Sunday, February 27, 2011

An Impression of Depression: Let’s Shed Some Light On it

You’ve been robbed. In the darkness of night, a thief has come into your home and taken things of value to you. In fact, he’s been coming every night. And each night you are left with fewer and fewer things to cherish. You can’t keep the thief out and you can’t protect your valuables. Time will pass and eventually all will be lost.

That’s what depression feels like. It feels like things go wrong, then they get harder and harder still until, finally, it seems everything is upsetting, unfair, tragic and none of it can be made right – ever. In the worst-case scenario, depression tells the lie that there is only one way out. That is true tragedy. That is true darkness. And that’s what it’s like when all light is blocked out and you can’t see God.

I bring this up because, as I’ve been writing for a couple of weeks, God is always trying to appeal to our senses – all of our senses – to show us His love. If we’re blind, spiritually speaking, we’ve got big problems. There are powerful implications not just to our life, but also to the greater community of humanity when we cannot see God working in, through and around us. When all we can see is a future that appears to have no redeemable choices, our spirits may be crushed within us and the possibilities of the Kingdom are stunted. There are powerful implications when God’s message of love is eclipsed.

The thief knows all of this. He does everything he can to block out the Light in our lives. The thief a putz. (John 10:10)

The reason I highlight depression in this conversation is two-fold. Firstly, while many folks have moments in which things get cloudy and God gets hazy…folks with depression have chronic “vision” problems. And secondly, I feel a divine obligation to reach out to others who can’t see the Kingdom through the darkness. You see I struggle with depression. Present tense. I know, as a default, my “eyesight” ain’t great. And while I’m in a good place right now, I know that if I don’t proactively keep my depression in check, I’ll be robbed blind.

So what can I reveal about how to shed some Light on a darkened life? Well, with regard to depression, I can tell you that my first hard-earned victory was accepting that I had poor vision. I had to learn that when my world seemed overwhelmingly upsetting, unfair and tragic, there was more going on than what I could see. That meant there were things to hope for that I couldn't perceive of. I learned that in the midst of darkness, what I saw (or didn’t see, for that matter) was not reality. And that was GOOD news. I took medicine. (Depression IS biological. Look it up.) I sought counseling. Great counseling. (Thank you, my friend.) I admitted to close family and friends that I was struggling. They prayed for me and gave me grace. I learned that depression is effected by nutrition and exercise so now I fight daily to keep healthy habits a priority. And I discovered that I needed to train myself to focus on whatever is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy…so that the Peace of God will be with me. (Philippians 4:8,9) For me, writing this blog is a part of that commitment.

Light is pouring into my life where darkness once reigned. And just like Monet discovered, as he painted over thirty views of the Rouen Cathedral, a little light can reveal a spectrum of beauty. My days of limited vision are over. Hope is illuminated all around me and I can SEE God reaching out to me in love.

So listen up, little thief. Be warned. Your days are numbered. The people living in darkness have seen a Great Light. He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Are you shuddering? Or should I say, “shuttering”? I know it’s getting Mighty bright out there…

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Firelight S'mores: Tales from the Dark Side

PARENTS: Kids tucked in? Check! Lights out? Check! Door closed? Check! Quiet evening? Check!
KIDS: Hallway clear? Check! Nightlight on? Check! Door closed? Check! Stage ready? Check!!

And thus began the “after hours” entertainment in the kids’ room at my Nana’s house. All we needed were active imaginations, darkness, a nightlight and a storyteller who also happened to be a talented shadow puppeteer. I loved those nights. You wouldn’t believe some of the elaborate and animated dramas that took place on the ceiling of that room! There were horror stories and funny tales involving any manner of creature we could create with our little grade-school-sized hands and one ordinary nightlight. Unfortunately, these off-off-Broadway productions were so good that they inevitably resulted either in screams of terror or peals of laughter. And before we knew it, we would forget our checklist “numero uno”. Hallway clear? Um…not anymore!

It’s amazing how much difference just a little light can make. And when you live in a dark world, as we do, the presence of His light can be a brilliant contrast to the darkness around it. Makes a great environment for telling a story, in my opinion.

As His light shines on you, what story does your life tell?

Here’s a good one: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Do You Hear What I Hear?

My husband would be the first to tell you that I claim I need a hearing aid. I’ve said it countless times. Do I have a genuine problem with my hearing? Oh, probably not. The PJ’s (Pickard “juniors”) have the ability to fill a room (and my head) with their volume. I miss things, to be sure. Though, my lack of auditory connection is not entirely the PJ’s fault. Sometimes, I must confess, I choose not to hear things too. When I’m at the “whodunit” part of a good book, time’s almost up on my online Boggle game, or I’m trying not to screw up my eye makeup application…I’ve thrown an “uh-huh” and an “okay” out there in response to questions I’ve “heard”. (Don’t judge…you know what they say about glass houses.)

The thing is, when I think about the times I’ve found it difficult to hear God, I’ve often discovered that the “mute” button on the Almighty has been pushed for one of those two reasons: Either life is too loud (kids, TV, computer, busyness)…or my own sense of self-importance is.
Quieting my life is the easy part – naptime for the PJ’s, turn off the TV, get off the computer, etc. Quieting my own sense of self-importance? That takes muscle…a muscle which, I’ve discovered, atrophies quickly if I don’t pay attention. The voice of God – the one that is so powerful it can break cedars (Psalm 29:5), heal illnesses (Matthew 8:13), raise people from the dead (John 11:43), and, oh yeah, create everything (Genesis 1:3) – can, to me, be rather effortlessly muffled or silenced. Did you know that? All I have to do is live my life as if I’ve forgotten that I belong to Him. Show me a season of my life in which I strained to hear a “silent” God and I will show you a season in which I spent a lot of energy wondering why I wasn’t getting what I wanted.

Thankfully, I do not worship a silent God. The voice of God is always creating, guiding, leading, loving. And if I’m strong enough to overthrow my own self-importance, I can hear Him. Every day. If I remember to whom I belong, I begin to live life as if God and I are in constant conversation.

When I wake up to the sound of family laughing around the breakfast table, I hear God teaching me about unity. When I hear my child cry, I hear God teaching me about His desire to provide for His children. When I appreciate the harmony of talented musicians, I hear God reminding me that we are created in His image – the image of the first artist. When I listen to my own thoughts, worrying about the future, I quickly hear God calming me with HIS thoughts about my future. When I wonder how to put into words what I feel like He wants me to say when I write, I hear a chorus from the radio: “Come, let us sing a song! A song declaring we belong to Jesus…He’s all we need.”

I hear Him. He hears me. We belong to each other. And when “that muscle” starts to get weak, God’s got Grace enough to wait me out until I can remember that there’s a reason I think I need a hearing aid:

“Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say…He who belongs to God hears what God says.” John 8:43,47

How ‘bout you? Do you hear what I hear?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Firelight Snack: Do You Hear What I Hear?

This guy named John concluded the book he wrote about Jesus’ life by reflecting that Jesus did so many memorable things, that if every one of them had been written down, even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21:25) I like to think John’s words suggest that each detail included in the Bible about Jesus’ life is purposeful and fully intentional for those of us reading about Him today. That having been said, consider this:

The last act of healing Jesus fulfilled before he was crucified was to heal the ear of an enemy. (Luke 22:51)

The book of John even mentions the healed man’s name: Malchus. Not everyone in the Bible gets a name-mention, you know.

This leads me to wonder…One, how did a Jesus-following Gospel-writer come to know the name of a random high priest’s servant? And two, why the occurrence of this simple, individual healing a mere hours before the single, most all-encompassing act of healing time has ever seen?

“He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:9)

(Those who have means to type, let them type.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Be Mine

A delicious dinner, a swing around the dance floor while listening to my favorite music (think Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade”), gorgeous red roses (that actually smell like roses), and taking in a beautiful sunset on the beach or a breath-taking mountain vista while wrapped in the arms of the man I love…It wouldn’t take much. A Valentine’s Day overture like that – one that appeals to all my senses – would definitely get my attention. I think any fella who goes to that much trouble might just win the heart of the woman he loves. My fella did. But I’m not writing today to talk about that fella. I’m writing to talk about my other Fella (capital “F”); the One who makes overtures Every Day to get my attention.

There have been times when God’s overtures were not so obvious to me. That’s why I find the story of Exodus so captivating. Can you imagine what it would have been like to be rescued from slavery by a God who was so unquestionably present that your every sense knew He was there? In the brilliance of the light, the roar of the fire, the heat of the flame, the aroma of the burn, God in the form of a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:22) was no idol of wood or stone…He was (and is) an all-consuming Living Presence who could be seen, heard, felt, and even smelled. Can you imagine how life changing it would be to experience God in such an undeniable way? This distinct expression of God’s presence was so amazing, later reflections in the scriptures even marvel of it: “Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of? Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived?” (Deut. 4:32,33)

What’s so amazing about this story to me is that God did not become so powerfully present to His people because the Hebrews finally came to their senses and decided to follow Him obediently, thus securing their freedom from slavery. What’s so amazing to me is that God became powerfully present to His people because HE came to their senses – in every way – pursuing them, protecting them, providing for them, loving them faithfully, hoping to win their hearts, thus securing their freedom from slavery…forever.

I invite you to stick with me for a few weeks as I share my reflections on how God is still pursuing His people today with an undeniable presence. His presence may not be so obvious to the blind eye and the deaf ear, but if your Fella is deeply in Love and trying to win your heart, you may discover that you are being enticed down a path of healing by a powerful Physician. How would your life change if your eyes and ears were fully opened, every sense hightened, and you met each day expectantly looking for evidence of God's love extended to you? How would you respond if your heart began to burn within you, and you recognized that He’s coming to your senses, every day, making overtures to get your attention, in order to ask you one simple question…“Be Mine?”

Next Week: Do You Hear What I Hear?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

See You In the Funny Papers!

“See you in the funny papers!” I can still see the grin on her face as she slowly closed the door behind her. This was my nightly evening farewell from Nana. It’s also one of countless heart-warming memories I have of my dad’s mom who recently went to be with the Lord. Nana knew hundreds of songs for kids like, “Skinnamarink" and “Oh Susanna”. She played the guitar for us. She had the most beautiful whistle you ever heard and often whistled familiar hymns while she worked in the kitchen. She made amazing fudge. Oh! And homemade strawberry jam…oh. my. word. She had an infectious laugh and seemed to believe it her life’s purpose to make all those around her find their smile…even if they were perfect strangers. It didn’t matter who you were. Nana would hold up a line at the fancy Petroleum Club buffet just as easily as the check-out line at Piggly Wiggly to make you break into a grin. No one was safe.

Nana loved her family and taught us to do the same. She had a family “photo wall” and passed down stories of folks in our family we’d never met but look forward to someday. Nana showed us that when it came to spending time with family, the venue was of little importance. In fact, while we did spend time eating out at the likes of Antoine’s in New Orleans, we felt equally at home eating on paper plates bolstered by wicker plate holders and drinking iced tea out of plastic cups inscribed with our names in “Sharpie”. Nana taught us what was important – simply put: how much fun we had with each other and how much love we had for each other.

Nana had an undeniable passion for the Lord. She also had a humbling openness about her ignorance of Him. She always said that when she died she would be holding up the line in heaven as she asked Jesus all her questions. I’m sure the line is backing up as we speak.

These memories are priceless treasures to me. And as I grieve Nana’s death, I harbor a fear that these gifts of her life to mine will fade over time. More than that, I am saddened at the thought that my kids will never know her.

And so it is that I am compelled to something profound. In order to remember Nana, and help my kids to know her, I must honor her life by fervently living out her values. I will certainly tell my kids stories of her, just like Nana told us stories of her grandparents. But I will also try to live out each day emulating the loving, joyful and easy-going nature of her character that I so treasure. I will try to do these things to remember her. I will do these things in remembrance of her.

Seems I’ve heard that turn of phrase somewhere before…

I guess that’s what you do when you love someone so deeply. When you meet someone who so completely touches and transforms your heart, and then you lose them, you cannot help but respond in such a way that you pick up the torch for them. The light of their life has made such an impact on you that you must tell others of its beauty in the hopes that they too will respond in remembrance of the One you love. Thanks to about twelve fellas some years ago who did just that, we are still picking up the torch of the One today. Thanks to those fellas writing down and telling their stories in remembrance of Him, I know that Nana is no longer suffering, but celebrating. Thanks to those fellas helping generations to remember and know the One, I have faith that we will see Nana again someday face-to-face. And I know that because of the things I do in remembrance of her, my family - including my boys - will recognize her when we do.

Until then, Nana my love, we’ll see you in the funny papers.

**The launch of this blog, “Faith by Firelight” is dedicated in the loving memory of my Nana, Catherine Stewart Rust, one of my most favorite story-tellers.