Friday, August 26, 2016

Tips on Living to the Fullest with Depression

Depression is ugly, it's exhausting, but it doesn't last forever. I have mild depression, most of the time as a result of life events but sometimes for no apparent reason at all. If it is something you struggle with I want you to know several truths before I say anything else. First of all, it is not who you are. It is just how you feel. Secondly, you are not alone no matter how isolated you feel. There are millions of people who either have experienced or currently are experiencing the very same thing. More importantly, if you are a child of God you have the knowledge that He is in the midst of every moment with you not merely watching from far away but holding your hand. Lastly, emotions are temporary. In time, with help and lots of perseverance it can get better.

Now that we've got that out in the open, here are some tips on how to bring some sunshine into the darker days.

1. Move.
Get out of bed, stand up from the floor, climb out of your cave and exercise. Now, before you tune our let me give the disclaimer that I am the least athletic person in my whole family. My mom used to be a killer track runner, my dad to this day beats guys half his age in bike races every week and my sister is a fit ballerina. I haven't played a single sport since middle school, and even then I was terrible. I'm not saying you need to run a marathon, get a six pack or even run a mile. Just move, get your heart rate up, get your muscles a little sore and see the sunshine. For me it works to do 30 sit ups, some squats, maybe go for a short jog/walk. If you find you enjoy it, find a workout routine that works for you. If it isn't your thing, just try doing something small each day. Exercise of any form is scientifically proven to raise the endorphins (happy chemicals) in your brain. After working out, even if it is a small one, I feel energized and motivated. I would, however, caution you not to get your heart rate up right before bed. As I said, it energizes you and that can make it hard to fall asleep.

2. Get sunshine.
Not only does sunshine help with Vitamin D, it raises levels of serotonin. What is serotonin? According to Medical News Today, it is a neurotransmitter that is attributed to regulating your mood and promoting happy emotions that are found in the brain and produced in the gut. When a person has low serotonin it can cause depression. There are multiple ways to raise your serotonin, but this is one of the most practical and beneficial ways I have found to boost my serotonin.

3. Don't try to suppress it.
There have been a lot of days I've gone into public or been around friends and put on a front to hide my depression. I finally learned this year that it is okay to not always be the extravert I used to be. I can sit quietly in a group of friends, or strangers, and not work to put on a smile and carry the conversation. As long as you are still being polite and kind to those around you, don't wear yourself out trying to seem upbeat.

4. Talk about it.
I spent over a year hiding my mental illness from almost everyone I knew, and it is miserable. I found that there are a lot of people out there who relate, and even if they don't, there are a lot of people who care. If you don't have someone you can trust to talk about how you feel and what you are going through, journal it. Lastly, there is absolutely no shame in going to a doctor. Back when I started feeling different and did't know why I talked to my regular doctor and she helped me brainstorm on ways to start healing.

One more thing before I go, healing doesn't happen over night but there is most definitely hope. There is a reason to keep on moving forward, even when you don't feel like moving. I say there is hope because there is a God, the one true God, who walks beside us and brings good out of every situation for those who have committed their lives to Him and trust Him. Through depression I have learned that there truly is no friend like Jesus and am continually amazed that the Creator of the Universe cares about how we feel. Be encouraged friend, you aren't alone in this fight.

Here is a song that has been a great encouragement to me in this battle, which I hope uplifts you as well.






Sunday, August 14, 2016

Be Still

Tonight there are a million things in my mind. Thoughts about people, thoughts about life and death, thoughts about who I am, questions about purpose, and the knowledge that there is no possible way for my human brain to understand it all are circling around. I put in my headphones and the lyrics from music about who Jesus is and our reliance on Him started replacing the ricocheting thoughts. I realized that while I have physically sat still this week many times, I have not truly been still. What does it mean to "be still"? For many Psalm 46:10 has become such a familiar verse that it has lost some of the poignancy to us. "Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."

About a month ago I read the entire chapter of Psalm 46 for one of the first times. Almost every single verse declares either who God is, or what He can overcome.

1God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
    God will help her when morning dawns.
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord,
    how he has brought desolations on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the chariots with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

To me the two verses before the well-known verse 10 sum up what it means to "be still and know that I am God." It starts out saying, "Come, behold the works of the Lord." Look, see all the good He has done in your own life, in the world around you, the earth itself, history. If you can't see what He has done, have no fear, the next verse lists a few of the many many things. "He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; He burns the chariot with fire." In other words, He brings peace. So we have established that part of the act of "being still and knowing" is dwelling on what He has done.

The following verse reminds us while we are resting in the knowledge of what He has done, just who He is- "The Lord of hosts is with us;" Let's stop there, He is the Lord of hosts. He commands all the angels, and ultimately He will defeat the 1/3 of the angels that turned away with Satan. The verse goes on to say, "the God of Jacob is our fortress." The meaning behind that statement is very significant. Jacob was the father of 12 sons, who were the patriarchs, or fathers, of the 12 tribes of Israel. Through Jacob's line came Judah, who's blood line went on to father Salmon, the father of Boaz. Boaz fathered Obed, who fathered Jesse, who fathered David. King David was the writer of Psalms. Though those may just sound like a bunch of names, the way God turned the bad in each of their lives to good for His ultimate plan is incredible. So while saying, "The God of Jacob," may not seem like a big deal it most certainly is. The significance does not stop there though, from David's line came Mary the mother of Jesus. Jesus was a piece of God, who humbled Himself so much that He came to earth in the form of a human through the womb a virgin. Jesus took on the flesh He gave His creations in order to bridge the gap between God and man. Through Jesus every single person is offered salvation, hope for life and eternity to come. When we think about all of those little details, and study further into the stories of the men that came before Him in the line of Judah, not to mention the women like Tamar, Rahab and Ruth in the same family line, we see that though the world is sinful and far from perfect God is powerful enough to turn ANY circumstances to good when we submit to Him. THAT is who God is.

When His face feels far away and you are so busy that you forget just how powerful God is, take time to dwell on who He is. Be still. Take a deep breath and remember. Remember that though the earth gives way and even if the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea He is still our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Thank you, Jesus.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Wait

The word "wait" seems to describe the season of life I'm in. Sometimes I doubt if I will ever move past this stage, but I have to constantly remember that there is a purpose for me and somehow there is even a purpose for waiting.

What do we do when we have been praying and longing for something for years and when we think it is time for them to become really the answer is a simple but clear, "Not now." Our reaction, good or bad, shows just how much we, as children in the kingdom of God, trust our Father. I want to be honest with you, my reaction is not always the one I wish it was. For years I thought that at this exact moment in my life I would be packing to go to the one college I have dreamed about for years. Because of internal health challenges I have faced as well as big life events, that isn't possible for me this year. Today I talked to two young women a few years older than me whose lives reminded me of the dreams I have, dreams that I often wonder if will ever happen. One girl was a graphic designer who designs materials for missionaries to raise funds for their work. The other has a degree in education and is leaving in a few days for her second year as a teacher in China. Part of me was thrilled to meet two people near my age who share common goals and interests, the other part of me was filled with a longing ache because I don't know when or if I will get to live out my passions as those two are. Even in that moment I had a clear choice before me to be either dissatisfied and discouraged, or in contrast be encouraged by the fact that their stories showed me that the spark inside of me to do things like that was not gone. God has put certain desires in me not for me to spend my life wishing I could fulfill them, but so that in waiting for them my passion would grow stronger.

Thinking about the concept of waiting reminds me of one time when I was around eight-years-old and saw a puppet that looked almost exactly like my cat at home. I tapped my mom on the arm and asked for it without much tact or strategy involved. I really wanted that little fuzzy black-and-white cat. When my mom told me no I was crushed. As she finished her errands in the store I thought only about that cat. I pleaded for it once more before we left the store, she thought for a moment and said that I would have to wait until I could save up the money for it by doing chores around the house. She very well could have spent the ten dollars without any bother, but she wanted me to work for it. She wanted me to wait so that when I finally had that puppet in my hand I would see its value as more than just ten dollars, but also for the work I had done in order to get the toy. At the time, I was annoyed. Now looking back I am glad she made me wait, because it taught me what it was like to work patiently for something. When we went back to the store some time later and I spread out the fist-full of change on the counter and the lady handed me the puppet. Pride filled my chest. Looking back I can see that the puppet meant so much more to me than it would have if I had gotten the instant gratification I desired.

My favorite Elisabeth Elliot quote comes from the book Passion and Purity, which says, "..I realized that the deepest spiritual lessons are not learned by His letting us having our way in the end but by His making us wait, bearing with us in love and patience until we are able honestly to pray what He taught His disciples to pray: Thy will be done."

This quote packed some punch for me both the first time I read it online and the second time I read it in the book itself. Elisabeth wrote this in the context of a period when she and her future husband had expressed their love for each other to one another, but both felt that it was not the right time to get married or even to date. They ended up in different states with very limited contact, but it did not diminish their feelings. It did however grow her and prepare her for the mission field God had planned for her. As someone waiting on what feels like every aspect of my life, her position resonated with me. Her words showed me that a benefit in waiting is that it gives us the opportunity to trust God in ways we might not otherwise have the chance to.

Whatever you are waiting on it your life, whether that is love, healing, a job position, school, friendships, restoration in a relationship, circumstances to change or whatever it may be, God has not forgotten you. His answer to your longings, to your prayers, may be "no," or they may be a simple "wait." Either way, this is a huge opportunity for you. An opportunity to become bitter or to trust the One who gently guides us. If this subject is close to your heart right now here is a simple but monumental truth to cling to- God's timing is not our timing, but it is always better. Don't ramrod a solution on your own, but follow God's leading.