Slowing Down

Parents…. we ask our kids to slow down, to grow a slower, please, don’t you know you’re breaking my heart?

Kids… they can’t slow down. They don’t know how.

But we can. Let the washing wait, take that sick day, get off your phone.

Slow. Down.

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Therefore

If I don’t write about this I am going to explode.

For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (x)

I’ve read Romans many times, but I confess I have not read it as one cohesive letter more than once or twice, and neither of those times did the context of Romans 8:1 jump out at me as it did this morning as I rushed to complete my Bible study lesson before tonight’s meeting.

We’ve been studying this letter for a few months now, and I think it’s the depth of study that has slowed me down enough to really grasp how Paul is building up to this great crescendo of Grace. And what verse in the Bible shows more grace than Romans 8:1? Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Yet all these years, though I’ve loved that verse and held onto it when I felt myself slipping into the mire of guilt, I somehow always thought of it as coming after some exposition of our justification with God through faith.

This verse does not come after the gospel message at all — nowhere in the preceding verses does Paul talk about the miracle of our identification with Christ through His death, burial, and resurrection. The entirety of the preceding two paragraphs before this life-giving verse is all about our very real and practical battle with sin, and why it is now a battle and not our identity.

In essence, we know that we are no longer under condemnation because we struggle with sin! We can be assured of our salvation when we wrestle and fight and cry out to God: wretched man that I am!

And while this may seem like an argument in favor of living a defeated life, it is so far from that; rather, this is an argument for living a life that is constantly seeking death to the flesh that wars against our new desire to please Christ. May we never grow so comfortable in our sin that we stop thinking we are at war with it. And may God’s grace be so evident to us that we cry out with gratitude for Jesus winning that final war, giving us confidence that this battle will not go on into eternity.

And may we take heart that as we struggle, we are confirming this truth: there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Tapestry or Artistry

There is a beautiful illustration that’s been around for ages about how life is like a tapestry, and on this side of Heaven we only get to see the underside — all the seams and strings. We don’t get to see the beautiful topside that God sees and is creating. It really is a beautiful idea, to think that where we see chaos, God sees what He’s making of it. It can be a relief to see all this as happening outside of our control, this big beautiful blanket woven around us.

But, what about those ugly seams we see and want to erase because Lord help me, that was me who cut that jagged piece? A tapestry is all God’s design, completely out of our hands, and while it’s comforting to think that we had no part in it, we see with painful clarity at times how untrue that is.

I’ve seen how painfully untrue that is for me. And as I consider the wounds I’ve inflicted and the damage I’ve caused, I feel like a child with dark crayon in hand — my clumsy, sweaty fingers grasping and pressing down as hard as I can. I let the wax build in dark, wide, ugly swatches. I seek to ruin; my heart is fixed on destruction. I don’t stop at paper’s edge; I mark the table, the chairs, the wall. I’ve done this in my life; I have left my angry mark on every last inch.

And it is easy to look on, after the emotion swell has receded, aghast at the ugliness I’ve made. It is easy to conclude that I have ruined it all, that my only hope is for God to wipe it all clean and start over, if that’s even possible. It is easy to drown in despair at the ruins, because there is no denying I did this.

This is where I found myself when I began to see the most beautiful thing. Instead of a tapestry — far above my head, out of reach, and untouchable — I saw Heaven come down to all that ugly mess I’d made. And I watched as out of the ugliest of streaks and blotches, He made art. Where I thought I had ruined everything, He used the tools only He has to shape and stretch and recolor marks made with anger and malice. He took the very things I used for destruction and made them beautiful.

But this is what struck me, as I stood there with dark crayon in hand, eyes wide and brimming with tears of awe, gratitude, and reverence. He did not take the crayon out of my hand. As He, humming joyfully, worked with the marks I swore I’d never make again, He nudged me to draw a little more, a little better this time, like this. He knew I would make these marks, even though it was not His decision. He was not surprised. And He was not upset with me for marking, only calling me to draw better.

And this is the beauty and the weight of this life, that we are constantly marking. We are drawing as we go, and we have a choice of how we draw. But this is not our drawing, it is God’s. And I used to think the best I could do is to tread lightly and shine brilliantly for God, but He did not create us for this. Creator God formed us in His image — and so we create. We draw. We mark. On His canvas. And He takes those marks we make and incorporates them into a drawing of which we can only see a tiny portion now. He picks up the bits and pieces we scratch out in our passion and the doodles of our absentmindedness, and He uses them.

Many times He so alters our work we cannot even pick it out from His greater design, and we thank Him in breathless wonder for His perfection, the way He knows so much better than we do. But ever so rarely, we draw in just the right shape and color, in  just the right spot. and we watch with awestruck humility as God uses our little doodle just as we drew it. One day, possibly long into eternity, when the canvas is complete and all the Saints gather round to see what God has done, I hope to hear God say, “And this is where my child drew, and it was just what I imagined should go there.”

Refuge

How do I say this? For the first time in a long time, I am not dissuaded from writing by the realization that writing cannot be my refuge.

Writing has been a refuge for me for as long as I could write. I have turned to the blank page as my confidant and impartial listener. I’ve written prayers and plans. I’ve scribbled my life sucks in permanent marker and drawn hearts the next day. I’ve scratched out (terrible) poems and jotted random ideas. Made lists. Raged in a way that I think I know has scared people. The blank page has been the place I could go to sort out my feelings and understand myself a little better — for years. So many years. Years represented by books upon books filled with words upon words.

I’ve gone through so much that has pushed writing to the margins for me, made me doubt my own voice — a scary thing for someone who identifies as a “writer”. And I’ve even passed off my silence as spiritual. I can’t see why God would have me write. I’ve seen this process of tapping out words as selfish, self-indulgent, an escape. And maybe it has been at times. But it’s also a way to testify to this Christ who I forget so often is not real to so many people. In all I write, whether its theme is particularly spiritual or not, is this thread of grace.

I’m not ever going to be a Christian blogger. I don’t have my life together enough to hold up as any kind of example, and I’m not into handing out cute little life lessons packaged as blog posts. This type of writing is inspirational and I am an avid reader of these types of blogs. They are like a soulful oasis in a desert of snark and sass. But it’s not me. And maybe, I’m finally realizing, that’s okay.

Because writing is not my refuge, I can write from a place of refuge. There is freedom in placing my heart in the right hands. When I rush to the blank page in search of healing, I do find a shadow of that substance. Something vaguely resembling healing comes out of putting words to the jumble of feelings in my mind. But it’s a short-lived experience; I must come back again and again, rehash the same things over and over. When I run to Christ, He has a way of settling things.

And tonight, He has settled something that has left me unsettled for years: why to write at all.

 

Thoughts about depression, medication, and hope

I’ve taken Prozac and Zoloft. I was diagnosed with dysthymia when I was twelve years old. Psychiatrists often seem surprised at the young age for the diagnosis, they question it, and after a few visits they end up agreeing with it.

It has always concerned my therapists that I don’t have any interest in taking antidepressants beyond the length of time it takes me to feel better. I think the longest I’ve stayed on antidepressants was a few years while I was in a relationship that lends credence the quote: “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.”

I’ve been suicidal. I’ve thought things that have actually scared me, made me afraid of myself, of what I would do to escape the torment of feeling so deeply ruined and ruinous that I deserved to die. And the thing is, that feeling isn’t even what depression is. Depression is the ruts of thinking ingrained so deeply in your soul that lead down paths that, at best, end with a grit-your-teeth determination to be better and do better and at worse end in feeling sweet relief at the thought of being gone, of life ending and the world carrying on without you.

Depression is not the feeling, it’s the ruts.

The medication cannot change those all-too-familiar routes your mind takes when it wanders. Psychiatrists know this, which is why they strongly encourage therapy and in some cases require it. For a long time, even though I knew depression isn’t cured by antidepressants, I saw no problem with doctors prescribing them for long-term use without requiring therapy. I know I personally had not been helped by any psychologist. No offense to the nice people I’ve met who attempted to help me. I’ve had some good times and some interesting thoughts come out of therapy sessions. But I thought it was okay that some people just needed the medicine, because, I’ve often quipped, depression is a disease.

But if depression is a disease, why are doctors so hell-bent on treating the symptoms and not on healing the person afflicted with it? This could start an entirely new rant about the state of health care and the lack of preventive care in general, how we treat our bodies with contempt and expect our bodies to reward years and years of abuse with never failing on us. But I’ll leave it at that. The thing that boggles my mind is that we would have a disease that afflicts so many people and have no apparent interest in finding a cure. Is it possible that pharmaceutical companies make too much money off keeping the population medicated?

I say all this as someone who has taken antidepressants and honestly would not feel any shame in taking them again for a time if I needed to. I say this as someone who has family members with a lifetime prescription for antidepressants. I say this as someone who believes we need to erase the stigma attached to mental disease. It is no more a reflection of one’s character to become suicidal than it is to get cancer. But cancer is not a disease of the heart/mind and depression is not a disease of the body. Different solutions for different problems.

The only ‘therapy’ that has ever helped my depression in a meaningful way is Biblical counseling. I’m not cured, but like an alcoholic I can say I am in recovery. Some days are harder than others. Some days I think I’ll never have to fight those dragons again; other days I think I will never be free of the thoughts that I wish I could disown. I often think that depression is the only way God could find to keep me humble, because when I start to feel like I’ve left depression in the past I start to get a little too preachy and lot less empathetic. He uses all things for good; I know that much. And maybe the only good that will come of me spending over a month in crippling fear and terrorizing loneliness, isolation, and agony of the soul is this blog post, these writings. Maybe the only good that will come of me navigating these choppy (sometimes terrifyingly unpredictable) waters is this voice I’ve found to speak loud and clear to anyone who feels like they are alone: I hear you. I see you. And I can tell you, I can show you, that there is always hope.

Whether you’re resisting medication or determined that you’re a lifer for antidepressants, I urge you to not stop until you are in full recovery. Stop doing the bare minimum to be ‘functional’. Don’t sell yourself short. You were created to be a shining star, a vibrant bundle of joy, and by the grace and power of God alone this is possible for you – yes, even you. And, astonishingly, even me.

Music, or Time Travel

On this day in 2011, I shared a song on Facebook that I was enjoying at the time. I hesitated clicking on that link. I have a lot of oppressive memories of that time in my life. Cringing when I heard the familiar gravel of a voice that used to intrigue me, I almost closed out of that window. But I hesitated, because the mellow guitar intro had somehow brought me back to a time before . . .

Before the disappointment swell, before the rock bottom, before the loss of purpose, before the loss of identity — long before. Those days when I was fighting sin with fire and force, when I breathlessly contemplated an entire life of self-sacrifice. I swear I got high on the thought that I could be like Mother Theresa, only to my family and friends — arguably a more noble sacrifice than giving to strangers.

I had moved my mom and best friend into a rental house on a better side of town and I had started college, and with a little extra from my students loans I bought a Mac. I had a corner desk unit that tucked nicely into the space at the foot of my bed, a futon I set on cinder blocks. I would slide the plastic accordion door closed to my basement bedroom and write for hours — posting on Livejournal, writing for school assignments, writing in whatever text editor program Mac had at the time.

And on that Mac, I had so much music. This is back when it was always better to download or burn music than to find it on Youtube and stream it. Remember buffering? Remember hitting the “pause” button and watching that little bar inch its way across the screen, trying to figure when it would be alright to push “play” so that it wouldn’t stop in the middle of the song? Remember when Netflix was a DVD service?

I’m old.

But I would sit there, typing stream of consciousness and making all these plans of how I was going to be this Better Person, and I would listen to Relient K and Third Day and Casting Crowns.

And this song I shared on Facebook back in 2011, just a year before I found myself doing the Worst Thing, it reminded me of this time three years earlier.

This time when I was wounded but trying to figure things out, hadn’t written myself off yet, still thought that with the right influences I could be “good”. And I guess that part of it is really bittersweet, because if I could go back I would have to tell this girl that she’s not ever going to be the saint she daydreams about. I’d have to tell her that this song she likes, about how God has always loved her, says infinitely more about God than it does about her. And although I know she wouldn’t listen, I would have to tell her that if she keeps fighting to conform to this image she’s crafted for herself of the Ideal Woman, she will not only fail but she will burn a lot of people in the process.

And despite all this, the words still hold true:

Don’t you know I’ve always loved you,
even before there was time
Though you turn away I tell you still
Don’t you know I’ve always loved you
And I always will.