Depression and Answered Prayer

I’ve struggled with depression for over ten years. I think I’ve had more than a dozen different depressive episodes, some much worse than others. In my hopeful moments, I begged God to not waste my pain, to allow me to use it to help others. But mostly, I couldn’t see anything good in my suffering.

For those of us who struggle with mental health, it’s very isolating. There’s still so much stigma surrounding mental illness: people don’t understand it. How could I be a Christian, let alone a leader and Bible Study teacher, and still be tormented by these feelings of uselessness and hopelessness? What kind of witness was I to my friends and coworkers? A failure! I felt very alone, even at church.

I didn’t want church friends to know – I didn’t want to be judged as sinful. I didn’t want work friends to know – I didn’t want to be judged as weak. But as the illness progressed, it became more and more obvious that I was unable to do my jobs. Others had to start picking up the pieces I dropped. Not to mention the days I didn’t have the strength to go to work or Bible Study at all, so I’d call in “sick.” I always felt horrible, knowing they would have to scramble to cover my responsibilities as well as their own. But I couldn’t help it. I was unable to leave the security of my bed and the safety of my home. I couldn’t face glaring lights, traffic, or people.

I didn’t know how God was going to redeem this, make anything good come from my pain. And as I got deeper into the illness, it became harder and harder to hide from the people around me.

So I thought God might work through awareness, as my friends saw me struggle. Perhaps I could give them a glimpse, an understanding, of what depression is and does. Maybe that was how God would use my pain for others’ benefit. Maybe, by being ill and unable to hide it, I could reduce stigma. “See? It can happen to anyone!”

In the darkest times, though, I didn’t care if others understood, or what God might do with my struggles. I was simply trying to survive, to hang on through another day of excruciating mental pain and feelings of anxiety and hopelessness, with physical manifestations of weariness, head and body aches and stomach pain. I dreaded going to bed because it just meant another day of the same tomorrow. Unless perhaps I wouldn’t wake up…the thought was appealing. I begged God for the Second Coming – the only way in which I could see my pain ending. That or death, which I was too afraid to try, though I thought of it often.

Depression is that way, trying to get me to think that no one understands, no one cares, and it will never end. In the very darkest times, I even wondered where God was, and felt like He’d abandoned me in my dark cave of negative self-worth.

But God had not abandoned me. Jesus was right by my side, and He wasn’t tapping His foot and telling me to “hurry up and get better.” He was sitting alongside me in my pain, comforting me and reminding me that He loves me so much. He was crucified for me, and for the pain of depression. He had died on the cross to give me eternal Hope. And as I sl-ow-ly emerged from the darkness of depression, God gave me the opportunity to serve Him with my illness.

Fresh Hope is a peer-led support group for people with a mental health challenge – and their loved ones. Just this week, I was part of a team which started a Fresh Hope Group at our church. The organization is about creating a community where we learn to live a rich, faith-filled life, in spite of having a mental health challenge. It’s for anyone who struggles with mental illness – depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar, PTSD, schizo-affective disorder – and for anyone who loves someone who is hurting in this way.

“And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Romans 8:28, NLT.  He’s doing that for me through this Fresh Hope Ministry – working all my pain from depression for my good and for others.  In Fresh Hope, we’ll encourage each other, and comfort one another with the same comfort we’ve received from God (see II Corinthians 1:3-4).

I have suffered, and therefore have the privilege of understanding. Of having gone through the valley of the shadow of death, and emerging on the other side. I can relate to the hurting who come to the group. God is using my illness to help others. And further healing me in the process.

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What to Expect in 2019

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. I tried a few times over my 50+ years, but they never stuck. Why set myself up for failure?!

At the same time, there are things I’d like to see in my life in the upcoming year. So call them resolutions if you must, but I’m giving myself lots of grace, and no deadlines.

I’d like my morning time with God to be more consistent. It has been in recent months, so I don’t see any reason why it can’t continue to be a priority. I get several daily devotionals, but I’m not counting those. I’m talking about me in God’s Word each day. I just purchased a Lectio Divina devotional, and am looking forward to using that as my devotional tool.

I want to be more intentional about the friendships that matter most to me. I intend to make more phone calls, send more texts, stay more connected. I want to plan a trip back to my old hometown to see those people in person, to hug them and tell them how much they mean to me, even over the miles and years. I need to get that on the calendar!

I can’t say that I’ll exercise, because I am physically-active-averse. But there’s no reason that I can’t walk around the block several times per week. Just the block – no commitment to anything more. (Though I’m hoping that once I get out there, with headphones on, I’ll keep going.)

I plan to send more care packages to my kids. They’re no longer in school, so it’s really just “thinking of you” boxes. And I want to shop locally for the items in those boxes. I want to do a better job of supporting local small businesses.

I’ll try to eat more vegetables. Thank goodness for the vegetarian choice of Hello Fresh! I’ll use my new instant pot to put healthier meals on the table. I’ll learn to cook for two, instead of just reaching for the frozen pizza.

I’ll read more books. Goodness knows that I have plenty of them on my shelf that I haven’t even started yet! And that doesn’t count the books on my to-read list. Not just good-for-you books; I want to read for fun, not only for personal development. I used to read lots of fiction but got away from it in recent years. I want to get back to good ole stories.

There are activities I’ll continue in the new year: the library book club (which encourages me to read books I might not otherwise choose), volunteering (I want to get back to 2x/week), serving at church (leading a new mental health support group starting January 8th!), work, developing local friendships, taking weekend adventures with my husband (this requires spontaneity that I have to work at).

So I see myself growing and improving in 2019. If I do any of these things, even a little bit, I’ll be better for it. Resolutions, no. Aspirations, yes.

Happy New Year! Wishing you God’s blessings and a growing closeness to Him in 2019!

Parenting Adult Children

“Hanging out with your grown-up kids is like visiting the best parts of yourself.” I saw this on Facebook recently, and couldn’t agree more!

We just spent five days with our twenty-something year old children, and it was a blast! We celebrated my son’s golden birthday with extended family, got to know my daughter’s boyfriend, and ate great food. We played games, including our unique guessing-Christmas gifts (new) tradition. We watched movies and shows, read books, and just enjoyed each other’s company.

I’m proud of my kids. They’re both hard workers, committed to giving their best to their jobs. They’re kind, respectful, and witty. They don’t just love each other as siblings – they actually like each other a lot, which warms this momma’s heart. While they no longer live in the same state, they communicate regularly, even if it’s just via text. My daughter probably hears from my son more often than I do!

I have known for a long time about letting go, but this visit solidified my desire to see my kids successfully fly. While I’m still adjusting to an empty nest (how many years is it going to take?), I’m delighted to watch them grow in maturity and independence. That was my job as their mother – to teach them Jesus, right from wrong, decision making, and responsibility. They’re good people, and God helped me do my job as best I could.

This morning as I woke up, I heard a voice in my head telling me that I had failed as a Christian mom; both of my kids have made choices that I would have made differently. But they only learn from making their own decisions – they have to figure life out for themselves. They must develop their own relationships with their Savior. My job now is to pray for them, and ask others to pray with me. I especially love the ministry of Moms In Prayer (MIP), and my prayer call with my best friend each week. I’ve prayed with MIP for years, and I know God has heard each prayer spoken (and unspoken) on their behalf, all the way back to their Kindergarten days. Nothing is wasted. Nor is anything in my timing. So I release them to their Heavenly Father’s hands, which is where they belong anyway.

And in the meantime, I watch them with thanksgiving and joy as they become my adult friends, not just my kids.

Trapped with Insomnia

For many weeks now, I’ve had occasional bouts of insomnia. I’m not alone in this, by any means. Many women I know are awake for some hours during the night. Comes with age, I suspect, or hormones changing. Maybe that’s the same thing!

Anyway, it’s usually no big deal. I quietly put on my bathrobe and slippers, and the cats and I leave the bedroom, gently closing the door behind me, and head to the kitchen, where I make a cup of chamomile tea and fill their food bowls if necessary. Then we all perch in our places in the living room – the little boy on the couch with me, the female cat often on the pet climber where she can survey the room. I grab the throw blanket and put it on my lap – it’s very snuggly. Then, I sip my tea as it cools, and I read or write or sometimes knit. I often find myself blogging at this hour – seems like a typical time for me to write. The tea makes me a little sleepy, so I’m usually only awake for one or two hours. I’m very cozy and sometimes I fall asleep on the couch instead of going back through the cold house to the bedroom.

For the next few days, I’m trapped. We’re staying in an AirBnB, and there’s someone sleeping on the couch in the living room. So tonight I’m awake with no place to go! It’s too noisy to make a cup of tea in the kitchen. And the light there will shine brightly into the living room. Plus, where will I sit?

So I’m trapped, awake, in our bedroom. I have my phone screen on nighttime mode, and pointed away from my husband in bed, so as not to wake him, if possible. It seems like writing my blog on my phone is an option! Should I try to read my Kindle on my iPad – can I adjust that intensity to nighttime lumens? But what do I do with myself without my chamomile? I really want that cup of soothing tea and my cozy blanket!

It’s uncomfortable to just lay here. I might try sitting up in bed, but there aren’t really enough pillows to prop me up and support my back like a chair would. The room is tight, with space to get around the bed but none additional – no room to bring in a chair.

I guess I’ll stay in bed and read until I get sleepy again. Maybe I’ll have tea for breakfast!

Replacing Anxiety with Peace

I got news yesterday that concerned me. No, more than concern. It brought worry and anxiety. My mind raced eighteen steps ahead in my worst-case-scenario storyline. It was not pretty.

Anxiety presents itself in my body in both my belly and my lungs. My stomach feels hollow, and it’s hard to catch my breath. It’s an actual physical manifestation of an emotional response. My midsection hurts and I can’t breathe.

I haven’t had anxiety for a long time, other than a single moment a few weeks ago. But that flash of anxiety was just that – a flash, momentary. It lasted long enough for me to recognize it, but my thoughts immediately turned to God’s truth, and the anxiety was gone – snap! – that fast.

This time, it’s lingering. I’m worried about something in the future that I can’t control. That’s where anxiety looks – ahead. Depression looks back. This is why it’s so important to stay in the current moment – so as not to entertain anxiety (future worry) or depression (past regrets).

Anyway, this fear for a future moment is for an inevitable event; I just don’t know when. And the not-knowing scares me.

I hugged my husband tightly last night when he got home, and told him I was scared – he didn’t even ask about what. He knows what worries me, even though I’ve been careful not to dwell on the future or to even express it. As if saying it aloud could make it happen – which it can’t. But the fear is too tangible to speak it out loud.

The sermon on Sunday was about peace, the antithesis of anxiety and worry. I’ll go back and review my notes, because I need them right now. I need the peace that Jesus brings. He says, “I leave the gift of peace with you—my peace. Not the kind of fragile peace given by the world, but my perfect peace. Don’t yield to fear or be troubled in your hearts—instead, be courageous!John 14:27 (TPT)

In other places in God’s Word, it says:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Colossians 3:15 (NASB)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians‬ ‭4:6-7‬ ‭(NIV‬‬)

I was thinking about that word “guard.” God’s peace will guard my heart and my mind – will protect it, keep it from being attacked by outside forces. By anxious thoughts.

And both of those verses exhort me to be thankful. I have much to thank God for – I need to keep a grateful heart, no matter what my future may bring.

At this time of year, we celebrate Christmas – I’m thankful that Jesus came into our world as a baby. The Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). The angels who sang at His birth declared, “Peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” Luke 2:14 (NLT)

May He reign in my heart and yours. Because we all need His Peace.