Don’t Miss The Gift

I’m learning to live by two rules.

And in their fundamentalism, I believe that they hold the key to solving most, if not all, of my problems and sins and heart-breaks. And perhaps yours, too.

You see, God and I have this thing going lately, and up front I really hated the arrangement. I despise when I find myself alone in the middle of the day, finishing up lunch and wandering campus to find motivation to do anything that will occupy my time in an intelligent manner. Often I just wander, weighing the pros and cons of where to go and what to do, and I’ll make it across half the campus and realize that I didn’t look up from my shoes and thoughts the entire time.

You know when you’re driving home from work or from work to you’re favorite coffee shop, and when you get there you realize that you don’t remember a single moment of the entire drive? That you must have used your turn signal and stopped at red lights and turned on your windshield wipers, but you truly cannot recall a single one of those instances? Because, to you, it didn’t matter how you got there or what happened along the way, as long as eventually you arrived where you were planning to go.

That’s me, most every day for the past two years, as I have walked through life. All I find myself thinking about is where I’m going, and all is lost about where I am. I’m sure there were newborn babies in mother’s arms at the table next to mine, and bees eating pollen out of flowers and perfect, crisp breezes blowing fiery red leaves across my path, but did I ever stop to allow life to be all it is to me?

No. Not nearly enough, at least. Which is ironic, since surely, whenever I get to wherever I’m going, I will only be thinking about what is to come.

And where does that put life? Forever in my rearview mirror.

Missed.

Unappreciated.

Never enough.

I’ve blamed this behavior on a list of things. What can justify such a blatant lack of gratitude for the greatest gift given to man? My favorite excuse is my past. Is just too hard, too dark, too dirty. How can I move on? I’ve measured this world, and I’ve decided. It’s not good. How can it be? 

How can what has hurt me so bad be “good”? I don’t feel grateful.

And so I’m not.

And that leaves me the kind of person that can’t find the goodness of the world when it’s staring me right in the face. Because it is, always, staring me right in the face. But I miss it, far too much, for I’m too busy complaining to God about all of the terrible things that have happened to me.

 

But it’s in these moments, when I wander campus alone, that the LORD leads me to quiet corners and empty classrooms. And it’s there, in the midst of my screaming discontentment, He speaks. I’ve learned to recognize these moments as growing pains, the ache of Christianity in which God makes me holy, as He is holy. And sometimes, it hurts. Bad.

And today, I need some Heavenly-Ibuprofen.

But it’s in these moments that the LORD has taught me these two rules, showed me that my mind runs far too fast for the simplicity of His grace in my life. That the reason I find myself so anxious and overwhelmed so much of the time is because I’m taking on far too many burdens I was never meant to carry.

For God’s handbook, written to me, I am realizing can be paraphrases in 11 words.

  1. This life is the greatest gift.
  2. Life like you believe it.

You see, my stumbling block has been that I thought it was my job to measure whether or not this world was good, whether or not my life was good. And when I tried to make this daunting decision, I was always overwhelmed by all of the incredibly difficult blows this world makes. And day after day, I would come to the decision that it wasn’t. It wasn’t good.

And my heart would break and I would walk down perfectly good streets and find every single crack in the asphalt.

But God whispers to me. Take that burden off of yourself. It’s not your decision whether or not this world is good. It is good. I have declared it so. 

Do you believe that? 

I am not God, and the brunt of my anxiety stems from when I try to play Him. My problems are not in the difficulties of this life, but from the fiery, rampant discontentment growing in my heart. The rotting moss of my fearful heart grows from a life lived without gratitude for the gift of life that has been given to me.

How dare I walk through life with such an entitled mind? Like this world is mine to define, like my life is mine to control? How dare I walk through my days wishing I was anywhere else, doing anything else, when Jesus came to this Earth and died to give me this life? This very moment, this breathing in and out?

This life is not my own, for I was bought with a price.

Therefore I must glorify God with my body.

For when I don’t, I am telling God that it is not good. When I don’t, I am relying on my own fallen mind to determine the state of the world and my life.

When I don’t I am looking straight at my Savior dying on the cross and telling Him not to bother. I won’t appreciate the gift anyway.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.

John 10:10

This gift. Abundant life.

Bought with a price.

And this life is found not in pages of a planner and dreams of days to come. But it is found now, in this moment, as I wander the streets of campus on a Thursday afternoon.

And it is a gift.

Thank you, Lord. May I live like it.

Life On An Anti-Depressant: The Lies We Cannot Believe

Negative thoughts and beliefs are just that: thoughts and beliefs. They are not facts, and they do not need to be true.

Tricia Lott Williford

As humans, we do this thing. When someone tells us something about ourselves, we tend to believe them. We take their opinions upon ourselves and stamp labels on our chests.

We’re undesirable. Stupid. Ignorant. Unstable. Incapable. Unworthy. Sick. Lost. Why? Because somebody, at some point, in some way…

said we were.

Those thoughts have power. Power like I never could have imagined. Power you may understand way too well.

For me, those lies have come in the form of doctor’s prescriptions and sticky paper-plastered beds.

I never knew the power a doctor with a bottle of pills could have until I sat on the rumpled up paper of a doctor room bed and was handed a little orange bottle. Reading the label: Escitalopram. Lexipro. Antidepressants.

And in that moment, I wasn’t just Maddie, someone who has been sad lately. I was Maddie: doomed.

Maddie: unstable.

Maddie: incapable.

Maddie: sick. Forever sick.

Was I any of these things? No. Did I feel like I was? Yes, I really did.

It was like the depression I had been feeling was not only an imbalance of chemicals in my body, but it was an impenetrable diagnosis, one that consumed all of me and made me feel ashamed and humiliated.

And let me make one thing clear: depression is nothing to be ashamed of, nor is it a sin. It is a real thing – me of all people should know that. But it is also not an identity – never make it your identity.

You are not depressed. You may have dealt with what we call “depression”, but it is not who you are.

Because mental health does that to us, doesn’t it? It makes us hide. It uses shame in uncanny ways to make us think that we’re less than who God made us to be. It is the fertile soil for lies to grow into sprawling trees in our minds.

And we hold it in our secret places. We give it all the power to scrape us hollow from the inside out.

And so came the crushing blow as I did nothing to stop those lies from sinking deep into my pores, not knowing the earth-shaking power they had. It had nothing to do with what was happening in my body – I’m sure the pills actually helped – but it had everything to do with the way I began viewing myself. From that moment, those lies planted seeds deep into my mind and heart. I didn’t know how desperately I needed to uproot them.

I didn’t know what to do with them at all.

As I drove away from that doctor’s office, I let another’s opinion of me consume me. And when I say consume, I mean drop me to the ground, curl me into a ball, shatter all that I believed about my self consume me. Should I have felt unbearable shame at the thought of being on antidepressants? No. Did I? Oh dear, yes. I felt stamped, categorized, labeled, doomed.

Unstable. For the first time in my life, truly unstable.

I have learned a lot about negative thinking in the past 20 months of my life. It’s powerful. And when I say negative thinking, I am not referring to the sit-cross-legged-on-the-floor, think of birds and trees and clear your mind from all “negative thinking”.

No, I mean the kind of negative thinking that steers you on the track of ignoring or denying every Truth that has been spoken of you. I mean negative thinking that alters the way you live, implants lies deep into your mind, makes you believe you are far, far less than the capable, beautiful, upheld Child of God that you are.

Because you are, my friend, capable, beautiful, and upheld by the hand of the Lord. You are.

It’s a fact.

No questions asked.

No jury necessary.

I lived in fear for a long time. I thought I had to. I thought that as long as I took my daily “I’m-Weak-And-Doomed pill” (which I still do, by the way), that fear was a simple side effect. Because… doesn’t that mean I’m that girl now… the one who is depressed. “Oh, be careful with Maddie! She struggles with depression.”

So what? I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. Isn’t it time we accepted that fact?

Why should we be ashamed of being the “sick” that Jesus came to save?

It took me a long time to realize that I was the only one who had decided that my life had dissolved into a million pieces. Shame kept me locked up inside my own head for too long, but once I finally spoke, finally uttered those “horrific” lies I had come to believe, I realized that I was the only one that believed I was anything but brave.

“Why are you giving so much power to that doctor, Maddie?” My mom. “Take it back. It’s not his to have. You know who you are, now start living like it.”

You know who you are, now start living like it.

Start living like it. 

There comes moments in our lives that we have to choose who we’re going to believe. The first thing my dad said to me last year when I was at my worst: “I think it’s an identity problem.”

Identity problem? Come on dad, it’s a depression problem. It’s an anxiety problem. I can’t help the way I am. I’m sick. I’m trapped. I’m the victim. 

And God just shakes His head.

“Why do you live like you are less, daughter?”

Why do you live like you are less?

 

Life on an anti-depressant is just that: Life. You are not your medication. You are not your diagnosis. Those things are beautiful parts of your story, for the Lord redeems and uses all to build up our character and increase our hope.

But they are not our identities. They never will be.

Take the power back.

 

 

The Moments We Would Change

Things happen to us in our lives here on Earth.

Things that don’t make sense, things that hurt us in the deepest and most real ways. Things that unravel us and scream at us, telling us we’re something that we’re not. And we find ourselves one day, partaking in a conversation about life and fate with blue haired ladies at church or in the burrito line in our college cafeteria and the question is pondered,

What would you change?

“Nothing,” you hear someone say, “nothing at all.” And in some way, somewhere deep down, you admire their apparent acceptance of this turbulent life, but in another, very real way, your stomach drops

deep

down

into your gut as you think, in full assurance,

“I know exactly what I would change.”

I know the very moment.

And you see it. That moment. Those words. That accident or accusation or mistake. And the hurt poisons you as you stand in that line in the very same way it saturated your veins all of those days or months or years ago.

Yes. That is exactly what I would change.

Because these things happen, don’t they? We may not believe it, the power a moment can have, until it becomes a part of our story. I never knew until I found myself in a hospital room, identified as broken by the doctor with the fancy pen, back chilled by the unfortunate architecture of those gowns they make you wear. “Self-harm” thrown around like it was something that actually pertained to me. And yet I was there. I can still smell it.

Ask me, and I’ll say nothing makes you feel more broken than a hospital room. Nothing makes you feel more misunderstood than a diagnosis, especially a false one. And. Well, nothing makes you more vulnerable than allowing those moments to redefine who you are.

Forget the buckets of resiliency I possessed for the first 20 years of my life. When I left that day, I was weak. I was broken. Forever broken, if you asked me.

I gave the power to someone who didn’t deserve it, to someone who didn’t know me at all. To someone who called the ambulance in the blink of an eye, led me to it, and believed he was saving me from myself.

And I forgot, I completely forgot, who I was. I began to walk in fear, forsaking opportunities for adventure. I slept in on Saturdays so I didn’t have to get out of bed and face whatever terrifying thing existed in the world. I would walk by the array of fall colors on the trees and find some way to deny who they were.

Because after all, who was I?

I was broken, remember? I was weak.

Because he said I was weak. He said I was a quitter. And above his head, that fancy certificate proving that

he was right.

Right?

 

I’m done giving the power to liars – to The Liar. There are things that happen to us, friends, and they give us a choice.

Will we believe them?

My fingers shake as I write, fighting the good fight. Choosing to not believe them.

There are innumerable voices in this world. I used to think I was immune to the heart-stopping, life-altering affect they have in the lives of people. But we all are formed and altered by the voices we choose to believe.

I chose to believe that I was broken, doomed to that hospital bed, ruled by the woman that lay there. I believed that that was who I was, and that changed everything about every moment of my day since. I put fear on the throne of my mind and he took charge and I became exponentially less than who I am in every way.

I came back to school, convinced the people around me that I was “fine”. But the hardest person to convince was myself. Those people weren’t there, after all. They didn’t feel the utter panic of that moment, the one that painted my past with darkness. They didn’t stare blankly at the white hospital room walls. They didn’t wear the one-size-fits-all socks.

But it’s not them I have to convince. It’s me. I’m the one who decided that everything from that moment on was downhill. I’m the one that, for the past 10 months, has made residency in the false-claim of that day.

 

Because the truth?

The truth is that that day has made me more of who I am than I have ever been before. Forget flimsy pats on backs. I know what it is like to be wheeled in a gurney, treated not for a wound in my body, but for what they saw as a wound in my mind.

Was I hurting? Yes.

Should I have been there that day, marked as “unstable”, greeted by the friendly neighborhood crisis worker, and handed the red envelope on the way out?

Does it matter?

The truth is that it happened, and for better or for worse it is a part of my story. I can choose to dwell forever on who I was marked to be, or I can remember who I am. I can allow the trauma to swallow me whole (as it tempts to do), or I can remember that I have been given eyes I never believed I would possess.

This isn’t the time to go into the mental health system in our country. That may be for another post, at another time.

But I have learned, and choose to live, that no little orange bottle, no opinion of another, no doctor’s diagnosis, no trauma.

No thoughts.

Not even actions.

Nothing in this life can steal my identity away from me. I am a child of the King, a Christian, one who has chosen to follow the Lord of my Heart, the Savior who came and died so that I may have life abundant.

I am brave for He makes me brave.

I am strong for He makes me strong.

I am who He says I am, full of purpose and abounding in joy.

 

So what would I change?

Nothing. For I am more today than I ever imagined I would be.

 

God Amidst The Chaos: A Memoir To Thin Places

When we find a thin place, anytime, anywhere, we should live differently in the face of it, because if we don’t, we miss some of the best moments that life with God has to offer us.

Shauna Niequist

I’ve learned how easy it is to hate any moment of darkness, any difficult season in our lives.

When we are walking through the fire, there is an image in the front of our minds of the moment we walk out of the “furnace”, isn’t there? The time when it ends. When we escape the tortious moments we’ve lived. We all have them, I’m sure.

Don’t we?

We imagine ourselves out of the hospital, clear-headed, at peace. We’re skinny and healed, our bones in place, our mind at rest.

Nine months ago, I was home from school, battling what the doctors like to call depression. I like to call it sin nature. Or the effects of a fallen world on my earthly mind. Either way, I was sick. I will never forget those days, no matter how desperately I wish I could sometimes. I will never forget the night I first got home, how I laid sideways on the couch, head on my mother’s knee.

She stroked my hair. Something played on the TV. Dishes clacked in the kitchen. But I was somewhere else, fighting a battle in my brain that I never imagined I ever would.

No one ever told me how distant reason can be in a fighting mind. Or how your eyes can be every bit open but it’s as if they have forgotten how to register light. I tried to wave my hand in front, but the fidgeting of my fingers was lost amongst the midst of my pain.

That’s the way I describe those days. Painful. And terrifying.

I couldn’t hold the tears in that first night home. I had left my friends at school, my notebooks, my sense of purpose, and a waning stream of my dignity.

They streamed past my face.

“I can’t do it, mom.” I whispered. The floodgates of my raging emotions finally let loose as I let myself feel the slow fall of the past months.

She looked at me.

“I don’t know how to do it.”

 

It. This. Life.

Fighting a battle that is beyond myself. I have always been confident and purposeful, long strides and head high. But that night, for the first time in my life, it was more than me. It was swallowing me. It: the doctor’s diagnosis, my present circumstances, the sadness, the singleness, the disappointments, and every small moment of my story that had lead up to that night.

It is a terrible and frightening lesson to learn, the one that we are human. We are fragile. We are weak. And there are days, many days, where we run to the end of our own chain.

 

I learned this week about thin places.

It’s an old Irish tradition. Thin places are the spaces on earth, or the moments in time, where the sacred meets the secular, the holy kisses the ordinary. They’re places where God is close by. Where you can see Him, more than you could before. That something lined up, and two moments met, and something special crashed together in order to allow you to have even the smallest glimpse of the Most Holy.

That month I was home last year? That was a thin place.

I see it now. At the time, all I wanted was out. I hated the diagnosis, hated being called depressed, hated the pain and confusion and darkness. I hated being viewed as less than whole. I hated leaving the doctor’s office with a small orange bottle in my hand.

But every morning, out of the burning desperation in my heart to find light out of anything, I would rake the Bible, demolishing pages at the hand of highlighters and ballpoint pens and tears. My decaf coffee would cool as I could do nothing but cry out to my God. I learned how to cry that month. And there are a million other stories I could tell about that time, a million lessons learned, but today I want to speak of only one.

My thin place.

I found God in those days. The tan sectional in the living room of our Pennsylvania house transformed from my prison to my homecoming. I could be nothing there but myself. I wasn’t a student. I wasn’t a peer. I wasn’t a resident’s assistant or intern. I was hardly a friend, as I had left them in Ohio.

But I was God’s. And He was mine, in that thin place.

It was the most painful time of my life, that standing in the Holiest of Holies. Being nothing but Forgiven, not a fragment more than Grace.

 

I still find my thin places from time to time.

I couldn’t make it through class today. Sometimes, in the midst of moving forward, out of that season of last year, I am catapulted back to the girl on the couch. Sometimes it is the emotions of others or the minor chords of a song, or the conversation that the professor chooses to dwell on during class.

Sometimes I’m brought back. And I have to move. I have to do something.

And today that meant standing up, out of my squeaky desk chair, and taking a walk. I needed Jesus. I can tell because I get that same feeling I had as I curled up next to my mom.

The ache of sadness, the heaviness of life.

And today it found me crouched down near a wall, phone in hand, Bible app opened, reading aloud amidst the cavernous staircase of the academic building.

2 Corinthians 12:9 – “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Voice echoing off of the cinder block walls, tears coming to the front of my eyes. The unstoppable, undeniable Truth of my precious Savior began to do its work, transforming every part of me and comforting the restless, childish soul that I own.

And I realized. A thin place. There, in my least favorite building on campus. Breathing the same air that desperation blew out only minutes ago.

But that is exactly where God loves to find us, isn’t it? When we’re finally quiet enough to hear Him? Finally blind enough to see Him? It makes me rethink. What is good? And what will be made good, building up into one of the greatest blessings we could ever ask for?

A glimpse of the Most Holy, the Prince of Peace, my Savior and friend. Jesus.

 

 

I Have Known Many Dead Waiting To Die

My bedroom walls are light blue, the color of the sky as I see it through my window.

I sit this morning on my bed, window open, oversized coffee cup in hand. Bibles and journals strewed around me, half filled, pen stained. Mornings are for wisdom-seeking, God-chasing. Trying to be quiet.

I painted my walls the sky for that reason. Four days ago, pumping music loud, paintbrush in hand, I stayed up late so that they would be just the right color when the sun came up. I wanted to wake up each morning to light, to sun, to sky. So I walked up to the paint man in the paint store and told him I wanted the sky on my walls.

I’ve been searching hard these days. I want to find it more than buried treasure, more than my dreams, wealth, grades. I want it the moment I wake up and as I do laundry and write papers and laugh with friends.

Joy.

Unquenchable, ever present, with me. Joy.

As a child, I celebrated joy in the light. I knew nothing but my mother’s love and freshly mowed grass and TV after school and so I thought nothing of it but somehow regarded it as mine in someway. I was happy so I had joy. I went to church so I had joy. I was regarded highly so I had joy.

But life is not always in the light.

My greatest love for my God is how He views my brokenness. My dirt. Mud. Life in shards, as it sometimes is. Those moments that you look back on your last few days, months, years, and see yourself slowly falling into nothing, forgetting any sense of who you are.

And you lie there one day, blinking into reality, and realize that you are a pile of broken pieces, scared. At a loss.

“I have known many dead waiting to die”, Ann Voskamp says. And I know, it is only for Jesus that I am not one of them. I have known death – not physical, but real. Death inside of me, the kind that forgets hope, feeling the darkness shroud me from anything that once beat blood into my heart. Burn out, real and present, sucking the life from me.

But I was struck, hard, as I sat in Truth for a moment. Jesus. That is why He came, isn’t it? I have known many dead waiting to die. “But I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full”.

Life.

Five months ago I sat in a mid-sized doctor’s room and was handed my first bottle of anti-depressants. How did I get here? Mouth clenched, living in a bubble of anxiety, trapped. And so I took that bottle like it was my Living Water, prayed for strength as I awaited the three weeks for the meds to kick in.

I think back to a year before, dark theatre and panic coursing through me. Unknown to me at the time, that was only the first wave in a year of storms. Thrashing, trying to toss water overboard, I clutched the theatre seat and saw only waves, vaguely having the mind to remember another’s description of a panic attack. “Jesus!”, closing my eyes I cried upward, “do you not care that I am perishing??”

Thinking He was miles away, forgetting that He was simply below the boat napping. Ever with me, all knowing.

And yet I fought, for a year, as if an army was chasing me. Panic. Anxiety coursing through my veins, becoming my blood. Every day, waking to a dimmer world. Afraid. Any concept of trust in my Lord vanquished, gone. I was led by my fear, driven by shadows. I ate of distrust. I was alone with the darkness I prescribed to me.

I have known many dead waiting to die. My mind was dead waiting to die.

“… but Jesus…”

But Jesus.

I am in love with His eyes. Tear stricken, as I sat in this Truth yesterday. Any pride I once had gone, I know my real place. I know my zombie-identity, my inability to find light, save myself. I was in the ship, going down. Scooping frantically to throw water overboard, feeling the fatigue set in.

The diagnoses came. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Depression.

How did I get here?

 

The greatest paradox of all time. Aside from salvation, the more you fall into darkness the more you are lost.

But with Jesus, Sweet Jesus, the farther and farther you fall, the more and more He can use you. The more broken, more humiliated. When you are at the end of yourself. That, my friends, is when you are exactly where He wants you to be.

Incredible.

Four months ago, I lay on my couch, head in mom’s lap. Tears. Depression clouded my vision, panic pulsated through my heart down to my toes. I cried and tried to apologize because I didn’t understand, didn’t know how I got there.

Forehead stroked by mom, nose running, I knew. I needed one thing and only one thing. To get back to school, to find rest for my mind, to see past the dark cloud, for independence from the pills. This is a fight, and I needed only one thing.

Hope.

For I have known many dead waiting to die, and I wasn’t going to be one of them.

I am not one of them.

Because Jesus saw me then, and day by day I began to hear His whisper.

You are still in My plan. In fact, now, in your brokenness, you are closer to it than you have ever been before. Trust. Daughter. Trust.

 

And so I painted my walls sky blue because I can. Today I am saved, from lies, from mind-death. I want a blue sky on a rainy day because I have learned to seek beauty.

Freedom. Mind clear, pills simply a formality. I have found healing that can only come from the Messiah.

But I am humbled, because I know. Without my God, my Light, my Life, I don’t know where I would be. I feel I would still be in my mother’s lap, crying into the darkness.

And somehow, I know that is the point. I am nothing without my Jesus, empty without His Water, dark without His Light.

I have known many dead waiting to die.