Adrift (and a Simple Bible Challenge)

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Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but sometime over the last two months I stopped reading my Bible. This is unusual for me, for even during times when I was so depressed that I could manage very little, I would still listen to the Psalms being read to me, and they brought me comfort. But in this chaotic time of life, when you would think my desperation for normalcy and comfort would drive me to the Word, instead I have found myself adrift, swimming in deep waters without my life jacket on and then wondering why it feels like I’m drowning. Is it any wonder that life has felt overwhelming and unmanageable? Is it any wonder my heart feels cold and lifeless, when I have cut it off from its source of true life?

I don’t write this as someone who has the answers but as someone who knows where the answers can be found. I am done with allowing my fear and anxiety and anger and sadness to rule me. I am submitting anew to the counsel of God’s Word and asking God to change me from the inside out. I am planning to camp out in Psalm 119 for the next four weeks, starting on Monday, July 13. If you’re burned out or tired or looking for change, will you join me? Here’s the reading plan I have outlined. Each week is around 40-47 verses, and you could read the whole chunk each day or break each day into smaller sections. (The number of verses each week varies because I tried to follow natural section breaks within the psalm.)

July 13-July 19: Psalm 119:1-40
July 20-July 26: verses 41-88
July 27-Aug. 2: verses 89-136
Aug. 3-Aug.  9: verses 137-176

I plan to start each week by reading through the whole psalm, and then I will spend the rest of that week on the allotted verses. I picked this psalm because I love the Psalms in general, and specifically, this psalm is rife with adoration of God and the written word He has given us. I want to fall in love with the Bible again, and I don’t know of any other way to do this except to spend time devoted to actually reading the Bible. I also plan to write out the entire psalm over the course of the four weeks. I have done this before with certain Bible passages, and I have found that it helps me to absorb the words more deeply and aids in my meditation of the Scriptures.

Accountability is a great way to help achieve a goal, and I would love for anyone reading this to join me in this endeavor. If you want to read along, please comment, and we can figure out a way to have a weekly check in of some kind.

If you’re already regularly reading the Bible, what are you reading right now? I always love to hear what others are studying!

Deliverance

Last year on this very date I wrote:

“If ever I felt like a bruised reed—like one struggling to stand against the wind, wilted and wounded —it is now. I have wondered if God cares and questioned whether He hears my prayers since He is not answering them like I want. Not only that, but there are many people besides me praying for God to lift the depression that has haunted me since the summer. If He won’t answer my prayers, why won’t He at least answer the cries of others on my behalf? He would receive glory from that, so why doesn’t He do it? I cannot understand, and my lack of understanding has led to doubts I have never felt before.”

I cringed inwardly when I read these words again, for to me now they sound whiny and entitled, but I also gave thanks when I read them. I am not the same person who wrote those words a year ago; I have changed, and the biggest change of all is that I am not in the same depressed state I was in for a solid 18 months. That’s right, friend, the cloud is lifting. Every day I feel like I catch more glimpses of the sun. Every day I feel like I am both being restored and also being made new. Every day I wake up feeling as though I have been given a new life, and it is a glorious gift.

When I think of what has contributed to this healing–even now my breath catches a little in my throat to write that word “healing,” for at one time it seemed impossible–I cannot pinpoint exactly what started it or why it has continued. I only know that for once everything seems to be working in tandem: the meds, the therapy, the exercise, the prayers, the Word of God. I do not know why it took so long for things to change, but because I believe and trust in a sovereign God I know that things have happened at exactly the time He wanted. And I know that I could wake up tomorrow and find that everything has gone gray again.

Perhaps that is why I have been quiet in this space; I have wanted to tell you of all that has happened the past few months, but I also have been holding onto a good bit of fear that I will wake up one day and find that the healing has disappeared and the dream is over. But I cannot speak my depression into or out of existence, and being silent has only caused my deliverance to go untold. So I will speak of what I do know, and what I know is this: in December I went to a psychiatric hospital for the third time because I had planned to take my life, and now it has been over a month since I have had any suicidal thoughts. In December I was hopeless, and now I have hope. In December life was pointless, and now life has meaning again. In December God seemed far away, and now I know He has been nothing but oh-so near.

I have spent hundreds of words writing about my depression,  and it gives me great joy now to spend those words writing about my deliverance. For I have been delivered from the darkness of my own mind, and even if I wake up tomorrow with depression hanging over me yet again, it doesn’t make my current freedom any less true or real. So I will praise God for His steadfast love and faithfulness and know that no matter what tomorrow holds, He will be with me when I face it.

Come and hear, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
I cried out to him with my mouth;
his praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
but God has surely listened
and has heard my prayer.
Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me!

Psalm 66:16-20

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Photo by Victor Freitas on Pexels.com

Resources for the Suffering

I don’t claim to be an expert on suffering. Nevertheless, life has been difficult for me the past few years, and I’ve had to find ways to cope with that difficulty. The struggles have made me painfully aware of how weak I am and how much I need Jesus, so in that way they are valuable, but that doesn’t make them easier to bear. So what do you do when suffering comes knocking, as it is guaranteed to do at some point as long as you are living on this earth? How do you handle it? There are many answers to this question, and both healthy and unhealthy responses. But for now I wanted to share some of the ways that I have fought against despair in the midst of suffering, in the hopes that someone reading this will find something to benefit him/her.

Scripture

The most necessary “weapon” to fight against despair is without a doubt the Word of God. I truly do not know what I would do without it. This list is not exhaustive but includes many verses that have sustained me.

Psalm 13, Psalm 22, Psalm 30, Psalm 31, Psalm 40, Psalm 42, Psalm 61, Psalm 62, Psalm 70, Psalm 73, Psalm 77, Psalm 86, Psalm 88, Psalm 103, Psalm 119, Psalm 145 etc., etc. Just read 5 Psalms a day for 30 days, and you’ll have read them all. I love the Psalms because every human emotion can be found somewhere in the verses.

John 16:33

Romans 5:3-5

Romans 8

1 Corinthians 1:8

2 Corinthians 1:5

Ephesians 6:10-18

Philippians 4:6-7

Hebrews 12:1-2

James 1:2-4

1 Peter 1:7-9

1 Peter 4:12-13

Revelation 21:3-5

Music

Red Sea Road by Ellie Holcomb. I could listen to this album on repeat for the rest of my life. Favorite songs: “Fighting Words,” “Red Sea Road,” “He Will”
Psalms
by Sandra McCracken. Favorite songs: “My Soul Finds Rest,” “Put Your Trust in God”
“Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul” by Indelible Grace
“The Rain Keeps Falling” by Andrew Peterson
“When Trials Come” by Keith and Kristyn Getty
“Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer” by Keith and Kristyn Getty
“O, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus” by Selah
“He Will Hold Me Fast” Getty
“My Dwelling Place (Psalm 91)” Getty
“I Will Wait for You (Psalm 130)” Getty (You pretty much can’t go wrong with a Getty song)
“You’re Gonna Be Ok” by Jenn Johnson
“Do Not Lose Heart” by Caroline Cobb
“Lord From Sorrows Deep I Call” by Matt Boswell and Matt Papa
“Weep With Me” by Rend Collective

I have put together a Spotify playlist that I listen to often when I am in need of encouragement. You can find it here.

Books

There are a LOT of books about suffering. I have only read a very small percentage of them. Here are some of my favorites:

Holding On to Hope by Nancy Guthrie
Suffering Is Never for Nothing by Elisabeth Elliot
When the Darkness Will Not Lift by John Piper
Polishing God’s Monuments by Jim Andrews
Hope Heals by Katherine and Jay Wolf
The Scars That Have Shaped Me by Vaneetha Risner
Spurgeon’s Sorrows by Zack Eswine
The Promise Is His Presence by Glenna Marshall

Now it’s your turn! What are some resources you have found helpful in painful seasons?. Please share in the comments!

Shoes: A Lesson in Patience

My 2-year-old daughter has a somewhat infuriating affinity for shoes. Try as I might to blame this peculiar trait on my husband (aren’t spouses always the source of the traits we dislike in our children?), my daughter’s love of shoes can only come from one person—me. Even though the size of my waistline has expanded with the years and the 2 daughters I have birthed, my shoe size has been a blessed constant, and therefore few things bring me greater joy than shopping for shoes. So when my daughter started to spend ample amounts of time putting on and taking off her various shoes, at first I thought it was adorable. “She’s starting early with her shoe fetish,” I thought with pride and amusement, watching her fiddle with zippers and delight over velcro and fringe.

Unfortunately, as her affection for shoes grew, so too did her disdain for following my instructions. “Ava, we need to get ready to leave. It’s time to put on some shoes and leave them on,” I would say. She would respond with a howl of despair and throw herself prostrate onto the ground, kicking off one shoe and then brandishing a different one with a triumphant grin. I would grit my teeth, try to patiently put on her shoes, and then say in my best stern mommy voice, “No, Ava, we have to go! Don’t take off your shoes again.” I foolishly hoped for half a second that she would obey my command, but Ava instead would yank off a shoe and proceed to peel off a sock for good measure. This is about the point when I could almost feel my blood pressure rising, and I confess that I have never wanted to swear as much as I have during these daily confrontations-turned-ritual. This is also about the point when Daddy would intervene and firmly put her shoes on and carry her out the door while she screamed in protest.  

I wish I could say these shoe standoffs happened only in the confines of our house, but there have been times in public where Ava has decided to sit down in the middle of a store aisle and take off her shoes. I also wish I could say I have handled these times with grace and maturity, but such responses don’t often become stories we share about ourselves on the Internet, do they? One such occasion found me angrily and impatiently swooping her up into my arms while gathering the one shoe she’d managed to get off, and then finishing my grocery trip with a scowl on my face and heat creeping up my neck while I thought impure thoughts in my head. I was more than relieved to make it back to the safety of our home, where she and I could both cry in private. 

That night, after my husband bathed our daughter, I heard her familiar refrain: “Mommy put to bed.” Honestly the only person I wanted to put to bed was myself, but I sighed dramatically and got up and took my freshly-bathed toddler into my arms. Oblivious to my inner temper tantrum, she snuggled up close and nestled her head into my neck in that familiar way of hers, and my frozen heart began to thaw. As we settled into the rocking chair in her room, she whispered her request for me to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” I obliged, and as I sang, I was reminded anew of how Jesus loves ME, this mama with the short temper to match her child’s, this mama who was brimming over with impatience and self-pity. How many times have I come to God with my own agenda, my own plans, and my own willful disobedience? And how many times has He met me with forgiveness and patience and steadfast love? I offered a silent prayer of thanks–thanks for this child of mine who was giving me daily lessons in humility, and thanks for the Father whose perfect love helps me love better. Tenderness for my daughter replaced the anger I had earlier felt, and I stroked her back and hair with gentleness, wanting to hold on to this holy moment a minute longer. I may have tripped on a shoe on my way out of her room, but still I walked with a steadier gait, knowing that one day I would miss the little shoes cluttering up her room and miss even more the little feet that wore them.