“Start with where you are.”

A good friend gave me this piece of advice, and I’ve taken it to heart, especially in writing. I find that it keeps me honest, vulnerable, and hopefully relatable.

I remember when she said it. I had just arrived at church, getting ready to facilitate our depression support group. I told her that I had had a few rough days, and thought I might be descending into depression again. I couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to lead this group if I was depressed. She encouraged me to be honest with the group, to just share what I was experiencing. I followed her advice, and felt myself supported and encouraged, even as the “leader” of the group. Expressing my struggle was an example of vulnerability to the group, and they in turn opened up and shared with each other.

When learning about writing, authors are encouraged to write about what they already know. For one thing, it’s easier to write about something I have gone through. Secondly, no one can argue my own experience – it’s mine, and it’s true.

So I use this approach here in my blog. I start with where I am. I try to write about what I’m feeling, or what I’ve felt or experienced in the past. It’s my past – who can argue against what happened or what I felt? Or it’s my current situation. Not anybody else’s. It’s real for me.

My desire with this blog is two-fold. To help Christians who fight depression know they are not alone. While our specific experiences may be different, there’s definitely commonality among fellow sufferers.

My second hope is that I provide understanding to a reader who might not know what depression is, or what it feels like. Maybe that reader has a friend or family member who struggles with depression. Maybe someone in the church wants to reach out to the hurting, but isn’t sure what to say. I hope that what I write will ease that difficulty.

So I write from where I am, or where I’ve been. I hope I offer education, reduce stigma, and open doors for communication and understanding to those who suffer with this disease.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (italics mine)

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I am not my depression

This is the subtitle to my blog.

It’s also a concept I’m grappling with right now.

Years ago, toward the beginning of my therapy, when I was healing from the blackest, deepest place of my depression, my therapist taught me to consider depression as separate from me, like it is its own entity. Like something else in the room.

Not “my depression.” Not “I’m depressed.”

Instead, more like “me struggling with depression.” “I’m battling depression.”

This seems like just semantics, but words are very powerful – especially the words I use with myself and to myself.

The first set of phrases makes me the owner of the depression, or certainly the victim of it. The second group places depression apart from me, not on nor within me. I’m not a victim – I’m a warrior.

The second set of phrases is more empowering. Stronger. More hopeful.

I’ve noticed that in the past several weeks, I’ve gone back to referring to depression in the first person – those first phrases. And I’m not sure why.

It could be a subconscious reaction to the biographies I’ve read recently – folks who wrote about their personal battles with “the black dog” of depression. Some people call those biographies written by “depressives.” That wording is really self-defeating!

It could be the ongoing (4 weeks and counting) of back and leg pain that is plaguing me. The diagnosis is lumbar stenosis – a narrowing of the openings where the nerves of the spinal column come through the spine itself, causing pressure on those nerves and then the nerves responding with inflammation. So far, neither stretching nor ibuprofen nor massage nor chiropractic are helping. (Next steps: yoga and stronger meds.)

It could be because I’ve been thinking about my journey through depression a lot lately: in writing, in therapy, in my Fresh Hope workbook. It’s been on my mind.

Whatever the cause, today is the first day I really caught myself speaking of depression in first person – “my depression.” I need to change that. I need to change the words, change my thinking, put distance between me and the illness.

“…but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think…” Romans 12:2b, NLT

Prayer to God as Provider of Blessings

From my daily devotional by Ann Spangler (Praying the Names of God Week Five, Day One), personalized:

Yahweh Yireh, the Lord who provides for me, thank you for all your blessings–for forgiveness and faith, purpose and hope, food and shelter, family and friends, strength and wisdom, rest and work, laughter and light. Your blessings never come to an end because you are a God of infinite grace. Amen.

For forgiveness and faith – and forgiveness for when I lost faith during depression…

For purpose and hope – as I search for my purpose here – that it draws me closer to You; and thank You for restoring my hope from hopelessness…

For food and shelter – for food on my table, for this wonderful home in Virginia: may I not take them for granted but count them as blessings each day…

For family and friends – especially since they live far away: great friends and all of my family – watch over them and be with them in their joys and trials…

For strength and wisdom – I am oh so weak yet You are strong, and You promise wisdom if we ask – help me to lean on Your strength, and seek Your wisdom and not my own as I live each day here…

For rest and work – for rest: thank You for good sleep and for vacations; and for my work: may I be a light for You in my job…

For laughter and light – thank You for the laughter I share with my husband as we journey this part of our lives together, for bringing laughter and light into my life after the silence and darkness of depression…

Thank You for rescuing me from depression. Thank You for doctors and medicine and friends and family who helped me when I couldn’t see a way out. Thank You for life after depression. Thank you for the opportunity to tell of Your faithfulness to me during my journey through it. Thank You for Your blessings that never cease, Your infinite grace, Your eternal love. In Jesus’ precious and holy name. Amen.

Finding a church

We’re shopping for churches. Sort of. I mean, we’d have to attend to officially be shopping, and we aren’t really trying yet. In the five weeks I’ve lived here, we’ve been to one church one time.

I don’t like the shopping analogy, but that’s what it is – trying on different congregations. Finding a church to attend regularly. Trying to determine if it’s a place where we want to become active participants, where we can contribute to the local body of Christ. Where the message of the Gospel is taught. Where we can become engaged, not simply entertained.

Some people never miss church – it’s where they are, every Sunday. On vacation. In snowstorms. Not fair-weather attenders, but faithful followers. I can’t say that’s me. I know church is important, and I have been an active member of several congregations in my lifetime, where I’ve been able to serve and be ministered to. But not since my childhood have I attended every single service the week has to offer. Not even close.

When we were first married and we missed a Sunday, I was overwhelmed with incredible guilt. Hard to distinguish if it was the Holy Spirit, or my own accusations. But like anything, it became easier to miss the more I missed. When I felt particularly guilty about missing, I might do a Bible study lesson or watch a sermon online. Not always because I wanted to, but sometimes simply to assuage my guilty feelings.

These are not pretty things I’m admitting to. I’m not proud of my spotty attendance in this search for a new church home. And I don’t want to make excuses. I’m hoping that if I write it down, it will help me figure out why it’s so hard.

In the 15 months we lived in Florida, we attended 3 different churches – repeatedly each time – until we finally felt like we might have landed in one where God could use us and we were comfortable. We were just getting settled into a routine there; that lasted a few weeks, and then we moved to VA.

So now we start over. Like I said, we’ve been to one church one time. We haven’t been back, nor have we been to the other churches on the list of potentials. It takes effort, and it’s easy not to go. It’s hard to always be the strangers, the ones sitting in the pew alone. A greeter shakes our hands and we are welcomed. Barely.

But I’ve been in this place before, and I know that relationships happen in small groups, in repeated fellowship. So I’m joining an evening women’s Bible study at this church. Maybe it will make Sunday mornings easier.

Mystery walk

What’s at the end of this sidewalk? Is it different in the dark?

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I can’t see beyond where the immediate light shines. Future is a mystery.

So I depend on faith for my future, affirmed by what I’ve experienced in the past.

I trust Jesus, the Light of the World. He’s been with me every step of my life, lighting the way as I needed to see, and guiding me when I was walking through the dark times where I couldn’t see, when He called me to simply follow Him. He has led me, is now leading me, and He will continue to lead me, curvy path and all.

(This reminds me of the excellent book, Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On, by Stormie Omartian.)