Whatever Is True

Last week in therapy, the very first question my therapist asked me caught me off guard: “What is something good that happened this week?” I’m embarrassed to admit that it took me far longer to come up with something than it should have (and then what I did come up with is the fact that I am changing medications for what seems like the 800th time. Hooray for progress?). I was not prepared to immediately think of something positive, and this fact just emphasizes the reality that I’m prone to think negatively about my life. Had my therapist asked me to name the worst thing that happened this week, I could have responded quickly, and with a number of things. The brief respite I enjoyed from depression appears to be over, and I have found myself treading in deep waters of sorrow once again (which is why I have been pretty quiet in this space). When my inner world is so gray and cloudy, is it any wonder that I perceive everything around me through the same dark lens? Is it any wonder that, a few months ago when my therapist tasked me with making a list of 100 good things in my life, it took me almost a month to do so?

There must be a better way. And we find that better way in Scripture. Paul, in Philippians 4, encourages believers to fix their minds on certain things, recognizing that what the mind fixates on, it will become. He says in verses 8 and 9, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Notice what it says in the last part of this passage: “the God of peace will be with you.” Paul isn’t just promising that we will have peace when we focus on things that are true and honorable and lovely, etc; he promises that we will have the truest and most honorable and lovely thing of all: God Himself. When we train our minds to think on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise, we shouldn’t be surprised when the object of our thoughts becomes the One who exhibits all of these traits with perfection. The more I turn my thoughts to Christ, the greater my love for Him and the smaller my problems. Does this mean I can just think away my depression? How I wish it were so! But what it does mean is that I have control over my thoughts. I can take my thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ. If I’m honest, I spend more time wallowing in my misery than taking my thoughts captive. And when I don’t take them captive, my thoughts don’t turn naturally to positive things; instead they turn to lies and despair, my old familiar companions.

When I was at Timberline Knolls, I went to a few group therapy sessions that were specifically designed for Christians. One particular group talked about using Scripture, worship music, and journal writing as ways to cope with our difficult life circumstances. One day during this group we were instructed to list lies we believed about ourselves. “Well, this should be easy,” I thought to myself, and it was. I was able to easily identify a long list of lies I frequently tell myself. Even knowing they were lies apparently didn’t stop me from repeating them to myself over and over as if they were the truth. Here are some of the lies I wrote down:

  1. I am unlovable.
  2. I am not enough.
  3. I have to earn God’s love.
  4. Being needy is a weakness.
  5. My depression is impossible to overcome.
  6. I can’t be at peace.
  7. Things will never get better.

Of course the therapist didn’t have us stop with identifying lies. She then instructed us to come up with truths to counter the lies. This took considerably longer than coming up with the lies, but when I realized that I could turn the lies on their head, it was easier. Here are some of the truths I wrote down:

  1. I am loved with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3) that will never separate me from God (Romans 8:38-39).
  2. I am called and chosen and valued by God (Isaiah 43:1).
  3. I can do nothing to earn God’s love and grace. It is a free gift (Ephesians 2:4-8).
  4. Christ’s power is at work in my need and weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).
  5. With God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26), and in Him I am more than a conqueror (Romans 8:37).
  6. Christ is my peace (Ephesians 2:14).
  7. My pain is temporary and will one day be replaced by eternal glory (2 Corinthians 4:17).

At a time when my mind is prone to believing the lies that come often and without warning, I need the truths of Scripture more than ever. Yesterday we celebrated Thanksgiving, and I had to fight to be grateful, in spite of the fact that I was surrounded by a beautiful family who loves me. But the truth about gratitude is that so often it, like love, is a choice. Even when I may not feel grateful, even when my thoughts tell me my life is not worth living, I can choose to drown out the lies with the truth and give thanks  for the blessings God has given me. I can seek the Lord and ask Him to help me be grateful and give thanks that He hears me and loves me, even at my lowest.

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When It’s Hard to Pray

Today, like so many other days over the past year, I opened my Bible to Psalm 40. In the margins, written in pencil, is the date 9/13/18, and I pray I always remember what that date means. It’s the day I got my Bible from the security staff at Lakeside. I had to specifically request it because they don’t give you anything but essentials from your belongings unless you ask and only if it passes the safety test (I guess they figured I wasn’t going to try and whack myself or anyone over the head with my Bible). When I was admitted to Lakeside on September 11, 2018, I was unprepared to have to relinquish all of the stuff I packed, and it wasn’t until 2 days later that I realized I could ask to have my Bible. Being without my Bible or any way to read it on my phone (since Lakeside took that away also) felt jarring. I have gone more than 2 days without reading the Bible before, but I felt the loss very acutely being in an unfamiliar, scary setting with unfamiliar people. When I finally did get my beloved Bible, I opened to Psalm 40 first because Stephen had sent that Psalm to me in an email, and I loved everything it said and related so much to its words. I was in a pit and saw no way out, but I hoped and prayed that the Lord would deliver me and set my feet on a rock. I wanted to know that His steadfast love and faithfulness would preserve me and that He does not withhold mercy from me. 

On September 13 I had a hard time believing these things to be true (and sometimes still do, if I’m being honest), but I read the words over and over again nevertheless, underlining them with my stub of a pencil (the only writing implement Lakeside allowed, although I don’t know why because you can totally do some damage with a sharp pencil). I prayed weak but desperate prayers, begging God to help me and be near me and rescue me. I couldn’t believe I was actually in a place like Lakeside. I couldn’t believe that I had come so close to ending my life. And I couldn’t believe–yet–that there was end to the despair that was eating me up from the inside out. But I clung to the words of Psalm 40 and have continued to read them almost every day since September 13.

There have been days when the pain was too deep, when the darkness clouded all rational thought, when I could barely form the words of a prayer. On days like that, I turned to words already written, words expressing better than I could how deep the pit of depression was but also how strong the grip of God is. Praying God’s Word back to Him has been the lifeline I have needed when I feel my grip weakening, when I can’t imagine how to hold on a minute longer. It is in those moments of desperation that He showed me that He always does the work of holding on to me and keeping me under the shadow of His wings while the storm rages. 

One day during my depression found me in the office of my pastor, who has been a  source of counsel and comfort to me. He listened to me tell of my continued despair and doubts in God’s goodness, and he met me with compassion and love. He encouraged me to keep clinging to the Scriptures and to be honest with God about my doubt. He assured me I was not alone. And then he opened his Bible and encouraged me to read Psalm 88 aloud as a prayer to God. I only read two or three verses before I started crying. The words in that Psalm–some of the most depressing words in the whole Bible–mirrored my own feelings so closely that I could not ignore them. I was overcome with the kindness of God, the kindness that led Him to move the writers of the Bible to include such gut-wrenching words. That very same kindness of God led me to my church, to my pastor, to my friends, to my therapist, to my husband–to all of the people who have helped see me through this long darkness. Reading those words back to God as a prayer felt not just like a desperate plea but a holy moment, one on which I can look back and recall the nearness of God at a time when I questioned His very existence. 

On days like today, when hope seems far and troubles so very near, how glad I am to have the Word of God to give voice to the prayers I can’t pray on my own. I can pray Psalm 40 and believe that one day God will put a new song in my mouth, that others will see and put their trust in the Lord. And when that day comes, I will not restrain my lips but will tell of His deliverance. 

79 Days

Once upon a time, I used to be a weight loss blogger. I had a day of reckoning back in 2008, when I stepped on a scale and saw a number I never thought I would see. I am not sure exactly what clicked for me, but I decided enough was enough and began waking up to walk slowly on the treadmill. I counted calories. Days added up to weeks, which turned into months, and within the first year I lost 50 pounds. Over the course of 2 years, I lost 90 pounds, and I blogged the ups and downs, including what I’m sure now were boring posts about workouts and weigh-ins and my newly-discovered love of running. As the years passed and trials stacked themselves on top of each other like so many weights on a barbell, the number on the scale began ticking up, the workouts slowed until they stopped, and running took a backseat to ice packs and hip surgeries.

On Saturday, I had another day of reckoning. I weighed myself and saw a number I never thought I would see, one even higher than that fateful day 11 years ago. Within the past year alone I have gained almost 25 pounds. The Erin of January 2019 wouldn’t have cared much about this fact, since she was too busy sinking in the deep waters of depression, but the Erin of October 2019, the one who now has her head above water and has been treading there for the better part of a month? This Erin cares very much, and this Erin is going to do something about it.

Today, I’m going to start counting calories. I’m going to start practicing saying no to my sweet tooth. I’m going to learn all over again that delayed gratification is better than instant indulgence. I’m going to remember how it feels to see the number go down instead of up. I’m going to experience the satisfaction of honoring the Lord with my body and with my choices. I’m going to starve my flesh and feed my spirit with His Word when I am tempted. I’m going to say no to self-hatred and yes to adoration of the One who made me fearfully and wonderfully.

I’m also going to have bad days. I’ll have failures. I’ll have times when I question if I’ll ever get where I want and need to be. But what I don’t want to have is more regret. Even if all I have at the end of this year is 79 days of trying to lose weight (yes, there really are only 79 days left in the year–I counted), that’s more than I had at the beginning. I’ll at least have 79 days of trying to make better choices. 79 days of saying no to defeat and yes to discipline. 79 days of choosing joy over pity, and worship over worry.

The complicated thing about weight loss for me is that it’s not just a physical thing. The number on the scale is merely a reflection of an uglier reality: food is my drug, and I am addicted. I have been worshiping at the altar of food and giving it far too much of myself. I have looked to food to fill a place in my life that only God can truly satisfy. I am tired of being enslaved. My soul needs this change even more than my body. I wish that food addiction weren’t a part of my story, but it is, and it’s time to start the next chapter.

I honestly don’t know how much I will blog about this. I have no aspirations of becoming a weight loss blogger, but I also know that accountability–even the kind of accountability that comes from having a blog–is beneficial. I hope you will join me for this next chapter, in whatever form it takes. Hopefully the ending will be worth it.

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How Friendship Found Me

Several years ago, a stomach virus struck our house, and one evening all of us were sick in such a way that caused both Stephen and me to pass out at separate times, with my fall resulting in a hole in our guest bathroom wall. Charlotte was 8 months old at the time and sick herself, and it was around midnight. As I laid on the floor, I didn’t know what to do and felt helpless in a way I had not felt before. I started thinking about whom I could call, and the list was short. I didn’t have many friends that I was close enough to that I felt I could call them in the middle of the night, so I called my parents. My mom said they would come right away, but since they live an hour away, I needed to call someone close by to help with Charlotte since I wasn’t sure if I was injured or would faint again (fortunately I wasn’t and I didn’t). I decided to call my college roommate who lives in town, and she graciously agreed to come over. She came quickly and tended to Charlotte and helped get her vomit-covered sheets into the wash. I was grateful for her presence and care, but after she left I felt a sadness that my list of people I could call in a crisis was so small. Why didn’t I have more friends?

The short answer is, I wasn’t actively trying to make any. I was hungry for female friendships but was also reluctant to make the first move and reach out to the women at my church, and so even though we had been attending for a year, I hadn’t developed many relationships that went beyond small talk before and after church. I kept hoping someone would invite me out for dinner or coffee, but it never occurred to me that I could be doing the inviting as well. People are busy, and we often assume people already have their “friend group” all set. I certainly assumed no one was really interested in new friendships since it seemed that many of the women close to my age had already been at the church for a few years and knew one another well. So I kept to myself, and though I never would have admitted this out loud, I honestly hoped that new best friends would materialize of their own accord.

As you might have guessed, I didn’t magically wake up one morning with friends. But what I did wake up with one morning is ulcerative colitis. Being sick with that disease, at first not even knowing that it WAS a disease, leveled me in a way that nothing before had. At my disease’s worst, I found myself too weak to do much but shuffle between the bed and the bathroom, so things like home-cooked dinners and clean floors and bedtime stories gave way to naps at all hours of the day.

It was then, when I had lost most ability to function on any kind of useful level, that those magical, make-believe friends I wished for the previous year began to appear. Two women from church showed up in my hospital room, bringing cheer and encouragement. Another one called and offered to “clean something, anything” for me. Another one brought my family dinner and organized others to do the same. Another one let me sob into the phone while she prayed for me. One friend’s husband came to our house after Charlotte was in bed so Stephen could visit with me for a few hours. Almost overnight, I looked around and saw something beautiful: the church in action. Friends in action.

I had prayed that God would bring me friends, had prayed that He would show me how to be a better friend myself. I had even gone so far as to confess my loneliness to a group of  women at a prayer group only a month prior to getting sick. Though He answered those prayers in a rather peculiar way by also giving me an autoimmune disease, it was impossible for me to miss the way that crisis in my life became a landmark by which I recognized the faithfulness of God. Honestly, I didn’t enjoy being the recipient of so much help and would have much preferred to be the one extending such help to others. But that is not the role God gave to me at that time, nor is it the role I have found myself in for much of the past year. God has shown me many times over the years how my weakness allows His strength to shine through. He has shown me how my friends, in loving and caring for me, were daily reminders of His promise to love and care for me. What my weakness and need has helped me see is that being vulnerable in community is better than facing life alone.

We all have pain we wish to hide, but when we choose to hide our pain rather than bring it into the light of community, what are we missing? We could very well be missing out on the exact friendships we wish we had.

I hope I never have to call for reinforcements in the middle of the night again, but how thankful I am that if I should, God has grown my list in a way I never expected!

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