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Depression

I dealt with depression for the first time when I was fifteen.  To be perfectly honest, it started because I felt so guilty.  I had snuck outside after all parents were asleep to make out with the visiting missionary’s older, wild, green-eyed son when they stayed with us for a week on a fund-raising tour.  He tasted like smoke and his sister kept bugging us to stop.  (Definitely weird, but a good way to keep your purity…)  I felt so guilty for what I had done that I went into a depression that lasted for months, even making myself physically ill.  I listened to a Margaret Becker cassette tape non-stop, singing about how God wasn’t afraid of my honesty.  I didn’t know what was wrong with me and tried to smile and act normal around other people, but inside I felt dead.  God gave a prophetic word to a youth worker one night in Bible study and she prayed for me.  That night my illness went away along with the depression.  I felt like a wet, thick, heavy blanket fell off my shoulders.  That’s when I realized I’d been depressed. 

During my freshman year of college I lived in a girl’s dorm.  Horrible, unspeakable nightmares became a regular occurrence.  When I woke up in the morning, I was so upset and disgusted that I laid in bed, paralyzed, unable to face other people, unable to look in the mirror.  I spent many days in bed crying and worrying that something was deeply wrong with me.  I went to the college counselor and she was as wacky as anybody I’d ever met.  Among other things, before I’d talked for 15 minutes she told me that my parents were total crap and had done everything wrong.  I knew that my parents had done a pretty decent job and while not perfect, were definitely not total crap.  I never went back.  But I had a dull ache inside and didn’t know what to do to make it better.  I fell in love that summer and thought for sure that the ache would go away.  I was blissfully happy and sure that I’d be married soon, but even then I knew something was terribly wrong inside.

When the boy I was blissfully happy dating dumped me, the dull ache became a seething wound.  I worked at a Tex-Mex restaurant and most of my memory of that year involves all the food I ate.  After eating an early dinner, I’d work for five hours, forget the dinner I already ate and eat again.  Fast food and Tex-Mex did it’s work quickly and within a year I gained 50 pounds.  I listened to country music and cried nearly every moment I was alone.  My parents tried to talk to me, but they assumed I was so upset about the break up because we must have had sex.  Their suggestion offended me because it insinuated that I shouldn’t be that upset if I hadn’t had sex.  Not that I would tell them, but I was still a virgin.  I was a mess and the heart-break was the only thing I knew to cry about, but I was crying for the dull ache and the fifteen year old girl and other things I had no way to understand at that point.  The wet, thick, heavy blanket was back with a vengeance. 

Somehow I managed to graduate from college within the expected four-year time period.  I’m still not sure how I did that.  I’d graduated high school near the top of my class and in college lost my academic scholarship and feared I might not graduate because you had to have a cumulative 2.5 GPA.  I think mine might have been a 2.6?  I knew something in my life had to change, so I moved to Nashville after college to pursue music and book publishing. 

By the grace of God, I ended up at a church that had a full-service counseling center for their members.  My sweet aunt, a psychiatric nurse, listened to my woes and expressed her concern.  She suggested I get professional help.  I was skittish after my one and only experience with a counselor, but since the church fees were income-based, I decided to give it a try.  The counselor faxed me a form to fill out before I came in.  The form requested all kinds of personal information and at the very top it said something to the effect of, “If you want counseling to work, be honest.  If you aren’t honest, we can’t help you.”  Cringing, I filled the form out honestly and faxed it back.  I remembered that statement and decided I was going to do it right.  But for safety, one of my first statements to my counselor went something like this:  “I come from a very good, Christian home.  My parents are just about perfect.  They did a good job with me, taught me the Word, and I love them very deeply.  Whatever is wrong with me is not their fault.”

That was the beginning of six years of counseling.  This counselor was a gift from God – down to earth, honest, and extremely talented.  Those sessions absolutely changed my life.  It was hard work, but I got to the root of my depression and was able to work through it.  The seething wound, which had begun to heal a bit with time, cleared up. 

I had one more bout with depression near the end of those six years when the man whose engagement ring I wore decided he wanted to date indefinitely.  He wasn’t ready to get married after all.  I started having a hard time getting out of bed in the morning and my jaw ached all the time because I constantly clenched my teeth.  My lovely counselor told me about something called an anti-depressant and my primary care physician gave me a six-month supply of samples. 

I was still sad and I still cried, but my sadness became manageable.  I could get out of bed and get my job done and maintain my friendships.  The side effects were fairly mild – sleepiness and a foggy memory.  It wasn’t bad, but I noticed at times I couldn’t recall the word I needed or it took me a little longer to figure out simple math.  I took it for six months, as my doctor and counselor suggested, and then I quit.  I felt like I could handle it at that point.  My grandfather passed away within a week of going off it, but even with that I had a normal level of grief.

I found out during my next doctor’s visit that it’s dangerous to go off those drugs cold-turkey.  You’re supposed to wean off them.  Not doing so can cause serious side-effects.  My doctor freaked out when I told him.  Thankfully I never experienced any problems.

A few years later when I was in seminary, I had another dark time.  I was sad and didn’t know why.  I did much soul-searching and wore out a good friend who is a therapist with questions and discussions.  I got to the bottom of the problem pretty quickly and dealt with it.  When I talked to my dad about it a few weeks after the darkness lifted, he said with compassion, “Oh Kimberly, it’s February.”  Huh?  He explained that the days are shortest in February, it’s cold and it’s been cold for a while, and the fun of the holidays has worn off, so many people get down in February.  Who knew?  My problem wasn’t simply the time of year, but that probably didn’t help.  Ever since then I’ve been on the look out for that wretched month and do my best to schedule fun, invigorating things then to ward off the blues. 

I read something in the book Hiding from Love by Dr. John Townsend a few years ago that has really helped my outlook on depression.  He basically wrote that depression is what happens when we get sad and can’t process the feelings.  Instead of dealing with the sadness, we get stuck, and that is depression.  Sadness is the antidote for depression.  When bad things happen, it’s normal to feel sad about them.  If we allow ourselves to feel the sadness and deal with it, then we move through it and return to normal.  When we don’t deal with it, we get depressed.   Sadness is a temporary, difficult feeling; depression is a black swirling hole of muck that tries to suck you in and hold you down. 

I had some sadness to deal with, but my experience of the world and normal human relationships was so limited that I didn’t know sadness was the correct feeling.  I acted like everything was normal and told myself I was fine.  But I needed to feel sadness so I could move on.  Instead I felt like the swirling black muck might suck me under.  My counselor helped me understand the way things happen in normal, healthy relationships and then helped me face the unhealthy, abnormal things I had experienced.  I got sad (and angry) for a while, but then I moved on.  I was able to forgive when I understood that my circumstances required some forgiveness and it was okay to acknowledge that fact.  In my case, the anti-depressant helped me function while I worked through some extremely sad and angry feelings.  Without it I’m not sure how I could have kept going to work and interacting with others.  I was thankful for it. 

Since reading that information, I have learned to allow myself to feel sadness when sad things happen.  I don’t like to cry because I really hate the cry “hangover” – pounding headache, puffy eyes, splotchy face, and blurry vision.  I also tend to think I’m strong enough to handle hard things and keep on going.  It’s hard to stop and let myself feel the sadness, to cry or scream or punch something.  But crying releases the stress and washes away the pain, so I allow myself to cry with a cold wash cloth and 2 Advil.  It helps.  And I allow myself to rest when I recognize that I’m in a stressful situation.  Oh, and I also exercise.  Boxing is really good to get out anger and long walks are good for clearing the head.  Long walks often help me to stop the tape playing repetitively in my head trying to make sense of something I don’t understand. 

The summer of 2009 was blissfully happy.  There was no underlying ache.  Life was simply good.  My relationship with God was thriving.  My job responsibilities brought me joy.  I had a lot of time with my incredible friends.  I even had a personal trainer.  I remembered when I got glasses in elementary school.  I hadn’t known how clear the world could look until it was suddenly clear and I realized how fuzzy it had been.  I hadn’t realized that some people go through most of their lives with this kind of clarity.  I savored it while it lasted.  The bliss faded as the temporary circumstances I was enjoying came to an end.  It was amazing while it lasted and I look forward to more times like that in the future.  Now that I know that it’s possible, I’m on the lookout for it. 

I know it’s not always that easy, but it’s my hope that throughout the rest of my life I’ll continue to learn and practice more effective ways of dealing with sadness and moving through it.  I hope I never have depression again.  I hope I never take an anti-depressant again.  But if something devastating happens and I’m struggling to get out of bed and take a shower, I’ll go back on them to get through the rough patch.  But if there is a next time, I promise to wean myself off them slowly.

I feel that it’s important to mention in closing that my experience is quite different from many people I have spoken with over the years.  I’m grateful that my depression has been treatable and manageable.  Unlike many others, I responded well to the first drug I was given.  The resources that were available to me to get the help I needed were priceless.  If you do not struggle with depression but know someone who does, I beg you not to tell them they simply need to pray more or should snap out of it.  If you feel it’s an issue of prayer, then YOU pray for them more.  If you feel they need to snap out of it, then be their friend and help them laugh and lighten their load in any way you can.  But please do not place a heavier burden on them then they already carry.  They would snap out of it if they could.  If they had the energy to pray more, they actually might.  Help them carry their burden and vent your frustrations to God.  That’s just my two cents, but of course this is my blog so you know that.  Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts all the way to the end of this very long entry.  I welcome your comments.

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Girl Meets God – Book Review

My church is about to enter a new series called A Journey to Pentecost.  This seven-week series is a way for us to prepare our hearts for Pentecost – the day when the Holy Spirit rushed in as a mighty wind and appeared with tongues like fire upon those who were gathered in the upper room (Acts 2:1-4).  We are preparing our hearts for the Holy Spirit to visit us on the Day of Pentecost. 

 

As part of that sermon series, our pastor will reference a book called Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner.  For this reason, my blog today is a book review of Girl Meets God.  For those of you who do not attend my church, I hope you’ll read it anyway and consider adding this wonderful book to your reading list.   

 

Book Review – Introduction

 

Lauren Winner is a young, single woman with several degrees from prestigious universities, ending in a PhD from Cambridge.  She’s currently teaching at Duke Divinity School and has published three books.  From reading this book, it’s safe to say that my own reading list (which my family and friends often tease me about because it has too many intellectual books and too few fluffy romance novels) is as fluffy as they come.  She reads things like out of print church history books (for fun), biblical commentaries, Chinese history, and guides to American Supreme Court decisions.  I’m kind of proud of myself for reading Dante’s The Divine Comedy and my working knowledge of Shakespeare.  I don’t read biblical commentaries for fun or care much about the history of other countries.  Winner’s obvious intelligence doesn’t get in the way of her ability to tell good stories and engage the reader though.  She’s a talented writer and I enjoyed her book.

 

The book is about her personal spiritual journey toward God.  She’s the daughter of a Jewish father and a “lapsed Southern Baptist” mother who divorced when she was young.  She was raised to be Jewish, but she had to officially convert to Judaism since her mother isn’t Jewish.  She became an Orthodox Jew – a strict and traditional form of Judaism – wearing long skirts, keeping the Sabbath laws, and learning Hebrew.  Nearly all her closest friends were Jewish.  She dated Jewish guys – although those guys wouldn’t marry her because she was a convert and for various reasons they wanted to marry a girl from a traditional Jewish home.  She ate Jewish food.  Her Judaism engulfed every aspect of her life. 

 

Even though she officially converted to Judaism, Winner had a fascination with Christian things.  She read Christian books and wrote papers on Christian topics.  She knew this was strange behavior for a Jew, but that didn’t stop her.  She eventually had a dream in which Jesus appeared to her in person.  She knew it was Him and writes,

 

I knew, as soon as I woke up, that the dream had come from God and it was about the reality of Jesus.  The truth of Him.  That He was a person whose pronouns you had to capitalize.  That He was God.  I knew that with more certainty than I have ever known anything else (p. 56). 

 

This was one major step in her journey toward God.  Because her entire life was centered on Judaism, it took her several years and several other major steps to make the decision to convert to Christianity. 

 

Sometimes when a person’s entire life is centered on something they want to change, the best way to make that change is to move away for a time.  (It worked for me after the breakup of my engagement when I went to Virginia Beach for a couple years.)  Winner graduated from Columbia University and went to Cambridge in England.  It was there that Winner found the courage to declare her faith in Christ, be baptized, and become a member of a church.  Her father was horrified, her Orthodox Jewish friends did not understand and many turned their backs on her entirely, and she faced the judgment of those who thought she would tire of Christianity the way she had Judaism and become a Buddhist.  But she took great pleasure in eating pork, casting off the long skirts, and embracing the amazing fact that God had sent His Son to earth to become a man who could understand us and live among us. 

 

Much of the beauty of this book lies in the comparisons that Winner weaves between Christianity and Judaism.  She sets up the book in sections that coincide with the seasons of the church – beginning with a Jewish holiday called Sukkot (an 8-day Jewish festival celebrating the harvest), then moving into the Christian seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Eastertide, and Pentecost.  Winner writes about how she misses the Jewish traditions that she grew up with, pointing out similarities and differences between Jewish and Christian holidays. 

 

Pentecost

 

The main reason that our pastor is referencing this book in our new series is in regard to her section on Pentecost (makes sense, since the series is A Journey to Pentecost…).  She starts this section by explaining that “Pentecost, which means ‘fifty days’ in Greek, was once just another name for Shavuot, the Jewish holiday that comes fifty days after Passover” (p. 227).  She then goes on to explain the significance of Pentecost for Christians, which you non-Pentecostal readers can find in Acts chapter two.  (Those of us raised Pentecostal or Charismatic had no choice but to memorize this moment in Christian history a long, long time ago.) 

 

Jews traditionally stay up all night the night before Pentecost studying the Torah because they commemorate God’s revealing the Torah to Moses at Mount Sinai on Shavuot.  She and her friends decided to do the same thing, studying to find the reasons that the days (Shavuot and Pentecost) coincide.  In Acts, the followers of Jesus were gathered all night to celebrate Shavuot.  The next day, the Holy Spirit fell on them. 

 

The author and her friends take turns teaching each other what they’ve discovered and this all night study leads them to the conclusion that when God gave Moses the Torah, He gave “a living tradition.  He gave not just a book, but a way for His children to read and interpret that book” (p. 236).  When God gave His followers the Holy Spirit, He gave “the thing that would make His revelation stay alive for us, stay with us, even though the moment of revelation is over.  He gave us the Holy Spirit to help us build the church even though Jesus has ascended into heaven” (p. 235).  The parallel is that at both events, God gave His people a gift that would keep on giving, growing and developing our understanding of Him and our ability to know Him.  “At Pentecost and Shavuot, revelation becomes a human responsibility” but “the authority of people to unfold revelation here on Earth will always be held in check by His will” (p. 237).

 

After establishing that the Holy Spirit is given for the on-going work of the church, Winner (now an Anglican) has a chapter devoted to speaking in tongues.  She writes frankly about the gift of tongues and what she has learned about it.  A friend of hers told her that it’s the best way she knows to express her gratitude to God because words often fail her.  Overcome by gratitude toward God and unable to express it the way she wished, Winner writes,

 

I sat on my couch and I began to pray for a prayer language.  I wanted to make the creek-rushing sounds.  I wanted to thank God with words bigger than any words I had.  I wanted to praise Him effortlessly, to not have to think of sentences all the time, to not be constrained by my own small vocabulary” (p. 257). 

 

In her prayer, she turned her request into a test of God.  If He was real, He would give her a prayer language.  When the prayer language did not come immediately, she realized how ridiculous that test was and that God would give her the gift of tongues when she could ask for it without making it a test of her entire faith. 

 

The Holy Spirit is also the Sanctifier.  In a chapter entitled Sanctification School, Winner tells of the day that one of her best friends announced she was having a baby.  This friend’s marriage had gone through a fiery trial and had been on the mend for about a year.  The author, still single and wanting to be married, did not handle the news well.  While polite to her friend, she went home and cried out to God about her own jealousy and asked God to give her the grace to stand with her friend during this time.  This is one of my favorite parts of the book – probably because I can identify with the author.  I feel that many people see marriage as THE Thing God uses to sanctify people, to purge them of sins.  But are singles not also sanctified through the trials we face – loneliness, uncertainty of the future, celibacy, childlessness?  Winner captures this sentiment so well by writing,

 

Hannah’s pregnancy is my own school of sanctification.  God is sanctifying Jim and Hannah through marriage and parenthood, but He is not just blessing them and leaving me out in the unblessed cold.  He is using my ridiculous jealousy and my endless self-pity to sanctify me…  God does not cause our suffering, but He uses it. (pp. 280-281). 

 

Conclusion

 

Like her thoughts on sanctification, there are some other wonderful gems in this book that I hope you will discover for yourself.  Winner writes candidly about her own life and experiences.  She opens herself up to the reader and shares very personal details of her life.  She struggles with the restrictions of Christianity in some of the same ways she struggled with Judaism, but the gracious mercy of a God who would send His Son to be our brother draws her back in.  Those things make her want to be a better Christian. 

 

One topic in this book that I found refreshing and surprising is her openness about the difficulty of celibacy as an evangelical Christian.  As I did a little research on her, I found that she has recently published a new book called Real Sex:  The Naked Truth about Chastity.  In this book, she discusses the topic in more detail and helps modern evangelical Christians get a handle on the theology of chastity.  I ordered a copy immediately and look forward to reading it as soon as it arrives. 

 

I guess that’s the best praise I can offer for the book – I immediately ordered her newest book.  If you enjoy reading at all, I highly recommend that you pick up a copy of this book at your local bookstore and get to know Lauren Winner.  Hopefully in reading her journey, you will discover something of yourself and come to a fresh understanding of all that God offers to His saints.

 

Girl Meets God:  On the Path to a Spiritual Life by Lauren E. Winner

Published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, (c) 2002.

ISBN:  1-56512-309-3

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