Switch the script.

Simplicity

I am writing a message to deliver at a church this week on depression and anxiety.

I am thankful because this is a topic we need to talk more about, in and out of the church. Depression and anxiety are real illnesses– needing to be taken seriously– and so I hope I always do those topics justice in this space.

I am swimming in notes on spiritual depression. I’ve been pulling apart Psalm 42 because it’s a song of real suffering. As I read the Psalms, I realize how relatable this man actually is. He’s happy and then he’s sad. He’s all over the place sometimes. But he always returns back to God. He always finds his true north there.

David is feeling all the feels. In Psalm 42, he asked the question we’ve likely read a million times before in church pews: Why are you downcast, O my soul?

I came across a quote about that verse by Lloyd-Jones:

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you. Now this man’s treatment [in Psalm 42] was this: instead of allowing this self to talk to him, he starts talking to himself. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?” he asks. His soul had been depressing him, crushing him. So he stands up and says,: “Self, listen for moment, I will speak to you.” (Spiritual Depression)

These words are critical for someone like me who deals with depression and anxiety.

Daily, I am tempted to listen to the little voice in my head that says I am helpless or I am worth nothing. I know it has nothing good to say to me but the voice is so familiar. I feel like it knows me so well. That same voice wants me to sleep in and not get out of bed. That voice wants me to cut corners and only give half of my efforts to this day.

It’s not the voice of God. I can’t claim to know everything about God but I believe this: God’s voice is one of encouragement and love, motivation and power. 

God does not whisper half-hearted anthems into our ears or taunts us to give up. So why do I listen to this voice? Why do I let it wake me up and speak to me before I’ve even had a chance to pour the coffee? 

 

I want to be like David in this Psalm. I want to be able to stop the noise in my brain that wants to define my worth and say, “No, what’s going on with you? Why are you so upset? What are you letting in?”

I want to be smart and switch the script, tell myself I am capable even when I don’t fully believe it.

I am never going to claim you shouldn’t speak to someone if you are grappling with anxiety or depression. It’s important. But I think every battle with mental health is lined with proactive steps worth taking.

A proactive step: I must take responsibility for how I speak to myself and what I allow to speak to me. The voices we listen to possess power.

It might be the voice of a person I thought was a friend. I am learning friends do not beat you down or tell you-you’re not good enough. Friends don’t make you feel like you are walking on eggshells. Friends cover you in truth, even when you don’t want to hear it, but they do the work beforehand to draw close to you. I don’t think we can go around and try to bodyslam people with “truth.” We must be willing to hear the whole story and walk in shoes that make us uncomfortable.

It might be the voice of a parent or a sibling. Still, I think we need to turn the volume down when they are unkind or mean to us. God said we need to learn to love people with our whole hearts but what if that also looks like better boundaries?

It might be some false voice, one I think is God. In that case, I need to make it a priority to seek the true voice of God and apply it to my life. I think every one of us reaches a point our faith where we have to stop listening to podcasts and sermons given from a stage long enough to find the voice of God. God will be personal with you.

 

Here’s to switching the script. If you feel like you’re not there yet, if you can’t find the words to encourage yourself, then borrow these. Read them over you if you like:

Hey you, 

Why do you feel so defeated? Why are you kicking yourself down, not really giving yourself a fair shot? Whatever the reason- that’s okay. I can’t blame you. I’ve been in that spot before where the noise is deafening and the lies are loud. 

But I hope you know today that you are not an accident. The furthest thing from it, really. You woke up today. You got another shot. Let’s make something beautiful happen. 

Macklemore says (yes, I am quoting Macklemore), “Don’t try to change the world, find something that you love. Do it every day, do that for the rest of your life. And eventually, the world will change.” 

Don’t get bound up to what it means to just “be good” or “be perfect.” Don’t try to be what others expect you to be. Just be. 

Show up today and try to love people with every square inch of your heart. Be kind to yourself. Say thank you. Let go. 

The pressure is off. 

 

 

Don’t miss the call.

Callings.

I want to talk about them for a few minutes. We use this word a lot. When I first started going to church, that’s what everyone talked about. People spoke about callings like they were waiting on a legitimate phone call from God with specific instructions. As if God were going to mouth into the phone, “Go to the closet and pull out a black shirt. Put it on. Grab your bag. Go outside. Take the A bus to downtown and wait for me there.”

Do I think God is mysterious and weighty? Yes. Do I think there are some things we can’t know right now? Sure. But I don’t think God holds out on people. The God I know doesn’t dangle a “calling” in front of your face and taunt, just try to figure this one out! I can’t imagine a God who tells us to put our life on pause and just for the calling to show up.

The calling talk exhausted me. It made me feel like maybe I missed the phone call. Like this phantom “calling” everyone talked about was visiting everyone but me. 

And then I learned something pretty valuable. It maybe took me 5 years of working for myself to let it sink in but I think I am grasping it now. My calling isn’t some castle in the distance that, if I work hard enough and pray even harder, I will suddenly get to. My calling could very well be a castle but it’s not in the distance and it’s not just going to appear. I must build it. Brick my brick, I have to build the life I want. I can’t just expect it to arrive without the work.

Now some people are going to be real dumb and try to convince you that you need to walk cautiously in everything you do. They will try to fill you with this “don’t step on the crack or you’ll break your grandma’s back” kinds of fear and tell you that IF YOU MESS UP THEN YOUR CALLING ISN’T GOING TO HAPPEN.

Pause the crazy.

Let’s talk about Jonah for two seconds. Jonah is that character in the bible we all know from that one time he got swallowed by a whale after trying to run from God. The moral of that story always was: listen to God, don’t make him angry, or else a massive Orca is going to come and eat you.

Admittedly, I never grasped a deeper meaning to that story until recently when I read it for the first time as an adult. I honestly didn’t even know it was a book in the bible. Jonah has his own book. I mean, the dude there has to be a story bigger here than “man meets whale” if he got his own book. 

What we never talk about in the story of Jonah is how he clearly messed up because he allowed fear to take over. Turns out, it was fear and a little bit of pride. God gave Jonah a clear mission and Jonah didn’t really want it to go that way. He had bigger plans. He had different plans. This is me often: God, I want it to look different. Yes, use me. But wait… I have clear guidelines. 

God does not need to subscribe to our guidelines.

God used Jonah anyway. Even though Jonah ran as far from this calling as possible, God picked up right where he left off and had Jonah do the exact thing he wanted him to do before the whale drama. God didn’t give up on Jonah. He allowed Jonah to be human and he still picked him for his team.

The story doesn’t end when Jonah the human messes up, misses the mark or gets spit up by a whale. This is a story about redemption and it’s also a reminder: keep your eyes on God above the calling. 

I don’t think we can treat this idea of “calling” as if it were the 4 pm train that only stands still for a minute before it roars off into the distance. Your calling isn’t something you step into once. Your calling is something you are constantly stepping into.

You are in the middle of your calling right now. If you are in a bad job, you are in the right place. If you are in the best season of your marriage, you are in the right place. If you are suffering and shaking, you are STILL in the right place. In the bad and the good, your GPS location is not an accident and every space will be a teacher if you allow it to be.

Some stretches of time in your life are going to feel more meaningful than others. Some will herald more celebration than others. The mistake gets made when we belittle our current location in the journey because we just want to be “there” now. I think “there” is really just “here” with more wrinkles in its face. I tell myself, stop waiting to arrive and just be here now. This day counts. This hour. All of it.

How to be steadfast.

A reader messaged me the other day and asked me to write about being steadfast. 

I think steadfastness is a hard topic to write about sometimes. The only major references to the term are in Christianity. We don’t walk around our daily lives saying to one another, “I’m just trying to stay steadfast.” Well, maybe you do. I personally have only ever used that word when I am trying to sound extra holy.

Steadfast, at the root of the word, means to be loyal. Committed. Devoted. Solid. Constant. These are words we know and understand a lot better than this idea of “steadfastness.”

In the bible, it says suffering produces steadfastness in us. Throughout the text, you see all these writers telling the recipients of these letters to be thankful when it gets rough. Be thankful when you are tested. Be thankful when it’s hard to get out of bed and the depression is clinging to you. Be thankful when your heart is broken.

Admittedly, this has never been something that comes naturally to me. I hate the idea of being thankful for the bad stuff but I know what the authors like James are getting at. He’s saying, “Be thankful when the bad stuff happens because that means your faith is about to get tested. And you know what? When your faith is tested then endurance shows up. And through endurance (your willingness to just do it like Nike) you will become steadfast.” Committed. Devoted. Solid. Constant.

I think faith is like a muscle. We have to train it. We have to push it. We have to build it. As I train in the gym, I realize that I can only take on more weight when I’ve learned how to properly handle the weight in front of me. I think faith is the same way. You dig. You pray. You experience something. Your faith grows. More comes. More struggle. More hard stuff. And, as you stay in the fight, your capacity grows as well.

 

Wrestle with God.

I believe it’s okay to fight it out with God. I think to myself if I am placing all my faith and all of my hope in God then why wouldn’t there be wrestling implied? If I have learned anything about faith, it’s this: flimsy faith won’t last. It will break. The thin skin of that meager faith will tear and you will be faced with a question: do I fight to make my faith stronger or do I walk away?

I wish people talked more about that moment. I know of so many people who face that fork in the road between staying and leaving the fight for faith. I think if we talked about it then maybe the outcome would be better. Maybe more of us would fight. Maybe we would fight better.

When I went through my struggle with depression, my faith was the first thing to take a beating. I didn’t know how to trust God. I didn’t know that I even wanted God. I wrote this line that I still think about often: she craved a faith that would make her stay for the fight in it.

That’s what I got. Once I peeled off all the layers of myself like heavy clothing soaked by the rain and sticking to your skin, I found God. Once I moved all the barriers out the way and just had my honesty hour, I found God. I went to him bruised and angry. I went to him tired and fearful. And there, I met him for the first time. I met this version of God that was never taught to me. I met this version of God who sighed with relief and welcomed me in, saying, “Good, the fight to be perfect is over now. That was never your fight. Come fight with me. Come wrestle for the life I have for you.”

I met this version of God that was exciting and hopeful and beautiful. I couldn’t understand God at certain points and I still don’t always understand him. You know what? That’s okay. That’s really beautiful. He’s God. He can handle it. Don’t be afraid of having your faith rocked. Sometimes that’s the best thing that can happen to you. When you get down to the bottom of yourself and figure out what you are truly working with then you can begin to build. Then the good stuff starts.

Don’t be afraid of having your faith rocked. Sometimes that’s the best thing that can happen to you. When you get down to the bottom of yourself and figure out what you are truly working with then you can begin to build. Then the good stuff starts.

 

Stay.

In the midst of my depression in 2014, I decided to pack a suitcase and go home to Connecticut to fight for my life with my closest friends and family. Before I boarded my flight, my friend Lindsey took me to a tattoo parlor and I got the word “STAY” inked on my ribs. While I would later learn how to stay in one geographic location, I needed the reminder to push me to stay in the fight. I needed to stay in the struggle. Stay in the wrestling and tumbling with God.

I want to be really careful with this one. For years, my anthem has been “stay.” Stay where you are. Stay rooted. Be right where your feet are. That’s all well and beautiful but I don’t want to put the message out there that we should stay in toxic situations or stay in places where our health, faith, and well-being get compromised. I like to imagine this message of “staying” is synced with this idea that we don’t just walk away and call it quits when stuff gets hard. Life is hard. Life will deal you some tough blows. The hard stuff produces character and I know I could always stand to have more character. So I stay. I want to believe we are capable of staying when the world would otherwise be tempted to pack a suitcase and leave.

 

Don’t let anyone minimize your faith.

No one should be allowed to tell you how big or little your faith is. No one gets to define the size of your faith. That is between you and God. I had someone tell me during the depression that if my faith was just stronger then I would be healed. If I could just grow more faith then my issues would no longer swallow me. I believed that person for .5 seconds and then I went back to wrestling. I forgot that lie they told me.

Your healing isn’t contingent upon how big or little your faith is. Your circumstances are not balancing on how much faith you or do not have. I won’t claim to know much but I will reject those statements. If I am looking to my faith and the size of it for assurance then I am cutting God out of the picture. And God, to me, is the whole point. He knows I struggle with faith sometimes. He knows I am the one who would be reluctant to step out of the boat and walk on the water. And he wants me still. He isn’t ashamed by me. He isn’t minimizing me. He isn’t telling me that if I just grew my faith bigger then the problems would wash away.

God will be faithful to grow my faith but God won’t dangle cheese in front of my face and tell me to get better if I ever want to claim it. 

 

Embrace the struggle.

I hope I never forget the importance of showing up for the brokenhearted. I’ve been brokenhearted before and I will surely visit that land again. I get emails all the time from people who wish God would avoid the heartbreak stuff but I think that’s just the parts of them that do not want to experience pain and discomfort. I get it. But I think to myself- man, I’ve gotten somewhere with God when my heart has been broken. I’ve gotten to have some really beautiful conversations with people when life hasn’t gone my way. Hallelujah— heartbreak makes me relatable and not so puffed with my own pride that I miss the people who need me. 

The thing is this: faith in God doesn’t equal perfection. Perfection is not your goal, consistency is. Devotion is. Discipline is. All of life is the showing up to try to be steadfast towards what we love: God, people, causes. Again, you won’t ever be perfect. Again, there is so much room for growth. Growth should stir excitement in your heart because the chance to grow is the chance to live and live better. You’re still here. You’re still breathing. Even when the heartbreak sits on your lungs, you’re alive. You woke up today. There’s still more time. Embrace the struggle cause struggles are what make us shine.

Welcome to the fight.

A PRAYER YOU CAN STEAL

God, sometimes I don’t know what commitment looks like. Sometimes I want to quit and give up. But I want to believe in you. I want to believe my life is not an accident and my struggles are seen and understood. Help to stay in the fight. Grow endurance in me. Make me stronger, braver and wiser as I go. Show me others who are in the fight too. Make me golden. Please, make me gold.

Digging deeper into the Scriptures.

I don’t remember sitting down with a bible for the first time. I really don’t.

I know for the first few years of growing in my faith, I kept everything inside this one journal. I would write down my feelings and prayers. Somewhere in 2011, when I started going to a church for the first time as my own choice, I started sitting with a bible.

The bible at first glance is a pretty intimidating book. I didn’t know where to begin and there are some days, five years later, where I still question where to dig.

Men in blue jumpsuits.

I’ve been trying to figure out God for the last eight years now. I’ve got too many journals stuffed inside of a mail crate I should have returned to the Post Office four years ago. Those journals are filled with questions like, “Are you good? Are you real? Do you like me? Do you want me?”

These are the questions I’ve asked God. To me, God was like this charismatic guy who swept onto the scene and charmed the daylights out of everyone I knew. They talked about Him like He was Fabio. They weren’t skeptics. They didn’t want to do a background check. They raised their arms up and flung their hearts at God without fear that He would break them. They acted like they’d found something, something a lot of people spend a whole life looking for.

I grew up watching other people give their whole lives to God without a second thought while I stood in the back of the room asking questions.

The space to hear you.

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I am a writer. This much I know.

I’ve been told since as early as I can remember that I have wisdom beyond my years. I never knew that wisdom, like most things, must be activated. I spent all this time writing about staying, leaving, and letting go. I wish I knew back then that just because you have an epiphany doesn’t mean you’ve learned the lesson. Just because you have a great thought doesn’t mean you’ve gone out and lived it.

I want to be the kind of person who walks out what she talks about, not the other way around. Especially today, it’s incredibly easy to be unintentionally deceptive with the world.

Last summer I posted all these photos on Instagram of my garden and I. It gave off the illusion that I was watering, weeding, and planting new things all the time. In reality, the garden was suffering from the Georgia heat and dying by the day. I like the idea of glamorizing the garden rather than taking care of it.

The church of toast.

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ONE.

I took a picture of my toast this morning.

Yes, I placed it on a white plate, took it into my bedroom where the natural light floods perfectly through the windows, placed it down on my yellow blanket and snapped a photo. Of toast.

I cropped said photo of toast. Filtered said photo of toast. Added contrast and a little bit of brightness to said photo of toast. I prepared my toast to show herself to the world. This was my toast’s best day.

I transferred my said photo of toast into Instagram and prepared to write my caption. Something about the drizzled honey. Or the Himalayan sea salt sprinkled over it. Or the avocado spread evenly— in delightful chunks of green goodness— across the 27-grain (or whatever amount) Ezekiel bread.