Stories of faith, life, and love

Tag: pain and depression

Waiting for the Other Shoe

Have you ever found yourself waiting for the other shoe to drop? If not, count yourself blessed. If you have, count yourself blessed anyway. No, I mean it. Do you know how many scriptures there are pointing to the ways God uses problems and pains in our lives to make us more like Him? To better equip us for the purpose He has for us?

We live in a sin filled world. We live with sinful people, just like they live with us. Because sin runs rampant all around us, bad things happen. Because the world is not the perfect garden God originally created for us, bad things happen. Hard things happen too. Unfair things happen. Things we can’t even begin understand happen all the time. It’s simply a fact of life on earth.

But our merciful, loving Father chooses to use those things. When we let Him do His work, God redeems those horrible things. The pain and confusion may not subside. We may not ever even understand the whys, but God will use those situations in our lives.

Temperance Tucker from A Moonbow Night by Laura Frantz understands hard times. Life would be full of trials for anyone living in unsettled Kentucky in the late 1700s, but Tempe has been dealt a pretty bad hand. Her father is on the run after killing a man leaving her, her mother, her brother, and Paige to run the Moonbow Inn by themselves. Her fiancé has been killed, and Tempe struggles to find reason not to join him in death. War with England has stretched the already strained relationship between colonists and Native Americans. Danger lurks everywhere Temp turns. It couldn’t get any worse for Tempe, but then it does at the whim of her own father. He sends her to act as scout for a group of surveyors. A woman alone with a group of strange men in hostile territory. If she manages to live through the adventure, will she be able to salvage her reputation? Will she be able to forgive her father for making this demand of her? Though the author doesn’t put it this way, Tempe must learn to embrace the lesson of Joseph.

Joseph knew about hardship. He went from favored son to hated brother to slave to prisoner to pharaoh’s right hand man to the means of salvation for his people from drought. Unjustly sold into slavery. Unjustly accused of trying to rape his owner’s wife. Left to rot in a jail cell. A lot was done to Joseph that wasn’t only out of his control, it was unfair and cruel. Just one of the things that happened to him would cause some people to throw in the towel. But not Joseph. At the end of it all, Joseph was able to look at everything that happened to him and say, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”(Genesis 50:20) Our own situations may not preserve life for a nation, but we can still adjust our attitudes and be able to say God used each situation for good in our lives.

By the Book: Adopting the attitude that sees everything in our lives as something God can use for good is not easy. It doesn’t change the situations. It doesn’t erase the pain. But it can change the way we pray during and handle those times. Read the story of Joseph in Genesis and Philippians 4. Ask God to use the negative situations you face to bring about something good, and ask Him to help you keep a godly attitude while you are going through it.

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Even if He Does Not

We live in a scary world, full of unknowns. Yesterday, a boy opened fire on his classmates at a school two hours from where I live. I have friends watching the marriages of those they love fall apart. Other friends are supporting their loved ones as they deal with life-threatening diseases. Job losses, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks are a staple of the evening news.

Events like these leave a mark on our lives. They change and challenge us. They can leave us unsettled. There isn’t an answer out there that makes sense when a child, barely old enough for school, is fighting cancer. The idea that we live in a fallen, sinful world doesn’t make it easier to accept it when the relationship we’ve invested our energy in dissolves into lawyers, judges, and divorce.

These things happen, and we can’t make sense of why. The lack of control and understanding couple with the questions of what is going to happen next to create a perfect storm of fear swirling around us and, at times, in us. Fear is powerful. Fear has been the catalyst in many poor decisions. Fear has provided the bricks that have built walls between loved ones. Fear has dared hurting people to fire arrows of hate at the ones they’re supposed to love and protect in a warped attempt at protecting self. What causes one to fear may not faze another. It doesn’t make it less potent. And reactions to fear are as varied as the things we fear.

Some of these reactions are depicted in the fictional lives of Melody Mason and James Montgomery in A Melody for James, by Hallee Bridgeman. Melody faces betrayal and a near death experience before coming out on the other side in stubborn rebellion against her fears. Even facing a potentially dangerous stalker, Melody pushes through refusing to give in to fear. It’s not logical, but it’s what she feels she has to do to keep fear from controlling her life.

James, on the other hand, has known his share of loss. Without answers to questions of who or why, James learns there is only One he can lean on to get through. But faith doesn’t keep James from struggling when the past and present collide. The depth of loss he suffered paralyzes him as his path gets tangled up with Melody’s. The threat of losing all he’s worked for and cares about becomes a challenge to his faith. His desire to freeze and Melody’s desire to rebel against the fear pit the two against each other until their relationship comes to its breaking point. And it’s all because of fear.

Their fictional story rings true to our own struggles with fear, and I wish I had better answers for those times. So often, we fall back on scriptural reminders that God will work good out of any bad situation we face if we let Him. We remind ourselves that with His help we can do all things, and that includes going through whatever we are facing. We look at ourselves in the mirror are try to encourage ourselves with a pep talk that includes us not being given a spirit of fear.

All of these things are true. Each one of them has power to help us through the fear-filled times. But sometimes, we’ve heard them enough that we don’t really hear them anymore. We cling to the idea that we will get through this and be better than we were when we started. One way or another, that is true. But we tend to see it in very physical terms, that the situation will pass and all will be well.

A scripture I have been thinking about recently reminds me it doesn’t have to happen the way I want it to in order to believe God is still in complete control. “And they lived happily ever after” doesn’t need to take place for God to be worthy of my devotion and unwavering trust. It’s a story we’re all familiar with, and we focus on the good ending every time we tell it to a group of children in Sunday school. We recount the story of three brave young men who stood up to a king for their God, and they were rewarded with a trip to the fiery furnace. With gusto, we act out the declaration that there are not three but four walking around in the fire and one is like the Son of God! We revel in the calling of the men from the fire and the king’s change of heart. But that’s not the part of the story that has struck a chord with me.

I need you to back up a little. Go back to Daniel 3:17-18. “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” The three Israelites believed God would deliver them, but they didn’t have that promise. What they had was an angry king and a furnace hot enough to kill men who simply approached it. They had an unknown outcome, and a situation that would strike fear into the heart of the strongest of people. But they also had hope.

This hope wasn’t in God resolving the situation the way they wanted or even the way they believed He would. “But even if he does not”, that is a powerful statement. These young men knew they had no control over what the king would do to them, just as we can’t control what men are going to do in our lives. They knew they had no control over the outcome any more than we have control over the events in our lives. Like is so often the case, they didn’t have the answers to what was going to happen. What they did have was a deeply ingrained belief that whatever happened, God was in control and would not abandon them in their time of need. Even if God chose to let them die, they knew He was still being faithful to deliver them from this evil king into His presence. Their hope wasn’t in what man would do. Their hope was in who God was. And who God was, He still is. I pray when fear inspiring situations come into my life, I am able to stand as they did. I pray I can remain strong, with my hope anchored in who God is despite the storm raging in my life.

By the Book: To have hope in who God is, we have to know Him. Spend time searching out scriptures that remind you of who God is and what He is like.

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Behind the Curtain

I think there is a bit of the wizard of Oz in all of us. We’re not purposefully deceiving people into believing in a contrived image of ourselves like he did. It’s more like we act in ways based on what we have experienced, but unless people are close enough to us to look behind the curtain, they see only our actions and not the reasons behind them. Judgements are made. We hold those who tend to be prickly at arm’s length when what they need to be pulled in close. We cling to those who are easy to love without seeing their brokenness. Sometimes, we don’t see because we don’t look. Other times, people hide behind the curtain because letting others see their hurt is hard.

I’ll be honest with you. I’m a private person. People often see the effects of events in my life without knowing the story I keep behind the curtain. It’s difficult to admit, but several years ago I went through the most devastating experience of my life. It led to a struggle with depression that took a long time for me to overcome. It’s hard to admit it for a couple reasons. One, it’s not a good memory. It’s a time I don’t want to revisit. Another is that many in the area where I live don’t understand depression, especially in the church. I fully believe my God can heal and that prayer and time in the Word are essential to maintaining spiritual and emotional health. But I also know how damaging it is to have well-meaning believers tell you all you need to do is pray more, study more, and have more faith to make the “sadness” go away. They don’t understand it when I say that I was closer to God than I had ever been before, and yet, I still had to fight the depression on a daily basis. Even admitting to it now, in this public way, leaves me feeling vulnerable.

So, I didn’t talk about it. But it didn’t leave me unchanged. I was stronger in my faith. Sometimes, it takes being knocked to the ground so hard you can’t get up to really understand needing God’s strength. But the change I believe people saw most was me going through the motions of daily life. Some days that’s all I could do. I became a little more jaded and a little less patient. I was more than likely moody. When you’re not eating or sleeping properly, that happens.

I found out years later that my oldest child noticed. She remembered how life was in our house before, during, and after the hard times. If a child recognized it, I know others in my life did too. Sometimes I wonder if they ever considered the reasons hidden behind the curtain of my life.

Pain changes you. Loss changes you. It’s the truth, even when it’s the subject of fiction. I was reminded of this while reading Don’t Ask Me to Leave, by Micki Clark. Four different characters faced similar heartache and loss, and each reacted in a different way. As I considered my own experiences, I could relate to the anger I saw. I could understand the desire for seclusion. I even related to the drive to push oneself into all sorts of activity to run from the pain. I could empathize with the main character’s hesitancy to let go and move on. But I could also understand the need of her friends to confront her at times with her behavior even though they understood it was pain driven.

Rachel’s story of love and loss and living was written with honesty. I ached for her to get to the other side of her pain. But it wasn’t just her story. It was also the story of Beau and Nadine, who each experienced great loss as well. Their own losses and the results of those losses were just as touching as Rachel’s. Clark wove together three versions of the same heartache into a beautifully written story of love, loss, and redemption. Reading it reminded me how important it is to take the time to consider what lies behind the curtain in the lives of those I come in contact with.

We are called as Christians to rejoice when our brothers rejoice and mourn with the brother who mourns (Romans 12:15). We are called to deal with each other in patience and with love (Ephesians 4:2-3). We don’t have to know every detail of each other’s lives. Some hurts are too deep to share with others, and we need to understand that. What we can do, though, is begin to realize that there may be more to the person in the pew next to us than the anger, apathy, fear, or impatience we see in their actions. Even the one who seems to have it all together, that leaves us feeling like we’re not measuring up, may have more going on behind the scenes than we know. Instead of judging based on the actions we see, let’s remember we all have our wizard behind the curtain and choose to act in patience and love.

By the Book: Read the verses above. Take time to pray for the people in your life that may not always be easy to love. Ask God to help you learn how to love them, even if you don’t understand the reasons why they act the way they do.

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