Taking A Break

Beginning tomorrow, I will be on vacation for the next week. After wrestling for a few days with the question of whether or not I’d be doing any blogging while I was away, my wife and I settled the answer tonight by deciding the laptop was going to stay home this time. This is probably the right call, since I’ve noticed some concerning internet addiction issues in my own life lately. I’m hoping “unplugging” will draw me back to reality a little bit.

As a result, I won’t be posting anything for the next week. I hope you’re all well, and remember to keep praying for each other. As Red Green always used to say, “We’re all in this together.”

I Love Everybody

For a brief time in my life, when I was in college, I started listening to a lot of Lyle Lovett. There’s actually a story behind that, but it’s not really one I like telling because it has a not-so-good ending, so you’ll just have to guess as to why I started doing this. My favorite album of his is probably Joshua Judges Ruth, although The Road to Ensanada has some really good stuff on it, too. Joshua probably wins out, though, because of “North Dakota,” still one of my favorite songs of all time.

i love everybodyI had a decent collection of Lovett’s albums for a while, although I think I traded them all away over time. One of the more peculiar ones was I Love Everybody. I say “peculiar” because it just had some weird songs on it, like “Fat Babies” and “They Don’t Like Me.” I also thought the title was a little strange. I mean, who loves everybody anyway?

I can’t put my finger exactly on when it happened. Maybe it was after my dad passed away, and I realized I hadn’t told him a lot of things I wish I had. Maybe it was when I turned 40 and realized I wasn’t going to live forever. Maybe it was when I started taking an antidepressant, and my brain chemistry changed. Whatever the case, I’ve not only found myself loving more people these days, I’ve also caught myself telling them so more often than I ever have.

There’s a fine art to telling someone you love them, and it’s one that I haven’t quite mastered yet. I mean, you can’t just blurt it out unannounced, but you can’t really telegraph it either. And you have to have a pretty solid relationship with a person to even think about going there. The danger is, once you do it a few times, it starts to feel surprisingly good, so then you get tempted to just start throwing it out there at random. This, I can tell you from experience, is not such a great idea.

All of this leads up to the question: How do we know if we love someone or not? Well, I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer that question. sammy hagarMaybe Sammy Hagar had it right when he sang “I can’t tell you, but it lasts forever.” In all seriousness, though, it’s a tough call to make. I used to feel as if I didn’t love very many people at all. These days, I’m realizing I love a lot of people I don’t even like all that much. Something just clicks in your heart.

I think my recent affection has something to do with my realization that while not everyone in the world may be dealing with depression, they’re all definitely going through something, and if their something is anything like my something then my heart maclaren[1]goes out to them. Whether it was Plato or Philo of Alexandria or Scottish author and theologian Ian Maclaren who said it, we all should “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” When you touch the bottom of something like depression, you have an urge to not waste any more time in letting the people you care about know how you feel about them. I think this is because we don’t want them going down there, too.

Guess what then? I love you and you and you and you. If you don’t like me saying that, I’ll just apologize now, ’cause I’m probably gonna say it again at some point. I may not love everybody yet, but I’m workin’ on it.

Out Of My Hands

extra_grace_1xIs there such a thing as “extra grace”? A good friend of mine who lost his mother to cancer discussed this subject with me one time.

“When I was going through the cancer stuff with mom, I just had such a peace about everything,” he said. “I just moved on with everything. If you throw something into the middle of my day that disrupts my schedule, though, I just about lose it. It’s like God gives us extra grace to get through the hard times.”

I’m not so sure if “extra grace” is a biblical concept or not, but a certain unexpected peace can arise in situations where we lose the power to control the outcome. Maybe it’s because when we know God is our only hope, we stop fighting so hard to make everything right. Once we stop fighting, we can experience rest.

Here’s an example from my own life. When my youngest daughter was diagnosed with a ventricular septal defect (medical jargon for “hole in sarathe heart”), I knew immediately that I had no power to rectify her situation. I wasn’t a heart surgeon, so there was absolutely nothing I could physically do for her. All I could do was put the situation in God’s hands. Then, miraculously, I felt a peace about the situation, even as we waited for her surgery to be completed, watched her lying unconscious in the pediatric intensive care unit, and saw the scar across her chest.

Put me in a situation, though, where I feel as if I have even the slightest measure of control or influence, and I will wreck it like a bull in a china shop. I always try to change it or turn it or fix it. Especially if it has to do with a relationship. I get so desperate to please that I lose all restraint, throwing everything onto the table and scaring the bejesus out of the unfortunate soul who happens to be on the other end of it. I really believe in my head that I have some sort of power, when, in reality, the end result is ultimately just as out of my hands as my daughter’s dilemma was.

Peace comes from surrender. In the words of author Richard O’Connor, though, “Depressed people generally are working too hard but not getting anywhere.” In other words, if I don’t feel as if I’m getting anywhere, I just keep trying harder and harder, when what I should be doing is easing off the throttle. It’s difficult to come to terms with powerlessness. It’s difficult to walk in trust when you’re not sure things will work out like you want them to.

“… Casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.” It sounds so simple. Why do I always make is so hard?

Tuneful Tuesdays: To The Extreme

Have you ever had one of those days when your depression was so whacked-out crazy that you weren’t even sure who you were by the end of it? One minute you’re morose, the next minute you’re cutting up, one minute you love everyone, the next minute you’re afraid they’re going to bail on you at the first sign of trouble. Not only are you driving everyone around you nuts, you’re actually driving yourself nuts in the process. And the worst part is, there doesn’t seem to be a damn thing you can do about it.

Thankfully, not every day is like this for me, but I have had enough of them over the years to realize there are just times when I need to settle down. The unfortunate part is I never seem to realize when those times are until they’ve already passed and I’ve left nearly everyone around me with the impression that I’m stark-raving mad. There never seems to be a middle ground in these times; I’m either going 150 miles per hour or I haven’t even made it out of the garage.

I’ve never been a huge Billy Joel fan, but his Storm Front album actually had quite a few songs I liked on it. “I Go To Extremes,” in particular, is one of my favorites, mainly because it seemed as if he wrote the song precisely about me. “Too high or too low, there ain’t no in-betweens…” That is me, exactly, and as the main line of the chorus begins “Darling, I don’t know why…”, I don’t know why either.

I always viewed the song as someone asking for a little understanding concerning their actions, and that’s still how I interpret it today. “Look, I do crazy stuff sometimes, and I have no idea why I do it.” It’s the same thing I find myself saying after one of those crazy days I was describing earlier. You just want whoever you’re talking with to just hang with you because you know you’re not always like this. You know you don’t bounce around like a rubber ball all the time. You know you can do better, if they’ll just give you another chance.

So sometimes I go to extremes. Too high or too low. Just stay with me. I’m not like this all the time.

Small Doses

undoingI still haven’t figured out yet if reading books on depression and low self-esteem is actually helping me or just freaking me out. I mean, it would stand to reason that someone diagnosed with depression would want to read up on and understand more about the condition, but there are just times when authors’ words hit a little too close to home and I have to take a step back to gather myself.

For example, I picked up a book at the local library this weekend titled Undoing Depression, by Richard O’Connor. Just flipping the book open at random a few minutes ago, I came across the following paragraph:

Considerable research has shown that people with depression differ from others in how we perceive the world and ourselves, how we interpret and express our feelings, and how we communicate with other people, particularly loved ones and people in authority. We think of ourselves as unable to live up to our own standards, we see the world as hostile or withholding, and we are pessimistic about things ever changing. In our relationships with others we have unrealistic expectations, are unable to communicate our own needs, misinterpret disagreement as rejection, and are self-defeating in our presentation. Finally, we are in the dark about human emotions. We don’t know what it’s like to feel normal. We fear that honest feelings will tear us apart or cause others to reject us. We need to learn to live with real feelings.

And then I closed the book, stuffed it under a pillow, and ran out of the room.

Okay, so the reaction wasn’t quite that strong, but there’s something almost unsettling to me about reading a description written by someone I’ve never met before that perfectly describes me. Even more unsettling, though, is when an author puts his or her finger right on some coping mechanism you didn’t even realizing you had been using. In a book I was recently reading on self-esteem (the name and author of which I, unfortunately, have forgotten), the author pointed out how people with low self-esteem typically imagine the worst case scenario in every situation. This often invokes the “fight-or-flight” reflex, which can, to put it bluntly, cause all kinds of hell to break loose in a person’s life.

I think I may have actually run out of the room after reading that.

After reading enough books and articles of this nature, I’m finally learning that I have to take this information in via small doses. The obvious downside of this is that it’s taking me forever to finish any of the books I’ve been trying to read. I’m 40 years old, though, and I really just started seriously addressing depression in my own life in the last couple of years. A lot of untangling has to be done, and I just can’t hammer multiple issues at the same time. So if I read a paragraph like the one I quoted above, I have to stop for a few minutes or a few hours or even a few days and let it process. I don’t know if this is the most efficient way to get things done, but it’s keeping me out of the fetal position for the moment.

So the new book is lying on the couch next to me right now, daring me to pick it up. I think I’m going in. Maybe I’ll at least manage to digest a whole page this time. I think at my current rate, I should finish reading this by 2017.

Embarrassed To Be Here

My oldest daughter is 12 years old, and she’s experienced some strange health problems over the past couple of weeks. Some chest pains, some shortness of breath, and some 12-year-old girl panic to boot. If you have a theory on what could be causing this, please don’t pass it on to me. Everyone short of Dr. Oz has offered us a diagnosis, and he may be planning a half-hour special as we speak for all I know.

holterBeginning a little after 3 p.m. yesterday, she began wearing a Holter monitor to record her heart’s rhythms. The monitor could come off after 24 hours, and since I was off work today and hadn’t taken her to any other doctor visits since this all began, I took her to the hospital this afternoon to have it removed. I actually had to wear one of these devices myself years ago, so I could sort of sympathize with what she was going through.

After we arrived at the hospital this afternoon, we were led to a patient room in the cardiopulmonary department. I asked my daughter before the nurse came back if she was going to have to take off her shirt to remove everything, and she said no. So I stayed in the room with her. When the nurse arrived, she asked who I was, which I thought was a little odd, but I told her I was the dad. She then proceeded to very politely and courteously tell me that she would have to lift my daughter’s shirt to take the monitor connections off and that I might want to wait out in the hallway.

I want to stress that this was a totally valid request on the nurse’s part, and I also want to make clear that she was not rude to me in any way at all. That being said, it only took a split second from the time she asked me to leave the room for me to begin feeling the familiar rush of embarrassment. I shouldn’t have gone in the room in the first place. The nurse probably thinks I was weird for being in there. I should have known what was going to happen. What does this person think of me?

To be honest, I get that feeling of embarrassment a lot. When someone has to ask me to repeat something I said. When I don’t know how to do something I feel I ought to know how to do. When someone has to correct me during a task of some kind. The list of circumstances I could list here could stretch on for miles. In every one of them, though, there is a common denominator: I am embarrassed, and I wish I wasn’t even there.

I’m not sure when I developed this view of myself, but it definitely happened at some point: I should be able to perform every task perfectly, DoubleFacePalmdiscern the best course of action in every situation, and always know exactly what to say in every conversation. When I fall short in any of these areas, I take it extremely hard and personally. Of course, there’s nothing logical in this approach at all. How would I know how to do things no one has ever shown me how to do or make the perfect judgment under any circumstance or use the exact words another person is expecting to hear. No human being alive can do that … and yet, for some reason, I seem to think I can. Or should be able to, anyway.

I suppose this self-realization can be added to the list that seems to be growing exponentially every day for me. Why I’m suddenly seeing all these things is as mysterious to me as whatever is ailing my daughter. Hopefully, we’ll both receive our answers sooner than later.

A Little Trouble

dream teamI recently finished reading the book Dream Team, by Jack McCallum. If you’re even remotely a fan of professional basketball, I’d highly recommend picking it up, as it provides a fascinating look at how some of the most cutthroat competitors in the history of sports managed to put aside their professional rivalries long enough to win Olympic gold, decimate its competition, and change the face of international basketball forever.

The book is also a virtual treasure trove of memorable quotes, many of which could not be printed here without barkleya disclaimer for language. Most of my favorites came from the “Round Mound of Rebound” himself, current TNT NBA analyst Charles Barkley. Of all Sir Charles’ quotes that are fit to mention, his legendary answer to a pregame question concerning upcoming opponent Angola still ranks as my favorite: “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout Angola. But Angola’s in trouble.”

I was reminded of that quote this evening as I read over an article concerning the suddenly very troubled Mars Hill Church. I knew pastor Mark Driscoll had stepped down, and I knew at least one other pastor on the church’s staff had done the same. Prior to reading the aforementioned article, though, I could only claim a Barkley-esque knowledge of the situation: I don’t know nothin’ ’bout Mars Hill. But Mars Hill is in trouble.

Rewind just a couple of days, though, and you would have found me sitting a table following the service at my own church involved in a conversation with a friend in which I was discussing some troubles of my own. This came after he had mentioned some of his own struggles. And the service itself had featured some pretty open discussions on authenticity and transparency (See this post for more on that.). Go back even further, and you would have found me Heather1watching a movie about the personal struggles of the late Rich Mullins and listening to author Heather Kopp talk about her life as a Christian drunk.

So maybe this is what I should be asking: Is my friend in trouble? More to the point, am in trouble?

Well, yes, we probably both are. The fact is, though, I’m running across more and more stories of Christians being in trouble. The big difference I’m noticing today, though, is that more and more Christians are actually admitting to being in trouble, whether that’s confessing their bouts with depression, acknowledging their struggles with lust, owning up to their poor financial habits, or just straight-out saying, “Hey, I’m a sinner, and I can’t stop doing what I’m doing. In fact, I’m not even sure I want to stop what I’m doing.”

But wait, wait, wait. I thought Christianity was supposed to clean you up. I thought it was supposed to make you happy all the time. I thought it was supposed to end all your addictions. I thought it was supposed to put me in a position to show the sinners of the world how to live a spotless life. If it is, I’m doing it wrong. A lot of us are doing it wrong. And a lot of us are coming clean about why we think we’re doing it wrong.

Since the “we” I’m referring to here consists not of lost souls but of Christians, I suppose it could be asked whether the church itself is in trouble. That would be an easy assumption to make. Our houses of worship seemed to be packed with sad people, addicted people, tempted people, hurting people, and frightened people. At times, we don’t seem to be that much different from those who are not Christians. And sometimes we’re not even sure we can claim a difference anyway.

I would contend, though, that all this is not a sign of the church being in trouble. I view it as a sign the church is waking up. And I think that’s a good thing.

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” As the famous quote goes, the church should be a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints. The fact that people are coming forward in honest confession is, in my opinion, a sign that the church is coming to terms with reality. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” If we can’t turn to the church to help us overcome our sins and hangups, where can we turn?

I still don’t know nothin’ ’bout Mars Hill, but I do know this: When the church becomes a place where the imperfect Christian can feel safe and where the broken and imperfect can go for restoration, the glory of God will be revealed there. Maybe a little trouble is just what we need.


I Do What I Want … Sometimes

I-Do-What-I-Want_Gray_DESIGN_1024x1024I work with a guy who is one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. He has a counseling degree from a Christian university, does his job well, and is always a straight shooter. That’s why it’s so funny when sometimes after being asked to do something he’ll turn and sarcastically quip, “I do what I want.”

Ah, if only life were that easy.

I’ve always been a “supposed to” kind of person. I’ve been borderline obsessive over making exactly the right decision in every situation. As a result, I’ve always played things pretty conservatively. Behave in school, get good grades, go to college, get degree, get job, have family, go to church, drive the speed limit, etc., etc. And those are all good things. But there were also some things along the way I didn’t do. Move away from the area I grew up in, take some time off from college, visit a foreign country, maybe not get a degree, think outside the box. It’s too late for me to do a lot of those things now.

As I pondered this yesterday, I started to get kind of fired up. Why can’t I, at age 40, just docaptain-america-cab-door-300x250 what I want to do? I’ve always tried to stick to the rules, and I have a lot of regrets. Maybe it’s time for me to start sticking my neck out a little more. The more I thought about it, the more intense I became. I felt as if I could rip a car door off its hinges, just like Chris Evans did in the first Captain America movie.

How did I quell this aggression rising up in me? I broke my self-imposed “no Starbucks” rule and bought a decaf caramel macchiato.

What a rebel.

After a day back at work today and a healthy dose of reality, I realized I can’t always do exactly what I want. There has to be a balance in there somewhere. For instance, if my wife needs me to come home and watch the kids so she can run to the grocery store for something but I would rather go play golf (I don’t play golf, by the way. Only example I could think of.), it would be very selfish of me to just not come home. At the same time, though, if I want to homeschool my kids (which my wife and I actually do) in a world where public school is the recommended norm, why can’t I do that?

The “supposed to” mentality manifests itself in a lot of different ways for me. What’s the best shirt to wear today? What should I order at the restaurant? What are the right words to say to this person? What I’m talking about here, though, is something bigger. It’s a life philosophy. It’s deciding what to hold onto and what to let go. It’s deciding when to take a risk and when to play it safe. Most of all, though, it involves me moving out of a comfort zone (Man, I still hate that phrase.) and taking initiative.

And that is definitely not always safe.

The Righteousness Of Christ

0916141037In case you’re not familiar with it, this is the Personality Assessment Inventory, a 300-plus item survey designed to evaluate a person’s mental condition. Actually, it’s a little more clinical and technical than that, but the official definition of the P.A.I. contains enough psycho-babble to actually drive a sane person crazy, so I’ll stick to layman’s terms here. I’ve filled it out a couple of times, and I’ve been struck both times by the simultaneous depth and ridiculousness of some of the statements it contains.

The way the P.A.I. works is, a person is given a list of statements and then asked to rate them as “false,” “somewhat true,” “mainly true,” and “very true.” I’ve always thought the P.A.I. contained an excessive amount of questions concerning alcohol and drug use, but since I’ve never had a problem with either of these I may not notice their importance. There is one statement in particular, however, that always grabs my attention: I deserve severe punishment for my sins.

As a Christian, I feel as if I’m supposed to mark “false” based on the following reasoning: Christ died for my sins, and the punishment for them has been removed. I’m pretty sure, however, that both times I’ve filled out the P.A.I. I’ve filled in the circle for “very true.” To be honest, I’ve always felt like I was going to be one of those people who only got into heaven because I asked Jesus into my heart and God would therefore be required to begrudgingly take me in. When I saw the word “righteous” in the Bible, I knew it wasn’t talking about me; I was sinful, and I knew it.

Thinking this way can obviously suck a lot of the joy out of the Christian life. I constantly compared myself to others, judging my life based on what their lives appeared to be like. I didn’t know if they struggled with anything or not. They looked good on the outside, said all the right things, and knew all the right scriptures. I’ve always felt like an impostor, someone who would be kicked out and disowned if anyone ever caught wind of what was actually in my heart. Obtaining righteousness became a goal to me, and I could never quite reach it.

And then, for some reason, like a bolt from the blue, I realized something yesterday: I can’t reach it.

“For our sake, He made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” I could never do anything to attain the righteousness necessary to stand before God. His mercy and grace is a gift, and I could never earn anything from Him. If Jesus’ righteousness is standing in for me, then, and I could never do anything obtain righteousness on my own, wouldn’t it stand to reason once I had it that I couldn’t do anything to lose it either? Is it possible that because of Jesus I am actually made righteous by him, no matter what I do?

I’m not advocating sin here, nor am I trying to give myself a free pass for any transgressions I may committed. What I am trying to grasp is that I … am … righteous. Those righteous people the Bible talks about? I’m one of them. “There is now no condemnation…” Even typing this, I’m fighting it. “I deserve severe punishment for my sins.” Thing is, I actually do deserve it. Someone stepped in, though, and took it for me, and when God looks at me He sees the sacrifice, not the sin.

I’m only sharing this because during the countless sermons and church services I’ve sat through and the hours of programs and CD’s I’ve listened to, I never thought of righteousness this way before. I’m sure many of you are shaking your heads and saying, “Duh, I’ve known all this for a long time.” Well, I haven’t. I’m still not sure I understand it fully. I need to get this in my soul, though. One of the hallmarks of depression is guilt, and not understanding righteousness produces heaps of it. I’ll say it again: I need to get this.

am righteous.

am righteous.

am righteous.

Kings And Queens

I have the utmost sympathy for people who cannot drag themselves up from the depths of depression. The kinds of people who need counseling and prayer and medicine and whatever else it takes to get back on their feet again. The kinds of people who have difficulty even looking another person in the eye. The kinds of people who are beat up, broken, and bruised.

But I also think some people need to just get the hell over it.

Maybe that’s too harsh. No one has ever told me, but I’m sure I’ve cleared some rooms in my time with my Bob Bummer routine. I’m sure I’vebobbummer sent one too many impassioned emails attempting to clarify my positions. I’m sure at least one person has ignored my call because they didn’t want to deal with the negativity emanating from the other end of the line. I realize I have a pessimistic streak a mile wide, and I’m working hard to try to narrow it every day.

Some people, however, just seem to thrive on the drama. I always think it’s ironic that the people on Facebook or Twitter who comment the most about not needing “the drama” are almost always the ones generating the most of it. They cling to it. It’s what makes them feel right or alive or justified or whatever. Sometimes they’re looking for people to be on their side, and sometimes they’re just looking for someone to fight with.

They are the kings and queens of drama.

I want desperately to empathize with them, mainly because I know I can exhibit so many of their tendencies. Sometimes I feel as if I’m going borderline nuts because I get so wrapped up in day-to-day situations that wouldn’t mean beans to anyone but me. What I’m beginning to realize, though, is sometimes you don’t need to hit send. You don’t need to post that status. You don’t have to make that call. And you sure don’t have to stay in the state of mind that would make you do any of those things.

I hope I’m not being insensitive here. It’s just that when you’re trying to shake feelings of negativity and depression, these people have a way of sucking the life out of you. I should know; I’ve sucked the life out of enough people myself. This stuff is a killer, folks, and we have got to abdicate our thrones. And I’m hitting “send” … now.