Saturday, March 5, 2016

grace upon grace

It's been almost a year since I've posted...honestly, it seems when it rains it pours. I have been angry with God. I don't understand why it feels like everything is out of control, but then I think that was/is kind of the point of all of this--to show me that I can do nothing on my own and need Him desperately every single moment of every day. Obviously we are all on a constant journey, and this is part of what God has been revealing to me the last few days. It's not necessarily a post about trading anything like most of my other posts, yet I think it has sparked the process in my life of trading my totally misguided view of God for His beautiful and perfect love for me.
Yesterday, after watching the documentary Ragamuffin about the life of the Christian music artist Rich Mullins, I realized that I have totally missed the point of God’s grace and love. We don’t have to be “perfect” or anywhere near it. I’ve learned He loves our mess, and He will never stop giving us second chances. Over the past few years, God has really shown me over and over the true meaning of Christianity: it’s love—love for Him, love for others, and also a love for us. My beliefs may be considered liberal and radical to some; but if you really stop and think about it, isn’t His love and grace for us too?

Here is something revolutionary to think about….God is not disappointed in you. He is not disappointed in me—no matter what. His love for us will never be stronger than it is right now. He is actively pursuing each and every one of us. There is nothing we can do to run away from His grace and nothing we have to do to earn His love because it is a gift. It was already earned when God sent His only Son to sacrifice His beautiful, pure and holy life for all our sins. So we need to just stop. Stop trying to punish ourselves for our own sins. When we attempt to take on the responsibility to punish ourselves, we are negating Jesus’ sacrifice. We are really saying, “God, Jesus, sorry but I can’t accept Your grace and atonement. I have a better way to fix my wrongdoings. Your life wasn’t enough payment.” Do we really think our self-inflicted punishment could compare to THE perfect, spotless Lamb who in the ultimate act of love consecrated His life to take all of our pain, our mistakes, our secrets, and our ugliness to wash them all away? Is it even remotely possible that our acts of contrition could compare to the sacrifice and restoration He selflessly provided that dark and beautiful day He hung completely exposed for the entire world to see on the cross?

Some of us are completely missing the point of grace, including me: we do nothing. He does everything. When we stop running from what we think is Christ’s judgment, we can stare into one of the mysteries of our faith—grace in its purest, undiluted essence: His grace loves us right where we are and has no expectations, no rules, and certainly no prerequisites. The acknowledgement and belief in this amazing gift can liberate and change our lives if we let it.

I truly believe that when we get to heaven the only thing our Creator will ask us is, “Did you believe I loved you—that I pursued you, that all I wanted was for you to rest knowing I was there unconditionally waiting, hoping for the day that you would finally wrap yourself in the assurance of my unfailing love?” Our God is wild and reckless. Only He could love our mess, dust off our ashes, polish our tarnished hearts, and create a beautiful masterpiece from a life of complete brokenness. That is genuine grace birthed by a perfect love only He can give.

“For from His fullness we all have received, grace upon grace.” John 1:16 (ESV) Grace upon grace—a perpetual flowing force of love with only the condition that we open our hearts to receive it—to have faith in it. Unmerited favor freely bestowed. When we can surrender our doubts, our worries, our insecurities, and our supposed reasons why He shouldn’t, then and only then can we begin to experience God’s flawless love. This unfathomable, unblemished love demonstrated by His unwavering grace. Grace upon grace upon grace upon grace.  By beginning to allow Him to fully love us; we are able to accept His no holds barred, unexplainable grace.  And that, that is Jesus and the Holy Spirit and the miracle that I’ve learned is our Savior in His truest form—grace and love.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Trading the Ashes of Other’s Expectations for the Beauty of Authenticity

“Expectations were like fine pottery. The harder you held them, the more likely they were to crack.” Brandon Sanderson from The Way of Kings

Have you ever been so devastated because you physically, mentally, or emotionally could not fulfill the expectations of others? I know I exhaust myself almost daily with versions of what I “should be"--memories like a song on repeat of clearly disappointing others full of  words I can’t get out of my head. Can you relate in some way? Are you faced with disappointment and feelings of worthlessness when you cannot fulfill the expectations of others? If so, I understand the struggle and the hurt you feel. So often, flippant remarks of others become the compasses directing our perception of who we are. 

Do any versions of the following questions/statements sound familiar to you?

“We just expected better of you. You aren’t dependable, responsible, reliable, etc. any more.”

“You let us down again. We were counting on you. What’s going on?”

“You need to spend more time with (fill in the blank). How can we know you even love us?”

“When was the last time you called me/us? It’s like you don’t even care anymore.”

“Why can’t you make it? Too tired? You sure are sick and/or tired a lot lately.”

“Wow, your house is such a mess. How could you let it get this way?" 

“Why are you late AGAIN? And what's the excuse this time?" 

I think what hurts the most is that majority of these accusations come from people we love and we think love us. That’s why it is especially painful. But, some of these words may even be things we have started saying about ourselves and have come to believe from years of not fulfilling the expectations of others. You may be struggling with any number of physical or mental ailments, and the feelings of frustration, inferiority, and worthlessness are detrimental and oftentimes escalate your already excruciating reality, especially if you don’t “look sick.” Basically if you don’t look sick, you aren’t sick. How absolutely bogus. 

Personally, I am deeply wounded when others express their failed expectations of me. It feels like my sickness doesn’t matter, even to others that know I have clinical depression amidst several other serious mental illnesses including an anxiety disorder. During these times I’m not compassionate with myself, and I’m not remembering God’s perfect love and the truths He speaks over me. Although, I try to be open about my story with people that I love or it becomes essential to tell the basics to, questions and statements like those above are extremely detrimental to the lies, myths, and beliefs I combat daily. I am sure many of you feel the same way, whatever trial or difficult experience you are facing.

This isn’t a pity party. I acknowledge and appreciate that I do have a wonderful support system that graciously and patiently listens to me express the hurt I feel from these ignorant statements, and I am so very blessed and thankful for them. They remind me of the progress I’ve made in my journey, as well as all the good things people have said about me. But, why am I so quick to forget these positive affirmations? Because out of hundreds of encouraging comments, I will remember and rehash those few critical ones. That’s just called being a human living in an imperfect world, and I know I’m not the only one who struggles with focusing more on the negative and hurtful comments of others than the uplifting words spoken by true friends. However, I find hope knowing there is a solution—a cure to this ailment of whatever negative feelings resulted in your life due to the unfulfilled expectations from others.

Joyce Meyer, an inspirational preacher, states, Many people feel so pressured by the expectations of others that it causes them to be frustrated, miserable and confused about what they should do. But there is a way to live a simple, joy-filled, peaceful life, and the key is learning how to be led by the Holy Spirit, not the traditions or expectations of man.

So what does that mean for us?

It means God loves us in the middle of our mess. He only asks that we turn to Him for guidance and listen to His still, small voice. In return, He promises joy, contentment, peace, and authenticity—the ability to be real, not just with ourselves, but also with others! Being your true self is so much better and more feasible than attempting to conform to other’s expectations. Recently, I told a friend, “I’m so tired of being two people.” I am waving the white flag to the façade I’ve tried to maintain, because I now know my truth, after 12 long years full of shame and guilt. My truth is that I have several serious mental illnesses that greatly affect my everyday life, and I am also a survivor of rape with PTSD. I am doing the best I can, and I must continue to repeat to myself, “I am doing the best I can.” For me, going to work and church plus keeping up with errands and housework are huge accomplishments. I’m learning that not letting go of other’s expectations robs me of the peaceful, simple, joy-filled life I desire. The first step of releasing the feelings of inferiority associated with failed expectations is to own your truth, whatever that may be. Even if it is something as simple as, “I am too tired, and I need time for myself so I can be the best version of me.” There is no small truth. You can’t compare yours with someone else’s. There is no shame in your truth. Again, there is no shame in your truth.

Scripture tells us, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2 (NLT)

See there, God wants us to disregard those expectations and traditions of our world. He wants to change our mindset, because He wants us to experience a “good and pleasing and perfect” life walking with Him.When you focus on the beautiful and graceful words God says about you, you can feel the stress immediately draining from your body. As Marilu Henner, actress, producer, and author writes, “Being in control of your life and having realistic expectations about your day-to-day challenges are the keys to stress management, which is perhaps the most important ingredient to living a happy, healthy and rewarding life.”

The problem lies in those negative voices ingrained in your psyche. They are full of lies, ignorance, and inconsideration—voices far from the voice of compassionate truth heard through God’s Words, but instead by the unrealistic expectations fueled by society’s ideals. Today more than ever, I want to trade the ashes from the unfulfilled expectations of others for the beauty of authenticity—for being my true self. There is absolutely zero shame in that. In fact, it’s what we as Believers are instructed to do.

And as Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, says, “I do know one thing about me: I don't measure myself by others' expectations or let others define my worth.”

Hear my heart when I fervently say letting go of other’s expectations allows you to be authentic, to have a happy life, to be content, and to love others well. I know it’s hard and scary and seems impossible, but it is a process that results in huge gains. Those negative voices of expectations very well may be something you have to consciously refute until it becomes habitual. But, it is so very worth it. I can testify that I have the most beautiful days when I own my truth and tell those negative voices how wrong they truly are. Today, trade the ashes of other’s expectations for the beauty of authenticity. Love yourself right where you are, because God does. You so deserve it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Trading My Twenties for the Thirties

Well, tomorrow is the big 3-0. Honestly winter has been hard, but I am thankful for all the support of my friends and family that have helped make this winter better--and easier than any I can remember. Although, I have been dreading this birthday for months, today I can truly say that I am excited about entering a new decade. I have learned many life lessons from my twenties, and I feel so much more settled than I remember feeling when I was 19 turning 20. I am thankful for this, and I am ready to trade my twenties for my thirties. The twenties were hard and extremely painful at times. If you've read any of my blog (I am sorry--it has been FOREVER since I've written), you have read about many of the trades I have made in my twenties. But, I feel stronger almost every day, and I am glad to be here--to be alive, no matter what. I am sincerely ready to trade the ashes that I experienced in my twenties, for the beauty of a fresh start, and an amazing new decade! Hello, thirties! What a gift! 

So, to help me remember the good and valuable lessons I have learned in my twenties, I have compiled a list of things I've learned so far in life. Hope you enjoy!

Here it goes:

30 Things I’ve Learned in 30 Years
  1. The best things in life are not things at all—love, safety, peace, gratitude, joy, contentment and forgiveness are far better than anything material (except maybe marshmallows—those are amazing).

  2. The older I get, the less I care about acceptance from others.

  3. Authenticity is always better than pretending to be something you’re not. That’s exhausting. Own your truth. Your story is beautiful!

  4. Being perfect is overrated. I am happy to say that today I am a self-proclaimed “defeated perfectionist”.

  5. I’ve learned to love the “messy” parts of myself. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love writes, “Embrace the glorious mess that you are.” And as Jennifer Lawrence says in the film Silver Linings Playbook, “There will always be a part of me that is dirty and sloppy. But I like that. Just like all the other parts of myself.” It’s just another part of my story.

  6. It doesn’t bother me that I can count on one hand the number of true friends I have. Some friends are only in your life for a season and you grow apart from naturally. That is beautiful. Some friends turn out not to be headed in the same direction as you are, and it is ok to let them go without regret. That can be difficult but beautiful too.

  7. Being vulnerable with these true friends is essential to growth. “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren't always comfortable but they are never weakness.” (Brene Brown) Be brave.

  8. Family is forever. Although we may not agree on many things, we love each other unconditionally (even if sarcasm is our “love language”: ). I know my family will always be there for me.

  9. Kindness is necessary. Random acts of kindness are fulfilling. Doing something for someone else when you are down is always uplifting. (Life lesson from Mom)

  10. It's OK to fall and to need help. I'm not ashamed to admit that I go to therapy. P.S. I absolutely ADORE my therapist. She changed my life forever. Seriously, asking for help is a huge step in healing. Some things you just can't "pray more" to fix.

  11. Laughter truly is the best medicine. Truvy had it right in Steal Magnolias, “Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

  12. Crying is necessary too, and does not indicate weakness. Crying is good for the soul and is a sign of being human. (See above)

  13. All life is precious—from the unborn to the elderly. Each day is a gift. Growing older is a privilege denied to many.

  14. Cats are the best. I’m sorry. They just are. Also pajamas. ; )

  15. Reflection and meditation are essential to life. Being a human being, not a “human doing,” is essential to happiness.

  16. Rest is important. Rest is good; even God rested. Don't feel lazy or guilty for resting, period.

  17. Learning to say “no” is crucial. Setting boundaries is necessary. Doing both without guilt is a great accomplishment.

  18. Forgiveness frees you. But you need to learn when to walk away. You do not owe anyone your peace and happiness.

  19. God undoubtedly can turn our mistakes into something for His glory. “He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning,[and] festive praise instead of despair.” (Isaiah 61:3)

  20. Splurging every once in a while is OK. You do not have to “deserve it” to treat yourself. Life is meant to be enjoyed.

  21. Do not wish your life away—only living for the weekends and holidays. Enjoy the here and now. Find joy in the ordinary.

  22. Life is too short to stay in a stressful job. Work is not meant to be your life. Your profession should not define you.

  23. Never have my mother's words rang truer, “It is better to be happy and alone, than with someone and miserable.”

  24. You can NEVER read too much. Smart people read, bottom line.

  25. Not agreeing with other people is part of life. Acceptance and tolerance are basic human qualities that we must practice daily.

  26. It is never my place to judge. It is only my job to love. The world does not need any more critics.

  27. Clutter, both physically and mentally, is draining. Learning to live simply is always the best option. Quality over quantity any day.

  28. Religion and politics are divisive and most of the time pointless to argue about. Be like Jesus; love others—that is all.

  29. My life and purpose are different from yours. It may not look like what the Church or world think it should at times, but it is my path. And, if I live content within my journey, I can experience freedom, joy, and peace. I have my own unique contribution to make and there is no one else like me. Remember, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

  30. “My entire life [so far] can be described in one sentence: It didn't go as planned and that's okay.” (Rachel Wolchin)
Shoo! Thanks for sticking that post out--hope something spoke to your heart and you found at least one thing you could relate to and trade with me. Now, let's bring on the 30s!!! #yotto (you only turn thirty once) ☺



Saturday, October 25, 2014

Trading the Ashes of Rape for the Beauty of Restoration and Healing

I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.

For the last several months I have really struggled with writing about this “trade” in my life. Maybe it’s because I’m afraid. Maybe it’s because there is still an element of shame in it that I carry daily. Perhaps it’s because I have no idea when I will totally be able to trade these ashes for beauty. Most likely it is a combination of these factors that contribute to why I hesitate to write about these painful ashes.

I have an anniversary coming up soon. On November 8, 2006, I entered one the most difficult seasons of my life thus far. I was raped, and this rape initiated a toxic, dangerous “relationship” that resulted in almost four more years of rapes and assaults before I had the courage to expose my perpetrator. Even though it’s been 4 years since the last time it occurred, I still deal with the repercussions on a daily basis—at work, outside my house, in almost every relationship I have, and at night—especially at night. So how can I truly write about trading the ashes of rape for the beauty of restoration and healing when I still fight daily to not let the experience overcome me? Because I have seen God go into the darkest, messiest, and dirtiest parts of my being and take my shame, gather my tears in a bottle, renew my faith, hold me and sustain me, and help me begin trusting, restoring, and building relationships again. And I want you to know, my deepest desire is that God will use my experience and pain to speak life, hope, comfort, and healing into someone struggling right now. That is the simple prayer I pray every single day.  

I remember the morning it happened vividly. I was in the last semester of my senior year in college. I was just talking and spending time with whom I believed to be one of my closest “friends” at the time. Then it happened, and I froze. I didn’t even fight or say stop. I just lay there and waited. After it was over, I got up, went back to my dorm room, showered, put on some makeup, dressed and went to first period—Appreciation of Fine Arts. I remember sitting in that classroom surrounded by exquisite paintings, listening to beautiful Baroque music, completely in shock. I felt like I was floating above myself. That quote from The Great Gatsby is the best way I can describe it, “I was both within and without.” I finished all my classes that day, spent the weekend in the library studying, went to church all day Sunday, and never said a word. I graduated that December, made the Dean’s list like I had every previous semester, and began teaching in January 2007. I was 21, and I felt like I grew up overnight.  

Circumstances I wouldn’t understand for years to come kept me from exposing and escaping from this abuse and trauma I quietly endured for the next four years on and off from the same perpetrator. I thought this was my reality and didn’t see any way out. I thought I had lost control forever. However, after a breakdown in my lowest hour, God gave me the courage to tell someone. I could clearly feel Him reach down, pick up my broken pieces, and help me out of my darkness. There is simply no other explanation. The aftermath was both scary and painful. Some people didn’t understand, even in my own family. I had to move out of my house because the memories and flashbacks were too much to handle. I lost many people I believed were my friends and had to leave my church because of the shame I felt surrounded me. Many remarks I will never forget. I was 27 before I began attending a trauma group for rape survivors, and it would take almost a year of intensive therapy before I would understand why I continued in that abusive and manipulative pattern for four years. Then, I began an entirely different journey and season of my life.

Tears became my silent prayers to God. Never have I clung so fiercely to the verse from Psalms, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book” (Psalm 56:8). I had lost so much. My innocence was taken from me. Worst of all, I felt I had lost hope—hope of future relationships, holding down a job, facing my demons of doubt, defeat, and discouragement, being used by God, and lists upon lists I had created in my mind limiting God’s power. But, He reached down and rescued me. He held me and even when I doubted Him, He never doubted me. Did I question Him? Yes, most definitely yes! I wondered where He was, why He had “left” me, and when my healing would begin. I went through normal survivor emotions. You aren’t exempt from those as a Christian. But, my saving grace was Jesus. If you’re reading this and you don’t really understand or know Jesus, I am praying for you to find Him even in your darkest night, because I know He is there waiting just for you with outstretched arms. If you’re reading this and you know Jesus already, I am also praying for you. Praying for your continued faith and belief in the perfection of His perfect will through whatever circumstances He has carried you through to bring glory to Him.  

Let’s trade the ashes of rape and what we may feel at times our hope, for the beauty of restoration and healing--through doctors, therapy, support groups, friends and family, medication, whatever may be needed, but mostly through our faith and relationship with God. Faith that He has never abandoned us, faith in a stronger tomorrow, another sunrise, His unlimited power, and healthy relationships with people who love us, flaws and all. In the words of Jon Acuff, “You need to forgive yourself. You need to give yourself grace. You need to give yourself time. And you might need to do that a thousand times before you believe it’s true.” The beauty of restoration and healing is that there is no time frame. You do not have to be “better” by next Tuesday, next month, or next year. I am almost 30, and I will not give up—I can’t. It’s a process; a process surrounded by grace. Be kind to yourself. Don’t lose hope, even on the bad days. This trade like every other is a journey, fueled by grace, covered in love, and breathed through hope.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Trading Self-Harm for Self-Worth

As I’m writing this post, I have just celebrated 100 days clean from self-harm. I have not cut, burned, or bruised myself since May. Yes, I am thankful for this achievement, but to be honest milestones scare me. To me they represent how much harder I’m going to fall if/when I mess up again. This morning I texted a friend, “I don’t think I need to cut anymore.” But right now, I’m not in crisis. Sure, I still have things going on in my life. Relationship issues, especially with my family are a constant concern and very heavy on my heart. I am still texting another friend daily about taking my medicine, because I am not at the point where I will without that support and accountability. However, my new job is going well, I have an amazing support system, I feel happier being by myself—more confident and independent, and I’m able to keep my house up much better than I have been able to in years. My relationship with Jesus is strengthening and growing, and I’m learning how to say “no,” take breaks, rest, and not to feel guilty about asking for what I need from my close friends. As Lysa TerKeurst said in her new book, The Best Yes, “Saying yes all the time won’t make me wonder woman. It will make me a worn out woman.” I am so thankful, and incredibly grateful for this season in my life.

Recently, while I was reading through some articles, I came across this truth that said something to the effect, “Be thankful for what you are now, and keep fighting for what you want to be tomorrow.” I’m thankful, I truly am. But, I’m not giving up on fighting for what I hope to be—whole, clean, at peace with my family, a better friend, recovered, physically and mentally healthy, and totally obsessed with my Savior. It’s a process, I know, I know. And, I also realize the majority of those things I’m fighting for are things I will be fighting for my entire life. But, I do have hope. I feel stronger every day. I feel loved and supported. I am leaning into the strength, hope, and love I believe I can only find in Jesus by studying His Word, spending time with Him, working on constantly communing throughout the day, and receiving grace for each day—one day at a time.

I have no idea what the future will hold. I pray I hold onto His promises and do not fall into the addicting cycle of self-harm, guilt, avoidance, and shame again. Lately, I am spending a lot of time in the Psalms, and repeating to myself Psalm 139: 14,I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” I know when I hurt myself, it is more than just hurting me. I also hurt the ones I love the most. I hurt God. I inadvertently hurt my students by not being 100% there for them. Although before I knew hurting myself didn’t really solve my problems or help me express my feelings, I am understanding that in a different light now. I am not naïve to the fact that I very well may fall again. The statistics are not in my favor. But, I know if I do, I won’t stay there. I now know life is so much better and fuller without it. I don’t want to hurt my loved ones. I don’t want to hurt myself. I don’t want to hurt Jesus.

So today, although you may not specifically struggle with these particular “ashes,” I can say almost certainly that you know someone who does. I hope this post has helped you better understand the daily battle and feelings behind self-harm. I pray that compassion grows in your heart and you love your friend or family member struggling so much that they feel hope and can begin to heal and recover. That is how I began healing—not because my friends shamed me into stopping, but because they held me, cried with me, looked at my scars, and spoke life into me through both their words and actions. I cannot tell you how much a card, a kind word, a hug, or a meal out means to someone who feels like they are not worth loving.

If you are struggling with these ashes, you can shake them off and find the beauty in them. Scars show healing. Scars can remind you of what didn’t work—the hurt, but then the recovery—the hope. Be thankful for your rock bottom, because that can become a solid foundation for you to rebuild your life. Find the people or perhaps person in your life that you can trust and be completely honest with. Prayerfully seek these friends. You should seek someone who you can be real life with every single day. Sometimes there are people who will not be able to be there for you. Let them go, but don’t lose hope that no one will love you. There are people who will understand and love you unconditionally. Even if you are not ready to share yet, know your Heavenly Father understands you, hurts when you hurt, and loves you no matter what. Rest in Him and remember you are being held in the palm of His hand. Trade with me the ashes of self-harm for the beauty of self-worth. You are worthy. You are made in His image and do not need to hurt yourself. He already took all your hurt and scars. You are worth that and so much more. You are loved by the Maker of the universe. Now, I can confidently say that is without a single doubt worth the trade.  


With love and the hope of healing, 


Friday, August 15, 2014

Trading the Ashes of Guilt

One of the deepest purposes of following Christ is showing the world that although we as Believers will experience pain and hardships, we have an eternal hope and a secure foundation--Someone we are madly in love with to carry us through the tough times. So, why are we as Christians so afraid to discuss these tough times? I don’t know--maybe because it’s uncomfortable? Maybe some Christians really aren’t secure enough discussing such “controversial” topics like depression, suicide, and mental illness within a group of people whom they believe are supposed to automatically have it all together? Well, that couldn’t be more inaccurate. I am a Believer. I sincerely love and attempt to follow God. But, I do not have it all together by any means. I am still sad often, and struggle daily with mental illness.

My previous post discussed my longtime, almost constant fight with depression. With the recent news of another celebrity suicide preceding another threat posted on social media just days ago, I want to share part of my battle with suicide from a Christian perspective. While this is not the hardest part of my story for me to tell, it is often the most taboo. Please know that I am by no means saying that everyone who is depressed is suicidal. But, I think we can agree that everyone who is suicidal is depressed. These two oppressors are close cousins.

Today, I have a very simple tattoo on my right hand of three sparrows. I see it all day, every day, and I intentionally chose to put it there to remind me of the countless second chances I have received. Each sparrow represents a time I tried to end my life, and God intervened. Although some people would consider my attempts half-hearted, I don’t believe there are truly any “half-hearted” attempts. I know that each time I woke with such an overwhelming feeling of despair and grief that I had failed at something else—that I couldn’t even kill myself correctly. It was more than a “cry for help.” I was done, and I wanted out. This was a very dark period in my life.

Although I cannot say I do not still struggle with suicide idealizations--I may struggle with them for a lifetime, but I no longer have active plans or truly want to end my life. Now, I am working to articulate my feelings and needs and am taking care of myself. I know I feel best when I take my medication, attend group and individual therapy, go to my doctor’s appointments, eat regularly, and force myself to reach out for help when I feel the old familiar downward pull. My friends know that when I say, “I'm having a hard time,” I am struggling with some element of my mental illness. I may only be able to text, but I believe for you to truly recover, heal, and thrive, you have to do your work.

Part of my work is learning how to ask for help and letting other people take care of me. And I am still learning that I am worth that and that it doesn’t mean that I am selfish or lazy. Even at the point of writing this I have a friend that I text every morning to say I’ve taken my medication, and other friends that check on me daily, go to doctor’s appointments with me, ride with me to therapy, check to make sure I’ve eaten--the list goes on and on. I am very blessed with an amazing support system, but I still have to do my part. When I try to hide and run from my struggle is when I feel my worst. That is part of the work—to not only be brave enough to confront the situation, but also be brave enough to say, “I need you.”

The other crucial part of my work is to balance my faith and beliefs with my struggle. What this means for me is that I must understand and accept that the day I decided to follow Christ, all my issues didn’t just disappear. That definitely didn’t happen. I was only about thirteen. I hadn’t even tasted life yet nor had any idea what I would face in the coming years. Christians aren’t exempt from hurt. More and more I am learning that struggling with depression, specifically suicide, does not mean my faith is weak. It means I’m real. It means I’m actively participating in life—sometimes it’s hard, and I need help. That’s it. It does NOT mean I don’t believe enough, pray enough, or “do” enough in church.

If you are a Believer struggling with suicide or depression, I want you to know you are not alone and struggling doesn’t mean there is something wrong with your faith or your perceived lack of it. When other Believers told me I needed to pray harder or read my Bible more, it made me extremely upset. I felt worse. I mean, really? Everyone following Christ needs to do that, not just me. I was literally falling apart! No, I did not need to “do” anything else. I needed someone to listen, to be there, to hold me, to help me get the help I needed, which for me was primarily medical, secondly spiritual at that point. Yes, I believed a lot of lies about myself and my situation, but before I could even begin to deal with those, I needed someone to help me manage the physical aspects—the obvious need for medications, therapy, and self-care. Only then could I begin to delve into fighting my demons through strengthening my faith.  

Unfortunately, sometimes we as Christians can be the worst at compassion, which is very ironic when you think about how the Bible says very plainly the greatest and most important thing we can do is love. Loving others means meeting them where they are. When I was in the midst of my struggle, love would not be a feeling I would say I experienced—neither would understanding. But today I can say by God’s grace, I am surrounded with compassion, love, and understanding. Today I have experienced true, unconditional love from others, many of them Believers in fact. This has strengthened and renewed my faith, unlike before where I felt drained and like a complete failure.

Now I must continue to trade my guilt—guilt for not feeling “enough” in my faith, guilt for not succeeding at taking my life, guilt for needing multiple medications and therapy, guilt for needing extra help—trade all these ashes of guilt for the beauty found in the truth. The truth is you are not a failure. You are enough. You are loved. You were created by an all-loving God who knew every struggle and thought you would ever have. You are beautiful and worthy of life. Please if you need help today, reach out. There are many hotlines (1-800-SUICIDE) and Internet resources available, but chances are, you already know that.  And if you’re anything like me, what you’re burdened with is guilt—for so very many things.

Today, make the trade—ashes of guilt for the beauty of truth and life. If you are a Believer carrying terrible past experiences of insensitive comments and actions from other Christians, trade that. There are many people following Christ that will truly love you right where you are. More importantly, HE loves you unconditionally and finds no fault in you. You are His glorious inheritance! Leave the guilt behind and walk in truth.

And remember this, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14)

Fighting with you,


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Trading the Shame Ashes of Depression

“Treatment resistant depression…”
These are the words I heard the intake director at Emory say to me after she told me I was accepted to the adult psychiatry program there and would be working with a brand new doctor that specializes in treatment resistant depression. “That’s what you have,” she said kindly. I smiled. I know this but in that moment when I heard someone else speaking those words, it was just different. I felt an onset of emotions flooding me—fear, hopelessness, hopefulness, sadness, relief… It is an answer of prayer to be accepted into such an amazing program, but I am scared too. The intake director went on to explain that there were several new therapies being developed, new studies I could take part in that could potentially save me thousands of dollars, and she was so calming. She treated me like a human—she saw past my illness and believed that Emory could help me. It was a surreal moment.

As I held onto my friend going down the elevator and cried all over her in the parking lot, we stopped to pray and thank God for this amazing opportunity. I know this may not be the answer—not a magic “cure” or whatever, but as Robert De Niro’s character says on Silver Linings Playbook (sorry it's one of my favorites!), “When life reaches out with a moment like this, it’s a sin if you don’t reach back.” I will try. I have an amazing support system that will help me—sometimes they drag me kicking and screaming, but they believe in me and want me to keep going. So, this is now another part of my journey. This experience will be woven into my story no matter the outcome, and I’m sharing this with you because I want you to see my struggle is current. It is real, and it is ongoing.  

If I’m going to have courage and genuinely tell my story with my whole heart, I have to share an essential element of my life.  I have struggled with depression for a long time—on and off intensely for the past ten years. Even when I was a young girl in elementary school, I recall having many tremendous highs and lows. I have tried numerous medications, combinations of medications, talk therapy, Christian counseling, prayer, meditation, spiritual and inspirational books, etc. I have had moments of relief, moments where the darkness has subsided, and I remember these times fondly and vividly. I thank God for these times. But truthfully for so long what I remember and what I fight every day is this gray cloud of depression looming above me.

Some of you reading this may question my faith—if I truly believe that the God I claim to serve and the Words He’s given us in the Bible are true, then why am I still sad? Where is my faith? Shouldn’t I just trust Him and pray more?  Well it’s not an all or nothing type of thing. Many of you reading this do believe and trust in God , but also have struggled or suffered or are still today fighting some form of depression—whether it is chronic like mine, post-partum, manic, or situational. I want to encourage you not to give up fighting, and I want you to know that suffering with depression does not say anything about you. It does not mean you are a failure, are not good enough, or that your faith is weak. It does not have to control you, but you cannot ignore it. And I pray that while I’m attempting to write about this still sadly taboo subject, those of you that question and may sometimes judge or do not truly understand depression, may find some clarity in my words.

There are many famous people who have suffered from a type of depression. I know that may not encourage or help some of you, but it helps me tangibly put into perspective that this illness does not limit my worth. Van Gogh painted one of his most famous and one of my all-time favorite paintings—A Starry Night, after a breakdown while being treated for severe depression in a mental facility. Sir Winston Churchill was very outspoken about his depression. He even named his depression flare-ups “the black dog” and would frequently take respites from his duties when as he would say, “The black dog is upon me.” King Solomon—one of the richest and wisest kings from the Bible struggled. Also from the Bible, Naomi, Hannah, and even King David—the “man after God’s own heart,” all suffered from depression at some point in their journey. The list could go on and on of amazing, influential people that changed the world, but also had another side to them that we sadly do not hear enough about.

And you know what? These are the people though who inspire me the most! These stories touch me and ring true more than a story about someone who never struggled—who never was broken—who never experienced such unbearable, excruciating darkness and heartache. Why? Because their stories are real life!! We all have been broken in some way at some time. I don’t want you to wallow in that, but don’t run from it either. Embracing our vulnerabilities leads to true connection. Exposing our vulnerability grows compassion in us where before there was no understanding or maybe even judgment. Sharing your story, just letting someone else see a glimpse of what you’ve been through or are going through does more than just help them, it allows you to grow and heal as well. I do not mean you should just tell everyone you meet or know—you have to listen to that still, small voice inside you and use your discretion, but if you feel led to share, you should. Brene’ Brown, one of my favorite authors and speakers says, “Share your story with those who deserve to hear it.”  

There’s one song I have really connected to within these past few months by Tenth Avenue North entitled “Worn.” Just read the lyrics to the first verse and chorus:  

I’m tired I’m worn

My heart is heavy

From the work it takes

To keep on breathing

I’ve made mistakes

I’ve let my hope fail

My soul feels crushed

By the weight of this world


And I know that you can give me rest

So I cry out with all that I have left


Let me see redemption win

Let me know the struggle ends

That you can mend a heart

That’s frail and torn

I wanna know a song can rise

From the ashes of a broken life

And all that’s dead inside can be reborn

Cause I’m worn

You know we can’t let that ashes referenced go unnoticed right there at the end. It’s just too powerful. You may be crushed, you may be worn—you may feel dead inside and not know how you will even get out of bed the next day. I have been there. I am fighting alongside you, but please don’t give up. I more than just believe. I am a real life testament to the fact that “a song can rise from the ashes of a broken life.” Every day, I experience recovery and healing—even those dark days that I ignore my phone, close all the blinds, and just cry in my bed. Even in those moments, I still have hope. My faith wavers at times. I suffer from depression, and I say suffer because to me it’s more than just a struggle. Having depression doesn’t have to define you. It is only a part of you that you have to learn to embrace. And as the author Alex Elle says, “I’m thankful for my struggle because without it I wouldn’t have stumbled across my strength.”

So knowing and accepting those truths, I want you to trade the ashes of the shame of depression with me. You are not alone. You do not have to hide what you are going through. It is nothing you should feel ashamed of—I am learning this every day. Even while writing this, I cringe to reveal this part of my story, but then I remember it’s worth it. It’s so worth it. Let’s trade those shame ashes for the beauty of redemption and rise from them knowing that we are worthy of love, peace, and hope. Hold onto that hope. Hope is something no one can take from you. John 14:18 says, “I will not leave you comfortless; I will come to you.” Another translation reads, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” I love that verse the most because it shows Christ’s amazing, unconditional love for us. HE is coming to us. HE is coming to YOU. There are no conditions. There are not stipulations on His love and comfort.

Today let’s trade the shame of depression for the beauty of accepting our flaws, creating true connections through our own vulnerabilities, loving ourselves, and the gift of hope. Doesn’t that sound so much better?

You are strong. You are beautiful. You have hope. You are real—and that is the best and only way to be!

With all my love,