Finding God In... DEPRESSION

During my first decade of following Christ, various church women approached me from time to time to commend me, “You have the spiritual gift of joy!” They thanked me, “Your joy is just so contagious!”

They envied me, “I wish I had your joy!”

It was my warm, throaty laugh, room shaking and head-turning, they said, that caught their notice. They loved my quick wit and ability to transform even the mundane into a joke. They were struck by the pure abandon I evinced during worship, hands upraised, face radiant.

The gift of joy.

What could I do but smile and say thanks?

 

Should I have confessed that I cannot recall a time when sorrow didn’t underpin my joy, ebbing and flowing like an underground river, bubbling up in wells of tears at the most inconvenient times? Maybe I should have corrected these well meaning sisters? I laugh as a dam against torrential sorrow. I keep people belly-laughing because I have yet to find an audience to sit through a display of sorrow. The enthusiastic worship you note is the sweet relief of finding respite in the eye of an emotional storm.

For ten years, years brimming with laughter and humor and worship, the ever present despair deepened and widened, rising and churning, pressing ever harder against my defenses. Finally, the dam broke. In 2010, my depression overwhelmed me and all I had left was tears. I cried each time I entered church; I broke down in front of an audience; I wept through each worship set, gasping for breath. Women no longer approached me. No one congratulated me for my grief. No one envied the gift of sorrow.  

For almost five years, I seemingly lost my joy. Rather than navigating a constantly shifting tide of sadness, I was drowning. I fought to tread water and be joyful with every trick in a Jesus-loving girl’s book. I attended church faithfully, despite the fact that the simple act of entering a place of worship started a fresh wave of tears. I read my bible every morning, for longer and longer stretches of time. One bible reading plan, then another, then a devotional, then another. I got to the point where I was devouring scripture 2 ½ hours each morning. I prayed. I prayed harder than I ever had before. I filled my prayer journal with pleas. I cried out to God desperately, begging for an end to my sorrow, begging for a solution. I called on every scriptural promise I knew to give me hope… “He who has started a work in me will be faithful to complete it”... “Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning”... “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. I raised my hands in worship when I had nothing left to give, gasping to mouth the words through my sobs, desperate to believe the lyrics, “Though darkness fills the night. It cannot hide the light. Whom shall I fear?” I reached out and made connections with other Christian women in a way I never had before, attending bible study, praying fervently for a Christian woman to be my friend. I finally got so desperate, I did what, for me, what was once unthinkable, and tried to get counseling. The pastor at my church who handled such matters shooed me away with a list of references, “You really need to see a professional.” As I called one disconnected number after the other from the decade old referral list, I lost hope of finding wise Christian counsel.

None of my efforts worked. Not in the way I thought they should work anyway. Not by my standards. I wasn’t cured of my depression. My pain was not removed. I didn’t trade my sorrow for a river of overflowing, abundant joy. Instead, all the striving and chasing left me empty and frustrated. Aching bones weary. Soul spent.

And the worst thing, it left me guilty. What kind of a Christian can’t find her all in all in Christ?

I was supposed to have the joy, joy, joy down in my heart to stay, right? If I was really following Christ, He’d instantly transform all this grief into joy, right? The heavens should open up and light pour down, chasing away all this darkness.

Instead, not quite five years in, I began to notice thin rays of light gradually piercing my personal night. Slowly and miraculously, but steadily, joy blossomed and spread. That joy did not cure me of my depression, but it did shine brilliant and ferocious through the darkness. And I began to see that, yes, I did still have the gift of joy. But that wasn’t my only gift, oh no! My lavish and generous Father, giver of good gifts, loved me too much to let one single hurt, one single tear, go to waste and so he gave me another gift.

He gave me the gift of sorrow.

Sorrow that makes me empathetic to the broken and the hurting.

Sorrow that teaches me to mourn with the mourners and weep with the weeping.

Sorrow that backlights my moments of joy the way stars shine brightest in the darkest night.

Sorrow that keeps me headed back, day after day, to the throne of the joymaker for a fresh supply.

Sorrow that reigns me mercifully back in each time I wander too far from my gracious Father.

Sorrow so overwhelming and all encompassing that I am finally beginning to understand the depths of God’s grace. His grace is so wide and so long and so deep that even when I am so broken that I can do nothing to please God- not worship, or pray, or connect, nothing but cry and plead- that even then I am enough.

Enough to love. Enough to rescue. Enough to die on a cross in order to save. Enough for Him.

 

And that is, indeed, my greatest gift.

 

To read more from this amazing lady, please check out her blog at A Softer Shade of Red.

The Darker the Night

I am thrilled, thrilled, THRILLED to feature one of my favorite bloggers and fellow LIT sister, Kate Redmon this week. She wrote this several weeks ago and graciously agreed to let me repost it. Please enjoy!  

I lived in Phoenix, Arizona for four years. Let me tell you, this island girl didn’t do well in the desert.

It was kind of like living on the sun, if the sun was populated by five-million busy and rude people all trying to take the same freeway. That parched wasteland of asphalt left my soul bone-dry and thirsty.

I ached for the the ocean. I yearned for the color green. I longed for rain. But, honestly, none of that surprised me. That, I realized, was to be expected in the desert.

What I never anticipated: the washed out pallete of Phoenix’s night sky so curiously devoid of stars.

One of the dominating characteristics of a bustling city of Phoenix’s magnitude is light. Street lights and front porch lights. Blinking neon signs and sweeping flood lights. Five million people set the valley ablaze. With all that man-made glare continually flooding the area, the city is crowned with a hazy aura that can be seen fifty miles away. You’d think all that luminescence would be a relief to a girl afraid of the darkness. Instead, I mourned how it impeded my view of the stars. No matter how I squinted up into the night sky from my back porch, I could rarely spot more than a few dozen sad, wavering pinpricks in the night sky. I was forced to pretend that passing planes were heavenly bodies just to get my fix.

My only relief came those blessed weekends we drove up North to visit my mother. Friday nights, as my daughters and I wound our way up the I17, and then the 69, from Phoenix to Prescott, Arizona we always delighted in watching the temperature drop as the altitude increased. But even better, the further from Phoenix we journeyed, the inkier the night became. In the blackness, the sad smattering of Phoenician stars multiplied into a merry little group, then a respectable display, until, 100 miles from the city, the night sky glowed with swaths of brilliant stars.

Although literal darkness may have been a rare treat during my years in Phoenix, that same period was shadowed by an immense internal blackness as my depression overwhelmed me.

Since childhood I had held my personal night at bay with artificial light of my own design: third helpings of pizza and forgetting myself in five books a day, outrageous lies and sexual exploits, hash laced joints and lines of meth, camel menthols and twelve hour workdays. I had always stoked the fires of a hundred idols so as to combat the night inside.

By my first few months in the desert, each of those candles had been snuffed out, leaving me defenseless. No matter how I searched, I could see no end to the darkness. Completely hopeless to bring any light to my situation, I sank into despair.

And there, in the bleakest, darkest place imaginable, I looked up to heaven, and began to see the stars that had always surrounded me. Brilliant and beautiful, yet for so many years, completely outshone by all that artificial light that had for so long blinded me.

  • Tear studded laughter in stolen moments with an old friend
  • The radiance of a student’s face when a concept that has eluded them for so long finally makes sense, “You mean it’s THAT simple?”
  • The muted rumbling of dice across a cardboard board and the belly laughs of my daughters on family game nights
  • Curling up with the Psalms and an enormous cup of coffee on an overstuffed couch of my very own
  • The giddy relief of an unexpectedly unscheduled day off of work
  • Finding a culture pass for free tickets to the zoo midday at the Burton Barr Library
  • The warm, thick hug of my ratty flannel robe
  • Watching a Good Good Father answer my daughters’ prayers for items I could not afford- a Christmas tree, a pet rabbit, a bicycle, a cornsnake
  • Crowing over a run and a hundred aces in my hand while my big sister whines that she hasn’t won at pinochle in ages.
  • Raiding the cupboards when the grocery money ran low and the subsequent baking sprees resulting in seeded bagels, cheese-its, and pretzel rolls.
  • Reading Peter Pan aloud to the girls until we were so struck by the poetry of Mr. Berry’s words that we were compelled to pull out all the art supplies and begin creating.
  • Winding our way up to the old mining town of Jerome, clinging to the side of Mingus Mountain, to admire all the art we’d someday be able to afford.

Again and again, the sweet beauty of these moments would suddenly overtake me, bringing me to grateful tears. How much more brilliantly they shone when all else seemed so dark.

Innumerable spots of burning beauty in a rich, velvet night.

Each one the gift of a loving and gracious Father.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.     ~James 1:17

O yes, those dark years held many gifts for me. Among them, the lessons I learned:

Artificial light, man made, muddies the skies and obscures the view of my blessings.

When the blackness presses in, all I have to do is look up and fix my eyes on the heavens.

Even in the darkest night, with my face up-lifted, I am never truly alone. Even there, especially there, the radiance of the Father’s glory is present.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.     ~ 2 Corinthians 4:6