This Post I Don’t Want to Write

Agony

Gentle Reader,

As with all stories, it’s best to begin at the beginning.

I’ve struggled against anxiety for as long as I can remember, and most of the time anxiety has won. I can remember being six years old and flying into panic at the news of a standardized test all the first graders at my school were required to take. Convinced of failure, I couldn’t sleep the night before and broke out in head-to-toe hives. As I grew older, any conflict with a playmate or a teacher sent me spinning.  In my later teen years, I began to have panic attacks and what one ER doctor referred to as a “seizure-like episode.”

You would never know any of this about me if you weren’t directly exposed to it. Anxiety is an intense feeling, arising out of deep sensitivity – a sensitivity that I’ve achieved a Ph.d in masking. This suppression of emotions feeds into the anxiety, perpetuating the cycle and making it all the more difficult to break. I could be about to hyperventilate in terror, and, unless you knew me very, very well, you’d never even see it on my face.

This is, of course, a very simple summary of my life thus far. I’d rather not present you with the nitty-gritty, for that would take a book. What I’d really like to tell you about today is the state of my present existence.

On Good Friday of this year, I sat in the back of my church and had a panic attack, the first I’d had in at least three or four years. How on earth could a Good Friday service make me skip into flight-or-fight mode? How could the candles, the music, the Scripture reading make me feel like I was going to have a heart attack? That’s the thing with anxiety. It knows no rhyme or reason.

I was very frightened by the intensity of the attack. That evening, I unloaded on my husband for hours, not in anger, but in desperation. Something in that Good Friday service triggered a flood within me. All of the anger, the fear, the sorrow and the pain that I had tried to push down for so long came bubbling up to the surface without warning. Chris and I decided that it was important for me to see a counselor and work through some of these issues. I knew that I especially needed to learn better coping skills.

It didn’t take long for my counselor to refer me to a psychiatrist for medication. Her theory after a couple of sessions is that I was, in a sense, “born this way.” She believed that there were physical, chemical imbalances in my brain that had worsened with age and conditioning. Like the dutiful person I am, I made the appointment.

And came out with four diagnoses.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Panic Disorder. Major Depressive Disorder. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

That’s a lot to take in, and the only way I could process it was through dark humor. I told my husband, who was diagnosed with Clinical Depression four years ago and takes medication everyday, that I “won” because he’s only got one mental illness and I have four. So I started on the medication and began working through worksheets to help me think about my thoughts (do you ever do that?) and examine them to see if they were truthful or not.

As of this writing, I’ve been in counseling for two months, been on the first round of medication for almost four weeks and will probably be switched to another, have spent hours staring at the wall in a daze and haven’t wanted to do much but sleep. Then, yesterday, came another blow: My psychiatrist suggested I do some blood tests to see if my hormones were in proper balance, as they play a crucial role in anxiety and depression for women. At 4:50 p.m. on August 1, I spoke with my gynecologist by phone and was told that I needed testosterone cream (which I refer to as “man cream” and wonder if it will give me a beard so I can go make some money on the side by joining the circus – again, the dark humor) and that there is a very good chance I will need fertility drugs if I ever want to get pregnant.

I hate to be cliche, but when it rains, it pours.

Here is what I really want you to know in all of this:

1. I do not want your pity.

That is probably the worst and most insulting thing you can possibly give to someone who is walking through a valley, and I regret ever doing it to others. What someone like me needs is genuine friendship and understanding.

2. I do not need you to fix me.

I have Jesus for that. I have professionals who know and love Him. I covet your prayers and your love, but not your designs or plans.

3. Mental illness is not a lack of faith.

Go ahead and write to me about this. Tell me I need to pray more. Tell me I need to exercise more faith. Go ahead. I will then send you my journal, which contains more gut-wrenching and heartfelt prayers over the course of the last two months than in the last ten years. I can say without hesitation that my faith has never been stronger, that I have never been closer to God.

That being said, I do recognize that anxiety and depression can fuel sin or make certain temptations easier to fall to. So while I don’t need your criticism, I do need your loving questions and a community of accountability.

4. Taking medication is not a sin.

If you had diabetes, you’d probably watch your diet and take insulin shots, right? Would that be wrong, or would you justify that decision by saying that God heals in all sorts of ways? I’m so sick of the hypocrisy in the church when it comes to antidepressants. * Insert Sarcastic Tone Here * Oh, yes, not admitting to problems and not taking medication to help with the physical deficiencies in the brain will just make it all go away.

5. Get help. 

If you know that you have a problem with anxiety or depression, get help. You’re not helping yourself or anyone else by refusing to do so. You’re not a special martyr for Christ by “putting the needs of others above your own.” That’s a twisted understanding of Scripture. God never says that you shouldn’t take care of yourself. If you persist in complaining about problems and refusing to do anything about them, I will very lovingly but very firmly tell you to stop talking if you won’t move forward. I stayed stuck for a long, long time. It’s pointless and, frankly, many of us do it for attention.

6. Childlessness is not a sign of rebellion. 

This last one is probably where I get most hot under the collar. I have never had a desire to be pregnant, and I wonder now if that lack has been a blessing from God. I am not devastated by the news that it may be especially difficult for me to get pregnant. I’ve long had a desire to adopt, and hopefully will be able to do so in the future. Barrenness or chosen childlessness is not a sign of a curse or a sin in every case.

I’d like to conclude this post by having you read Ezra 3:8-13, with special emphasis on 12-13:

Now in the second month of the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, Jeshua the son of Jozadak,  and the rest of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all those who had come out of the captivity to Jerusalem, began work and appointed the Levites from twenty years old and above to oversee the work of the house of the LORD. Then Jeshua with his sons and brothers, Kadmiel with his sons, and the sons of Judah, arose as one to oversee those working on the house of God: the sons of Henadad with their sons and their brethren the Levites.

When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD:

‘For He is good,
For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.’

Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of the fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this temple was laid before their eyes. Yet many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard afar off. (NKJV)

The generation coming out of captivity was glad to have a place of worship once again, regardless of its lack of grandeur. The older generation, fewer in number and also coming out of captivity, mourned the lack – but the joy of the larger group drowned out their cries. This is where I stand today. It is plainly and painfully obvious that my life isn’t going to look like any of the lives of the women around me. There might be some who cry out in mourning because I don’t fit the mold – but my joyful embrace of these days that God has so graciously given me will drown them out.

I have surveyed the Valley of the Shadow. I know deep and searing pain. I wear tortuous fear on my back. But I walk, step by slow and deliberate step, with my Savior who lights just enough of the path for this day. I understand what it means to rejoice in suffering, for this intimacy with the King is infinitely precious to me, and I would not have it without this sorrow. He is loosening my chains and teaching me to hold tightly to truth.

And I am unapologetic.

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He-man, Hosea, Gomer and Me

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Gentle Reader,

This morning I punch at anxiety, but my jabs are weak. I’m tired of this battle. I’m ready to give up, give in, run away. Whatever it might take to silence the incessant noise of fear. Heman the Ezrahite (you had no idea that He-man was biblical, did you?) and his Psalm 88 are my good friends right now. There’s nothing like a good, fist-shaking lament when you’re feeling edgy.

There’s also nothing like a little knowledge. In Hosea 4:6, God tells the prophet that His people are being destroyed from the lack of it. What an interesting dedication to make to a man who’d had a whole lot of knowledge dropped on him via his marriage to a faithless prostitute named Gomer – he literally had to buy her out of bondage at one point.

The story of Hosea and Gomer is meant to be a portrait of God’s faithfulness toward His wayward people. This is all about knowledge; what you don’t know (or what you refuse to know) can definitely harm you in many ways. Gomer couldn’t or refused to understand that her husband loved her. She eventually left Hosea, convinced that the lies she did comprehend were better than the truth that seemed all too much. I can’t imagine that Hosea was particularly happy about her lack of love and trust. What man would be?

People are destroyed for lack of knowledge.

Hosea and Gomer both draw the reader to a long look in the face of God. He again is telling His people that He longs for them to return to Him, and what will happen if they don’t. He never leaves them in the dark about the consequences of their actions, whether for good or for ill. I ask you, what kind of God is this, the Lord who loves us so unendingly and faithfully? The Savior who suffers? The King who clearly defines the law?

Nobody else in the world is like that. Nobody else will give us chance after chance. Nobody will unceasingly work to draw our attention and affection. In a way, that shames me. God is God! By simple virtue of His existence, I should drop to my knees in awe. But, no, I need some kind of deal. Praise Him that He understands our fallen nature!

The pictures of Heman in his lament, Hosea in his prophecies and Gomer in her running all coalesce within my frantic heart to form a unique mosaic. The fist-shaking, the crying out and the faithlessness are things that God uses to quiet the soul. That may not seem to make sense, but I see in these three people our very real need to have the poison of sin and sorrow extracted from us by any means possible. And God will use any means. He has the ability and the desire to take our worst decisions and turn them around for His glory and our good.

I don’t know why, but that brings some peace to my aching chest. That slows my breathing just a little. I can close my eyes and unclench my fists. Will there be a battle today? Yes. Will I be anxious? Probably. Will I be in this place forever? Certainly not. God is here, through all the cycles of anger, repentance, fear and, finally, hitting the bottom of the pit with a thud. He extends His forever-reaching hand to me, and is ready to pull me out.

That’s the knowledge we need to keep from being destroyed. We need to know that God is utterly holy, which means He’s whole. He’s not like anyone else. He is faithful and true. Forever. He can be trusted and always knows the best way to go. He’ll never lead us up a mountain or down in a valley without holding us close through the obstacle.

Heman, Hosea, Gomer…me.

And you.

My journey to faith. (15)

What Only Jesus Can Be

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

For years I hated the phrase “quiet time.” I hated how super-spiritual people seemed when they’d talk about getting up early to read the Bible and reflect on what they were learning. I was convinced that they were full to the brim with self-righteous nonsense.

Then the last couple of weeks happened.

Oh, let’s rewind for a minute. I have long been a journaler. As a visual learner, it helps me to see the words of a situation or twisted knot of feelings flow out onto the page. Many times I have been able to avoid saying something incredibly stupid because I’ve already spit it onto the page. I can see how that sentence would affect an already-tense time. I can see how I’m trying to be intentionally hurtful. My friend’s mother calls this “getting the poison out,” and it’s a very necessary part of living.

About two years ago, I began addressing these journal entries, “Dear Lord.” Since I’m very much afflicted with spiritual ADHD and can’t pray silently in my head for the life of me, it made sense to me to turn these words into a conversation with God. Yes, He already knows what’s going on, but He’s gracious enough to want to hear my side of the story. I love that. Eventually I added some Bible reading in there and would jot down a bit of what I thought God wanted me to know. Still, this journaling or “quiet-timing” was very uneven. I’d have a few good months, then I’d quit. I’d feel guilty and start again. Back and forth it went.

Now, back to these last couple of weeks.

Nothing has happened in these recent days that is out of the ordinary. Work, church, some family and social time. A little writing. Yet I have been feeling quite lonely, and, if I’m honest, it’s been coming for some time. Little by little. It doesn’t matter if I’m in a crowd of friends. The feeling persists.

One day this feeling was so overwhelming to me that, when I sat down to write in my journal, all I could think to do was draw a picture of a crying sheep. (You must imagine the work of  a not-particularly artistically gifted first-grader as you go here with me). I put that sheep in a sitting position, tears streaming from it’s eyes. Underneath I wrote, “Come get me, Your little lost sheep.”

It’s like that was what God had been waiting for all along.

Ancient shepherding practices involved the breaking of a wayward sheep’s legs. This was done not to simply harm the animal, but so that the shepherd could pay it extra-special attention. The sheep would be slung around the shepherd’s neck as it healed, giving the shepherd ample time to change the habits of the sheep. He would speak to the sheep, make sure it was protected and care for it tenderly. When the sheep was ready to walk on its own again, it would often remain very close to the shepherd, convinced of his safety and love.

That’s the kind of shepherd Jesus is. I have come to believe that He has specifically ordained this feeling of loneliness to drive me to Him. My heart has always been “two sizes too small,” but it is now daily being filled with intense and Divine love as I quietly lay my head against the Shepherd’s shoulders. I asked Him awhile ago to smash through my pride. I never imagined He would do that by breaking my heart – and reshaping it.

The truth is, I have looked to other people to be what only Jesus can be, and He won’t have any kind of idolatry, no matter how unknowing, in the life of one of His little sheep. This loneliness, I am beginning to believe, has been borne out of the frustration that people are disappointing. I mean no offense in that. I haven’t stopped loving anyone. It’s just that I walk around each day with this huge, gaping hole, and I’ve been asking mere human beings to fill what only God can fill. That is 100% of the time always going to lead to disappointment and heartache.

This is revelatory for me. I need relationships with other people, yes, but I NEED to be satisfied in Christ first. To allow Him to lavish upon me the kind of adoring affection He longs to give to His little sheep. To give Him my first and best love.

Does that make you uncomfortable? It did me for years. I don’t like the “mushy stuff.” Ah, but that’s a big part of what God is about! As I learned this week in the Breaking Free study, God wants the heart just as much as He wants the head. He wants the emotion just as much as He wants the devotional commitment. Our relationship with Him is to be based in so much more than just thankfulness and respect.

I love Jesus. I mean, I LOVE Jesus. He is just the coolest. He can’t ever fail. I think He’d be the funniest guy at a party. I’d love to see Him swing some kids around. I long to sit at His feet and learn. He’s begun a good work in me, and He’s not going to quit until it’s finished, for His glory and my good. I am learning that there is nobody more delightful to be around. “Quite time” is no longer a duty, but a joy. I get to spend time with the Love of my life!

That’s what He gives to me as I lay on His shoulders. Divine discipline is never borne out of meanness. God knows that I need to know about His unfailing, unconditional and unflinching love. He is not surprised by my weakness. He doesn’t mind when I ask Him for all the things I ask Him for – love, wisdom, patience, etc. Again as I learned in Breaking Free, He delights to give us the things that are in His will.

This more-comfortable-in-the-intellectual-world woman might not ever be what the world or even some in my life considers to be very demonstrative in affection, but I know that my heart is growing. I think that there might even be a day when I don’t care if someone sees me shed a tear or two. God is changing my “want to,” and that is all that matters.

He sings over me – and you. He brushes the hair out of my eyes – and yours. He lights the way. He gives the commands. He is Love.

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Woman, Do You Know Who You Are?

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Gentle Reader,

This one’s for the girls, though men would do well to read and understand.

We live in a society that demoralizes and dehumanizes women. In this supposed era of liberation, women are still essentially valued for their physical characteristics. The ideal woman is a Size 2 (or even a 0 – think on that; you are encouraged to literally become nothing), has thick hair, preferably blonde or at least a lighter shade of brown or red, possesses perfectly symmetrical features (and her eyes really should be blue). Her skin never breaks out, her waist is impossibly small, her boobs surgically enhanced, her skin golden. If she is smart, she hides it. She is “sexy,” not feminine, which usually means lots of skin, accompanied by a hard-edged expression that often goes unnoticed. If she has had children, she must not have stretch-marks, sagging breasts or a flabby tummy.

If she is smart, she hides it. Ladies, this is so true. Look at women like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Whether you agree with her politics or not isn’t the point here; she is derided for being successful and intelligent. If her dream is to be a wife and mother, working within the sphere of the home, she is also scoffed at. Essentially, you cannot have a career and you cannot not have a career.

You must work out but you must not sweat. Your home must be neat but nobody should ever see you clean it. Your clothes should be name-brand and you should never wear something more than once. You should cook five-course meals (but you should never really eat). You should have a French manicure. You should wear a bikini.

Is anyone else tired of being a punching bag?

We are bruised, used and abused, often more literally than we’d care to admit.

You who read this, I have no idea where you are in relation to God or what you believe about the supernatural, but let me tell you this: we have a very real Enemy who desires our harm. He doesn’t want us to catch a glimpse of what God longs to do for us. If we have a relationship with God, the Enemy doesn’t want us to understand or accept how God sees us.

Satan gets a great deal of mileage out of poking at women, all in the never-ending quest to believe that we are ugly and worthless.

What dark, candle-snuffing words.

We were created in the imago Dei, the image of God. We, as women, reflect something of the Divine that men do not. (Please don’t get into men-bashing. That isn’t the focus of this post, and degrading men has not and will not ever lead to health and healing for women). When we think of ourselves as trash, we spit in the face of the Creator. We tell Him that He didn’t know what He was doing when He made us. Instead of being blessed by all the different shapes and colors and sizes and varieties, we assume that He only finds one type lovely.

We ascribe to God the work of the Devil.

Think on that a moment.

You will not find a place in Scripture where God calls a woman ugly or worthless. Are women, just like men, made to suffer the consequences of their actions? Yes. Does the Bible even outright say that women can be punished by God for straying from His path? Yes. Yet these things NEVER give us permission to believe that God sees as the world sees.

We do not have to be defined by our society. We do not have to be enslaved to the demands of the scale, the store or the sensual. We don’t have to take a beating, over and over again, in the hopes of one day finally fitting into the mold. You see, it’s a fruitless occupation. The mold is ever-shifting.

Is it wrong to enjoy fashion or make-up? No. On the contrary; God made this world, and so I believe that He greatly appreciates beauty. Is it wrong to work to take care of ourselves, making sure that we do get proper exercise and that we’re eating healthy? No. Our bodies are a blessing and a stewardship. What we must learn is that we are ALREADY lovely. The make-up and the clothes and the exercise are there as tools for us to celebrate our existing beauty, not to drive us in the attempt to manufacture something unattainable.

Oh, if we could just believe that! If we could see ourselves as God sees us!

Those of us who know Christ, we are royalty. Princess brides. Pure and spotless.

I sincerely hope you understand. We are beautiful, created to be filled with grace and dignity. If we know Christ, this is our status – we must take it. If we don’t know Christ – we must reach out to Him, because being a princess bride has got to be better than anything the world has to offer.

My journey to faith. (15)