Discovering God’s Grace in Depression

Yes, I’m writing a book about my 12 years with a depressive illness and mood disorder. In fact, we are doing the final editing now. The working title is “Discovering God’s Grace in Depression: A Personal Account of Suffering and Discovering God’s Intimate Love and Sufficiency for My Brokenness.” I thought some of you might want to start reading a portion of it. In light of that, here is Chapter One. Feel free to leave a note at the end.

CHAPTER ONE: IMPLOSION

2003 had been a rough year to say the least. In fact, up until that point, it had been the worst year I’d ever experienced. During the previous two years, we wouldn’t just live through some major transitions and experience a few nuisance stressors, we’d find ourselves swallowed up and drowning in deep waters. We’d live by barely surviving from one day to the next, neck-deep in those tumultuous waters. As a couple, my husband and I had experienced various ups and downs growing up and subsequently in our eighteen-year marriage, but for the most part, I didn’t believe it had been a bad life. In fact, I might have even called it good. Then, in a matter of twelve months, it all crumbled down around me.

TRANSITIONS ARE STRESSFUL

Starting at the beginning, in the Spring of 2000, almost every area of our lives changed simultaneously. Bill, my husband, graduated from seminary and a little community church a few towns over would call him to be their pastor. We’d spend the next year living either at home, or at church, or halfway in between. Added to that new stress, it would be a tent-making pastorate (which basically means that he’d have to support his family with a secular job on the side so that he could devote himself to pastoring without additional undue financial hardship on the small church). He continued his full-time secular job as a professional firefighter, meaning he’d be gone two or three 24-hour shifts a week serving the department. This would still allow me to stay at home with the kids and home-school them. We’d juggled ministry like this for twenty years so we were pretty sure we could make it work.

It wasn’t too long before we started looking for a new home in our church’s new community. Unfortunately, we found we were unable to afford most of the homes there, so we decided we’d just build our own home. Bill was a handyman and was fully capable. Besides, several of our friends were building their homes as well and it was a perfectly doable project. “No problem. Instant equity.”

So, we sold our home, bought some property, moved 95% of our stuff into storage and bought a 37’ travel trailer.  There was no way we could rent a home and pay for a construction loan, so we convinced ourselves we could temporarily live in a travel trailer on our property which would allow us to build in our “spare time.” We had experienced seasons of stress before; we’d simply put our heads down and just get through it this time, too.

As if things weren’t crazy enough, the property we purchased didn’t yet have power or water. So, after looking for a place to park our new temporary home, we landed in the back lot behind our new church. There we were, my husband and I, our four kids (ages 6-16), a dog and 4 cats, living a few steps away from our new church.

We knew going into it that the church wasn’t very healthy when we arrived. It was understood that this was a rescue attempt; the physical, mental and emotional demands were exhausting. It was kind of understood that one’s first pastorate after seminary graduation shouldn’t be expected to be an easy one. No healthy, established church was going to take a chance on a young, untested, wet-behind-the-ears seminary graduate no matter how much youth ministry he had under his belt; we’d have to pay our dues and prove ourselves worthy first. So, besides the overwhelming time and energy it takes to lead a small church without solid, healthy leadership in place, it was a stressful period of change that wasn’t always embraced by our new flock. We seemed to spend a lot of energy the first couple years putting out fires; it was difficult, but we assured ourselves that anything worth doing was worth the investment of time and energy. “It was just a season,” we thought.

This was also a season of change for our children. Our older girls transitioned from home-schooling full-time to attending the new local public high school. Our son transitioned from public grade school to being home-schooled and our youngest daughter transitioned from a Christian school to a public school. It seems crazy but it made sense for us.

In some ways, the burdens seemed to ease a bit. My husband stepped outside our “home on wheels” and stepped right into his office at work. I’d spent several years as an administrative secretary at a very large church before we were called to this new little church, so it wasn’t a stretch for me to jump into the role of church secretary here. It wasn’t a paid position (it never was), but I had always been my husband’s secretary in our former ministries. I found a great deal of gratification being so intimately involved in his ministry. The work was something I was good at and I felt useful.

But even though we felt an incredible sense of fulfillment and joy serving in our new church, we really were unprepared for how much time and energy it took to pastor, to work a full-time firefighting job (Bill) and to build a house. There were days we’d work all day, go back to the trailer to eat dinner, then go right back over to the office. There was also a sense that the church’s very existence depended on our ability to bring this little church into the 21st century. We chalked it up to embracing it as a “season;” we would invest every ounce of energy for the promise of a better, healthier future.

The kids often stretched out into the church building where they’d find a quiet room to work on homework. The church was our younger kids’ playground. If we needed a second bathroom, the church was only a few steps away. If we started to experience cabin fever, we could step out of our 330 square foot home and into the church building. We were doing it; and everyone was just fine, we thought.

MORE STRESS

As if we weren’t swamped enough with doing ministry together, Bill holding a second full-time job and keeping both the county building inspectors and the bank happy, we’d have to do as much of the work ourselves as possible. This meant first pricing out everything it would take to complete our home (acquiring all the bids and estimates, submitting it to the bank and the county, then obtaining the permits and the financial backing to do so).

There was incredible financial pressure having undertaken multiple loans to make all this life-change possible. Building a home with a construction loan is not for the faint of heart. The bank required accountability. The county who granted us our permits demanded progress and accountability. The church required accountability. We tried to balance family time with church life. But truly, we were being pulled from multiple directions. Every day seemed to require just a little more from us.

Of course, no sooner did we begin building but we ran into setback after setback. Not the least of which was getting utilities to the site. This was completely unforeseen; even the power company was unaware of the easement predicament that kept us from hooking up to the grid.

But we trudged on anyway; we’d adapt, and we’d get through this. Up until sheetrock, we’d run all the power tools off one small contractor’s generator. During late nights at the site, freezing cold, we’d sit down around a little kerosene heater wrapped up in coats and blankets, warm up some microwave dinners (yes, we ran our little microwave off the generator, too) and then go back to the various jobs my husband had assigned us all. That was “family life” for months. But it was only “a season.”

TRAILER LIFE

Finally, in the early winter months of 2003, we were able to hook up to the power grid. We moved our trailer onto our property. We were glad to be out from under the public eye of every church member and we were finally independent again. There was a huge sense of relief that the end of the daily stress that I’d gotten used to would soon come to an end. Yay!

However, trailer living in the mud and in the cold reminded me that my stress was far from over. There was dirt everywhere. The trailer began feeling increasingly smaller as we started to accumulate more stuff inside. I don’t think we realized how much we had depended on being able to spread out into the comfort of the church offices when trailer life was closing in on us.

We soon decided with six individuals needing a bathroom, we’d better order a Honey Bucket. So, there we were, living in a dust/mud bowl, in our little home-on-wheels, with a Honey Bucket outside our front door. Our children were stacked like cord wood on one end in bunk beds. Our bedroom, on the other end, was crammed with as many of our personal belongings as would fit and still allow us to crawl into the cave-like space which contained our bed. The living scenario was chaotic and claustrophobic.

But, “this was just a season of life.” So, we trudged on, determined that none of these difficulties were too much to handle in and of themselves.  “Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do,” we thought, “period.” Some days I was surprised at how well we all took it all in stride! How deluded I was! Like the lost boys in the movie, Hook, I felt like life was calling out, “You’re doing it, _____.” (I’m sure you know the character.)

However, on other days, I was simply overwhelmed by the exhaustion of it all. Throughout this insane process, we juggled, and we managed. We spread ourselves thin, but we gave each area of life its due time allocation. Usually, I worked on church administrative stuff from home while my husband held office hours at the church. Then, he’d come home, and we’d work into the night wiring or plumbing or something or other. What we naively missed was the quantitative effect all of this had on us, but especially on me.

CRASH!

By the spring of 2003, the church had doubled, maybe tripled in size. From all appearances, people seemed happy and excited about the progress and direction of the church. For three years we had completely spent ourselves; especially draining was the prior 6 months. Sheetrock had just gone up in the house. We were almost to the finish work. I couldn’t wait to bring this season of my life to an end.

And then, just when I thought life would ease up for me, it all came crashing down. As if our physical exhaustion wasn’t enough, we experienced “death” that spring when the birds did not sing, and new growth didn’t take place. A cancer had begun to grow in our little church, but we were too naive, immature and busy to see it for what its potential was. Before our eyes, our little church imploded. That little flock whom we loved with all our heart split right down the middle. Personally, and emotionally, we took terribly painful hits. As is frequent in church splits, somebody always has to play the part of the villain. There were lies spread about us and betrayal by some of our closest friends and church family. The power struggle that ensued began the demise of unity within the body and Satan used that to divide and destroy.

On Good Friday of April 2003, Bill sadly submitted his resignation in hopes of preserving the unity of the body, but it would prove to be too late. The freight train of destruction was already too far down that hill. The irony that this occurred on the day we remember Jesus’ betrayal before His crucifixion was not lost on us.

That Easter Sunday would be the first Easter in our lives we didn’t go to church. “How did this happen?!” we thought. We now had no church to pastor, no church family to cling to, no Christian brethren who actually knew fully the details of what had just happened to us let alone who were willing or able to comfort, console or counsel us. It had happened so fast. We were absolutely stunned. We were crushed, devastated and utterly broken.

Besides Bill losing his pastoral job and our family their church home, allow me to point out the other, maybe less obvious traumas our hearts experienced. We lost our closest friends and our co-workers. You see, when you pastor, your very closest relationships are developed inside the church and when you lose that, you lose all the people who mean so much to you and whose support you have come to depend on. We were isolated and lonely; there wasn’t an outside support system to whom we could turn.

Our motives and character had been called into question, but nobody stopped to wonder what our side of the story was. Worse yet, we felt it would be unbiblical to defend ourselves with the truth because it might defame our accusing brothers. (Unfortunately, that kindness didn’t work both ways). Our work and lives’ calling appeared to have been nullified in one devastating blow and we felt like all the good things God had accomplished in the prior few years had been completely erased. Maybe even worse than that, we pondered how much we must have disappointed our Savior. “How could we have been so reckless as to allow God’s flock to be dismembered and destroyed?”

JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN DOESN’T MEAN YOU SHOULD

What I naively missed during the prior year was that just because a body and a mind can experience on ongoing, chronic, high-intensity level of stress, tragedy and emotional trauma, doesn’t mean it’s okay. And, it certainly doesn’t mean that you won’t suffer the consequences of such self-abuse.

The hormone, adrenaline, is an amazing life-saving tool God gave us. Its miraculous function is to help us to survive critical, traumatic scenarios. It’s called the “fight or flight hormone” and it’s secreted by your adrenal glands. If you were to encounter a bear in the wilderness, it would help you run faster than ever before. Stories abound of people who have lifted cars off people after an accident, with seemingly super-human strength, because of the adrenaline that kicked in.

However, it was not designed to be used in a constant state of hyper-drive. The hormone was designed to be turned on when our lives are at stake or in short term, high stress situations when a kick in the pants is necessary, but to be clear, it’s supposed to be turned off during the normal routine of life so your body and mind can replenish and restore itself.

But as I lived the former few years, adrenaline was being used more and more just to get through each day. The reason I woke up amazed at my ability to cope during my high stress life especially during the preceding six months was adrenaline! It pushed me past just feeling stressed to “I need to survive this.” When I crawled out of my bed in the morning, I was already under an intensely heavy load of stress. It said, “Get up, get moving. Here’s a snort of adrenaline to help you survive everything that’s going to come at you today.” And off I’d go, with my new best friend, adrenaline.

Unfortunately, because the stress didn’t dissipate, more and more adrenaline was needed to get through the day. I got so used to having it turned on that I didn’t realize that it never had the opportunity to get turned off.

And how did I truly feel I was doing? I thought, “I’m doing just fine. I’m coping! I’m surviving. I’m okay. In fact, I’m amazed at how well I’m doing!” Frankly, I didn’t see any other choice; the situation demanded that I just keep pushing through it. Either I’d survive this, or I’d fall apart, but quitting at this point wasn’t an option.

Already at the end of my rope, the church tragedy kicked my legs right out from under me. I had already been exhausting my body’s supply of adrenaline for daily activities. When everything blew up, I still had to cope with daily, ongoing stress. We were still living in a trailer because our house wasn’t completed yet. In fact, the majority of the portion we had planned to do, the finish work, was just beginning. But after we experienced devastating blow after painful blow, there was nothing left in me, no adrenaline for my emotional or physical reserves to help me deal with the trauma of the experience. Not only was there incredible sadness and grief and even anger, but I could barely crawl out of bed in the morning. I was absolutely exhausted. There was nothing left in me to deal with either the trauma or daily life. I felt so incredibly weak, like Superman who had been given kryptonite.

TRYING TO MOVE ON

Some mornings, I just laid in bed and cried, overwhelmed at the cruelty life had dealt us. How cruel people could be! How wearying life could be! How devastating it could be after trying to give the very best of ourselves for others, only to be tossed to the curb, not to mention vilified. We sacrificed all for the sake of that ministry and now it was gone.

Some days, I felt like I could hardly breathe; it hurt so badly. Other days, I would actually be surprised by the resiliency of the human spirit to be able to experience such hurt, such exhaustion and such tragedy and still be able to get up and face another day, then another, then another, not at all joyful or triumphant, but just able to take another breath, then another, and another.  In all of this, we both remained confident that the pain would lessen, and life would eventually get better. We’d grieve this loss and move on. So, that is what we did. We grieved and then we moved on. Or… so I thought.

During the next three months, solely dependent on Bill’s continuing income as a professional firefighter, we busied ourselves completing our unfinished home. It was exhausting labor, sunup to sundown and into the night. We still lived in a trailer, with our four children, two of whom were seniors in high school, trying to complete senior projects and term papers and all that.

During those few months, God brought a few of our wounded sheep back to us; we found a calling in trying to help them heal from the violent bloodbath they had witnessed. They needed a shepherd and God knew we needed a church family, so we began meeting with them on a weekly basis.

Six months later, with our home freshly completed, we were entrusted with a new baby ministry (praise the Lord). We had a supportive church family and had developed new friendships (praise the Lord). “We were healing,” I thought, and life was getting better. The seasons of life that almost took us out were behind us.

THE FIRST HINT THAT I WAS BROKEN

But personally, I still found myself utterly, physically exhausted. I felt numb at times and tearful at others. For the first time in my life, I asked myself, “I wonder if this is what ‘depression’ feels like.” I kept that question private, not even sharing it with my husband. “It couldn’t be,” I convinced myself. “I’m more resilient than that.” Plus, God was putting our lives back together. I generally dismissed any notion of depression pretty quickly. After all, “the joy of the Lord is my strength,” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Yay, me! Right?

Yet, some days I didn’t even bother getting out of bed. Whatever this was felt like it was suffocating me; it seemed to reach its little fingers into every area of life and stole the good and the joy from every situation. I just lay there motionless feeling next to nothing and the tears would just roll down my cheeks. I’d wonder again if this is what “real depression” felt like. It felt pretty crappy, to be honest. It felt so different than simply being blue, sad or discouraged. It was absolutely incapacitating. “But, nah… Christians don’t get depressed,” or at least shouldn’t, I’d been told and had come to believe. My religious training told me, “depressed people were individuals who wallowed in self-pity, choosing to remain in a sad, defeated state, who refused to get over sin or to let God strengthen them.”

Bill and I both spent a lot of time individually, with each other and with our little flock grieving, and learning about and practicing biblical forgiveness. It hurt, sure, but life goes on, right? “Get over it.” The hurt, though not gone, was dissipating. The sting of betrayal and grief over the loss of our friends was painful but now new friends had surrounded us and were sustaining us. Our new house was complete and beautiful. We had begun a new ministry. Things were getting better, or at least should have been.

So, daily, I’d try to force myself to do as I had been taught, to pull myself up by my theoretical bootstraps and do whatever the “next thing” was that needed to be done. But it just wasn’t happening. I was losing the battle on a daily basis and this new helplessness was quite uncomfortable. I felt myself slowly slipping into an unknown emptiness and darkness I’d never experienced before. It was a void where nothing felt alive anymore and I felt dead.

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SOMETHING IS TRULY BROKEN

I faced each new day telling myself, “Just get through the next thing.” The next thing on this particular morning was visiting my gyn doctor for my annual exam. Besides what generally occurs at these exams, I intended to ask her whether I might be experiencing premenopausal symptoms or whether there might be something wrong with me hormonally that was making me so weepy and often lethargic. I knew that perimenopause sometimes makes life emotionally and physically difficult on women, so I figured that must be the reason I wasn’t bouncing back. I reasoned that it was simply the change of life knocking at my door. “Why not?” I thought. “It doesn’t hurt to ask, as long I was there.”

“The first lie depression told me was that I did not have depression.” 1 Kelly Jensen

THE DIAGNOSIS

The kind motherly midwife sat me down and asked one of those psychologically leading questions that literally could have led the conversation anywhere. “So, what’s going on, Heidi?” Transparently honest, I replied, “I just don’t know!!! I’ve been so emotional lately. It seems I’m breaking down into tears for no reason multiple times a day. I’m tired, almost lethargic. I really think my hormones are out of whack!” I looked hopefully into her eyes, looking for that “aha” look which would assure me that she’d have a pill or cream or something to magically make my life less emotional and easier to cope with.

Instead, I’ll never forget her words (verbatim): “Honey, I think you’re clinically depressed.” I’m not sure I physically rolled my eyes at her or whether I just thought it in my head, but I responded, “I really don’t think so…” and then went on to list my reasons. “First, I am a Christian and we have a faith and a hope that just doesn’t jive with people who get depressed.” Wasn’t that spiritual? I just witnessed to her. “Second, if by some chance, I do have depression, my husband is a pastor. He counsels people for a living, and we’ve talked things through thoroughly. If anyone can help me and would have by now, he was the most qualified to help counsel me from a spiritual perspective.”

She persisted, “Has anything happened recently that has been more stressful than normal?” I chuckled, I think, and then started to list a few of the things that had happened recently that had been stressing me out. Intentionally vague, I was also clear to add that what I was feeling had nothing to do with those things.

“Well, we just finished building our house after living in a travel trailer for over a year with our four kids. My oldest daughters finished their senior year of high school from a trailer equipped with an outdoor Honey Bucket! Did I mention we also had three cats and a dog? It was an enormous strain trying to complete it and do life and ministry. But that was last year and now our house is done. It’s beautiful and we’re living in it. It was a rough year but it’s great now,” I tried to convince her. “Wow!” she responded, “That’s an incredibly stressful situation to live through.” I quickly assured her, “Ya, but that’s over and done with now.”

She went on, “So how are your relationships and your family life?” I smiled and said, “My relationships are great. My husband is the sweetest man; we’re still in love and we are great friends.” She smiled acknowledging me.

“What about your job and ministry and your other relationships?” she naively asked. “Well…,” I responded, “that area has endured a lot of stress and there has been a lot of hurt but that sometimes happens in life.” I dismissed it as if I were brushing a leaf off my shoulder. I was careful to try to represent the Lord well and not give a bad testimony to this unbelieving midwife. I left out the horrors, the backstabbing, the untruths, the betrayal, and the loss of people in my life whom I loved but had abandoned us. I did admit that my husband had to give up his ministry (“a job loss,” she would call it later in the visit, as if losing your life blood and passion is just a job loss) and that we had lost many friendships over it. But we now had new supportive friends and a new ministry with people who loved us very much (looking for the bright side to turn my sob story into a story of redemption). She saw right through me, “That sounds like it’s been a very difficult year of transitions for you.” I admitted, “Yes, I suppose so.”

She went on to explain to me that sometimes when life hands us such extreme stress and tragedy that sometimes our brain and body finally say, “Enough!” The avalanche of stressors can trigger several things in our body chemistry to stop functioning correctly and cause our brain to go haywire. “This chemical meltdown,” she said, “can trigger what we call clinical depression. Sometimes, people just need a little support to help their brain reset itself.”

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ANTIDEPRESSANTS

“I could start you on an antidepressant,” she urged me. “No, thank you,” I responded. “I’m sure I don’t need antidepressants. Isn’t it most likely because I am beginning the change of life and that my hormones are messed up?” In my mind, she wasn’t listening very well. I privately reasoned with myself, “As a Christian, all the emotional pain was something I could and would overcome with the Lord’s help in time.” I was talking to her about lethargy, fatigue, being unable to sleep, being unable to keep up mentally, a lack of energy to function in the most menial of tasks and being unable to hold it all together.

Obviously, I had forgotten that all the while I was trying to convince her that I was fine emotionally, I had been sobbing buckets of tears. She was visibly uneasy, I believe, by a feeling of helplessness yet felt a strong sense of responsibility to help me whom she recognized was denying what was as clear to her as the nose on my face.

She tried a different, back-door approach. She explained that sometimes the brain needs a little help normalizing its chemistry so that a person can start to process things correctly. By correcting the brain’s chemical imbalances, the individual is better capable of absorbing healthy counsel and implementing their own spiritual strategies, whatever that religion is. She told me, in fact, that my brain was likely unable to use my own strategies for spiritual living in its currently broken state; it just couldn’t use those learned mental pathways that I used to depend on. She warned that if it were allowed to go unchecked and untreated too long, it could actually keep me from recovering at all. She did admit that hormones could indeed have something to do with it, as that is simply just another stressful life event, I was describing.

“So, here’s what I recommend,” she said. “Would you consider starting a very mild antidepressant for just a short period? Three months to start, maybe six at the longest, just to help you get past this emotional and mental strain that you’ve found yourself in? You don’t have to be on it a long time. Just long enough to reset your brain. Maybe you just need it long enough to help you clear your head to work through everything with the help of your own faith and your spouse and all the other resources you say you have. Would you be willing to just try it and see if it helps you get over this bump in the road and then… if you want to stop it, you can choose to do that?”

“Very keen, that midwife,” I thought. I reassessed my condition by the pile of soaking wet Kleenex in my lap. Exhausted by the line of questioning and shaken that some of the things she was saying were starting to make sense, I finally agreed. “I’ll take something mild for a short time and that will be all I’ll need to get past this emotional roller coaster I’ve been living on and get back to normal life,” I reasoned. “It’s just another season! Like for a respiratory infection, I’ll take a pill for a couple months, to strengthen my immune system, then I’ll be as good as new.” On the way out the door, she also recommended a book about women’s hormones and how they relate to emotional mood disorders. It would come to help me understand from a medical standpoint what might be happening to me hormonally. 2

ADMITTING DEFEAT

Embarrassed and ashamed, I stopped by the fire station on the way home to admit to my husband that my midwife diagnosed me as having “clinical depression,” whatever that was. (As if, you know, it wasn’t the bad or good depression but the “clinical” one). I asked if he was okay with my filling the prescription. I was really feeling ashamed and pathetic asking for his permission to medicate my emotions but assured him that it would only be “temporary.” It’d just be to help me get back on my feet; I was sure I’d bounce back, and I’d be as good as new soon.

He agreed, in fact, encouraged me to go down this road. We both understood that for the past several months, I had clearly NOT been bouncing back, clearly not coping, clearly an emotionally wreck, clearly overly fatigued, having a very hard time getting anything done with my time and absolutely confused by my lack of resiliency (hmmm, look at that list of symptoms that are the epitome of diagnosing one with clinical depression).

Ashamed but hopeful, I took my first pill. Within a week, I started to feel somewhat differently but wasn’t quite ready to admit it. But within two weeks, I felt as if the weight of a hundred men had been lifted off my shoulders and I felt myself doing something I hadn’t done much of for over six months; I could smile. I didn’t feel happy or giddy; I just felt normal again. I felt a calmness and a peace; I felt the joy of my salvation again. “Wow! Where has that been for so long?” I sensed the Holy Spirit’s refreshment.  I’m not saying this world’s medicine gave me joy; I’m saying the barrier that blocked my brain from experiencing it was removed and the joy the Holy Spirit gave was available to me again.

Suddenly, I didn’t feel like life was too much anymore. It was manageable. The extreme sadness and despair lifted; I was healing. “Praise the Lord,” we both thought. There was a renewed sense of identity in my life and a new sense of purpose in our new ministry. I felt a positive sense that we were going to be okay. God was putting the mess in our lives back together.

WHAT I LEARNED

This would only be my first year into and through my journey with depression. What did year one teach me? Christians can and do get depressed! Sometimes illness, traumatic experiences or long periods of stress can trigger a once healthy brain to become “broken.” Sometimes the world’s resources really do have scientific credibility. And… sometimes medication really is necessary to help normalize one’s brain chemistry so that one’s healthy natural emotions and feelings, even spiritual ones, can be reawakened and renewed.

PRECIOUS LORD, TAKE MY HAND

“When I am exhausted, completely poured out and the well of my strength has run dry. When it’s so overwhelming, the needs come in waves and there’s no way to hold back the tide. When all that I am is still not enough; when fatigue and frustration speak louder than love. [chorus] Precious Lord, take my hand. Without You I’ve got no chance to do this. You alone understand how much I need Your help to get through this. And when I don’t think I can, Precious Lord, take my hand.

“When my heart is breaking ‘cause I know the end and I’m looking for someone to blame. When I’m pushed to the limit, emotions are raw, and the anger erupts hot like flame. When every last ounce of patience is gone, when I feel like a failure who’s getting it wrong….

[chorus] “Precious Lord, take my hand. Without you I’ve got no chance to do this. You alone understand how much I need Your help to get through this. And when I don’t think I can, Precious Lord, take my hand.

“When reality is more than my shoulders can bear, Lord, give me the grace to care the way that You care—when tasks go undone and I’m aching for sleep; when there’s not enough time and there’s no time for me.

[chorus] “Precious Lord, take my hand. Without You I’ve got no chance to do this. You alone understand how much I need Your help to get through this. And when I don’t think I can, Precious Lord, take my hand.” 3 Steve Siler and Scott Krippayne

1 Kelly Jensen, “Five Lies Depression Told Me,” https://twloha.com/blog/five-lies-depression-told-me/

2 Deborah Sichel, M.D., and Jeanne Watson Driscoll, M.S., R.N., C.S., Women’s Moods: What Every Woman Must Know About Hormones, The Brain, and Emotional Health, ©1999 Deborah Sichel and JeanneWatson Driscoll, © 2000 Quill-HarperCollins Publishing. Learn more: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0380728524/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_5-MFEb7G85SVS

3“Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” words and music by Scott Krippayne & Steve Siler, ©Pirk Music BMI & Silerland Music ASCAP (Administered by the ClearBox Rights LLC). You can search for and listen to this song at https://youtu.be/KdjVePpq8BI and https://www.musicforthesoul.org/resources/precious-lord-take-my-hand/.

Finding Peace With God In My Depression: Part Four

Part 1 can be found: here!

Part 2 can be found: here!

Part 3 can be found: here!


Learning to Retell My Story

In essence, it took years of living in this tension before I could I retell my OWN story from a gospel perspective. If God’s story in the history of mankind is to weave His gospel thread of redemption through all of man’s lives, and His overwhelming mercy, in spite of their depravity, what hurt me the most eventually led to my ultimate peace and my ultimate redemption. 

My story became a story of ALL about GOD; and none about Heidi. My story became one of 100% grace and mercy towards me (HIS love story), and surprisingly, not only was God pleased to bestow it on me, but I was pleased to offer my weakness back to Him as my sacrifice. 

The calling He had in mind for me, (MY personal calling) would require my giving up my efforts so that He could show me what He had ALREADY done for me, and how He would glorify Himself at my expense by taking pleasure in HIS own acts of mercy, (because “justice was no longer in the way.” (Reference to  Phillips Craig and Dean song, “Mercy Came Running!”) His calling for me was to be His trophy of grace and mercy. And I was ok with that. My peace was found in a confidence that this was HIS calling for me. 

My Relationship With Jesus

After He Removed My Depression From Me

Grace! This was what our relationship would now be built upon from here on. The 12 years of my depressive illness was the quality time He was using to draw me into His bosom. On this end of it, I still can’t listen to someone tell me what I HAVE to DO to please God! For me, it offends and degrades the very intimacy I found in the heart of God toward me when I was in a state where I couldn’t do what I thought God needed me to do to please Him. Though I disagree with them, I have to remember to show them grace, too, and remember that that may still be their own calling.

However, just because it is God’s calling for ME, doesn’t mean it is God’s calling for YOU! Nor does it mean that just because you don’t experience depression doesn’t mean that there aren’t some lessons that you can learn about self-righteousness and trying to earn God’s favor through works. It just may be that God wants you to learn “All God! And zero of you,” too.

So, I’m not here to tell you what God’s calling for you is. I am just reminding you that God does call us all to different roads. Some to strength; some to weakness.  And just like He told Peter to take the gospel to the gentiles for the first time, when no one had ever done that before, He may just be calling you to a different kind of obedience. One in which you’re WEAK and HE IS strong. Not you’re weak and then HE makes YOU strong. Just…. you’re weak. He’s strong.

Jesus’ Final Lesson To His Disciples

I think there is a lot of significance to the last thing we see Jesus do with his beloved disciples before He gave His life on the cross to redeem them to Himself, reconcile them to His Father and pay for their sins. He washed their feet. Good old Peter resisted. He wanted to be the one to demonstrate His love for the Lord with his actions, but what the Lord wanted was for them to experience His loving tenderness on their behalf. 

He could have used those last few hours as an opportunity to teach them how to obey and serve Him better, and the importance of their duty to Him, BUT instead, He chose to demonstrate the lesson He had told them about several times before. More than anything, the God of the universe wanted them to witness what Christ could do FOR them. Specifically, when Peter said, “No, I want to be the one to do the washing.” Jesus corrected him, “No, it must be about what I will do for you. 

And here’s Jesus’ demonstration: John 13:3-8 “Jesus knew that the Father had given him authority over everything and that He had come from God and would return to God. So he got up from the table, took off his robe, wrapped a towel around his waist,  and poured water into a basin. Then he began to wash the disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel he had around him. When Jesus came to Simon Peter, Peter said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash MY feet?” Jesus replied, “You don’t understand now what I am doing, but someday you will.” “NO,” Peter protested, “you will NEVER wash my feet!”

My Translation: “Um, Lord, surely you want ME to do something to serve YOU?!?!? This can’t be! Please let ME demonstrate MY love for YOU.” But…..

“Jesus replied, “(Peter) Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me.”

My Translation: Jesus said, “Peter, roll over and lie on your back, Now stay! … And Wait! I want to show you what’s in my heart. Look into my loving eyes. Unless I wash you, you won’t be clean. Unless I do the washing, YOU’LL NEVER be clean!”

The lesson Jesus was teaching was, 1) That He loves the weak because they know they are weak. 2) And That He would much rather SHOW MERCY than receive sacrifices of service, and 3) most importantly, that His GREATEST joy is that we KNOW him, NOT in our sacrifices. (Hosea 6:6 says, “I want to show LOVE … I want you to KNOW me more than I want burnt offerings.”)

In essence, He was demonstrating, “Since I have one more thing I can do on this earth before I pay the ultimate penalty for your sins, I choose to leave you with this as your final lesson that I most want to imprint upon your hearts. I’m glorified MOST, when I get to be the one who does the washing. I’m glorified MOST, when YOU let ME do the washing.” 

How did I find peace in depression?

You see, before depression, I thought I knew God. But I only knew OF God. But my view of God was warped and twisted. I’d come to learn that I had loved a God I never really knew, for the God I knew was one to be feared for I could not reach His standards of righteousness. Oh, I loved Him before but always hoping that He’d see my love as righteousness and that it would earn me favor in His eyes, too. I had been a true believer for 35 years but never fully understand the loving heart of God. But now, after God’s kindness to me during my period of depression, I echo Job’s declaration, “I had only heard about You before. But now, I have seen You with my own eyes.” (NLT) 

So, what about JOY?

First of all, if you are in the throes of depression, you won’t be happy and you won’t feel joyful. Your brain is broken and unable to process those emotions. But I experienced utter RELIEF that my relationship with my Savior didn’t rely on me at all. My joy was Jesus, the One who bridged the gap. HE was my ENOUGH. HE was my PEACE! HE was my JOY!

I found the smiling face of Jesus in my depression. He called me to orient myself to the gospel story that HE was writing with my brokenness, a story of HOPE in spite of my DESPAIR, a story of PEACE in spite of my TURMOIL, a story of GRACE in the face of MY sinful condition and a story of MERCY in contrast to MY efforts. Jesus spent all those 12 years, continuing to reach down to me, His wounded struggling lamb, picking me back up and drawing me back to His bosom, and embracing me with compassion and THAT was better than any gift I could’ve given Him before.  (This concludes this 4-part series.)

Finding Peace With God in My Depression: Part Three

Part 1 can be found:  here!

Part 2 can be found:  here!

How Could I Ever Be Enough?

Third, God taught me that when I couldn’t reach God’s standard for righteousness, God Himself bridged the gap.

“When all you can do is all you can do, then all you can do is enough.” I call this my “Enough” principle. If on any given day, I was given the grace to behave somewhat righteously, I was HS filled, I did all the right things, I served in the church, I was kind to my family, I lived in the joy of the Lord, I still wouldn’t be able to attain the righteous holy standard of God Himself. 

But, whatever I lacked in perfect righteousness, God looked at the righteousness of Jesus on my behalf. and said, “Whatever you lacked today, I’ve got this covered. You are 100% righteous before Holy God. I am now pleased.”

Sand Illustration: 

Imagine that I am holding a bag of sand and a empty jar. In the example above, I was able to partially fill up that jar myself with my good works out of a heart for God and love for Him. So, God filled my partially filled jar of sand to overflowing. When Christ’s righteousness and your efforts are married together, that is enough to please God. Let me be clear, YOU are not enough! God multiplies and redeems your efforts and God’s work is enough!

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However, when I was in the pit, I despaired, I became angry, I refused to talk to anyone, my social behavior was despicable and unacceptable, I didn’t feel the Holy Spirit and He was not in control of my thoughts. I wanted nothing to do with God. In fact, I had little to no desire for Him. I was nasty and testy, my soul felt empty, and I had NO joy! 

But the Lord looked at me and compassionately said, “Whatever you lacked today, I’ve got this covered. You are 100% righteous before Holy God. I am pleased.”

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Back to our Sand Illustration:

If you looked at my jar on those tormented, depressed days, you could hardly find the few grains of sand that I could contribute to the jar. But still, God looked at what I was able to contribute and then proceeded to fill up my almost empty jar of sand to overflowing. When Christ’s righteousness and your efforts are married together, that is enough to please God.

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My new relationship with Jesus was one of tenderness. It was one of compassion. It was one of Him being the Sustainer and my being the helpless one.  It changed everything for me. It took all my despair I felt for not feeling acceptable and gave me permission to stop trying to earn it. My eyes were opened to His shepherd’s heart and I fell in love with Him in a way that I had never done before. I was imperfect, but I was beloved. He was ok with my brokenness. He was ok with me, meaning my brokenness didn’t deny me His affection and love.

Paul says in I Timothy 1:15-16, “But I received MERCY for this reason, that in me, Jesus might display His perfect patience, as an example to those who were to believe in Him.”

Oh the joy that I felt when I was finally convinced that God didn’t require reciprocation for His love and kindness, compassion and ministry to me. God as my caregiver was able to love me past all my unpleasantness.

Fairness vs Grace

I felt, this can’t be! It doesn’t seem fair to let me disappoint on some days while He required others to behave? To not require me to try hard on some days? To accept less than perfection? To have mercy on my condition? To not make me bang my head over and over and over against the wall because I just couldn’t make my mind or my spirit to cooperate?

You see if you add anything to grace, it’s not really grace. It’s earning! Only grace … plus nothing … equals grace!!!!! And if there was one thing I knew God was doing to me in my depression, it was to demand that I learn that I was NOT in control. It was that He would be glorified, NOT in MY actions, but in HIS actions. Once again, He rolled me over onto my back and said, “Stay! You made a mess. Now, let me clean you up.”

Learning a New Way Of Living In My Depression

Although, I started to experience a new intimate relationship with Him when I was in the light, one of the continual affirmation that our relationship was still ok, one of being an ongoing object of mercy for anything I did that didn’t seem holy… MY depression still DIDN’T GO AWAY!!! So, that merciful feeling of peace that I’d receive when I emerged FROM the pit was still not available to me IN the pit. 

What I knew in my head, that I was an object of mercy, didn’t give me warm, fuzzy feelings IN my depression. I’d still plummet into the darkness. I’d still plummet into despair, into ugly responses, into isolation, into a place where I still couldn’t feel God or see Him, but I was learning to live in a new tension. 

Learning to Trust In The Dark

I was learning to trust a God I couldn’t feel or see. I was learning to trust in the dark what God was teaching me in the light. (Read that again! Don’t miss this!) With only my will, I learned to cling to the truths He had taught me when I COULD see Him before our sweet intimacies slipped away into oblivion. I didn’t have to feel them for them to be true. I didn’t have to mentally assert them as truth. I didn’t have to verbally agree to them. I didn’t have to emotionally connect to them. I just welcomed them into the tension and let them marinade in my soul. 

I also learned that my life could no longer be lived in “all or nothing.” I could no longer cling to a dream of living a perfect life. It wasn’t one of complete relational continuity—one of 100% faithfulness to God and obedience in every area, but more like a series of little moments.

This was new to me. Only a hypocrite thinks one thing then turns around and does another! I fought the self-accusation of hypocrisy! “I couldn’t count on tomorrow! I couldn’t even count on the next five minutes!” But when God opened a window and peeked in, and I caught just a glimpse of His smiling face, I welcomed the intimate moment with Him (even though I knew it was fleeting). But fleeting as it was, I chose to welcome moments freely, worship Him freely, embrace Him warmly! And then, over and over, the moment would be gone. The despair would remain. 

The Locket Of Trust

But I chose to put God’s truth in a locket and hung it around my neck. (This is a reference to Matt Hammit’s song, “Trust.”) My locket contained the truths I’d come to learn about God and about myself that I had discovered in the light. However, these truths, while life-changing, didn’t change my current circumstances and they didn’t change my depressed illness. But I still hung them around my neck in confidence that God was calling me to trust Him and have confidence in something OUTSIDE of what I could do and could feel.

When I went into the darkness, I clung to God’s Truths safely stored in my locket which hung around my neck. While I was in there, it was too dark to see them or feel them, but I held onto the locket determined that I was still ok. And when I emerged from that darkness, I opened the locket and all the memories of God’s promises and faithfulness came flooding back. 

While I studied the foundational truths of God in His word in the light, I began to feel layers and layers and layers of guilt-motivated, good-intentioned,  performance-based righteousness fall away. I felt like Jesus was lifting weight after weight after weight off my shoulders reminding me: “Heidi, it is already finished! Done! You are redeemed, yesterday, today, forever! There is nothing you have done, are doing or will do that isn’t covered by My love, My mercy and My grace!

You no longer need to strive to earn My favor! In fact, you never did! Simply look to Me, the Author and Perfecter of your faith! I’m just waiting for you to stop trying to run your own world and let Me have control. Let me give. Let me take. Let Me shower my love and grace on you! Stop striving after the wind! It’s exhausting and it’s defeating! My grace is sufficient for you and is made perfect in weakness!” 

Wow! I thought, if we are saved by grace, why is it so hard to remember we must also live by grace!? I prayed, “Speak Lord, for your servant hears You. Teach to me embrace grace in this tumultuous affliction You’ve ordained for me to endure. 

These are those truths I learned and clung to:

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I remembered The Lord is my shepherd. I remembered The Lord is my Redeemer.
My soul was at peace even when my spirit was not. My peace didn’t COME from the darkness, but it is FROM within that dark place that I was forced to trust in the all-sufficiency of Jesus to make our relationship right.

I remembered that only God was holy. God and God alone. Although I knew that He was holy, and that although His longing was for that day in glory when I would finally lay aside this sinful shell, I trusted that He alone could present me to the Father as righteous and acceptable.

I was convinced that God Himself was asserting His sovereignty and His authority every time He allowed me to be subdued by depression. I learned sooner and sooner to just surrender to His hand. I cried out: “Lord, I don’t want to go back in there. It’s so dark and lonely.” “I know,” He said, “but I’m always right beside you even when you don’t feel Me there.”

I came to trust that while I was in the darkness, He carried me like a wounded lamb. I was unable to feel Him or see Him. I couldn’t reach out and feel that He was still beside me, carrying me, His wounded little lamb. But, I learned to not fight Him to stand on my own. In my weakened condition, it was always safer to just let Him carry me.

I was convinced that He knew my heart was one that ultimately desired to please Him, but was weakened by my affliction that held me captive to my depravity. I didn’t need to PRETEND to be holy to please God, something I was NEVER capable of doing in the first place.

I trusted God to be able to handle my authenticity. I’d spend many hours lamenting and expressing my sorrow. I came to trust His compassionate heart and came to depend on His mercy and grace as I opened up the wounds of my soul for Him to tenderly clean up. 

I was convinced that there was nothing I could do to earn His favor, but I still believed it was because of His intimate favor that He Himself had wounded me – not to punish me but simply so that he could show me His mercy and ongoing love. 

He reminded me, “This thorn in your flesh, I gave it to you to keep you from exalting yourself.” And though I begged the Lord too many times to count to take it away, He told me, “My grace is sufficient for you. MY power is made complete in YOUR weakness.”

I was convinced that the cross of Calvary had settled it all and that God had credited the righteousness of Jesus to me, making me righteous in His eyes.

And when the darkness passed, my relationship with Jesus came right back. He looked into my eyes and I looked into His, and He said, “I know that was hard. I know that was scary. Are you ok now? Are we good?” I’d say, “It was scary, Lord. And it was so hard. But I never felt your condemnation. I only sensed your mercy. I never felt you were angry at me. I only sensed your compassion. Ya… we’re good.” 

Can you see that as difficult as the struggle was for me, how necessary it was for me to live in that desperate place of tension, all in order to get me to the intimacy on the other side? I needed to give myself permission to search my own heart and ask God some really hard questions. I had to live in the struggle of some really hard theological tensions. I had to challenge my whole foundational belief system as to what it means to “please God.”

I had to own the utter helplessness of my own depravity and my desperateness for someone other than myself to save me. I had to see myself from God’s perspective. His relational intimacy with me was MORE PLEASING TO HIM than my thoughts or good deeds were to Him. But this I know, He needed to remove my strength before I would accept His mercy.    (to be continued tomorrow here)

Finding Peace With God In My Depression: Part One

When I first started my journey in depression, I felt like a mess. There was nothing in my Christian paradigm wherein God called a believer to spiritual weakness. You see, before depression, I could usually rely on MY motivation and MY will power to be the catalyst to help me please God.

After depression, my motivation and my heart’s desire were NOT enough and the depression took away any self-control. Before depression, my emotions (feelings of fellowship) would dictate to me whether I believed God loved me or was pleased with me. During depression, there were no feelings of fellowship. I couldn’t see God in my depression.

Before depression came into my life, I’d come to God: “Look, Lord, look what I’ve done or You! And look how righteous I am becoming for you!”  So, it was a huge struggle to find a way to come to God at ALL in the state of depression. My upcoming book will fill in the gaps between finding myself in that awful pit to finding peace in the smile of my Savior.

Culpability

The most difficult thing I’d struggle with for years, was my culpability in my depression. Was I guilty for the way I thought and behaved in my depression or was I a victim of it? Was I just a bad person or was this an illness? I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was sick with a true medical, physiological disorder and that it caused me to act unspritual but could I be culpable for things I did as a result of a depressed condition?

I struggled a long time in this tension, earnestly searching my heart, then fiercely defending my heart, then questioning my heart again. Was it even possible for a child of God who was walking with the Lord, filled with His Spirit, able to become depressed? Didn’t it challenge the very idea that the Holy Spirit, if yielded to Him, would NOT allow me, a believer, to become depressed? Didn’t He promise that His Spirit would always be available to ME both for comfort and for control?

I didn’t find the same tension in the idea of Him allowing me to get sick, or allowing me be killed… but there was something about the connection between the mind and the will …it was nearly unconscionable that the Holy Spirit could not and would not supersede my will by protecting my brain health? Although I recognized His sovereignty in everything else that could ever happen to me, how could He be sovereignly be putting my will and emotions in conflict with His commands, His law, and His desire for my sanctification? What I forgot to realize was that my will and emotions were already at odds with the holiness of God. My righteousness, as good as I had attempted it to be, was still only as good as a filthy rag.

I wrestled with the heart of a God that would require me to do something, (remain yielded to the Spirit, be filled with the fruits of the Spirit, obey all of His commands in His word), then cruelly take from me the very tools that I needed to do what He asked.  At times, God felt like a bully who took my homework and held it above my head, and taunted me with my inability to get it back.

Authority

Then, I wrestled with His authority. His authority was in direct relation to His ownership of me. But then, I remembered my commitment I had made to Him. “Though He slay me, still I will follow…”…Did I really mean that?  Was I really willing to let Him slay me? I felt like Isaac…Yes, I was the sacrifice. God, inconsiderate of how much it would hurt me or the suffering it would cause me, had demanded my life. Would I let go, let my Father bind me and lay me on the altar?

I felt like Job. I wrestled with the tension of Satan possibly being the one to afflict, yet God being the One who signed the permission slip. Don’t you think that if Job was standing within earshot of that heavenly conversation, Job might have leaned over to God and said, “Let’s not bait him. Please, don’t taunt him.” So, was I a victim of Satan, or of God who was trying to prove something that I didn’t understand?

If I was a victim of Satan, what was in my toolbox wherein I could defeat Satan? If it was Satan, then there MUST be something I could do to defeat him. What armor could I fight him with? What was the “trick” to winning this battle against this formidable enemy? However, I despaired as I was incapable of doing anything to fight this.

As I wrestled, I came to the conclusion that although spiritual warfare might be at play, I was NOT, in fact, a victim of Satan. My God did not suddenly become limited. His hand had not become shortened or weak because of this. If I was being afflicted, it was because GOD chose to allow it to happen to me. The choice for me was the same as for Job. I could moan and groan and agonize over my condition, but I WOULD NOT curse God in it. I was His to do with as He pleased, either directly or indirectly.

Unable To Please God

While I was in the “victim of God” mode, I wrestled with whether it was in God’s character to choose to allow anything left me without protection from my own depravity?  Was He to blame for making me unrighteous? If obedience to all His commands was what pleased God, then… NOT obeying all His commands MUST mean that my life didn’t please God.  Was it kind or good of God to take from me the very thing I needed for ME to please Him? That seemed to me to be the most personally cruel. Yet, the fact remained… whether cruel or not, I was helpless to use this “self-control” tool that had always been mine to use my whole life.

In the past, I knew what I was supposed to do. I determined to do it. I worked hard to do it. And I dug down deep and used self control to make myself do it. When I did what I knew was good and right (“righteous”), I was convinced I pleased God.

But now, I couldn’t do what I thought, in my heart, was good and righteous because I had no self control. I couldn’t work hard at anything. My brain could not just “determine” anything. My brain was numb, lifeless, defenseless. So, I couldn’t do what I was supposed to do. So, I concluded, “I’d never be able to please God again.”

IF this depression was unrighteousness, was I culpable? Was I guilty then or was I a simply a helpless victim in the things I did? Or, could it possibly be that God Himself was culpable for making me unrighteous by taking away His spirit who gave out the gift of self control that I NEEDED to please Him. The moment I’d entertain God being the one to blame, I made a mental decision that I could never entertain that thought anymore! God COULD NOT be capable of causing evil.  I was distraught somewhere in between God being culpable and me being culpable.

Heidi, Meet Your Sin Nature Who Lives Inside You!

But God, in His gentle and wise kindness showed me what I was missing. Yes, I was a sinful person. Yes, I had horrible thoughts. Yes, I could behave in despicable ways. But, even though God signed the permission slip for all of it, God wasn’t at fault for what I did. Something inside of me was.

While I didn’t think it was fair that the blame should fall back on me, I still believed,“though You slay me, STILL … I WILL follow.” I could either fight God for what I believed was fair, or I could choose to surrender under the mighty hand of God.

God’s Sovereignty

God can do whatever He wants and isn’t limited by anything. I knew there was nothing I could do to change His plans for me. I remembered that God owned me. That was easy to remember when I was in victory mode, but when I was in defeat mode, it was a LOT harder. But, the fact remain, God could take from me whatever He wanted and whenever He wanted, even if it left me drowning in defeat and even when it exposed the unrighteousness in my depraved heart.

Self Control Was Just My Self-righteous Rag

I think that is when God reminded me that although I believed that I had been doing pretty good at this righteousness thing on my own, that, even before my depression, my righteousness was NO more impressive than filthy rags. Ouch! What I had, in fact, BEFORE depression, was a way I thought covered my unrighteousness. My self control was the rag which I believed covered my filth. It was the brakes that slowed down the out of control downward slide. I came to understand that what I was coming to grips with was my own utter depravity. 

In fact, as a child of God, wasn’t I at His mercy anyway to have been granted my past self-control in the first place? Hadn’t my self-control, in fact, been His kindness to me rather than MY kindness to Him? Although I was a still a sinner who still sinned, it was only by His grace that I could do anything good for God unless He first gave it to me to be good with. And didn’t He have the authority and the sovereignty to withhold any of His gifts from me, whenever, however, and to whatever extent He chose, ESPECIALLY if I thought those gifts were coming from MY self-righteous heart? 

Who Is Left For Me To Trust?

So, that left me staring down the barrel of an utterly depraved mind with utterly depraved thoughts and utterly depraved behavior and my God who was holding the shotgun which was aimed straight at me. He held me captive to my situation by His authority and His sovereignty. It finally dawned on me that my only hope would be His mercy! I had nothing to offer Him! Would He accept me in mercy or turn me away?

Without any other options, that’s when I finally gave in; it would be the mercy of God or I was destined to always be a disappointment to my God. My heart finally screamed, “Jump!  Jump into the arms of God.” I didn’t know where it’d land me. I wasn’t sure I’d be safe on the other side. I knew IF my righteousness was what would make him accept me, I was without hope. But what other alternative did I have but to just surrender HIM? Ana Laura sings it this way, speaking from the heart of God,  “If you ever fall, just fall into my arms. I would never hurt you. If you’re ever going to trust This heart, I will be there to catch you when you fall.”

Alpha Training

What is the first and most important lesson a dog trainer teaches a new puppy or a dog in training? Their first lesson should be teaching the new puppy that there is an alpha in the house and it is you. God was teaching me who was going to be Alpha in His pack. God rolled me onto my back, placed me into a submissive position, put His hand firmly on my chest, pointed His finger at me and said, “Stay!…. Now wait!….”

My eyes searched about my world, “Wait for what? What are we waiting for? What do you want me to do?”  With my tail between my legs, I wondered what I POSSIBLY did to make my Master mad at me to inflict me with so much pain. I wrestled in the tension a LONG time, I thought there MUST be something I am supposed to be doing but I couldn’t figure out what I could do. He had already taken the only thing I had that was able to please Him, you know, my self-control. What in the world could I do now, if I couldn’t negotiate with Him, if I couldn’t make Him relent? I couldn’t figure out how to be good FOR Him so I how could I make Him happy?

And yet, while I was in that most desperate position of submission, looking helplessly up at my Master, there was something in the kindness of his eyes. I expected to fear Him. But I didn’t. I found myself hopeful that my obedience in surrendering  was, in fact, what He wanted of me. Rolling me onto my back wasn’t one of anger or aggression or bullying, it was one of kindness where He smiled and just gently but firmly held me there in a position of submission. 

This was God teaching me to BE STILL! It’s so hard to just “be still” when you feel like you are in a fight for your life. He told me “don’t fight back.” He wanted me to succumb to His firm hand. Being still, with no resolution. Being still, with no peace and comfort. Being still and waiting IN the darkness is frightening. Being patient and humbly surrendering to God’s fiery furnace is excruciating.

And then with each depressive episode that tormented me, He’d do it over and over and over again, week after week, month after month. He’d roll me over onto my back in my already desperate state and say “stay.. now wait.”  I’d surrender to His firm hand. I’d look into His eyes to see if He was angry but never saw any anger.

I didn’t understand what He was doing, or why He would not relent from doing this. But, He wasn’t hurting me; He was just pinning me down. He was NOT disciplining me for anything I had done, He was resetting the foundation for our relationship. He was boss. I was not. Our relationship would only work if I remembered this most important lesson.

Then, over and over, each time my depression would slowly dissipate, I’d feel him release me and I’d stand back up and tried to go about my life. But, all the while, never understanding what all that, “surrender and wait” stuff was all about.
(to be continued)

How My Religion Failed Me

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My religion said, “After I was saved, God would turn me into a “good girl.” He would help me if I tried hard enough to keep getting better. And so if I tried, and performed better and better each day, week, year, God would be pleased with me.” And as I grew up in my faith and began to check off the things my religion said I had to do, (things like reading my Bible, praying, going to church, serving him and all the others), I believed that the Holy Spirit working in me promised to make ME more righteous, emphasis on ME. 

When I experienced depression, there was no evidence of any righteousness left in me. So, I had some options as to what was happening to me. 1) Maybe I wasn’t saved; I refused to believe that. 2) I just wasn’t trying hard enough and maybe I needed to do more self-flagellation. 3) Maybe, I needed to feel more remorse and sorrow and force myself to repent more. 4) Maybe, I just wasn’t worthy of the Holy Spirit’s or God the Father’s time to make me better. 5) Or maybe—just maybe—the whole foundation of my spiritual journey was built upon MY righteousness, attempting to make God happier with me, rather than allowing God‘s righteousness through Jesus on my behalf to satisfy all His requirements for righteousness: perfectly sinless behavior. 

You see, when you pull that foundation stone of my religious self-betterment out from the bottom of the pile, the whole tower comes tumbling down. Why? Because the foundation of my spiritual journey was that God’s favor depended on MY righteousness, the things I did, and the things I thought.

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In my understanding, one needed to become more righteous as that was the only way God would be pleased. More importantly, in order to please God, righteous works were the absolute essentials in the whole ideological argument. Earning the pleasure of God always, always, always came from better behavior.

To my despair, I found my religion didn’t leave me any way in my depression to please God. And frankly, I could not believe that God—a good, loving God—would leave me in a place where I could not earn His pleasure.  No, don’t misunderstand me, as I’m not talking about earning my salvation. I’m not even talking about being God’s special prized possession. At this point, I just wanted to know that God wasn’t unhappy with me. 

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Yes, I felt like a worthless, pathetic Christian, but I was more afraid that God’s un-favor or wrath might rest on me? In my depression, I felt with every worthless thought,  every unhealthy behavior, and every angry outburst, the rest of my world tired of me. I frustrated them. I wasn’t the nicest person or the kindest person that they could have known before depression. I was an entirely different identity whom I believed didn’t deserve compassion nor mercy nor grace because I found myself so revolting, yes, even to me. 

It’s not a huge leap to go from how you believe others see you, and in fact tell you how tired they are of having you act this way, or even worse see you for what they can only believe is simply a bad behavior issue, to leap to the premise that God surely must feel the same way. I didn’t feel that I could please my husband when I was depressed, I didn’t feel like I could please my children, my church, or my friends. In fact, in self-preservation and self defense, my depression kept me from caring what everybody else thought of me. It was the only way to keep myself from drowning in self-hatred and keep my head above water. 

So, when I could, I began to re-evaluate everything that I had learned about God, and everything that I had believed about Him, through Sunday school teachers, through parents, through pastors, through friends, through Christian school teachers—I had a lot of teachers who all tried to help me learn how to live to please God. Everything  I had come to believe hinged on one’s self improvement. It dealt with works and goodness. In my depression, I was unable to do any of these good things because frankly depression steals away the will to control your life in any way.

And yet, though I despaired, part of me had the state of mind to think, “this can’t be. If this goodness was required to please God and so many illnesses allowed the brain to become ill and thus denied them goodness, I couldn’t believe that my God would be so unkind and unfair as to leave the mentally ill condemned with no hope of pleasing Him. I determined that somehow in my childhood, that I had inadvertently inserted some kind of faulty building block that had broken my religion: my Christianity. Evidently, I hadn’t learned about God in a healthy way. I had distorted God.

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In my Christianity, my pleasure to God always seemed to hinge on behavior. The more I felt like I was becoming “just like Jesus,” the more I felt God was up in heaven patting me on my head, and saying, “good Heidi- good Heidi.” To my despair, I hadn’t felt that “good Heidi” pat since my depression began. 

It was in that despair that I began to study the gospel, the good news, that my righteousness (and the whole world’s, in fact) was so wretchedly unrighteous, that Jesus came to die to pay the punishment for my unrighteousness and credited to me His own righteousness, in spite of anything I did after salvation. I studied living by “grace alone” instead of just being “saved by grace.” Instead of living as a believer with “grace a lot,” I began to believe God was calling me to live by “grace alone.” 

C2B7B30F-D0BF-4CF7-9D57-FC3DA5BEFE98So, after much thought and discussion with my husband, I ripped out that old faulty foundational stone which required my righteousness (my works, my obedience, and my good behavior) to please God. As long as it remained the primary requirement to please God, I was condemned and without hope.  

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Embracing grace, I admitted and accepted that I would never be righteous (“there is none righteous,  no not one.”) Embracing grace, I began to replace that unfortunate delusion with the fact the reason God sent His son was to make me right with God, because the world had been trying for years to become right with God by obeying the Law which couldn’t make anyone righteous. It only proved that nobody could obey the Law in full. Embracing grace, I realized that God sending his son to die for me, a pathetic worthless sinner, was the only way I could be right with God. Embracing grace, I was determined that that old self-righteous, pharisaical way of trying to become righteous through my works needed to be torn down and completely abolished. When I put the right foundational stone in place as the cornerstone of my life in Christ, Jesus’ righteousness,  it’s like my eyes were opened. 

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Every time I looked at my own behavior and the things I said and thought in my depression, and allowed them to condemn me and make me feel like God wasn’t happy with me, I corrected it with the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that God’s pleasure no longer would be based on my behavior. When I was ugly, I remembered that God had credited me with the righteousness of His son, forever satisfying that condemnation that He might’ve felt for me before He saved me. I realized that when His Word said the work of Jesus on the cross removed His wrath toward me and removed my sins as far as the east is from the west, He was trying to tell me that Christianity should never be about MY works, but HIS. 

This whole paradigm change certainly didn’t make my depression go away and it didn’t necessarily make me feel emotionally better. But I chose to let it feed my mind (Romans 12:1-2) with the truth of the Gospel, renewing my mind with the reality of the mercy that God provided for us when our depravity caused us to live in a sinful condition, and with the reality of His grace which continues to offer us favor that we don’t deserve, because of His work 2000 years ago on the cross bestows on us these titles: friends of God, beloved, and children of God. 

You see, as a Christian, the very greatest insult, shame, accusation, and condemnation that you can give to somebody who’s depressed and experiencing self-hate, because of their depraved condition, is to tell them that the God that came to the rescue their souls, they could no longer please, love or serve. You are in effect telling them they are disqualified even though they had up until this point been trying to love and serve Him with all their strength.

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To tell them that God can’t see past their sick mental health state, that He is forever unhappy with them, and that God has no choice but to turn His back on them, is like a knife in their hearts. You see, for a believer especially, but even for one who is still lost, that is the greatest fear that they can have confirmed by you: That their “good and loving father” and possibly the only Friend that they feel they might have left in the world, is  not able to look past their depression and love and accept them. 

Knowing that this isn’t true still doesn’t cause the depression to go away, but it gives you something that might be worth living for. It offers you hope that though everybody else might turn their backs on you, He never will. When everybody else can’t look past what you say or what you do, and when the world tells you you’re unacceptable, God tells you, “you are accepted because I have accepted the sacrifice of my own Son.”

I don’t remember when I came to the conclusion that my distorted theology wasn’t working in my depression, and frankly, I don’t know how that faulty theology of works justification is supposed to work for anybody. All I know is somewhere in my depression I found peace and I found hope because I found that for everything that I was doing wrong over and over and over and over again (though God never said my deeds were righteous), He still saw me as righteous because He saw the sacrifice of His son which pardoned me forever.

I realize that it’s hard to understand this if life is going great for you; if you behave well as a Christian because you have such wonderful self-control and will power, oh, the peace you feel in your soul. To some of you, you probably believe that I even stopped trying to live like a Christian—that I stopped trying to love God. 

But, let me just posit this: there are far too many churches today, who teach works justification from the time a child enters Sunday School. Children are taught that if and when they love Jesus, their behavior will improve; just like a vending machine: in goes good works, out comes righteousness. If it doesn’t, it’s their own fault.

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What is one of the many reasons that so many depressed Christians are taking their life? Why isn’t their faith and their walk enough to keep them wanting to live? One of the many reasons is because their religion told them that Christians don’t get depressed, they don’t act this way, and that there is no grace for misbehavior. It failed to teach that everyone falls short of God’s perfect righteousness, not just the depressed. It failed to teach them to build their foundation on the God Who has already taken care of their “sin issue,” evidenced daily by their behavior issue. It failed to teach them that the wrath and judgement of God have been appeased. It failed to tell them that God made a way through the cross of Jesus Christ to count them as righteous, as if they were righteous (even though none of us are). It failed to teach them that their ONLY hope IS in the overwhelming, undeserved love of God, mercy of God, and grace of God.

We need to understand that God, whose thoughts are so much higher than our thoughts, understands that we, the depressed have a sickness and that our mind doesn’t always work the way we want it to work, and more than anything we might want to sort it out and figure out, “when does God judge my action as sin or symptom?” 

The answer might surprise you. We sin every day. We have very few moments during the day when we aren’t having a prideful thought or a testy attitude or whatever. If we could be found righteous in our works, then, by golly, we wouldn’t need the cross of Christ, would we? But whether we sin big or sin little, we need Jesus Christ’s righteousness placed on us so that God doesn’t have to look at our actions or thoughts or behavior or our good works to make a decision about us, because He has already declared us forgiven for those things, past, present, and future.

You see, when I finally realized that I couldn’t control the thoughts or the behavior in my depression, I embraced a new pattern of thinking that could hold me up every day of my depressed life, whether actively depressed or not. I repaired my grace-less theology and learned to embrace “grace alone” which caused me to look to God’s grace, kindness, mercy and favor earned for me being showered down upon me. Together with that, I learned to reject everything that told me that I owed God for any of His favor, because frankly, if I thought I owed Him even one thing, I would despise myself for not being to give Him the one thing He might have asked of me. 

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My new pattern of thinking rejected good works that were necessary to please God. “No, that’s not right,” you might say.  “God’s Word specifically says that ‘without faith it is impossible to please God’” (Hebrews 11:6). Well, I would have to ask you, “if you were beat down, every day, and every minute of the day like I was, could you hold on to a faith that believed that the cross of Jesus was enough to declare you righteous? Could you believe that Jesus’ righteousness credited to you was enough to give you peace with God and justify you when you couldn’t do anything on your own to earn that? Could you believe that even in your deprave state, that God called you His beloved and His friend. How much faith do you think it takes to hold on to a God-alone, God-powerful, God-sufficient, and God-controlled life? Let me tell you: it takes a LOT of faith! I was recently reminded that sometimes all the faith that is necessary is only as big as a mustard seed. Think about that.

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So I have basically just put this out there for the world to read so that you could ask yourself some hard questions, especially if you have friends and loved ones who are depressed and are looking to you to support them. As for you who are content with your religious upbringing, because you have pretty strong self control, and you think you’re  pretty good already, and you’re pretty proud of yourself, and you think that God is more pleased with you than He is with me, I weep for you. Why? Because one day, most likely, something will happen and you will not be the saint that you have believed you were and that will make you question the love and kindness and mercy and grace of God. Because your hope has been grounded and fulfilled in your improving behavior all these years rather than in a gracious and merciful God. But take comfort even in this, even when your pride fills your heart and you truly believe you’re doing pretty good in God’s economy, He still loves you the same. Your self-righteousness which is something God has always despised is forgiven, too, and He returns to you the same unmerited and unearned favor, as well. 

Here’s a fact, nothing I do will ever be counted as righteous. There just isn’t any good works that are perfectly sinless and 100% righteous (sorry to burst your bubble). Obviously, bad works are always bad. But it isn’t the things I do for God that earn me God’s pleasure. He is never pleased with my half-baked, partial righteousness. My partial righteousnesses will never meet the standard that actually pleases God—the things I do for God, my works, the thoughts that I have tried to bring under control, my acts of service, are all acts of love. They do not earn me anything. 

God says that man looks on the outward appearance, but God looks on the heart. And the  commandment that He Himself says is most important to Him is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. There is a point when you realize that as much as you want to do the things that show your love to God, (your intentions and your desires), you will never be able to do as much as you want to do or that would be required of you to earn a righteous standing. You will not ever be able to be completely righteous nor completely committed.

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So aren’t you glad (I know I am), that God is pleased with those who believe in Him, trusting that that He knows the intentions and desires of our hearts? Aren’t you glad that He said that the cross has set us free from the curse of sin and the Law (our guilt), and that we have been reconciled to God forever? Aren’t you glad that your righteousness/unrighteousness has been overwritten by His perfect righteousness? Aren’t you glad that no matter how bad you feel you are, how many times you have failed, and how much you feel your life disappoints the God of the universe, His righteousness has made you perfect in His eyes! Aren’t you glad that the good news of the gospel is that He sees you now as flawless? Boy! I sure am! 

Flawless by MercyMe

Pleasing God: A Paradigm Shift (Part 6)

This is part 6 of a six-part series, I encourage you to scroll back to here and start at the beginning.

In this final blog of this series, I’d like to illustrate a point: 

  • I would like you to put your hands out in front of you and make two fists. 
  • I want you to now imagine all the dreams you have grown up having for your life, all the ideals you have in your mind about becoming a perfect wife, a perfect mom, a perfect housekeeper, a perfect friend who is loved by everyone, even becoming a perfect Christian. 
  • Grip tightly to all those ways you are trying to perfect your own life by changing all your imperfection into perfection, changing all your unacceptability into acceptability, and changing all your unlovability into being lovable.
  • Keep clenching those fists as tightly as you can!
  • If it would help you concentrate, feel free to close your eyes until you start to feel the weariness and fatigue that that continual clenching is having on you. 
  • Aren’t your wrists starting to ache from the tension of your tight grip? 
  • Are all those perfect ideals you are desperately trying to achieve in your life bringing you freedom? 
  • Keep on clenching your fists and keep reading!

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In trying to achieve your most desperate desires, is that making you MORE dependent on YOU and YOUR ability to control your life or is that making you MORE dependent on GOD’S already granted acceptance of you right now? Do your desires make you more God-reliant or do they make you more self reliant? If you are right now relying on yourself to achieve them, do you realize that you have chosen the only door that God has said He would oppose: the pride of self-reliance.

Women, do you want to experience freedom?  Do you want to feel relief? You can only find freedom in one way that God promises He will meet you in. The humble, authentic, honest, desperate cry for God, a contrite heart that makes MUCH of His mercy and grace to cover our imperfection. That’s where God says He will meet you. TOTAL God reliance.

And here’s a biggie! 

Do you want to please God more than you want to be pleased with your own life? Do you want to please God more than you want the approval of others in your life? Do you have the COURAGE to believe God for HIS acceptance and love and grace and mercy, in spite of your own insufficiency? In spite of NOT achieving any of your idealistic goals in life? In spite of the difficult times that will come in your life?

As you consider all these things I have challenged you with today, do you have the courage to release that death grip on the way YOU want your life to turn out and how YOU want it to look? Do you have the courage to tell God you’d rather choose HIS acceptance of you rather than gain any self confidence in your own achievements. Paul says in Philippians 3:7-9 (NLT):

“I once thought THESE things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with Himself depends on faith.”

Do you have the faith and courage to surrender your imperfect life to Him? 

Do you have the courage and faith in God’s finished work to lean into your need of Him and welcome God into your goals and plans and ideals? If you’re longing for freedom in life, THIS is how you find it. He says in His word, that if you want to find your life, you HAVE to lose it. But he who loses their life for His name sake will find it.

So, I’m challenging you to make an offering of all your imperfection and all your brokenness:

Lean into that imperfection and then tell God, “I’m giving you back my life. The only life I want to live now is the one You give me to live. If it’s weakness, let me be weak so that I can see Your power. If it’s brokenness, let me be content with Your grace which loves and accepts me anyway. If it’s a messy past, let me be content with Your sovereignty that orchestrated my life to have landed me right where I am right now. If it’s sickness, help me to lean into Your presence to keep me from feeling alone and the courage to keep trusting You. If it’s an unhappy marriage, help me lean into You to fulfill me with Your intimacy. If it’s poverty, help me to lean into You to fulfill me in that poverty. If it is sorrow, help me to lean into Your tender compassionate embrace.

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Surrender Your Dreams Of Perfection Back To Him!

  • Surrender whatever it is that is keeping you from experiencing being okay with the life God has given you right here and right now (true freedom),
  • I want you to visualize all those dreams of perfection that you are clenching in your fists,
  • then slowly open up your fists, palms up, and give them back to the Lord.
  • Demonstrate to Him a posture where you choose to give back all those impossible ideals to Him.
  • As you feel your hands open, can you just feel the shackles falling off? 
  • Are you starting to feel the relief of not having to face tomorrow by trying and failing again to live up to all those impossible ideals?
  • Don’t worry, He’ll join you in this place with grace and mercy and
  • He’ll begin to show you the journey He wants to take you on.
  • Let Him lead! You just follow.

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Right now, if you have followed my instructions, having opened up your hands and lifted them up to the Lord, you are the most vulnerable you will ever be. As you consider a future that no longer tries to earn acceptance through your own achievements, you’ll be tempted to close your hands back up and take back parts of what you just offered to Him. You’ll be tempted to want to do part of your life on your own terms, but that is not where you will find Him. That is not where you will find grace and mercy. Remember, you’ll find Him in your greatest need (in the broken, messy, imperfect areas of your life). 

But right now, you need to embrace these truths. If you have trusted Christ as your Savior, you are right now accepted by God. You are loved. You are cherished. God is bending down to you right now and asking you to grab a hold of His grace and mercy freely offered to you! Now in THIS most desperate place is when God’s mercy and grace is MOST available to you! Reach out and touch it! Reach out and embrace it!  Swim in and immerse yourself in Jesus’ mercy and His grace for THIS moment right now! Doesn’t the freedom of HIS mercy and grace for what you didn’t achieve on your own feel so much better than that merry go round of trying and failing to perfect yourself? Don’t let Satan tempt you to take it back. Push thru until you have surrendered every last ounce of self-perfection and until you have nothing left but your desperate cry for mercy and grace. You WILL find Jesus there. I promise! And Jesus will not disappoint! 

Your Chance To Interact With The God Of The Universe

I am going to close with a song which I believe is the posture that God is asking us to take as we embrace the life of an imperfect believer. Its Chris Tomlin’s song, “Lord, I need you.” Sing it as a prayer to the Lord telling Jesus how much you need Him. 

This is where I challenge you to remain, from this day forward! This is where Jesus will find you and deliver you from your own self-righteousness and self-perfection and help you learn to be wholly dependent on Jesus. This is what pleases God? How can it not? This surrender of your life to Him is what He has been waiting for!

 

 

 

Pleasing God: A Paradigm Shift (Part 5)

This is part 5 of a six-part series, I encourage you to scroll back to here and start at the beginning.

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Pleasing God In Depression???

I’m sure that those of you who know that I suffered with clinical depression for 12 years knew that I would eventually get around to telling you how this whole paradigm shift came to be. God used it to help me live in the desperation of my depression. God used this precious shift to help me embrace His grace and mercy toward me.

I was asked to share my story about surviving depression to a local MOPS group over a year ago but as I started to learn more and more about the struggles of the women in the group, I realized that depression wasn’t the only sense of shame, dysfunction, imperfection and failure that women all over the world are struggling with! But one of the main reasons I was sought out was because I not only survived 12 years of depression but I actually emerged from it more free and more in love with Jesus than when I went into it. 

I have a story to tell, a life-changing beautiful story about Jesus and not about me. You see, the illustrations that I have given in this series were about me. It was my inner struggle I battled for years. I spent many years banging my head into the wall trying to self-achieve. While I thought I could make the “do it myself” (orange side) work before depression, I was actually trapped in an endless loop of defeat! I’d always keep coming back to “imperfect, failure, defeated, loser, unrighteous” and so I’d head right back off to the right again chasing perfection with sheer will power and determination. 

But God, in His kindness, took away my ability to control anything in my life. I could not self-improve. I could not self-achieve. I was not stronger than the illness. I could not will myself to get better. I could not change the undeniable fact that depression left me utterly depraved.

In my depression: 

  • I would spend days feeling lifeless and dead. 
  • I would sob uncontrollably.
  • I would frequently get really angry for no reason.
  • I couldn’t recognize anything as good in my life.
  • Everything that used to mean something to me meant nothing to me.
  • I couldn’t feel the love of family or friends. I couldn’t even feel God.
  • I was miserable.

But worse than all of these was that all my hopes of trying to convince God that I really was a good person came crashing down. Everything I did PROVED I was NOT a good person. I felt I’d never be able to please God again, and that devastated me! When depression came in and stole away the protective barrier that had masked all my imperfections from the world I was left naked and bare for all to see how imperfect I really was. I despaired for my very life!

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(Find this chart in part 4 of this series- you’ll be lost if you don’t start from the beginning.)

To be honest, nobody showed me a chart like this when I was younger and nobody ever taught me how to accept grace for myself. So, as much as I would like to say, I followed the method on the blue side of the chart during my depression, (leaning into my depression, leaning into my sorrow, and leaning into God) I didn’t. I was clearly in Orange camp territory (“I could do it myself”) and stuck in a cycle of defeat! I was a born and bred performer, clearly trying to please God with my good behavior. It wasn’t until the last few years that I discovered the beauty of the blue side of the chart. That’s when I learned about leaning into my imperfection, into my weakness and into my brokenness.

In my depression, I spent the first five years trying to keep clutching the orange side (my own self-control). But finally, I had to come to the end of myself. I said, “I give up. I can’t keep doing this anymore.” Depression is bad enough on its own without the additional self-hatred and self-loathing of my continual defeat for all my well-intentioned attempts. I was left with no other option but to resign myself to my situation. In that resignation, I believed. “I guess I’ll never please God.” 

I thought, “so, this is my new normal, huh? I can either keep beating myself up or I can just accept it.” I wish I could say this was true surrender to God and His purposes but it wasn’t. It was purely self-preservation. I just could NOT live with that burden of guilt and shame and defeat anymore. 

I was what I was. I didn’t like it. I hated my depression. I’m sure no one else liked it, either. But I couldn’t change it. I resigned myself to being the ultimate failure I was destined to become. But as I began to feel more and more pathetic, more and more worthless, more and more of a failure, His Holy Spirit went to work on my heart. That’s when He introduced me to the blue side which showed me His grace bestowed on me in spite of the ugliness of my heart. 

This chart that I have shared in the last blog with you didn’t come to me easily! (go back one step to find the chart I’m talking about) It was brutal. Giving up my ideals of appearing and behaving good any time I wanted to, perfecting my life and proving my righteousness to God literally had to be ripped from my clenched closed fists. It took years… but I finally let go of trying to change my situation. In fact, in time, I came to believe that God wanted me to be content with my imperfect self because I came to believe that instead of becoming ‘better,’ He wanted me to lean into Him for undeserved kindness. 

You see, before depression, I had forgotten that the God of the universe already knew I was imperfect. But He had already accepted me. He already deeply loved me. But I had foolishly believed I could perfect myself so I kept pushing away the free gifts of grace because I had wanted instead to prove that I could do it myself. 

I finally got to the point where I gave up what I most wanted in life and simply accepted where and what I was. In this specific way, I got to be okay with ME just like I was: imperfect and messed up. I refused to let my behavior (my depression) define my worth. Although I didn’t like the depression, I just decided I would show myself kindness. If I had to live my life always worrying about how others felt about me or how I should be feeling in any scenario, I would’ve committed suicide. 

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But, you might ask, “How can you just accept all that ugliness in yourself?

“How can you just accept that defeat? That despair? That darkness?”  All I know is that when I embraced that most awful desperate place, that’s when the mercy and grace of God came flooding into my heart.  I thought it was the beginning of the end and all was lost, but it was just the beginning of a whole new relationship with my Savior. 

At first, He offered me just little tidbits of grace to chew on. He’d say, “Just chew on this for a while, this little crumb of truth. Find it in my Word. Find a song that sings this truth.” It was bitter at first because it wasn’t MY OWN righteousness, but in time, I acquired a taste for HIS grace He was offering me.  But week after week, month after month, and year after year, He showed me more and more of His grace, and took me deeper and deeper into the truths of it.

Especially, on the brief days when the darkness temporarily subsided, I dug down deep and studied the gospel of Jesus’ finished work for me and determined, “He no longer condemns me! Wrong or right, whatever depression is, He no longer condemns me! Praise the Lord!” So, it got to be that the only way I could wake up each morning was to think, “God doesn’t condemn me. I won’t condemn me either!”

In time, I determined that if God, the Just, was satisfied to look on Jesus and pardon me, that I was safe to give myself as much grace as God did. God showed me grace and it didn’t make Him unholy. I felt this gave me permission to preach grace to myself, too, and believe that His same grace wouldn’t condemn me either.  

I determined to extend to myself the very same grace that the gospel extended to me, which was this: My sin and my imperfection no longer made me unacceptable to God!!!!! I was reminded that grace is a kindness NOT based on merit but based on someone else’s kindness.

The more I studied His incredible grace towards me, the more I gave up all the ideals that I had previously wished for my life and spent my life trying to achieve — and just embraced the life God had given me right then and there.

  • Without condemnation! For God no longer condemned me.
  • Without self-hate! For God loved me unconditionally!
  • Without guilt! For Jesus had erased my guilt!
  • God knew that I was imperfect (always had been) yet He still genuinely loved me.
  • God knew I still made mistakes, but there were none of them that weren’t fully forgiven.
  • Because I was forgiven, every punishment due to me was already paid by Jesus. 
  • Because I was reconciled to God, I would ALWAYS be acceptable in His sight!
  • Because His wrath was appeased, I no longer angered the God of the universe.
  • In fact, His word said that I now have peace with God and was a friend of God!
  • Because I was always and already acceptable, I no longer had to improve my behavior to be MORE acceptable or MORE pleasing to God.
  • Jesus had already made me fully acceptable to God.

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I could not make myself MORE righteous to God because my nature kept me from that standard of perfect righteousness, just like I could not become less depressed and more characteristically “BETTER” behaved because the nature of depression kept me from attaining that standard. In both spiritual and physical realms, I realized my helplessness to simply choose to change my nature! I was trapped in a scenario I didn’t like but which was true nevertheless.

When I challenge fellow depression sufferers that the most loving and kind thing they can do for themselves is to simply accept it, most initially reject my counsel.  You see, people feel like if they reject it, it gives them MORE control over it. They tell me, “but I don’t like it! I want to change it!” What they don’t understand is that depression cannot be beat! The illness is so pervasive that control is nearly impossible. What they are really saying is, “I’d rather keep beating my head against this wall.” The truth is that the only true freedom one can find in the miserable life of depression, as unthinkable as it sounds, is to lean into it. Own it; it’s an illness that God has allowed in your life. I didn’t like it! I hated it! But that didn’t mean fighting for the impossible of control was more admirable. It was just dumb. 

Is it right or good to be okay with yourself?

Embracing the reality of my condition (leaning into my depression) doesn’t mean that everything I did in depression was right or good. Being okay with myself didn’t mean I felt justified for anything I was doing; it didn’t make anything that was wrong right! And grace does NOT justify anything you are doing; it is a kindness shown to you IN SPITE of what you are doing! Accepting the grace of God doesn’t mean you think He justifies your sin; it means He justifies you in spite of your sin. 

You see, some of us learned when we were little that we could only be loved unconditionally when we were good, behaved good, did good things or otherwise had earned the privileges from being good. So this goes against everything that we had learned. But GOD’S GRACE loves us unconditionally when there is STILL nothing good in us! Being okay with myself was my way of showing myself kindness I didn’t have to earn because I was imitating God’s grace towards me. It didn’t make the endless sadness happy. It didn’t take away the depression. But it gave me courage and hope to survive it. It gave me peace in the midst of the storm. “God is ok with me. God is ok with me. God is ok with me,” I whispered to myself.

It changed EVERYTHING for me! I finally experienced freedom in my depression because through the darkest hours, I believed God hadn’t let go of me. He hadn’t turned His back on me. He hadn’t abandoned me! He still loved me. He was still pursuing me. He had the power to hold on to me when I was delirious in my dark disease. And I believe now that my faith that God could love and accept me in spite of the darkness of my heart, in fact, pleased Him. I believe that He rejoiced when He got to remind me of His grace when my heart tried to object because depression didn’t look godly. It didn’t look spiritual. It reeked of the depravity of the human condition! But He pleased HIMSELF, He glorified HIMSELF, when He showed me grace because I gave up my right to be perfect and let Him be perfect. 

How do I know that is the heart of the Lord? Remember Ezekiel 20:44? 

“But you will know that I am the Lord, when I have honored MY name by treating you mercifully in spite of your wickedness”

Here’s an important concept to grasp: God’s grace wasn’t as much of a big deal to me before my depression because I was doing pretty ok without Him. I didn’t need His pity! I considered His mercy and grace pity for the weak and the broken. So, I denied the grace and mercy of God from touching me, the very attributes He Himself was longing to bestow, because I felt no desperation of need for it!

But after my depression, I can’t fathom a life without relying on His grace and mercy. You see, they became MUCH to me! They were the only way I could get up in the morning and take a breath. They were the only way I could face life and a future.

God became the only Person whose opinion mattered to me. For a person like me, who felt like she had never been and would never be “ENOUGH,” that’s a big deal. I had spent my whole life trying to live up to somebody or other’s expectations of me, not the least of them being my own, but pretty much, God’s acceptance of me became paramount. More important than anything else I wanted Him to be pleased with me!

What do we as women want more than anything? We want to be fully accepted, yes, even our true self that we don’t like to uncover. We want to be loved unconditionally, yes, even the unlovable self that we try to hide. We want to experience intimacy with someone. We want to know that we will never be alone. We want to know that there isn’t anything we can do that will make us lose the affection we so desperately long for. And while I didn’t have those things from everyone in my life, I had those things from the only One who mattered to me. “God the Just” justified me forever and always. He is the only One who could say, “there isn’t anything you could do to make me think less of you and there isn’t anything that YOU could do to make me love or accept you more.” My God was the One who knew every corner of my imperfect self and STILL chose to see the righteousness of His son in me!

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How could I be okay with me?

Some of you have a hard time even accepting God’s grace because you have been trained that it can only be received via your merit. Because, you see, grace isn’t fair. It doesn’t satisfy justice. It’s in spite of it. But once you can accept the grace of God in spite of your imperfection, then you too can abandon the chains that say, “I’m not okay.” If Christ can accept you as okay, then you can accept yourself as okay. You see, we only want to allow ourselves to be ok IF we deserve it. So, when God offers us grace, we often push it aside because we don’t think we deserve it. 

I learned that I could be okay with me because I finally understood that He would forever be okay with me. Every objection I could come up with had been satisfied. Every objection you could come up with has been satisfied. Every contingency is covered. It was like God stood on his throne and as fast as I could spit out my “But what about…..?” He’d say, “Covered! Paid for! Forgiven! Pardoned! 

If we turn everything on its head and start with God’s view of us:

The ultimate justice and righteous one, and if HE treats me with kindness (extends me grace) even when I don’t deserve it, then it gives me permission to do as God does and accept grace in my own life. And while it seems counterintuitive, the truth of the matter is that grace received breeds mercy in me, which gives me permission to treat others kindly even when they don’t deserve it either.

Here is the thing I want you to consider: 

While some may think it is more weak to accept imperfection (or even depression), I’m here to tell you that it takes more resolve and more confidence and a firm belief in the biblical gospel of grace to rest in God’s completed work of Jesus Christ to make you complete in Him (okay with Him), than it takes for you to work your fanny off trying to achieve some other type of perfection on your own merit. 

(To be continued)