Tuneful Tuesday: Set Me Free

Mark 5:1-20 English Standard Version (ESV)

They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes. And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones. And when he saw Jesus from afar, he ran and fell down before him. And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.” For he was saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And Jesus asked him, “What is your name?” He replied, “My name isLegion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now a great herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside,12 and they begged him, saying, “Send us to the pigs; let us enter them.” 13 So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the pigs; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the sea.

14 The herdsmen fled and told it in the city and in the country. And people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 And they came to Jesus and saw the demon-possessed man, the one who had had the legion, sitting there,clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. 16 And those who had seen it described to them what had happened to the demon-possessed man and to the pigs. 17 And they began to beg Jesus to depart from their region. 18 As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged him that he might be with him. 19 And he did not permit him but said to him, “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” 20 And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.


The Bicycle

dark nightOne of the curses of thinking like a writer is the phrase that just won’t let go. I say this is a curse for several reasons. One is that quite often constructing a story to work the phrase in question into is nearly impossible, so it winds up losing its power because it gets shoehorned in where it doesn’t quite belong. Another is that sometimes even though you know a phrase is a good one, you don’t particularly feel like using it. This mainly happens with me when I know what I’m thinking is right, but I don’t want to admit it.

Case in point. Earlier today, the following phrase popped into my head: “Walking with God is like riding a bicycle.”

It sound ridiculously simple, for one thing. Walking with God requires a complex interaction of emotions and bodily control and spiritual discipline. Riding a bicycle requires, well, balance. For another, it seems incredibly clichéd. To me, comparing walking with God to just about anything we could do here on Earth seems like a gross understatement, completely lacking in the depth it needs to be accurate. It sounds like something someone would put on a meme and blast out over the internet.

At the same time, though, there is an undeniable truth within the two parallels. In both instances, there comes a time when we pretty much think we have everything figured out. We feel as if we are in control of the situation, and that nothing can topple us again. We may even start to believe we’ll never be hurt again. Of course, all of those assumptions are incorrect. We will eventually crash at some point.

I thought of this today as I was considering the ongoing struggles I have with depression in my life. A few months ago, I believed I had this thing licked. I felt as good as I ever had. My troubles seemed a million miles away. I was coping with things beautifully. And then I began to slip back into old habits. I let old thought patterns creep back in. I started to complain a little more. Next thing I knew, I was having to rebuild from the ground up again. Well, maybe not the ground up, but it sure felt that way.

Once I learned how to ride a bicycle as a kid, I went many years without falling off, save for one disastrous trail 469273_10151421480105217_1614021527_oouting in which I discovered it was indeed possible for a human body to hit the ground and not bounce. I knew how to balance and pedal and accelerate and break. I couldn’t see myself wiping out again, as long as I didn’t do anything too daring. Then, one beautiful spring day a couple of years ago, as I swung my left leg over my bicycle to get on it, my foot got caught, bringing me crashing down on top of the frame. My worst biking injury in years, and I wasn’t even moving.

Did that bicycle injury mean I hadn’t ever learned to correctly ride a bike in the first place? Well, no. Did it mean all those other years of not crashing were apparitions? No, of course not. Did it mean the person who taught me to ride a bike would be totally disappointed in me? Probably not. So, conversely, does that mean if I sin or let my guard down or entertain depressing thoughts that God will turn his back on me entirely? I used to believe that was true. Today, though, as much as I want to believe that punishment is coming, I’m learning God is much more interested in seeing me get back on the bicycle than keeping me lying on the ground.

So, there. Walking with God is like riding a bicycle. Phrase used. Mission accomplished.

Not Enough?

I turned 40 years old in April of this year, and we all know what that means: I’m at that age. When the eyesight starts to fade a little more. When the physical prowess begins to decline. When the luster of the job begins to wear off. When, theoretically, half of a man’s life is over, which means two dreaded words…

Midlife … crisis.

midlifeI actually do plan on writing about this subject a little more in-depth here in the future, but for this particular post I only introduce it to bring up a line I noticed in a book I was recently reading: Men in Midlife Crisis, by Jim Conway. I checked the book out of a local library just before Christmas, and, unfortunately, I didn’t get to finish reading it, but what I managed to get through was quite insightful. In fact, I may have to add it to my own personal library at some point in the future.

As expected, the book contains plenty of discussion on affairs, a hallmark of many men’s midlife periods. I’m certainly not going to explore that subject here, but I was struck by something Conway wrote about it. Observe the following paragraph on attempting to end an affair:

I have helped both Christians and non-Christians through the painful disengagement process. None of these people has been willing to disengage simply because of the clear moral teaching of scripture – “You must not commit adultery.” Nor have any of these midlife men been convinced to disengage because of obligations to their families or previous commitments. It is my experience that people are only ready to disengage from an affair if the dissatisfaction level rises high enough so that the couple feels there is greater stress and less satisfaction than what they had hoped for.

A local Bible teacher who passed away earlier this year used to have a saying: God plus nothing equals everything. There’s the principle of sola scriptura, the sufficiency of scripture. There’s even an old Southern Gospel song that says, “When Jesus says it’s enough, it’ll be enough.” What gets us to Jesus and draws us into scripture, though? There has to be some breaking point where we just say, “Okay, I’ve had enough. This is just not working anymore. I’m done.”

I’m not trying to say that Jesus cannot lift us out of any situation, or that scripture is somehow not sufficient to instruct us on how to live our lives correctly. God, after all, parted the Red Sea and formed man from the very dust of the Earth. In many instances of life, though, we have to come to a place where we decide the path we are on is vastly inferior to the one He wants to take us on. We have to see in real life that our decisions aren’t working and our habits are harmful to us and we need to make a change.

It almost feels blasphemous to even suggest it, but sometimes what works isn’t enough. Sometimes the strain of what is not working has to become so great that we are spurred to action. Things have to become intolerable sometimes to make us want to change. I wrote here Friday about the insanity of how I stubbornly refuse to give up certain habits that only worsen my depression. I’m beginning to notice a life principle here: Getting sick of a situation or a behavior is often the only way to begin the process of getting rid of it.

So as the new year rapidly approaches, if you’re hearing that tiny voice in your head saying, “This isn’t worth it anymore,” maybe you should give it a listen. It might be prompting you toward the answer that really is enough.

Christmas Is For Losers

I have a difficult time letting my children watch Peanuts cartoons. “What?” you might be asking. “What kind of problem could you possible have Snoopy and the gang?” Well, it’s quite simple, really: The other kids treat Charlie Brown like crap most of the time, and I don’t really want my kids thinking it’s okay to talk to other people that way.

charlie brownThere was this one time, though, when all the other kids came together and were actually nice to Charlie Brown. It happened one Christmas. You know the one. Charlie Brown was in charge of buying a tree for the school’s Christmas program, and he came back with a glorified twig. After a stern lecture from Linus, the gang decides to give Charlie Brown’s tree a makeover, and Christmas cheer is felt by all.

That seems to be the theme for most Christmas stories: Somebody gets heckled or cheated or messed around with, but by the end of the story everything comes together for them (See: Bob Cratchit.) In real life, though, the downtrodden don’t always get the breaks in the end. For someone suffering from depression, it’s very easy to look around a room and think everyone has it more together than you do. Better jobs, better relationships, better social skills, etc., etc. It can make a person want to find the nearest hole and hide in it.

If you’re thinking that just because your Christmas is rushed and hectic and not going according to plan, however, it should be pointed out that the “first Christmas” wasn’t exactly the most organized event either. Think about it for a minute. A baby was born in a stable. People are taking off to other countries because of dreams. Everyone is crowding into town for a census. There’s chaos happening everywhere.

And then there are the people. You have a carpenter who just found out his fiance is pregnant, and the only explanation he has is “It’s God’s son.” You have a young bride-to-be who would have been dumped, save for another dream intervention by an angel of the Lord. The first group of people called upon to visit the Christ child was not teachers or scribes, but sheep-herders called in from the fields. Really, couldn’t God have picked a little better cast for this?

Depressed people have a tendency to think of Christmas as a time when everyone has it better than them. They have difficulty going to parties or attending family gatherings or even facing the holiday because they feel sort of ashamed of where they are in life. They should be happy. It’s “the most wonderful time of the year,” right? When they don’t feel joy during a season which is specifically set up to provide it, they get a double-dose of guilt.

In reality, though, Christmas is practically tailor-made for the losers in life. Jesus, the whole reasonjesus understands for the holiday, was born in a stinky barn. Then he ended his life on a cruel Roman cross. He understands what it’s like to be on the low end of the totem pole. He understands what it’s like to be an outcast. He knows anxiety because he sweated drops of blood. The whole reason he came down, and the whole reason we have a Christmas today, is because Jesus went looking for the losers – the depressed, the anxious, the lonely, the afraid, and the addicted.

Some people may have more finely-decorated homes, flashier presents, and better-looking families, but everyone has Jesus on Christmas Day. Even Charlie Brown.

Reblog: Learning To Love My Name Again

I am not a fan of re-posting items from other people’s blogs. It feels like cheating to me. I mean, I didn’t write the content, so I sort of feel as if I’m plagiarizing someone else’s work, particularly if I don’t know them.

Sometimes, though, a post will arise that so strikes a chord with me that I feel like everyone else should read it, too. This entry is from a blog titled Under Reconstruction. It’s written by a woman named Karen Zainal, and I will just admit now I don’t actually know her. She has been kind enough to like a few of my posts, so I started following her blog as well. I could steal more details from her site (http://karenwriteshere.com), but you should go there and read her story for yourself.

So, without further adieu, here is Learning to Love My Name Again, by Karen Zainal. I hope it touches you as much as it touched me.


Throwback Thursday: Circles

The origins of this blog can actually be traced back to another blog I used to write. It was my first attempt at blogging, and in retrospect it wasn’t very focused, even though it contained some pretty decent content. I think more than anything I just hated to give up the title: Half-Empty: Confessions of a Pessimist (Who’s Trying To Do Better). Not to brag, but I thought that was pretty catchy.

That blog was where I first publicly mentioned anything about being diagnosed with depression, and most of the later posts there touched on that topic in some form or another. At one point, I wrote a post concerning Christian deejay and podcaster Brant Hansen. Some of the facts in the post have changed a little, but now that I am also a deejay on a morning show on a Contemporary Christian radio station, I thought I would repost it here today. I hope it still has some relevance.


We Are

My day started off normally enough today. I got up and got ready for work without incident. I got garthinto my truck and set my iPod to the latest podcast from NBA TV’s “The Starters.” This particular podcast was what they call “The Drop,” which is a bit more informal and longer than the show’s usual podcast. The guys were riffing on Garth Brooks’ Facebook introduction video (which is simultaneously sincere, funny, and a little creepy). Life was good.

Then, in a spot I least expected it, three lovely deer bounded across the road in front of me. I tried to brake, but I clipped the last one’s hindquarters. I was still able to drive the vehicle, but I hit it just enough to do some damage to the front bumper and dislodge the driver’s side turn signal. Just to be safe, since I was only a little over a mile from my house, I drove back home and swapped vehicles with my wife.

Not the best start to the day, but as it turns out, the fun was just beginning. I got a call from my wife later in the day that our washing machine had stopped working, followed later by another call from her informing me our oldest daughter had white spots on the back of her throat, a tell-tale sign of strep throat. A trip to the doctor confirmed the diagnosis. In the meantime, I was thinking about a fairly important staff meeting I’m going to be a part of at work tomorrow.

Then the other external factors weighed in. I’m still not registered for school in the spring. It’s the end of the year, so money is a little tighter, especially with Christmas around the corner. Thoughts began to swirl at that point. Maybe I was doing something wrong. My depression is kicking up again. I always fail at everything. Nothing is going to ever get any better.

To put it bluntly, I lost control. I forgot to focus on the positives. I jumped to the worst-case scenarios. I played out everything in black-and-white. Most importantly, though, I was ready to give up on hoping things would improve. The day was not a disaster; was a disaster.

poohA verse in the book of Proverbs states, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” I had an opportunity this evening to take one of my daughters (the one without strep throat) to her basketball practice. Since there isn’t much for a dad to do at a girls’ basketball practice, I used the time to work on some notes for the work meeting tomorrow. At some point in the middle of jotting down points I wanted to cover, I scribbled down the following words: We … can … succeed.

I have had monumental problems in my life believing those three words. What always amazes me is how easily I can be swayed from them. One bad day, one rejected proposition, one stalled opportunity, one harsh word, and I am gone, spiraling down a path far too many of us who have dealt with depression know. What was in my head made its way into my heart, and it became who I was.

Life is not necessarily going to get any easier. Tomorrow may be even worse than today. I may screw up a thousand more times than I ever dreamed I would. Does that mean I have to quit, though? Does that mean I will never get it right? Does that mean nothing will ever change? Well, I guess that part is up to me.

I am someone who has to remember certain exercises and techniques to deal with depression. Who I am not, though, is someone who has to accept that as a limitation. That feels incredibly strange, almost alien, for me to say. Unless I want to have more days like today, though, it’s a reality I’m going to have to grasp.

Depression may be what we have, but it doesn’t have to be who we are.

Default Mode

buzzRemember in Toy Story 3 when Lots-o’-Huggin’ Bear and his gang found that switch on the back of Buzz Lightyear that would change his settings? While that switch provided some laughs later on in the movie when it turned the space ranger into a Latin love machine, it also enabled Lotso to revert Buzz’s personality back to his original factory settings … and the change in personality was not a good one.

I believe everyone has a sort of default mode we revert back to if certain switches are activated. For some people, that default setting is one of confidence. For some, it’s one of determination. For many, flipping the switch can be a good thing, resetting the system and getting everything back in line. For others, though, what they revert back to or fall back on is a state of negativity, uncertainty, and doubt.

I’ve heard a lot of recurring themes coming from people around me lately. “Stop saying you’re sorry. You’re not allowed to apologize anymore.” “People wouldn’t notice your negative faults so much if you wouldn’t point them out.” “I know you can do this. Why do you think you can’t?” “You should learn to accept compliments.” “Stop beating yourself up so much.”

I could write all this off as a series of coincidences or just the results of a particular phase of life I godspeakinghave entered. I’m not that naive, though. I can see when God is trying to tell me something, even if I’m still trying to fight it tooth and nail. I’m being pushed to change, but I want to switch back into default mode. I’m really not good enough, I’m inadequate, I won’t get it right, I’ll be discovered as a fraud eventually. It’s where I’ve naturally gone for so long, it’s difficult to think another way.

Just like the Buzz switch, though, maybe I’ve got another setting I didn’t know about. Maybe I can actually think positively about myself and the things I can do. Maybe I can realize everyone has their own set of issues and problems they deal with, and I’m not the only one to ever struggle. Maybe the things I don’t feel I do as well as someone else are good enough for me and better than I realize. Maybe I can change after all.

Of course, the next step in the process is to remove the “maybes” from all those statements. I basically have to replace my default setting, altering the state of mind I slip into when pressure arises. I may not become a Latin dancing machine, but I do believe I can become a better person. That should take me to infinity … and beyond (Sorry, I couldn’t resist…).

Tuneful Tuesday: Sticking With You

Let’s face it: Friendship can be hard sometimes. Friendship with someone who wrestles with depression can be darn near impossible. We’re moody, sensitive, easily offended, prone to wide swings of emotion, and largely incapable of expressing what we want in understandable terms. We can be clingy while seeming to do everything in our power to drive you away. In general, we can be a real pain in the butt.

You know what, though? You ain’t always a picnic to be around either.

So I guess we’re stuck with each other, you and me. We might at as well try to make the best of things. In reality, I’m not nearly as annoying as I think I am, and you’re not nearly as judgmental of me as I think you are. We just need to learn what makes the other one tick. Unfortunately, sometimes we’re going to get it wrong, and we’ll probably wind up crossways with each other. The question then becomes this: Are we going to stand by each other even when we seem more like enemies than friends?

The sad truth is that sometimes relationships reach the point of no return, where they become so toxic they’re more harmful to maintain than to just let go. Other times, though, you find that glimmer of hope that makes everything worth fighting for. That glimmer is what this song – “Sticking With You,” by Addison Road – is all about.

“You can cry, you can fight, you can scream and shout/I’ll push and pull until your walls fall down.” No one really wants to thing about fighting, screaming, or shouting with their friends. Of course, spouses probably don’t get married with the intention of ever fighting with each other either, yet it still happens. Love sparks intense feelings, and even friendly love can boil over from time to time. “And you understand I’m gonna be around…”

Yeah, it’s difficult to stick with each other sometimes. You give me a little leeway, though, and I’ll give you the same. “I might let you down, but I won’t let you go…”

Perhaps I’ve Said Too Much

I’ve been very fascinated recently with the concept of self-sabotage, where a person either sabotageconsciously or subconsciously engages in behaviors that will almost certainly lead them to failure. According to an article published on the Psychology Today website, “The most common self-sabotaging behaviors are procrastination, self-medication with drugs or alcohol, comfort eating, and forms of self-injury such as cutting.”

These are all definitely very serious behaviors and deserving of special attention, but I’ve been thinking of a different kind of self-defeating behavior lately. It has to do with how we view ourselves, the faults we either have or believe we have, and how open we are in sharing those faults.

The very nature of this blog is very confessional, and I’ve pointed out several negative aspects about myself. Inevitably, in the course of a natural conversation with me, I will point out at least one unflattering trait about myself as well. Most of my humor is self-deprecating, and I’m always the first to point out my own mistakes.

Why do I do this? Well, I’ve been trying to figure that out lately. I have several different theories. Maybe I have low self-esteem. Maybe I’m a very honest person. Maybe I believe I’m somehow being more genuine than everyone else if I show all my warts. Maybe I think it shows other people that I’m human, just like them. Maybe I hate myself. Maybe I’m desperate for someone to tell me I’m actually not all these negative things.

My latest guess is this: I bring all these things to the light because somewhere, deep down inside, I am convinced the deficiencies in me will cause whatever I’m involved with to crash, so I might as well let everyone know what kind of person I am.

Self-SabotageIn all honesty, though, the reasons don’t matter. I’m putting myself behind the eight ball every time I bring one of these traits to light. I’m planting a seed that very rarely yields anything good. I’m not saying it’s not a good thing to be honest with yourself about your faults and confess the sins that need to be confessed. When they become what defines you, though, and basically drive you in every relationship, they veer into self-sabotage territory, in my opinion.

I think about the apostle Peter often. Peter flat-out denied he knew Jesus. There was no grey area; he bold-faced did it. Have you ever noticed, though, that in all his writings and in all the recorded instances of him speaking after Pentecost, Peter never mentions this again. I would be like, “Okay, look, I am the guy who denied knowing Jesus three times, but…” He just doesn’t even go there. He didn’t even introduce that negativity into the conversation.

He believed he was better than those moments of denial.

I don’t believe we should all put on masks and act like we’re perfect. I also don’t think we should blab every fault we have to anyone who will listen. I am convinced there is a happy medium between the two extremes. The battle to find it can be bloody and difficult sometimes, though, and it can be so much easier to wallow in the depression and pain and fear. Staying in that place, though, sabotages everything in my life, from my relationships to my job to my spirituality. I become toxic to myself.

I’m trying to do better at identifying the thoughts that would sabotage me before they can take root and cause me problems. This is usually where I would say I’m not doing such a good job of that. To avoid planting that see of negativity, though, let me just say I’m just going to keep right on trying.