Quote of the Week

They say that God is everywhere, and yet we always think of Him as somewhat of a recluse. — Emily Dickinson

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Quote of the Week

Call on God, but row away from the rocks. — Indian Proverb

In Suicide’s Shadow

Joy vs. Happiness

joyJoy has always been an issue that I’ve wrestled with. Nehemiah 8:10 says, “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

I’ve been a born again Christian for more than 10 years and the one thing I can’t seem to get a handle on is joy. I’ve had many people advise me that one of the hallmarks of being a Christian is being joyful. Galatians 5:22 lists the fruit of the Spirit; joy being secondary in the list next to love.

Thelma Wells The November/December 2008 issue of Today’s Christian Woman (TCW) published a special section that focused specifically on the topic of joy. TCW editor Ginger Kolbaba interviewed Thelma Wells, a popular Christian speaker and author who struggled with cancer. If anyone would know about the highs and lows of joy, it’d be a woman who was placed on life support with the grim prognosis of impending death.

The entire interview is worth reading but Ginger asks Thelma key questions that elicit winning answers—one of them being that people don’t lose joy but rather, it goes “underground.” I’ve highlighted a few of Thelma’s answers that I really identified with.

TCW: What gets in the way of us truly experiencing joy?

THELMA: Trying to be somebody we’re not. God made us wonderfully in his image. But we look at life from the eyes of our culture: where I should live, what I should drive, where my kids should go to school, what I should have in my house. We compete for status, for recognition, for all these things that mean little or nothing in the end. And when we do that, we become confused about who we serve and why we serve.

If we aren’t careful, we can become so depressed and confused and overwhelmed that our joy goes underground. [emphasis mine]

Here I can identify the source of my lack of joy: discontentment. I’m not discontent with my family or my friends or most of my circumstances, however, I am continuously discontent with myself. I am always trying to be—or wishing to be—someone I’m not. I am never satisfied with the person God made me. I try to be a social chameleon but never quite succeed (in my own mind anyway). Discontentment with myself breeds depression in my life.

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Quote of the Week

"What does the Lord require but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God?" — Bible: Micah 6:9

Song of the Week: Pretty Amazing Grace by Neil Diamond

I don’t think Neil Diamond is a Christian — as far as I know, he’s still Jewish — but he wrote a song called “Pretty Amazing Grace,” which blows my mind because it has some strong Christian concepts behind it. Maybe he’s resolved things between him and God? Who knows?

I’m currently reading a book called Transforming Grace by Jerry Bridges. The book focuses on reminding Christians that God draws people to him based on his grace and mercy and not based on our merits or works. The Bible teaches there is nothing people can do to get to heaven. (Ephesians 2:8-9) I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior and became a Baptist 16 years after being a Roman Catholic. Coming from a Roman Catholic background, I’d view my standing with God based on a “points” system. For example, let’s start at zero. If I was nice to or complimented someone, I’d give myself a +1. But later on, if I told a white lie to my parents, I’d give myself a -1 putting me right back where I started. So I’d go back and forth on this points system trying not to reach a deficit. The new church I joined taught that there was no points system, people couldn’t earn their way to heaven, and that one had to rely solely on God’s grace — the gift he gives the people who believe in Jesus Christ.

not good enoughAfter a few years though, being a Christian became burdensome — not because of God — but because of the rules the church I attended would begin to impose in my life:

  • you’re in sin if you don’t wear a skirt past your knees
  • if you don’t go knocking on doors and proselytizing to people, you’re in sin
  • if you’re not in church every time the doors are open, you’re in sin
  • working on Sundays is a sin unless you’re a doctor or a nurse (it’s OK to heal people on the Sabbath)

The church taught one thing but did another. I began to feel as though I was never doing enough for God no matter how hard I tried. I was back on the points system.

Transforming Grace is a book intended to blow legalism out of the water. It takes legalistic concepts and casts them into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19) or puts them as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12). It reminds Christians that any blessings they receive or any favor they find in God’s sight is not based on what they do, how good they are, or how many “points” they’ve racked up. After years of bashing myself as a bad Christian, this book reminds me that in and of myself, I’m a pretty bad person. (Romans 3:10-12) But with a belief in Christ, God doesn’t see me as bad; he sees Christ’s righteousness. So there’s no more points to earn. There’s nothing I can do to make God love me any less or any more.

And this is where Neil Diamond’s song “Pretty Amazing Grace” steps in. I don’t know what Neil Diamond’s spiritual belief is but somehow, he’s grasped the concept of God’s grace quite well. As a result, I’ve chosen “Pretty Amazing Grace” for the song of the week as I continue my studies in learning more about Transforming Grace. You can listen to the full song here, and the lyrics are behind the cut.
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This Girl's Biblical View

A little late in posting this but better late than never.


“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6:25-34
(NKJV)

Personal interpretation
This passage piggybacks off of last week’s verse (Philippians 4:6-7) about not being anxious. Here, Jesus says not to be concerned about God providing for our needs because He takes care of all the little details such as feeding birds to allowing flowers to grow and bloom. Plus, he adds, worrying doesn’t solve anything. (Know anyone who’s been able to fix an issue while experiencing a panic attack?) His listeners are told to first seek God’s will for their lives. Jesus also admonishes them to focus on getting through that day and not worrying about the next day because there are enough issues to deal with at that present moment.

Personal meaning
In this economy, it is so easy to worry about losing a job or if that happens, what would happen to paying the rent or putting food on the table. God says He’ll provide for our needs. Not our wants but our needs. Something to keep in mind is our finite human minds cannot comprehend what an infinite God deems as our needs.

Jesus also tells the listening crowd to seek after “the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” The primary need Jesus emphasizes here is God. Everything else that we consider our needs (food, water, shelter, clothing, etc.) is considered extemporaneous, hence, why they are “added to” us. Our needs are first spiritual then physical. (And spiritual often ties into the emotional.)

Personal application
worryWorry. Anxiety. How can I apply this so it’ll affect my life?

The answer is simple: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”

A personal application of this verse would be to do everything with God in mind and emulate His characteristics: holiness, truth, justice, love, care, compassion, and forgiveness among others. I am encouraged to “seek” those things — look for them, strive for them — they are goals to shoot for.

Recently, I’ve been learning the Westminster Catechisms. A catechism is a statement of doctrinal belief often made in a series of questions and answers. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is “What is the chief end of man?” The answer: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

My chief end in life is to glorify God. Seeking after that could prevent so much worry because I’d know that God would take care of me no matter what happens.

For example, if my husband has shown evidence of his faithfulness to me, I won’t live in fear that he’s banging another woman every time he works late.

God has been in my life a heckuva lot longer than my husband has. He has proven Himself faithful to me time and time again. I’ve seen evidence of his goodness to me: how He brought me and my husband together, how He’s saved me from killing myself, and how He’s blessed me monetarily (we’re not poor). God, like my husband, has never given me any reason to worry about whether He’ll look after me.

My counselor suggested that I write a list of all the things God has done for me in my life so whenever I wonder about His passivity, I can look at it and see how active He really is. Something akin to a list of things I’m grateful for. Otherwise, I tend to have a short memory. The future scares me because I don’t know what to expect. It causes me anxiety and worry. Often it’s because I’m not seeking after Him.

Although I said the answer was simple, I never said putting it into action was easy.

Mood rating: 6

The Art of Distraction

I babysat the 21-month-old son of a friend on Thursday. He's an adorable, sweet little kid. Very affable and social. With the addition of a new brother, he's been craving the attention that he used to have as an only child so he's always happy when someone takes the time to sit and play with him.

His mother had to go to court to contest a traffic ticket and she took the baby with her so I offered my (free) babysitting services. I'm not a babysitter and I normally don't offer to babysit kids alone because I'm not very good with them and most young children don't like me much. However, I've really grown to love my friend's son—we'll call him Danny—and felt like I could take care of him without too many problems.

We were upstairs on the second floor in his bedroom and I talked to his mother about a few logistics before she left. Finally, she kissed Danny goodbye and headed down the stairs. Since Danny's only 21 months, he needs to be carried down the stairs. When he saw his mother disappear, he began crying (much to my surprise and much to my dismay). My first thought was, Oh great. Now, he's crying for his mommy. This isn't going to be as easy as I thought.

I tried to sit down with him on my lap in the bedroom but he was extremely fidgety and got up and began running to the edge of the steps. Fearful of a fall (remember I don't have much babysitting experience!), I grabbed him, picked him up, and shut the door to the bedroom. Realizing this meant mommy wasn't coming back right away, he cried even harder. Now I was really at a loss of what to do.

I saw a little toy helicopter that he had been playing with earlier. The helicopter made noises and I tried to hand it to him and pressed all sorts of buttons to amuse him. He wasn't fazed. Danny kept right on crying.

Suddenly feeling desperate, my next thought was, I can't have this kid crying until his mother comes back. She's going to think I hurt the poor child. I searched around the room and found a teddy bear and handed it to him. He wasn't interested in that either. Finally, my eyes fell upon a toy set up like a two-level parking lot with a car ramp that twisted around to the ground. Several small cars sat on top of the lot. Remembering Danny loved to pick up cars and hand them to people one by one, I tried the tactic as a last-ditch effort.

I picked up the first car and held it open in the palm of my hand. He kept crying but looked down at it. I grabbed a second car. His crying began to die down and he began to look at the two cars with curiosity. I snatched another car. He stopped crying and simply looked at me with a blank stare, wondering what I'd do next. I picked up another car and held them flat out on my hands for a few moments, letting him take in the number of growing vehicles. Finally, he gave me a little smile. I started rolling a car up and down his belly and he began giggling.

Problem solved. We stayed busy until his mother came home. I expected him to run and cling to his mother after she got home but he gave her a quick glance and wanted me to keep playing with him because he was having so much fun. That was pretty satisfying and felt like my first solo babysitting gig had been a success.

Just like I'd distracted Danny from the sadness of his mother's disappearance, I'm finding that a lot of people in my life have been trying to distract me from the sadness and emotional pain that have been plaguing me lately.

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Song of the Week: It's Going To Be Alright by Sara Groves

Another regular feature that I’ll try to do is post songs each week that really mean something to me and apply to my life during this week. One of my favorite artists is Sara Groves who writes so many songs that have helped me through different periods in my life.

This past week, I suffered from severe social anxiety on Tuesday and ended up having a panic attack. (I thought I was going to die; I couldn’t breathe!) My husband and I were on our way to counseling that night and Sara’s song “It’s Going To Be Alright” came on. I sang along with the song, fighting back tears the entire time. Finally my husband asks, “What does that song mean to you?” Immediately I burst into tears and told him I was fighting back tears, especially toward the end of the song where she urges the listener to “cast your cares.” That specific line is based on I Peter 5:7 where Peter writes, “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” I’ve been really struggling with trusting God in the midst of all this, freaking out about what my coworkers think of me. I’ve been going through a “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” phase. Where is God in the midst of my social anxiety? Where is he when I’m feeling alone and abandoned because my coworkers go out to lunch and don’t invite me? Where is God when I’m on the outskirts of forming close bonds with my coworkers just like they’ve formed close bonds with each other? Why am I the weirdo and the freak? What makes me so socially repulsive?

Then I hear Sara sing to me (it felt like it anyway), “I believe you’ll outlive this pain in you heart, and you’ll gain such a strength from what is tearing you apart” and those lyrics just GOT to me. It was as if God was speaking to me through the song and said, “Hey, it’ll be okay. I’m here for you and you’ll only get stronger from this situation. Marissa, you’ll be fine. It’ll be alright. Just talk to me. Tell me what you’re feeling. Tell me all about your pain. I’m here to listen and give you strength each day.” After feeling like God’s been like my dad for the past few years—not alive but up in the heavens somewhere, it’s like the silence was broken and He finally just communicated to me to turn to Him instead of running straight to my husband first. Talking to God is easier (and cheaper!) than talking to my husband.

Enough of the backstory. But now you know why I’ve chosen this particular song for Song of the Week. It seems like a good way to end the week on a good note. You can listen to the full song here. The lyrics are included below the cut.

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US Airways jet falls into Hudson shortly after takeoff; all onboard survive

Praise the Lord! Seriously. God is so merciful. Tragedy averted. A lot of people were spared grief, heartache, and—of course—depression.

US Airways jet
From The New York Times:

A US Airways jetliner with 148 passengers and 5 crew members plunged into the icy Hudson River on Thursday afternoon five minutes after taking off from LaGuardia Airport, and a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration said everyone on board escaped safely.

Moments after the plane, a twin jet Airbus A320 bound for Charlotte, N.C., landed on the river near the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel, at least a half-dozen small craft rushed to aircraft to rescue the freezing passengers and crew.

I’m sure more details will be released in the following hours, days, and weeks but I’m so happy to hear that everyone on board the plane was okay. Here’s my favorite quote from the Times article:

“The plane was totally intact,” Mr. Duckworth said. “Everybody thought it was a sea plane. I kept trying to tell them no.”

Actually it looked like everybody was really calm, like on the subway platform when it’s really, really crowded, and everyone’s standing shoulder to shoulder,” he said. “Everyone was standing right up against each other on the wings.”

This Girl's Biblical View

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7
(NKJV)

Personal interpretation
Don't worry about anything. Pray and ask God for your needs and desires, thanking Him for everything He's already given to you, and God will provide you with assurance—a kind of heavenly, unfathomable assurance—that will protect your heart and mind from constant worry and anxiety.

Personal meaning
While I know I shouldn't worry about anything, I still freak out over things and usually they're the littlest things. (See Don't Sweat the Small Stuff.) The verse encourages me to pray and beseech the Lord for help but I've got to admit, I often forget and try to do things on my own.

Personal application
The verse encourages me to really talk to God—to make God real in my life as though He were standing face to face with me. Just like I would talk to my mom and go, "Hey, Mom, I'm a little short on cash. Can you help me out today?" Well, not that irreverent but that's the idea. If I have a good relationship with my mom, I wouldn't sit in my bedroom, fretting and worrying about whether I should ask her for money or not—especially if I know she has the money she can spare me.

God wants to hear me talk to Him. And instead of opening my big mouth to Him, I start complaining about my worries and fears to other people. Voicing my concerns isn't so much a problem as ignoring that God can handle it is. And God's word promises that if I give my burdens over to Him (with faith in Jesus Christ), He will provide me with comfort and reassurance that He's got everything under control.

As I am wont to say: It sounds nice in theory. Maybe I should try testing it.

Mood rating: 5.7

This Girl’s Biblical View: Introduction

During my conversation with Natalie two nights ago, she emphasized infusing her brain with Bible verses and Scriptural passages and encouraged me to do the same. Finally, a thought came to me that a good way of constantly keeping myself in step with the Bible would be to meditate on God’s word. I know all about creating 3 x 5 index cards to help memorize Bible verses but I think a great way for me to really absorb some of the principles that I read would be to post a Bible verse and reflect on:

    1. What I think it means
    2. What it means to me
    3. How it has impacted or can impact my life

      Open BibleWhile the Bible is no cure-all (nothing currently in this world is!), I believe God’s word “is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

      I plan on trying to make this a weekly thing, hopefully for publication each Wednesday. I don’t promise to be perfect but I think doing this over the coming weeks (maybe even months!) will deepen and strengthen my relationship with God and others and will help me to overcome some associated behavioral issues (ie, fear, anxiety, etc.).

      Social Anxiety and Social Awkwardness

      AnxietyIf you met me in person, you’d never know that I struggled with social anxiety or what I’ve deemed social awkwardness.

      I’m a pretty quiet and shy person at first but the more you get to know me, the more you get to love me! (Just kidding about the latter.) In all seriousness, the more I become comfortable in certain social situations or a group of people, I can be loud, outgoing, silly (zany if you’d like!), bubbly, and full of energy.

      After close to a year of being at my current place of employment, I have yet to be fully comfortable. My personality comes out in short bursts but then I get quiet, withdraw, and “shut down,” keeping to myself and avoiding interaction with my coworkers if I can help it.

      I assume—I don’t know for sure—that they have judged me negatively and for whatever reason don’t like me. In a previous post, I tossed around a couple of social situations where I felt like this before. I invent all sorts of reasons in my head:

      • I’m a freak
      • I’m a weirdo
      • I don’t interact much with them
      • I don’t have an immediate warm, outgoing personality
      • I don’t dress very fashionably
      • I have nervous habits that they probably don’t like
      • I am all-around irritating, grating, and annoying in some manner that I don’t know of

      Most people struggle with this kind of thing without any real basis. My fear used to be completely unfounded and after the incident at my previous job, I am plagued by thoughts of social anxiety and awkwardness tenfold. I don’t know what I did at my last job to rub my coworkers the wrong way but I wish I knew so I could try to work on it and cut it out. Vague references of “immature” and “annoying” don’t help me much.

      So here I throw out the detailed descriptions of social anxiety and social awkwardness. The first one was developed by the NIMH; the second is my own invention built off of the social anxiety description.

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      Christian counseling: Nouthetic vs. Biblical

      Last night, I spent some time on the phone with my husband’s friend’s sister (aka my former pastor’s sister). We’ll call her Natalie.

      Natalie was very sweet and kind, really encouraging and strengthening me by sharing her testimony of faith in God. She suffers from anxiety and panic attacks, which has led her to take Paxil (on and off) for the past 7 years. She says the drug has helped her tremendously and who am I to knock the drug (knowing what I know about Paxil/Seroxat) when she has seen the wonders that it has worked in her life?

      I briefly explained my story of depression, history of suicide, and diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Although she couldn’t fully relate, she was very sympathetic and understanding. In fact, our conversation was so fruitful, I ended up taking notes!

      Jay AdamsWe briefly touched on the issue of Nouthetic counseling (NC). She has undergone the course and simply needs to be certified. The counselor I currently see is associated with the Christian Counseling Education Foundation (CCEF), which has roots in NC and was founded by the man—Jay Adams—who developed the method. However, CCEF is now known for what is called biblical counseling. The organization has since moved away from pure Nouthetic methods and become more a bit more varied, taking bits and pieces of psychology (and perhaps psychiatry) that line up with the Bible. Adams, disagreeing with the organization’s approach, founded the Institute for Nouthetic Studies and uses the Bible as the sole counseling textbook. According to the wiki entry on Nouthetic counseling, Adams developed the word Nouthetic based on the “New Testament Greek word noutheteō (νουθετέω), which can be variously translated as ‘admonish,’ ‘warn,’ ‘correct,’ ‘exhort,’ or ‘instruct.'”

      NC was developed back in the ’70s as a response to the popularity of psychology/psychiatry. Many Christians reject some of the teachings of such popular psychologists as Freud, Jung, Adler, Maslow, etc. Adams’ highly successful book, Competent to Counsel, criticizes the psychology industry and counters its teaching with a Nouthetic approach.

      But NC has its Christian critics.

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      December

      I have since learned that December is also a hard month for me. December has certain markers, so to speak, that jump out at me throughout the month.

      December 9 — The day my father died
      December 14 — The day I found out
      December 17 — The funeral
      December 18 — The burial

      Makes for quite a depressing Christmas. Even though he passed away only 7 years ago, it still hangs a dark cloud over my head. It takes me so long to get into the “Christmas spirit.” I now settle into the Christmas mood a week before the holiday, which is somewhat frustrating because it took me almost a month to finally enjoy hearing Nat King Cole’s smooth voice crooning through the ceiling speakers at Barnes and Noble.

      I think celebrating Advent next year might help, however, I never know much about the season anymore since I no longer attend Catholic church and the Presbyterian church I attend doesn’t seem to acknowledge it. I need to remember that Christ is “the reason for the season” (yes, I know it’s trite) but the materialism surrounding Christmas really does a good job of distracting me from focusing on that. Materialism is tangible; Christ is not. But materials are temporal; Christ is eternal. Something to keep in mind.

      I’ve been incredibly busy lately and have gotten pretty sidetracked from blogging. I’m traveling a good bit this (and the coming) year, trying to get a personal website up and running, running errands and accomplishing chores, trying to fit in exercise, spend time with friends and family, attend (usually) church-related activities, and make time for myself at night. My life in the past 2 years has moved faster than I could even imagine or fathom. The introduction of children could only make it crazier.

      How’s my mental health in spite of all this? Well, I was doing pretty well most of the year with the exception of my “normal” dive in August. Lately, I’ve been dealing with some suicidal thoughts again. Mostly passing and no serious urges but the idea of trying has been tempting. I mentioned recently that I’ve felt a “need to prove” that I am serious about committing suicide. It’s a serious pride issue. Why should I care whether people think I’m suicidal for attention or not? That doesn’t matter. I shouldn’t be more concerned about what people think of me. Rather, I should be more focused on living my life to please God and for His glory.

      I’m currently reading a book by J.I. Packer titled “God’s Plans for You.” (You can read a preview of this book through Google Books.) Lately, I’ve been struggling with what I should do with my life. I’m experiencing what has been deemed a “quarter-life crisis.” It’s like a mid-life crisis but with different challenges. Usually those challenges are related to career and vocational decisions. The mid- to late-twenties is the time when college grads are hit with the reality that full-time work isn’t as idealistic as they hoped and they are faced with the grim realization that some—or many—of their dreams may never come true.

      This is becoming the case with me.

      I obtained a degree in print journalism and a minor in English, hoping that I could enjoy working as a reporter or copy editor in the newspaper or magazine industry. It started out that way but then a move to Pennsylvania and a switch to daytime hours and a lack of clips set me back and now I am a freelance proofreader. Granted, I’m fortunate to even be a freelancer at 26 but proofreading at an ad agency was NOT what I had in mind when I took on my student loan debt.

      While I enjoy the people I work with and have become more comfortable with the materials that come across my desk, I again have fallen into the perfectionism trap. I had a week where I caught a string of my own mistakes that I’d missed (other people—non-proofreaders—had caught them) and it was extremely discouraging. This has led me to wonder whether I’m even in the appropriate field. Now, I have a desire to pick up writing again (as opposed to sole editing) and am frustrated at my lack of internal motivation. I’m even beginning to wonder whether I should go back to a full-time job because it’s tough not knowing when a check will drop in my lap during any given day of a month and the fact that I am a terrible boss and employee when it comes to meeting my own deadlines. I’m even afraid of getting audited come tax time.

      All in all, I’m currently facing a slew of decisions. Where to take my career and the prospect of motherhood, which may be hindered by my Lamictal (lamotrigine) treatment. I don’t want to be taking Lamictal during a pregnancy unless absolutely necessary and right now, I don’t feel that it’s absolutely necessary. I would like to take the risk and come off of it to see what happens but so far, it sounds like Lamictal withdrawal can be hellish. Lamictal during pregnancy raises the risk of a baby being born with a cleft palate. The likelihood of that happening to me is low and even if it does happen, it’s fixable but why take the chance? I’m also the super-psycho freak that will halt topical steroid medication of my eczema and zealously check all toys “Made in China” for lead.

      Gianna at Beyond Meds and CLPsych over at Clinical Psychology and Psychiatry have written pieces on how Lamictal’s efficacy has been shown to be no better than placebo. This is something I intend on writing about soon considering that I’m one of the patients who could probably (currently, anyway) sing the wonders of the drug.

      So there’s the update. That’s what’s going on in my life. I hope that you are all well. I likely won’t post again before 2009 so I’d like to wish you all a Happy New Year!

      Mood rating: 5

      Seven Things I'm Thankful For

      ThankfulThanksgiving is several days over and I know I’m late on this but I still thought it would helpful for me to list seven things I’m thankful for this year. (I tried to list ten but I couldn’t think of anything beyond seven.)

      1. My secured salvation through Jesus Christ
      2. My husband
      3. My family (that includes in-laws!)
      4. My friends (“real” and “virtual”)
      5. My health (For the most part, I’m doing well right now)
      6. My wealth (No, I’m not rich but like Gianna at Beyond Meds said: If I have a computer, I’m likely well off.)
      7. My job (somewhat self-employed)

      I’m not much of a chatterbox today because I have a really bad cold and feel absolutely wiped. Tea with lemon and honey and chicken soup has kept me going this week. I have a Tina Turner concert to go to in NY tomorrow so I hope I’m on the mend by tomorrow morning.

      (Image from sarahheidt.mennonite.net)

      Failure and Success

      God has really been hammering me on the issue of fear in a slightly different way than I’d imagined. He keeps showing me stories and verses related to failure and success. Here’s a devotional that I found in my inbox this morning:

      Thoughts for Today
      What words come to mind when asked to describe yourself? Sometimes we might define ourselves by listing our failures and our negative traits. But God has a different perspective! If we are followers of Christ, this is how God sees us …

      We say: I’m a failure. I can’t do anything right.
      God says: You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you. Philippians 4:13

      We say: I still feel guilty about things I’ve done in the past, even though I’ve confessed it all as sin and don’t do those things anymore.
      God says: I blot out your sins and remember them no more. Isaiah 43:25

      We say: Sometimes I feel so unlovable. How can God possibly keep on loving me?
      God says: God says nothing can separate us from his love. Romans 8:38-39

      We say: I tend to be such a fearful person.
      God says: The righteous are as bold as a lion. Proverbs 28:1

      God sees us as righteous, wise and forgiven. He sees us as his treasures, his children.

      Prayer
      Lord, thank you for clothing me in the righteousness of Christ. Help me not to think too lowlyor too highlyof myself, but to see myself as you do. In Jesus’ name …

      And then I read an article on Olympic diver Laura Wilkinson in Today’s Christian Woman (TCW) and she addressed the issue of failure and success. If God doesn’t get to me through this, I don’t know what will! I’ve posted excerpts of the TCW interview that spoke to me (occasionally interspersed with my commentary) under the cut.

      Read the rest of this entry »

      For No One

      NOTE: This post heavily focuses on God, His impact on my life, and living according to the Bible.

      When I talk to my husband about embarking on freelance writing, he often asks me: "What do you define success as?"

      Hmm. Good question.

      My responses vary:

      "It’s educating others and making a difference in other people’s lives."
      "Bringing in a decent income."
      "Doing what I love to do every day."

      But if I’m honest with myself, I define success as writing a brilliant piece, receiving recognition, being lavished with laud and praise over it, and winning a slew of writing and/or journalism awards. I’ve done it in the past. I’d like to do it all over again.

      Back in my senior year of college, I won an award as the best student print journalism writer on Long Island. I beat out I-don’t-know-how-many other college students on an island that boasts a population of 2.8 million (as of the 2000 census). Sure, it was just college but it opened my eyes and made me feel as though I had the potential to do that on a bigger scale.

      Then comes Epic Fail. (Link provided for your amusement.)

      Read the rest of this entry »

      Taking on pretentious Christianity: You don't always have to be happy just because you call yourself a Christian

      Nancie at More Than Conquerors has a great post up including a devotional that reflects on Jeremiah 17:17: "Do not be a terror to me; You are my hope in the day of doom." It really contradicts the notion that Christians are supposed to be bright, happy, sunshine, and flowers. Christians always seem to act like because they have "joy" in Christ, they are supposed to be happy-go-lucky and everything just works out for them.

      How absolutely and utterly wrong.

      The path of the Christian is not always bright with sunshine; he has his seasons of darkness and of storm.

      Because I’m essentially faceless on this blog, I can be me–like it or not. I’m not your typical born-again Christian. I don’t act pretentious. If crap is going wrong in my life, I say it is and I won’t act like things are butterflies and sunshine. I cuss (sorry to those it offends!) at times when I’m angry or frustrated. This is me; I am a human with faith in Christ.

      So I’m out to blast this notion of Christians always have the "joy of the Lord," meaning "I am so happy because Jesus saved me from my sins that I have to go around and smile all day." NO. "Joy of the Lord," I think, means quiet confidence in him. Knowing who he is and what he’s done for you and through all the trials of life, never letting go of that faith because you’re secure in his love for you.

      No Christian has enjoyed perpetual prosperity; no believer can always keep his harp from the willows. Perhaps the Lord allotted you at first a smooth and unclouded path, because you were weak and timid. He tempered the wind to the shorn lamb, but now that you are stronger in the spiritual life, you must enter upon the riper and rougher experience of God’s full-grown children.

      We need winds and tempests to exercise our faith, to tear off the rotten bough of self-dependence, and to root us more firmly in Christ.

      The day of evil reveals to us the value of our glorious hope.

      Boy, do I feel like winds and tempests are exercising my faith. And I’m not going to act like they’re not. Jesus showed the weak side of his humanity. I’m not sure why some Christians think they need to be "stronger" than Jesus.

      /end ex-fundamentalist rant/

      Current Mood Rating: 5.5

      "You can do this"

      From October 10, 2006:

      carI’m tempted to go crash my car.

      Again, the boy cried wolf.

      Except I’m a girl.


      Right now, I’m going through what my old pastor used to say is a “spiritual winter.” I just fall into moments when I just cease praying and reading my Bible for whatever reason. I’m not mad at God or anything; I still struggle with believing in a God that I’ve never seen with my own two eyes. But then I think about the specific events that have taken place in my life and I know He exists.

      With that being said, I sat in my car this morning with the ignition turned on, ready to drive my car over the bridge into the Schuylkill River. I was ready to run home, make the stupid “goodbye world” post on this blog, text my husband “I love you. Goodbye” and then ram my car into a divider on I-76. It’s the worst suicidal thought I’ve had since I ended up in the hospital in October 2006.

      Read the rest of this entry »

      God and mental illness

      Thanks to Gianna for sending me a link to an ABC News article about the relationship between religious faith and depression. The article analyzes whether faith can help or exacerbate a mental illness. The exacerbation, as referred to in the article, mostly comes from the stigma of mental illness within the religious community.

      “You might be shocked to find out there are some denominations that do harm to people,” said Patricia Murphy, chaplain and assistant professor of psychiatry at Rush University. “Some congregations teach that depression is a sin … that’s the reaction they get when they turn to their pastor.”

      Being punished by your religious leader for an unavoidable disorder sounds bad enough — yet it’s often compounded with tacit warnings against leaving the condemning sect.

      “Studies have shown that faith leaders are least supportive [with mental health problems],” said Gregg-Schroeder. “There’s this attitude that if you pray harder, you’ll be able to pull yourself out of it. I’ve gone to funerals of people who were told to just pray to Jesus and stop taking your meds.”

      praying dogI’ve been told that I suffer from depression because I didn’t pray enough or I wasn’t “right with God.” When I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after my high school graduation, I found my pastor and church noticeably absent even though they were aware of the situation. When I was depressed, I’d get verses like Proverbs 15:13, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” Great. That’s helpful. Especially when I don’t have a “merry heart.”

      When I was forced to leave a fundie conservative Christian college midyear because of my depression, my pastor at the time was clearly disappointed with my decision not to return the following year. I decided that attending a college close to home as a commuter student would be better for my mental health. There was no need to scare more roommates with my occasional mixed episodes. I felt like I’d failed my pastor, my church, and my God. God more so than anyone else. I convinced myself that He must be upset with me – disappointed in me. It’s not easy to recover from depression when you feel like the One who dangles your life from His fingers is pretty pissed at you.

      (Image from AP via Yahoo! News)

      Read the rest of this entry »

      Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Conclusion

      "The basic rule of suicide intervention is this: if the level of suffering can be reduced a little, the individual might choose to live." – Jeffrey S. Black

      The quote above is the entire point of this post and the preceding posts on this subject. Suicide’s a difficult and divisive topic. People never seem to run out of opinions on the matter.  Jeffrey Black’s booklet was directed to an audience that wanted to know how to help a suicidal individual. I added a couple of things that I thought were relevant, but for the most part, Black is on target. I stopped harping on this through my posts, but I remained dismayed at the straightforward approach and lack of empathy in the book. While a person struggling with suicidal thoughts shouldn’t be "babied," he should be treated with compassion and care. Tough love works on some people, but its potential for backfire is great. Many people who consider suicide are extremely fragile and the slightest criticism could further convince them that they need to kill themselves. (FYI – I am one of these.) If you’ve known the person for a long time, assess his normal-tempered personality. From there, decide whether he is capable of accepting a bit of a heavy-handed push. A general rule: Avoid tough love if the suicidal person normally wouldn’t consider you "a loved one."

      So this post concludes my longest-running series on suicide. This series has been in the works since October, when I entered the hospital, but I never had any time to really devote to it. The semi-meticulous person I am, I went through my posts and tried to edit them as much as possible. (OK, with the exception of this one.) A few mistakes might slip through, but for the most part, they should be relatively readable.

      The point of this series wasn’t to bang non-Christians over the head with a Bible. (Uh, so to speak.) The booklet I dissected came from a Christian point of view, but I think there was a lot of helpful information, not just for Christians, but for anyone who wants to help a suicidal person. It’s not foolproof and it certainly isn’t the "be-all and end-all." It’s a guideline and a good start. Purchase the book at Amazon, if you’re interested.

      Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Part VI, Hopelessness

      “If a Christian is without hope and sees himself as helpless, it underscores that his thinking is out of alignment with God’s.” – Jeffrey S. Black

      A hopeless Christian is a paradox considering that Christians should have reason to hope. But when faced with trials of life, “keeping hope alive” proves difficult.

      Black defines hopelessness in three ways:

      1. A failure to recognize God’s wisdom.
      2. A failure to desire what God desires.
      3. An unwillingness to view time the way God does.

      Important questions for a hopeless Christian to ask himself:

      • Are my hopes in the situation getting better or in Christ?
      • Are my hopes in me or in Christ?
      • Are my hopes in other people or Christ?

      A quote from Psalm 73:21-22:

      “When my heart was embittered and I was pierced within, then I was senseless and ignorant.”

      When a Christian’s focus isn’t on Christ, everything is hopeless. I struggle with answers how to get a Christian from a point of hopelessness to hopeful ness.

      Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Part I

      Black’s Common Features of Suicidal Thinking

      1. Bitterness
      2. Anger
      3. An unwillingness to forgive
      4. The “last word” in argument
      5. A way to punish someone

      “Romans 1 suggests that a person – believer or unbeliever – who contemplates suicide must actively suppress the Spirit’s testimony that he is a creature made in the image of God, living in dependence on him.”

      “Actively suppress” is a strong statement. If it means a person is aware of this suppression, then I’d disagree. Some people may be aware of this but that isn’t always the case. Black emphasizes suicidal believers are made in the image of God and insinuates that suicidal attempts are willful acts of disobedience:

      “We want to demolish the idea that someone who takes his life is a sad, wounded, and weakened victim, and that suicide is a noble expression of his fragility and God’s failure to rescue him.”

      While suicide is not a noble expression of fragility, suicide shows a suicidal person and those around him how weak he is. This is not “weak” that describes someone with a character flaw; those referred to as weak are those who need emotional help. Those who are emotionally stronger are able to encourage someone who is emotionally weak. A man who takes his life may have been sad, may have been wounded, and may have been weak – but God’s grace was not beyond him and what is perceived as God’s “failure” to rescue him was still within God’s control. (I won’t get into the fine details of why He allows some people to live and some to die in this post.)

      Suicide: Understanding and Intervening – Outline

      While the book had me put off, I did glean a couple of things from it, mainly things that pertain to Christians who struggle with suicidal ideation.

      “The paradox is brought into full focus when a suicidal Christian wants to know if she will lose her salvation if she kills herself. The contradiction in her thinking – that the same God who has the power to condemn her eternally doesn’t have the power to help her now – seems lost on her.”

      The key here for Christians is to focus on “the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” This is especially difficult to do when a person doesn’t know the next path to take, what to believe, or desperately wants die. The Biblical view of Christianity holds that a person who has trusted in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and commits suicide is not condemned to hell. However, the booklet deals with issues leading up to this point and does not focus on suicide per se.

      While suicide is viewed as a psychological act born out of a depressive state, the author correctly states it is “the act of a sinful heart.” All Christians must come to terms that many mental illnesses are a result of a sinful, fallen condition. Christianity rejects the teaching that “all people are inherently good.” From a Biblical standpoint, that’s a fallacy. Psalm 53:3 reminds readers, “There is none who does good, not even one.” Those who believe in God must accept that they are fallen, sinful creatures incapable of consistently doing good in and of themselves. Depressive and suicidal tendencies stem from this sinful nature.

      Black quotes G.C. Berkouwer:

      “One cannot find sense in the senseless and meaning in the meaningless.”

      Life as a non-Christian can be senseless and meaningless because there seems to be nothing to live for other than the self. A belief in Jesus Christ as Savior gives life a brand new sense of meaning. But even a Christian can lose track of that. Again, the inability to remain focused on God stems from a sin nature.

      Black uses the apostle Paul as an example of someone who overcame trials, hardships, and suffering. In II Corinthians 4:17, Paul refers to his suffering as a “light affliction, which is but for a moment.” Black outlines how Paul is able to regard trials as light, momentary afflictions:

      1. Paul lives his entire life with purpose. He endures the suffering because of the good he knows will come out of it.
      2. His life is lived for the future, for a “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.” (II Cor. 4:17)
      3. Paul is “strengthened” to face the challenges that God has given him through the Holy Spirit.

      While Black explains how Paul overcame his difficult trials with courageous faith, his application flies over the head of any depressed believer. The above may be encouraging to a believer who is disappointed by trials, but it is an application out of the grasp of someone who is suicidal. A more appropriate application would be King David in the Psalms, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Psalm 43:5) or rather Elijah, who after a great spiritual victory, prays to God, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life.” (I Kings 19:4) Perhaps even a suicidal person can relate to Job, “"Why is light given to him who is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not.” (Job 3:20-21) Black overlooks believers with applicable moments of despair and opts to use the apostle Paul as example for hope. Here, the cliché is applicable: a person must go through the darkest part of the tunnel before he can see the light.

      Not only did I feel as though Black throw Paul’s example in for a “See? This is how a true believer should act,” he immediately delves into how “suicide is a sinful act.” Pitting depressed people against a great apostle like Paul is just an awful reminder that they just don't “stack” up. Contrasting a suicidal person with a spiritual giant is yet another reminder as to why he needs to die, not to live. As I mentioned before, using Elijah, David, or Job would have been a more empathetic approach.

      An underlying base of suicide is selfishness. Black capitalizes on this thought:

      “My goal is not simply to get the person to repent over a specific act of lawbreaking (suicide), but to undermine his pattern of sinfully self-centered rationalization.”

      He adds that suicide is an “expression of self-centeredness contrary to our position as creatures responsible to a Creator.” Suicidal thoughts remove God from being the primary focus of life and make people gods in their lives. Suicide seems like a noble way of dying (a form of narcissism) while it is essentially a slap in the face to God. Suicide says to God, “I don’t trust that you can help me through life so I’m taking matters into my own hands,” whether the individual is aware of God or not.

      Revisited: Twisted Christian Viewpoint on Mental Illness

      Many thanks to Gianna for reminding me about this post. It sunk into the recesses of my blog and I’d forgotten about it, I reread it recently and found it incredibly relevant and uplifting. Go ahead and read it for yourself.

      Suicide and baseball

      I’m suicidal right now. And it sucks.

      According to my mood rating, yesterday I was a 0. Then I forced myself into a 10. I really felt more like a 5. I’m a 3.2 today: moderately depressed, passing thoughts of suicide with some difficulty functioning.

      I know exactly what’s triggering my suicidal thoughts: my stupid assumptions about how my co-workers and boss feel about me.

      I’m a total people-pleaser. Despite my assumptions, I have a tendency to read people quite well. I can tell when they don’t like me, when they do, and when they’re pretty much ho-hum about me.

      I have two co-workers that are basically annoyed with me because of my absence on my birthday Friday (I know this because they were fine on Thursday), my boss is "ho-hum," and the rest of my co-workers don’t really care. (More later throughout the week on my birthday weekend.)

      My husband continues to remind me that I need to keep my thoughts focused on God. My suicidal tendencies develop because I’m so self-absorbed that I take my focus off of God.

      I want to kill myself as I way to punish my co-workers. There. I said it. I want to kill myself because two people are annoyed with me. (And I know they’ll get over it; they always tend to.) But I can’t stand the cold, stony silence. I can’t stand not knowing what people are thinking about me. I can’t stand the cold e-mails I receive when I try to be warm and friendly.

      I have a lot to do at work. I’m a little overwhelmed because I’m still quite new, but I’m doing my best to keep up with things here. I should be currently working, but I’m taking the opportunity to use my 15-minute paid break as a way to relieve the pain that’s beginning to develop in my mind and heart.

      It’s totally stupid to kill myself because TWO people don’t like me. I have a whole bunch of family and friends who love me to death (npi) and I’m suicidal because TWO people are currently annoyed with me.

      I realize how silly that is.

      Read the rest of this entry »

      Suicide From a Christian Point of View

      I was excited to stumble upon a Christian blog that dealt with the topic of suicide. However, despite the fact that I think the author makes many good points, her ending left me a little more than sour: "Deciding to commit suicide whether because of financial, emotional, spiritual, or physical circumstances is a sin that separates one from God for eternity (1 John 5:17)."

      I John 5:17 (NASB) says, "All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death."  The sin that leads not unto death is pardoned sin, sin that a Christian has asked forgiveness for.

      The author of this blog makes the statement of saying that a person who commits suicide spends eternity apart from God. A person who believes in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and commits suicide does not spend eternity apart from God because even though the sin is committed in death, Jesus’s atonement on the cross pardons that sin. (I John 1:7-9) If the author is making a statement that a born-again Christian who commits suicide is plunged into eternal condemnation, the author is in grave error.

      God's paradoxical grace

      A friend sent me this today:

      "God’s grace is an amazing, terrible thing. Free but not cheap."

      Whoa. That’s a concept for me to behold.

      Twisted Christian Viewpoint on Mental Illness

      Despite the fact that Liz Spikol is messhuggeneh, she linked to an amazing blog with a Christian perspective on depression. (I’m ashamed I didn’t find it before!) I’m pleased and excited that a Christian in the blogosphere finally has the correct approach to mental illness.


      CLIFFS NOTES VERSION: Christians have a very limited understanding of depression, suicide, and other various forms of mental illness even though there are SPECIFIC examples in the Bible. Christians need to learn how to take care of those with mental illness or they may very well isolate the people they are called to love.


      (The rest is a half-finished personal background. You can stop reading here if you choose to.)

      Read the rest of this entry »

      Identification

      I identify with Dawdy’s article on a variety of grounds and many of his words have me thinking.

      “Mostly, the suicidal show no clues that they are on dangerous ground.”

      This is true for me only with people I don’t know. When people at work, friends, or family see me, they think that all is right in my world. I’m the type of person who keeps a pleasant expression fixed on her face and in general, has a bubbly, cheery attitude. (Co-workers, acquaintances, and casual friends would never know how negative and pessimistic I am.) If people found out that I struggled with depression to the extent of attempting suicide on 10 different occasions, they’d all be shocked because it doesn’t seem to jive with my “personality.”

      People who really know me — those closest to me — know that when I’m suicidal, it’s extremely hard for me to not show. I withdraw from social contact, refuse to make eye contact, become extremely quiet or reply with a succession of short, one-word answers to questions, or corner myself in a seat or in bed with my head hanging down, eyes spacing off into somewhere. Those who know me should and can know when I’m suicidal. It becomes so obvious that I don’t need to say anything. I usually don’t tell anyone, but my body language speaks volumes.

      Read the rest of this entry »

      Transforming Grace

      Originally written on October 16, 2006

      orphansIn Rose Marie Miller’s introduction for from fear to freedom, she outlines the orphan mindset of a person who has accepted Christ as his/her Savior through grace but does not recognize his/her son/daughtership:

      “- Life consciously or unconsciously is centered on personal autonomy and moral willpower, with grade understood as God’s maintaining your own strength — not as his transforming power.
      – Faith is defined as trying harder to do and be better, with a view to establishing a good record leading to self-justification
      – Obedience is related to external, visible duties with attitudes and deeper motivation virtually ignored
      – ‘What people think’ is represented as the real moral standard, based upon visible success and failure
      – An I-am-a-victim attitude is supported by coping strategies, wall building, blame shifting, gossiping, and defending
      – All this is accompanied by intense feelings of aloneness, believing that no one understands and that one is trapped by circumstances.”

      I identify with all of the above. But it doesn’t stop there. Miller says:

      “Here then is my theme: the only hope of liberation for a helpless, resisting caterpillar in a ring of fire is deliverance from above. Someone must reach down into the ring and take us out. This rescue is what brings us from the orphan state into that of the son or daughter. This is not mere supporting grace, but transforming grace.”

      So my only hope of help is total deliverance. Meds aren’t a “cure-all” — never have been, never will be. In the meantime, I need to find Someone to pull me out of my “ring of fire.” I can only look to God.

      Today’s Mood: 4

      Faith vs. Presumption

      Originally written on October 16, 2006

      "Presumptive self-confidence may look like faith, but it has a very difference spiritual root. (Jeremiah 17:5-10). Faith and presumption look alive because both qualities are characterized by confidence, but faith begins in the recognition and acceptance of our total human weakness. It relies solely on God and his gracious willingness to empower us.

      Presumption, on the other hand, is a reliance on human moral abilities and religious accomplishments, on visible securities. It ultimately relies on human will power to serve God and people… a mix of presumption and faith produces a personal instability that surfaces in crises and major life transitions." — Rose Marie Miller, from fear to freedom

      Truth vs. Lies

      Originally written October 10, 2006

      "This is the one thing I know, you said you won’t let me go, you said you won’t let me go. You’ve done a good work in me and you won’t quit till I’m free." ~ Sara Groves, "This Is The One Thing I Know"

      Sometimes I need to believe thigns are true, even when I don’t feel they are.

      Of the few things I learned at my outpatient therapy, three lessons (truths) stuck with me:

      1. God loves me. (Romans 5:8, I John 4:9-11)
      2. He will never leave or forsake me. (Hebrews 13:5)
      3. The devil is a liar. (John 8:44)

      I don’t feel any of the above but I’ve got to assume it’s true. Even if I’m afraid, it’s got to be enough to keep me going.

      Christianity

      I began taking antidepressants at 22 years old. My parents were reluctant to put me on medication as a growing teenager. In July 1998, I found something I thought would offer me a better chance at being happy: I became a born-again Christian by accepting Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. Some people find different ways of happiness and staying alive. Thinking that a big, divine God had kept me alive this long for a reason kept me going.
      Jesus Christ became my raison d’être: for eating, sleeping, breathing. I lived to worship God day and night and felt He had truly transformed me and saved me out of my depression. While He may infuse a life-changing transformation for some Christians on Earth, for me, my victory over depression would be short-lived. It soon became the “thorn in my side.”
      Close friends and family said that Christianity didn’t work for me. But through my faith, I found a need to continue living. I felt needed and had a reason to live for other than myself. Thinking that God has me here for a higher purpose keeps me going: I’m curious to find out what’s at the end. Faith in God can bring some needed relief for depression sufferers.