Colossians 2 – How the Bible Can Help with Depression

In the Mabbat Facebook group, I’ve been posting a Bible study guide each week, and right now, we’re in Colossians chapter 2.  (Here’s the link if you want to check that out: https://www.facebook.com/groups/773975689656609/?ref=bookmarks  It’s going up in weekly installments in the Facebook group, and then I’ll post it as an e-book after we’ve completed it in the group – more on that to come next month!)  Each week, there are a few notes, and then there’s space on the page for you to do some creative assignments to deepen your study of God’s word.  I’ve discovered as I write the Bible study prompts that there are some things I would love to add but don’t really have the room for if I stay focused.  So I decided to share those here on the blog.

Oftentimes as I’m reading the Bible, I find ideas that correlate with things I’ve learned in therapy.  I don’t know why that surprises me, because I firmly believe that God gave us the Bible as a blueprint for living the best lives we can.

20180716-Colossians 2 on DepressionIn Colossians 2:2, Paul expresses a desire for the church members to be “knit together by strong ties of love” before he expresses his desire for them “to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan.”  As a lifelong church member, this felt backwards to me until I spent time thinking through it.  Aren’t we supposed to have Jesus first and only?  Isn’t he sufficient for all our needs?  Yes, but… Our standard church answers leave a lot unexamined.  Jesus gives us the tools we need, and he will faithfully meet our needs, but we aren’t absolved from investing a little elbow grease in the process.

Paul wanted the church at Colossae to be bound together in love to provide an environment that fosters learning, trust, and care for one another – an environment that will encourage confidence in the knowledge of God.  As I breathed in that verse, I understood that we can’t see Christ’s love unless we are expressing it and receiving it, and that is the primary function of the church – to be a network of Jesus’s love and grace.

How does this fit in with depression coping skills?  I’m glad you asked.  Strong relationships are key in combatting depression.  There are plenty of scientific studies (as well as every therapist I’ve seen) that tell us the more connected we are to other people, the lower our risk of depression and substance abuse.  If you have depression, think about your symptoms.  Do you find that you pull away from people and, however unintentionally, isolate yourself?  Do you drop out of activities with other people that you enjoy?  Do you back out of engagements with family and friends?

Paul knew it was vital for the church to have strong, loving relationships to understand the fullness of God’s love, and it’s vital for our daily lives, too.  Especially if you battle depression.

So how do you do this when you are in the throes of grief and depression?  First, let someone in.  Find at least one friend that you can trust, and open the door.  Share with them, and listen when they need to share.  Then add another friend.  Then join a group – maybe go to a class you enjoy and start meeting the class members, or go to your local church and join a small group or Bible study class.  Slowly expand your circle and invest in those relationships.  In my experience, the more connected I am to my family, to my circle of friends, and to my church, the better I feel and the easier it is to get out of a funk when I fall into one.

20180716-Colossians 2-7Another verse that grabbed me in Colossians 2 is verse 7.  It’s a beautiful image to think about: “Let your roots grow down into him…”  It’s also a solid way to build a foundation for faith.  First, establish roots, then build, then grow, and then overflow.

That’s not just a solid way to develop faith, but it’s also a solid way to build mental health.

You need roots – some basic skills to recognize depression in your life and some basic skills to combat your symptoms (a treatment and/or maintenance plan).  Once you have that, then you can start building up your coping skills and work towards a “new normal” as your symptoms stabilize.  Then you will grow stronger, and then you’ll be able to share and help others.  The thing about this setup is that you can never neglect any of the stages; they’re all continual and build on each other.  As soon as you skip a step (ignore your roots, say), the entire thing (your mental health) comes crashing down.

This may be less dire for episodic depression and acute grief that will pass once the circumstances shift, but if you struggle with depression as an ongoing issue, you know you need to keep your eye on the ball and not ignore the things that keep you healthy.  I have recently been able to stop my antidepressant medication, but I can feel it when I let stress build up and skip the things that make me feel sane, like exercise, eating well, writing, and art.  When I see my cues – a short temper, complete lack of motivation, and a desire to eat all of the chocolate in the world – I know it’s time to evaluate and get back to basics of self-care.  Sometimes, I know it’s time to check in with my therapist.

What does your root structure look like?  Do you have a solid foundation of self-care and coping skills?  What does your life look like when you are “overflow” stage?  If you’re not there, what will it take for you to get on the right track?

*I am not a professional therapist or counselor, so I don’t offer this as a replacement for professional care.  If you are dealing with depression, please talk to your doctor and make a plan to begin healing.  I believe that Jesus can heal us, but I also know that he gave us tools like doctors and psychologists to help us when we need it.  If you are not getting better through prayer and healthy habits, please seek professional help.  I hope if nothing else, I hope my example can help remove the stigma that so often shadows mental health issues in our churches.  If you don’t know where to start, contact me, and I’ll be happy to help you locate resources in your area.

“In the Fields Today”

20180701 In the Fields TodayMy body has been crouched in this furrow for so long

That my view is narrowed

To just the dirt in my hands and the plant in front of me.

This plant is sturdy.

The stalk is strong, the roots stronger.

But what of the seedlings around it?

This small patch of field is dry and shriveled.

How can one plant be good, while the rest languish?

Didn’t they have the same care, the same sun?

This is not my concern,

Just as the weeds will wait for a more discerning eye to sort.

Shaking the dirt from my hands, I rise.

My view widens.

There are rows and rows as far as my sight stretches.

Some are lushly green; others are wilting.

My hands reach out to another furrow,

Somehow knowing

Without words or commands that the farmer needs them there.

I follow to find more rows, more need.

I feel the satisfaction of fingers immersed in rich soil.

The farmer wants me here.

I kneel into the work, and the panorama of rows tightens

To the one plant before me.

You Can Shout!

“A voice said, “Shout!” I asked, “What should I shout?” “Shout that people are like the grass. Their beauty fades as quickly as the flowers in a field. The grass withers and the flowers fade beneath the breath of the Lord. And so it is with people. The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever.” O Zion, messenger of good news, shout from the mountaintops! Shout it louder, O Jerusalem. Shout, and do not be afraid. Tell the towns of Judah, “Your God is coming!””  Isaiah 40:6-9 NLT

 I don’t know why exactly, but this passage in Isaiah grabbed me when I read it again a few weeks ago.  Isaiah is being told to go and deliver a specific message: we humans inhabit space and time for a moment, but God is forever.  He is eternal and eternally true and faithful.  I don’t know what your track record for faithfulness is, but mine is a little shoddy in some aspects.  I have never been unfaithful to my husband – I guard my marriage and my heart to keep that from ever being an option.  My record with healthy eating and exercise, on the other hand, is awful.  (Maybe I need to apply the same fervor I have for protecting my marriage to protecting my body…)  My discipline at writing is improving but clearly goes through spurts of faithfulness.  Thank God, God isn’t like that at all, in any aspect.  He is thoroughly faithful, so we can trust him.

 Why is that important, you may ask?  I mean, sure, we can trust God.  Every kid who attends a single Sunday school class will hear that a gazillion times in an hour.  It’s easy to accept that we can trust God, but what does it mean in real life outside of church?  It means you can act on what you believe.  You can shout!  If God is faithful, and his word is true, then you have the most solid foundation on which to build your entire belief system.  You have a standard for thought and behavior that applies to your entire life.  And you can shout!

Shout Pic 1Why does the crazy lady keep saying, “You can shout,” you may ask?  Because it’s true.  YOU can shout.  But I’m not a preacher, or a Sunday school teacher, or a worship music leader, or…  Whatever you just threw up as a defense, can we agree to drop it and lower our guards for a moment?  The beauty of trusting God’s word is that you can believe him when he tells us that each one of us is uniquely gifted and equipped to share his love.

You are uniquely gifted and equipped to create, and in so doing, share God’s character and his love.  You.  Can.  Shout.

 Go back and read the very first line of this Bible passage.  “A voice said, ‘Shout!’ I asked, ‘What should I shout?’”  I love this thought.  The voice is God telling Isaiah to go out and yell something to his people.  Go create.  Go paint or write or bake or run or organize…  But what should I create?  The wonderful thing God does for Isaiah here is he gives him the message to share through his creativity.  This probably won’t happen in such an obvious manner at the outset of your creative career; it may not happen so obviously even after you’ve been creating with God for years, but if you ask him to join you and guide you as you create, he’ll give you the message if you’ll listen.

 Isaiah gives us a model of creating with God: first answer his calling on your life, then answer his call to be creative with the gifts he’s given you, and then express the message he’s given you to tell.  Isaiah was a prophet who often relayed God’s messages to the people.  Consistently, he’d been shouting a single message: “God is coming!  Get ready!”  It took on various forms, and up to this point in the narrative, many of those messages had included “Woe to those who…”  You can browse the chapter headings and get a pretty good idea.  Isaiah had practiced the habit of listening for God’s message and repeating it through his creative talents.  Over and over and over – 39 chapter’s worth of practice is documented for us until we get to this point in Isaiah’s story.

 So when God tells Isaiah to shout, he doesn’t hesitate; he just asks what he should shout.  There was no question that Isaiah would practice his art.  The only question was what the exact message should be.

 That’s my goal in creating; I want the only question about my writing and drawing/painting to be, “What is the message supposed to be today?”  And that’s what I want for you, too.  I pray that will know what your gifts are and that you will practice your talent so much that it’s just like breathing.  I pray that God will show himself to you in those times in such a way that you will recognize that this is your God-given gift, and he will meet you in it when you use it faithfully.  And most of all, I pray that God will use you to shout his story of love and grace.

 Shout Pic 2One more thing I love about this passage, this entire chapter and the ones that follow, is that this marks a shift in tone for Isaiah.  There were a lot of “woes” before Chapter 40, but here the chapter opens with “Comfort…”  Classical music fans may recognize this text from Handel’s “Messiah.”  There is a beautiful piece that almost verbatim quotes the opening of this chapter.  I highly recommend reading it if you want to feel like God is giving you a hug; it’s a wonderful reminder that he wants nothing more than to love us and to see us excel.

 Maybe your gift isn’t public speaking like Isaiah’s was, but you do have a gift, and God wants you to use it.  I will be sharing some posts over the next month to help you discover your talents if you’re not sure what they are (and affirm you if you’re sure you know what they are).  If you want to join the conversation that’s already started in the Mabbat FB group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/773975689656609/?ref=bookmark), jump in there, and you’ll also be able to practice drawing and writing with the prompts in the Bible study posted each week.  We’re currently in Colossians.

Shout Pic 3You can SHOUT!  So what are you going to shout this week?  You can do this; you don’t have to be afraid because God is with you.  He is for you, and I am cheering for you, too.  Get out there and get loud!

WIP Wednesday 27 June 2018

Continuing the dancer theme, I have been working on some flamenco dancers. The passion and fire in a live performance is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. If you ever get the chance to see flamenco in person, do it. The give and take between the dancers and the musicians is a beautiful act of shared creation. The intensity level is on par with Argentine tango; you’re drawn in, and at the same time you feel like an interloper.

At any rate, here’s a sketchbook rendering.

And here is a canvas sketched and ready for paint. My daughter and niece and I have an art evening planned, so maybe she’ll get some color tonight!

What are you working on? I’d love to see in the comments or in the Mabbat FB group!

Today, Depression Hurts. Tomorrow…

What does coping with mild to moderate depression look like in practice?  I can only share from my experience of what works.  I feel it’s important to put the both the good and the bad days out there, so maybe someone who doesn’t have a solid toolbox of coping tools can learn from my mistakes and my battle-earned wisdom.  This is something I wrote a few months ago but wasn’t ready to publish then.  It’s how a bad but not-too-bad day feels, and it’s what I do to make it through.

May 3, 2018: Today is a full-on depression day.  I don’t want to move.  I don’t want to sleep.  I desperately need a shower, but that feels impossible to do.  Honestly, the whole last week has been some version of this that I have generally been able to overcome.  Today, though, is ridiculously hard for some reason.  I feel like screaming or crying or flopping on the ground in some sort of catatonic state.  But all of those require an initial effort, and today I just can’t.

IMG_0804Maybe today is harder because I didn’t sleep well last night or because my period started, and it feels like my uterus is trying to kill me.  Maybe my hormones are out of whack.  Maybe pollen is God’s greatest curse on Adam and Eve, and so snot is also trying to kill me.  Maybe.  There could be a million reasons why, but none of them matter.  Because I just can’t.

So how do I get through today in some moderately adult fashion (since throwing tantrums is frowned upon at my age)?  I will pray a lot.  None of my prayers today will sound very dignified.

This morning I muttered and grumbled because I couldn’t find clean underwear for my child since it seems all her clothes are either dirty and scattered all over her room or in the washer, which I forgot to transfer into the dryer and must wash again.  And then I said, “God, you could just find me a pair of underwear,” as I searched through a pile of unfolded clean clothes all belonging to me.  Behold, a pair of tiny human underwear was in the midst of the pile.  I will hope today that God answers all my obnoxious demands so perfectly to my liking, but the reality is, he will get me through it, pretty or not; how prettily will mostly depend on my attitude.img_0805.jpg

Besides praying undignified, muttered, short and snappy prayers, how will I cope with today?  Mostly I will just keep talking to myself and reminding myself to breathe in.  Breathe out.  Take the next step, whatever it is.

One minute at a time isn’t so huge, so I can walk to the bathroom and start the shower.  I can wash my hair and cry where I won’t scare the dogs or tiny human, and then I can get out and do the next thing.  I won’t think about the whole day or my to-do list or what’s coming up this weekend.  I will gently tell myself that I did something great by bathing, and I will tell myself that I can do more great things today, like brush my teeth.  Even though I desperately want to eat my weight in ice cream or peanut butter or chocolate, I will eat good food in moderation, and I will celebrate by telling myself, “we can do this; we can make it through the day.”  And even though I feel like kicking people in the shins and sticking my tongue out at them while I run away, I will smile instead, and I will hold my feet still, and I will celebrate by reminding myself that on a normal day my smile is my secret weapon.  I can coax a smile out of the grumpiest of folks if I look them in the eye and smile – it’s my best and favorite superpower.

Everyone has some superpower, and a sparkling-eyed smile is mine (procrastination is also one).

But I’m not a nice and friendly person when I feel this depressed.  Generally, I shut down and avoid all contact, but when I don’t, I am sharp-tongued and angry.  It’s not pretty.  I actually take pleasure in the mean things I think – and sometimes let slip – and then I feel awful for being a jerk.  More self-loathing to add to the heap of horrible I already feel.  And even though I know it’s fleeting – this will pass in a few days – it feels like I will feel like this forever.  I almost edited that last sentence because I overused the word “feel,” but then I realized that’s the key to my self-talk coping.

I speak truth to my feelings.

It turns out, feelings can lie.  My depression feelings are depraved liars because they tell me I’m worthless.  They tell me it doesn’t matter what I do because no one cares.  They tell me it’s okay to skip my life and wallow in self-loathing and self-pity.  None of that is true, and in my heart I know that I am a creation of God; I have intrinsic value as his child.  I am a worthy daughter of the King.  I have to tell myself the truth over and over, and even when my feelings make it impossible to believe, I can still act on the truth.  Once I make that first move into the light of truth, I start to feel better.  Each act builds on that momentum until I realize that I made it to lunch without falling into my pit of despair.  Then I made it to dinner and through the tiny human’s bedtime, and then it’s my bedtime, and I made it.

Tomorrow may be just as hard, but I can tell the truth tomorrow, too.

What truth do your feelings need to hear right now?  Listen in your soul, and hear the voice of God tell you this: you are precious and valuable.  You are loved.  You are worthy of love.  Today may be hard, but the load will get lighter the more you listen to his truth, the more his truth lives in you and fills you up.  Jesus is waiting to carry the load for you if you’ll let him.  There is an army of people surviving depression who are cheering for you and love you and want nothing more than to lift you up.  My door is always open.  Join me in the Mabbat FB group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/773975689656609/?ref=bookmarks or e-mail me at mabbatblog@gmail.com if a group feels too scary.

My Poem upon Your Heart

Part of the sermon text today was 2 Corinthians 3:2-3, and it immediately grabbed me. This is what started running through my head as I listened to these words.

20180624 My Poem upon Your HeartWhat letter am I writing on the hearts around me?

I can write a masterpiece in pen and ink – look here at these words…

But what do they mean?

Absolutely nothing unless you see my heart,

Unless they way I love you speaks that same masterpiece to your heart.

Oh, what I would give to erase the sharp things I carved into your heart –

Words my temper and pride etched in harsh lines,

Things my neglect scratched into your beautiful prose.

May the grace and love of Christ that more often flows through me

Cover those errant marks

And write love

And peace and joy as my letter – my poem – upon your heart.

No Really, I AM a Green Tomato

As this year’s volunteer sous chef for our company’s annual Memorial Day cookout, I sliced more than a dozen tomatoes, and, while they were all ripe, red tomatoes, a few of them held some surprises.  There was one that clearly didn’t get the Fibonacci memo and went for nearly perfect symmetry and an even number.  There was one that looked like lace inside, and then there was one that tried to tell me it was a green tomato.  It was a perfectly ripe red tomato, but the sticker said “green.”

After some discussion with the red Green Tomato, and then a little reflection, I’ve come to realize we humans do this all the time.  Green Tomato started off as an actual green tomato, as all red tomatoes do.  Green Tomato started its life on the produce aisle in the green tomato bin as a green tomato.  And then Green Tomato began to change; it ripened and grew into a red tomato.  The grocer, in all it’s wisdom and visual acumen, one day discovered a red tomato in the green tomato bin and relocated Green Tomato to the red tomato bin, but Green Tomato clung to its old label.  Green Tomato wanted to keep being the same in spite of its change in life status and location in the produce aisle.

I know God has dragged me kicking and screaming into a new stage of life before (you, dear reader, are far more mature and would never do anything but move gracefully on to the next chapter…).  Not all life changes are difficult, but they all require an adjustment for us to successfully navigate the new terrain – a new label, if you will.  But we can’t just start calling ourselves “red tomatoes” and still try to live like a green tomato.

Merely switching the label won’t do; we have to change our mindsets and our behaviors to adapt to our new label at each stage of life.

Sounds easy, right?  Of course it sounds simple when I type it out, but in practice, we all know it’s more complicated.  I am a writer.  But sometimes I don’t write.  (Not that I’m supposed to be writing 24/7, but I should be writing at least a little bit daily to develop my skill and discipline.)  I am obviously acting like the red Green Tomato when I fail to act according to my new Red Tomato label.  It’s not enough to just call myself Red Tomato, I have to continue to practice acting like a red tomato in order to be the best, reddest tomato I can be.

What about you?  What old labels are you holding on to?  What new habits do you need to start practicing in order to be the best, reddest tomato you can be?  I’d love for you to share here in the comments.  Also, for more personal sharing, join the Mabbat FB group for prompts throughout the week and space to share what you’re working on in a friendly, safe place: https://www.facebook.com/groups/773975689656609/?ref=bookmarks

Also, if this isn’t how you cut onions, you’re definitely not living your best tomato life.