me through some of the darkest times. And I love the idea that hope inspires endurance. Hope has been such a significant theme in my life and has inspired so many good things. Hope has sustained me and has truly been an anchor for my soul.

I can’t bring up the topic of hope without thinking about another story that has been inspired by hope – Katherine Wolf of Hope Heals has been such an inspiration to me over the years, our connection began after both sustaining brain injuries in the year of 2008. Seeing the depth of the endurance inspired by hope that Katherine and Jay have demonstrated over the years is absolutely amazing. Their story is another one that truly embodies the idea of work produced by faith, labor prompted by love, and endurance inspired by hope. (I’m not even going to try to tell her story – partly because it’s her story to tell but mostly because my words are far too inadequate to fully grasp what the Lord has done, so definitely look at their amazing ministry and see the incredible short film.)

This passage goes onto say “for we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that He has chosen you“. This is something I feel that I need to remind myself of daily – I am loved by God and He has chosen me; He knew what He was doing when He chose me. Sometimes I doubt that I am qualified to do the tasks set before me and think that God must have gotten me confused with someone else who is far more capable. It’s verses like this that pull me back into the reality that God equips the ones He has chosen, rather than the idea that He chooses the ones who are equipped.

So in times like these, when I feel far too inept for the things set before me, I will remember and rely on works produced by faith, labor prompted by love, and endurance inspired by hope.

With eternal encouragement and good hope.

The Depths of Sorrow

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Recently, I have felt the weight of what it means to be weary. Certain circumstances have made me understand what Oscar Wilde means when he says, “For us there is only one season, the season of sorrow.” Sorrows have been such a constant that it overwhelms nearly every corner of my thoughts. I question why God allows dark seasons of suffering that seem to have no end in sight. It’s not just my own personal suffering that weighs on me – there seems to be an endless supply of sorrow, with friends who are grieving the loss of a loved one and a world that seems to wake up to a new tragedy in the headlines every morning. How can our hearts not be heavy and burdened?

Jesus tells us to come to Him when we are weary and burdened, but I find that really difficult to do at times. Facing a God who allows mental illness to rip apart lives in one family and a grim diagnosis being given to a child in another family is just about the last thing I want to do. Because I don’t understand it. I cannot wrap my mind around sorrow. I have come to Jesus so many times begging for an explanation. Anything that will allow me to make sense of things. I have yet to leave one of these encounters with clear answers. I have to believe it is because I am trying to understand things from my worldly perspective, standing with my face two inches from the tapestry staring at the black thread and doubting it will ever be anything but darkness. But Jesus is looking at it from the perspective of heaven, where He sees the completed and magnificent tapestry in its entirety.

God’s ways are not the same as my ways and His thoughts are not the same as my thoughts, so why do I keep making futile attempts to have God provide me with explanations that I will never be able to comprehend, this side of heaven?  Instead, I need to be reminded of and pray Psalm 119:28,

My soul is weary with sorrow;
    strengthen me according to your word.”

I want to be strengthened in the ways that are promised throughout His word – in the Lord, by grace, in quietness and trust, with power through the Holy Spirit, through the joy of the Lord. The Lord promises to renew the strength of those who hope in Him, so my only chance at a renewed heart that is free of weariness is to hope in Him.

Because of the heaviness in my heart, I have had a difficult time being motivated and have struggled with moments of despair and depression. I tried to experience a renewed spirit through finding life in other places – in relationships, in my time at the children’s hospital, even in a small bonsai tree I found at Ikea (because I thought I remembered reading an article about how having plants can make you feel better and it was only ten dollars). Those relationships proved to be disheartening, my days at the hospital brought days of hip pain, and my bonsai tree very actively died within two weeks. Thankfully, before the enemy could fully bring me down with his lies that all of these things were further proof of my inadequacy, the Lord gently but firmly reminded me that these were my futile attempts to find life and renewed strength in things that were not Him.

When I come to the Lord with my sorrow and my broken spirit, He provides comfort that I could never seem to find from the world. Another Oscar Wilde quote that resounds in my heart says, “where there is sorrow there is holy ground.” When sorrows abound, there is a sacred realization that the only way to get through it (and most of the time you have to get through it, though the world tells you to get over it) is at the feet of Jesus. Some of my most treasured moments with Jesus have happened during some of the most difficult times of my life.

Allowing Jesus to be my everlasting and constant source of comfort is the only way I will ever find renewed strength.

With eternal encouragement and good hope.

The Joy of Pain

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The inspiration for this piece came from a place where I’d really rather not be, but I’ve found myself quite often this summer – in a lot of pain, which seems to be the worst at night. In the many nights that I’ve been unable to fall asleep because of the pain, I found the line from the song that says “there may be pain in the night, but joy comes in the morning” echoing in my mind. I find myself hoping and praying that the song is prophetic in a very literal sense – I am in pain tonight, so that means joy comes in the morning, right? While I know that can happen, I have also realized that the night and day referenced in the song (and in Psalm 30:5) aren’t necessarily the literal night and day. The weeping can stay for months, as opposed to just the night. This is where I get discouraged and forget the second part that says “but rejoicing comes in the morning.” When suffering lasts through the night and carries into the next day and stays for a while, it can become difficult to even fathom what rejoicing might look or feel like in your world.

I’m going to be real about some things – this has been one of the most challenging summers of my life. With hip surgery, saying goodbye to our beloved dog, and some other situations that feel too big to even ascribe words to, this summer has felt insurmountable in a lot of ways. Here’s where I wish I could say that I’ve leaned on the Lord during this time and experienced the comfort that only He brings. After all, spending the vast majority of a month confined to a couch means I’ve had ample amounts of time to spend in prayer, reading my Bible, and hearing from the Lord, right? Nope, I’ve spent a lot of time watching Netflix and feeling sorry for myself (I’ve developed open hostility towards Netflix when it so kindly asks “Are you still watching?”). Despite the fact that I haven’t done my part in my relationship with Jesus, He still pursues me like no other.

One song that has never failed to remind me of truth is Come As You Are: “Oh wanderer come home, you’re not too far. Lay down your hurt, lay down your heart. Come as you are.” I won’t lie – this summer, I’ve felt so far from Jesus that I’ve wondered how it’s even possible to return. A lot of that distance comes from places of hurt that I’ve been in recently – honestly, it’s hard for me to want to approach One who has allowed so much pain (physical, emotional, and otherwise). But I’ve realized that the pain has made the rejoicing that much sweeter. Days with pain make me appreciate the days I have without pain – obviously, being without the pain altogether would probably be pretty nice. But I’ve learned that reminders of pain bring out the treasures of rejoicing. When I fall asleep at night in pain and wake up in the morning without pain, I start out my day by rejoicing. But the reason I am rejoicing wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the pain I experienced the night before. It’s kind of amazing.

Come as you are
Fall in his arms
Come as you are
There’s joy for the morning
Oh sinner be still
Earth has no sorrow
That heaven can’t heal

I’m at a place where there is pain and sorrow, but I know that I am promised joy and healing. So here’s to waiting for the morning, however long the night may last.

With eternal encouragement and good hope.

Better than Healing

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I have experienced and witnessed a lot of healing over the years – healing has come in many different forms and exceeds my greatest hopes every single time. I am currently experiencing healing in ways I did not see coming. I have had hip pain ever since my hips were fractured in the accident, but it was one of those things I just accepted as my new normal. It felt selfish to feel sorry for myself – my recovery from a traumatic brain injury had been so miraculous that living with hip pain was still a far better trade than anything I could conjure up. Even still, I grew weary of the pain and wished for healing.

In the last couple of years, people have prayed specifically for my hips and I’ve waited for healing to happen. I’d get some relief from the acute pain I was experiencing, but it was only ever temporary. I had such a hard time accepting this because I knew without a doubt that God had the power to heal me completely – were there holes in my faith that kept me from believing full healing was possible? What was I doing wrong that these prayers weren’t working? Surely I was missing something.

As I continued to have days of pain, I decided to look into going to a specialist who might have some answers. I’ll admit – I had very little confidence in getting some definitive answers and treatment options. After a lot of tests and office visits, I got the answers I had given up on and an arthroscopic hip surgery was one of the recommended methods of treatment. Shortly after getting those answers and thinking about options, we had scheduled the surgery and I tried to prepare myself as much as I could.

It wasn’t until after the surgery that I would begin to understand why things happened the way they did. Currently, I have pain related to the fact that they made several incisions in my hip and spent more than two hours making many different repairs through those incisions (which, by the way, astounds me – I am so thankful for the brilliant minds who came up with these minimally invasive surgical techniques). It would have been a lot easier had my healing happened without having to undergo surgery and go through weeks of physical therapy, not to mention the pain that got a whole lot worse before it got better. But the key there was that it did get better.

The “better” doesn’t have to do with my level of pain – but rather my level of faith in trusting the way the Lord does things. Shortly before finding out I would be needing hip surgery, I was offered a position as a teaching assistant for an online class – something I could do completely from home, while recovering. This only confirmed that the Lord knew what He was doing by providing for me in ways I didn’t even know I needed. One of the biggest things I learned during my recovery was how humbling it is to be completely dependent on others. I wasn’t able to go up or down the stairs or get off the couch without help, so I couldn’t get anything for myself that wasn’t within arm’s reach. I couldn’t even put on my own socks, so my sense of autonomy was a lot lower than I would have preferred. Depending on others is challenging – especially when you have no other choice but to accept their help.

This is where I’d like to say I was gracious and took this time to really lean on the Lord, but I had a hard time with this. Bitterness, loneliness, anger, jealousy, and selfishness were just a few of the ways I reacted to this period of recovery. The part of this story that gets good is where God’s grace comes in and takes over. It turns out, giving me several weeks of rest was exactly what I needed. Slowing down – especially in the middle of two of the busiest years of my life – allowed me to sit with myself and revealed some of my deepest flaws. Here is where this comes in:

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.                                        2 Corinthians 13:11

Striving for full restoration is what I’m doing right now – I am not restored (physically, emotionally, or otherwise), but the God of love and peace will be with me as I strive for this. For now, I am very thankful for those people that have been put in my life to encourage me and push me in all the ways I need to be pushed. Not to mention the fact that God’s plan for me is so much bigger and better than just healing.

With eternal encouragement and good hope.