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Archive for March, 2012

I’m not supposed to have sugar, but today I’m ignoring the voice of wisdom. I’m savoring a little square of real Norwegian chocolate. It’s amazing—creamy chocolate with tiny almonds, a hint of caramel and surprising bits of salt. I might share if you ask nice. I know I’m not supposed to have it, but it came all the way from Norway. What idiot would pass it up? Besides, chocolate is a sure fix in a time like this.

Okay. The truth is, I’ve been battling depression for several weeks. Once in a while, I give in to it. Let it wash over my heart and flood my thoughts, blocking the light and darkening my mood.

Have you ever given in to the Big D?

I’m not prone to drama or emotional breakdowns; I’m usually the even-tempered one. But sometimes depression strikes without reason. Well, that’s not true. There are reasons if I step away from the conveyor belt of life and take inventory. Lately, I’ve had a number of disappointments. It’s not like life is bad. These aren’t earth-shattering. But several disappointments at once can stack up like boulders, squashing me until I’m numb and good things are dull gray and I’m responding to everything with apathy. And at the moment, rain is pounding the roof so hard it sounds like an angry, hissing crowd, making the sky so dark I want to turn on every light in the house and blast some grinding, bass-driven rock. If this keeps up, the family won’t be seeing the rest of that Norwegian chocolate. (Ever seen a depressed Norwegian? Me neither.)

Mix disappointments with a couple minor health issues, nagging pain, and chronic poor sleep, and voila, the recipe is perfect. The result: a triple-layered funk coated with a thick glaze of apathy.

And I know better. I have so much to be thankful for, countless things I take for granted. One day in a third world country would probably slap 99% of the funk right out of me.

How do you deal with depression? I tell myself to snap out of it and smile at the checker and muster up genuine excitement at someone’s great news, or at least have the decency to appear excited.

When that doesn’t work, counting my blessings helps. It helps a lot, actually. It’s not as trite as it may sound. So much of our negative emotion and mood comes from a bad attitude, which comes from negative thoughts—true or skewed—roaming around loose in our minds.

This thoughts-to-attitudes-to-actions tendency is a sneaky business. When I’m feeling low because of real issues, negative self-talk seems to find a better foothold too. I start noticing crappy things about me, like how socially awkward I can be. How I compare to others. What I’m not doing right. Past mistakes.

Some of these things are simply nasty little lies. Others contain some truth but don’t really matter; they do nothing but encourage self-centeredness, which is useless and a breeding ground for all kinds of mental and spiritual crud.

The best way I’ve found to steer out of a depressed funk is to list the positives. Honestly. Humbly. And then eventually, I remember to pray. What a concept.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians blows me away. His letter—from prison—encourages the Philippians to be full of joy. He uses the word “rejoice” 16 times. And there’s not one word about gritting our teeth, putting on a smile for the checker, and faking it. He had genuine reason to rejoice and wanted us to bury this reason deep in our hearts.

 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 4:4-7

Counting our blessings is a good start. Voicing gratitude to God takes the defunking process much further. Thanking God for what we have and what he’s done reminds us of God’s infinite wisdom and amazing grace. It dissolves the negative and erroneous self-talk tangled around our hearts. It forces our faces up out of the chocolate chip bag long enough to see beyond the moment. Reminds us we have hope.

I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead. ~Philippians 3:13

Forgetting what’s behind and looking ahead may sound like some kind of holy denial, like using blinders to ignore our problems or mistakes. That may be the case if we haven’t addressed some sin. If you haven’t, talk to Jesus about that today. But if you have brought your junk to the Lord and it still trips you up, ask God to cleanse, renew, and empower you. Sorrow lasts for a night, joy comes in the morning.

I want to keep a carefully balanced view of both past and present. We have to watch where we’re going rather than where we’ve been so we don’t fall flat on our face. We also need to look ahead to what is promised to give us hope to move forward.

But a certain kind of looking back is important. What is the most memorable thing God has done in your life? What moments stand out as times God made himself real to you? A healing? Peace in the midst of turmoil? Courage under fire? An undeniable sense of his presence? Provision for a need you had no resources for? A breakthrough of understanding from his word? A miracle? Strength to endure a particularly tough time? Joy in the midst of sorrow? A palpable sense of God’s all-encompassing love?

I forget these things sometimes. Doh! I also forget I have a loving Savior who understands and cares about everything I’m going through. If anyone can sympathize, it’s Jesus.

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. ~Isaiah 53:3-4

Jesus suffered so much and so willingly, out of his great love for us. Let’s allow his love to penetrate our thoughts, our attitudes, and our mood. Let his promises for our future give us hope.

And let’s remember with gratitude all the things God has done for us. It strengthens our faith. And faith is the basis of hope.

And hope (not Norwegian chocolate, I’m pretty sure . . .) is the cure for the funk.

Can I pray for you?

Jesus, please be with my friend now, especially if she’s battling depression. You know what she’s going through. You know her pain, her struggles, her disappointments. When she hurts, You hurt with her. Please touch her heart like only You can. Help us count the many positives with grateful hearts. Show us the lies that have robbed us of life and joy, and free us with Your truth. Show us mistakes we may still need to admit and help us lay ourselves fully at Your feet. Heal wounds, old and new. Cleanse, renew, and empower us. We need You, Jesus. Fill us with hope and joy. Amen.

Question: What is the most memorable thing God has done in your life? What moments stand out as times God made himself real to you?

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This is me and my movie-starlet mom (about 1967). Note the matching jackets. And my grubby little knees, typical. Not sure where this was taken, probably at the Oregon coast. My dad took the shot. I don’t remember him much, because soon after this, he left.

Those big brown eyes seem alert and a little wary. Wonder what I was thinking. Maybe I sensed this would be one of the last times I’d see my dad for more than a decade. Maybe I could foresee what my life would be like without a dad to love, protect, and encourage me.

No, that little kid had no clue. She would have to find out about the fatherless life the hard way.

Growing up, I often wished my dad would come back and rescue me from the torment of the day. One night when I was about 8, after being banished to my room all day by an ever-angry stepdad, I wrote, “Help me, Daddy!” in the window condensation. I even wrote it backwards so he could read it if he happened by. Which wasn’t likely since he lived in another country. But, star pupil that I was, I still clung to such hopes.

I was a sensitive kid, though no one knew it, including me. That tendency to be easily wounded created a tough protective shell, which didn’t make me any less sensitive; it just allowed me to tramp through life bleeding without anyone ever knowing it.

I could go on and on (fill a book, no doubt) about how empty, ugly, and unlovable I felt growing up, make a long list of all the factors that had aligned just right and drove insecurity and erroneous self-talk deep into every part of me.

But I won’t. (Not today, anyway . . .)

The rescue I longed for never came. Not the kind I’d been imagining, anyway. It would be decades before I realized I’d had a Rescuer all along. He’d been there with me many times. I just hadn’t seen him or taken hold of his outstretched hand.

I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” Genesis 28:15-16

Have you ever secretly wished someone would be so totally intoxicated in love with you that they could never, ever leave you?  There aren’t enough books and movies to fill (and reinforce) that craving. That’s not to say I haven’t been blessed with an incredibly devoted, loving husband and the miracle of nearly 29 years together, in spite of my junky baggage and many painful mistakes. Sadly, humans are not capable of that breathtaking (& unrealistic) notion of one person being so thoroughly enamored with another. And even if people were capable, I realize I will never be worthy of such undying (guaranteed) adoration. I’m flawed. We all are.

And yet, The Hero of all heroes, the God of the Universe, stood within arms’ reach all along, ready to lavish me with his relentless, undying love. If only I’d known!

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Ephesians 3:17-19

It took decades, even long after giving my life to Jesus, to begin to grasp how much God loves me in spite of my flaws and mistakes. His grace, forgiveness and patience blows me away. Sometimes I’m struck with awe and gratitude for all that God has done and continues to do in and for me. I’m still discovering the depth and height and width and length of his love for me. He’s the only one who can love us so unconditionally without wavering. He gave his only Son for me, gave what was most precious, paid the highest, most costly price for ME. Will he then leave me? Split on me to go live in another country without a backward glance? Pull away and turn his back on me when I’ve screwed up one time too many? I need never fear being abandoned.

And neither do you.

The LORD himself (The God of the Universe!) goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:8

I wish I could go back and spend some time with that wide-eyed little girl on the beach. There are so many things I long to tell her. Too many to list here. But if there’s one thing I’d tell my young self, it’s this:

Camille, God adores you so much he paid the utmost highest price for you! You are his precious prize! He thinks you’re beautiful because he made you, and even when you’re not beautiful and make mistakes and break his heart, he will still love you!  He will love you forever and ever and will never, ever leave you.

Question, friend: If you could go back and visit little you, what would you say?

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If you’re a Christian, how did you begin your God Life? Did you wake up one day and say “I need to clean up my act and start going to church”? Or “I don’t want to go to hell, so Jesus, please come into my life.” Or “Jesus, take the wheel, you’re in charge now.” Or did you grow up hearing about Jesus and you’ve always believed?

For me, becoming a Christian was the “Jesus, take the wheel” thing. I was a sixteen year old low-life stoner (pot-smoker if you missed the 70s) bound for jail or death—I knew without a doubt. I wanted out, but felt trapped in a cycle of addiction, pressuring peers, and failure. I wondered about God but thought even if he was real he couldn’t do anything about my screwed-up life. Out of options, I began reading a Bible that had somehow trailed me through several moves. It kept falling open to the Psalms where David often mentioned God’s presence and love, talking about God like he was real. Like he cared and had the power to help. I figured David was either crazy or really did know God personally. So if David wasn’t stoned or crazy, maybe God was real. And maybe . . . if God was as powerful and caring as David said, maybe he could help a dumb girl caught up in a hopeless, destructive lifestyle.

So one night I put God to the test. I told him he could prove himself by taking away my 5-year cigarette addiction. (Yes, I was an idiot, but remember I did mention drug use.) I said if he did that, then I’d believe in him. Like God needed my validation. When I woke the next morning, all cigarette cravings had vanished. I was instantly free of an addiction I’d failed repeatedly to kick. I realized not only was God real and capable, but he had answered my challenge just as I’d asked. He wanted to help me with my issues, but more importantly, he wanted me to believe in him, trust him. And I did. I gave my life to Jesus that day.

I sometimes cringe when I use that phrase “gave my life to Jesus.” I did make a conscious decision to give God control of Camille and let him call the shots. But was it a done deed?

Psalm 31:14
But I trust in you, LORD; I say, “You are my God.”

The Bible talks about laying down our lives and taking up our cross daily. Anyone else struggle with this? I do. Not that I want to do terrible things, it’s just that not all my days begin with “THY kingdom come, THY will be done . . .”

Sometimes I’ve surrendered my will and chose God’s way instead of mine. Yay, me. But there have been plenty of days in which I’ve ignored that nudging of his Spirit and did my own thing. Because I don’t feel like going out of my way. Or waking up early. Or being nice to an arrogant jerk. Or putting away the leisure thing and studying God’s word. Or skipping what I was planning to do because someone has a need. Or spending more than a few rushed minutes in prayer—on my knees. Or, or, or.

I have often despaired of being a good, God-led, dead-to-self person. Sometimes I wonder if I’m giving God a migraine. After all these years, you’d think I’d have it. I mean, he’s delivered me from addictions, healed some deep wounds, taught me to love, to trust. Why do I still fight to keep my grubby little grip on my will?

Once in a rare while, am reminded how far God has brought me. When God helped the Israelites cross the Jordan, he had them stop and build a memorial of river stones to help them remember where they’d come from and how God had delivered them. I rarely remember where I was headed when Jesus met me that night, and so forget to look at all he’s done in me since. He’s done miracle after miracle. Which makes me feel guiltier about this selective dying to self thing. But then I remember that, unlike his instant help with the smoking, the many other changes in me didn’t happen overnight. I am reminded that he knew what he was getting into and yet he helped me that night.

And he will continue to help me now.

As I pray-whined recently about this problem I have with laying down my will and submitting to his, I felt God remind me I can ask for his help. He can help my lips utter the words “Have your way in me, Lord, Your will be done.” And I only need enough desire and ability to do this TODAY. Not for the rest of my life, just today. My WILL is my weakness, my drug, my idol. I am reminded that like any addiction, I can’t change this without his help. My God can give me a heart of flesh, which is awesome because I need a heart like his daily. For some of us, it’s scary to say “have Your way, Lord.” I mean, he might ask me to go to Africa or New Jersey. Or downtown Portland. (Ack!) To give up comfort. To walk along the edge of a cliff with no safety net—other than his capable hands.

Sound too hard?

It is. Thank God he will be with me, giving me the ability, the courage, the strength, and the resources to follow through. And by his amazing grace, he will even help my heart be willing, just for today. Just one day at a time. That’s all I have to worry about!

Question: Do you find it hard to let God call the shots? If so, how does one day at a time sound? Or maybe one “shot” at a time?

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A few years ago, while traveling out of state to take our daughter to college, I heard a sermon about God’s grace and what I have to offer him that bounced my heart & mind out of a rut of misconception about what I actually “have.”

This pastor had us jot words across a paper representing the good things or actions we as Christians do or have because of God. Like repenting of sin, salvation, prayer, reading the Bible, following Jesus, trusting him, serving others, sharing the gospel, surrendering our will in favor of his, etc. Then he had us draw an arrow from the good act pointing up or down, depending on where the act originates. For example, if prayer is from you to God, draw an arrow up from that word. If salvation comes from God to us, draw an arrow down.

When we’d finished, he smiled and asked how it went, was it a mix with more or less one way than the other, etc. He smiled again and showed us his “paper.” All the arrows pointed down. Everything good we have and do and offer to God comes from God, by his grace.

I’d always been grateful and amazed by the grace or unmerited favor of God, but had never attributed every “good thing” in my life to being gifts of grace. Not that I ever took “credit” for being a new creation in Christ, but it had never occurred to me until that moment that EVERYTHING I thought I’d given or surrendered to God was given by the power of his grace, not mine. Every spiritual act, every good deed. If I am inclined to pray, he inspired that. If I think to serve someone in need, he supplied the thought and the drive, courage, resources, etc, to follow through.

I realized I got nuthin.  And I was relieved! I realized anything I strive to do for God is not up to me and my puny strength and sporadic inspiration, but each of these acts come about through him, by him, for him. So rather than reacting with the thought that Hey, I can’t do anything good on my own, might as well give up, I find great freedom in having nothing to offer. He does want me to follow and trust and serve and live in him with an eternal focus, but not through my limited strength and flawed human abilities. I don’t have to depend on myself at all, (this coming from a fiercely independent chick!!) but I depend entirely on God and his amazing, unmerited grace toward me. Since I got nuthin, I’m not limited. I’m free to rely on the power of Christ in me for everything I do. Like I’m off the hook, but only to get out of the way and let him do his thing. Does that make sense?

2 Corinthians 12:9, the Lord tells us, “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in your weakness.” This is not license to be weak and do nothing, this is a promise that if we set our little box of good deeds aside, he can really get to work through us. The possibilities are endless, since it all originates with him.

God LOVES you.  He wants YOU so much that he paid the highest price for your redemption. And he didn’t stop with your ransom.  He wants to cleanse, renew, and empower you to live each day in him.  By his grace, we have the promise of an unimaginable eternity with him.

Do you see his grace at work in your life?

 

The end of this Hillsong video says it all…

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