Forgive me, God, I’m depressed.

ImageI hate it. I really do. I am a positive and hopeful person most of the time, but then like a thief in the night it sneaks up on me, stealing whatever positive thoughts and hopeful expectations my heart had settled on but not fully embraced.

 I feel guilty. How could one so loved and so forgiven and so obviously favored feel so down? I can so easily speak to another about the Truths of God to help pull them out of their pits of self-abasement, but when I am lapping from the pool of self-pity, I simply forget there is Living Water dammed up inside. Do I forget? Or do I choose not to drink thinking in some twisted way this is my punishment for past sins and aggressions?

 That’s when the lies begin to surface and hover around my heart like a million bees stinging the vulnerable places. Every angry word spoken to me, every accusation made, every failure and misunderstanding find their voice and threaten to undo every Truth I have hidden there. It becomes too much, too loud, and I start to shut down, undone by the venom, needing an antidote but feeling too unworthy to drink from His cup.

 And in those moments, I am so homesick for His compassion and mercy I am literally ill. What is wrong with me? I tell myself, “You better pull yourself together! There are people depending on you! If you become so depressed and overwhelmed and you know the Truth and study it daily, what hope does that offer others that don’t have that foundation?” And I curl up, letting my Saviour cover me with His love and strengthen my frame while I weep over my failures yet again.

“The Lord has compassion on us for He remembers that we are but dust.” (Psalm 103:14-15)

I don’t have to look far to find other ancestors in the faith that had the same struggle. The Psalms read like the diary of a manic depressive; David was no stranger to depression. He went from the heights of favor and provision and praise to the depths of despair and anxiety and fearing for his life. And yet, he was still regarded as “A man after God’s own heart.” I once heard that wasn’t because he always said the right thing before God but that he spoke all that was on his heart – whether it was highest praise or confession of unthinkable sin. Nothing was hidden from God. In that, I suppose I am not so different from King David.

Those around me get frustrated with my emotions. My tears, not hidden, make others uncomfortable. The usual gleam in my eye is replaced with a glassy stare and those closest to me recognize it. “As Jesus is so are you. Jesus is not depressed, and neither are you.” I understand the meaning behind that, but the logic is unsound. No. Jesus is not depressed. Not now. But He had moments of such raw and overwhelming emotion that He was undone. Granted, I’m not in the Garden of Gethsemane about to take on the fullness of God’s wrath for the salvation of the world, but there are moments when ministry takes me to my knees and I cannot bear up under the weight any longer.

“Cast your cares upon Him for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)

 And how do you do that exactly? The word for “cast” there is literally “throw, as if casting a net, far and wide,” and far too often I merely hand my cares over like I’m afraid they will be dismissed or worse, rejected. You see how the thoughts then are cyclical?

 But in those desperate moments, very much like the one that I am in today, this verse becomes my beckoning:

 “So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong.” (Hebrews 12:12-13)

 With that declaration, my focus changes. The “self” cesspool that I was drowning in now is revealed for what it is, the destructive, defeat of an enemy that longs to see me stopped and silenced! And I declare with shaking voice, “You will not win!

 And this childlike warrior finds her weapon, takes her position, and resumes the fight. It is long and it is hard and sometimes I need a moment to run home and cry, to pull the covers over my head and beg for tomorrow to hurry faster, but my Daddy reminds me, “A failure is one that refuses to get back up. You, My child, are more than a conqueror!” Like my forefather David, I take aim at the giant before me, the impeding darkness of depression, knowing my God is greater than even my emotions.

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The Flip Side of Poverty

We see them – vagrants living on the streets, asking for handouts, and bumming rides. We judge them as runaways, addicts, alcoholics, or panhandlers. We rarely see little more than dirty clothes, mussed hair or the cardboard signs they carry. We might be bothered if we are stopped to hand them a crumpled up dollar bill from our wallets, or the considerate and those that think ahead, may have on hand a bag of toiletries and snacks or gift cards to local fast food joints. Then, their are the spiritually considerate that might hand them nothing more than a tract, with a word of encouragement. None of those things are wrong, exactly…but is it enough?

 More and more people are finding themselves homeless and in abject poverty. Did you know that 633, 782 people in the United States experience homelessness on any given night? That is a lot of people. And whereas, some of those people have chosen it by choosing drugs over shelter, the majority of them are simply homeless due to bad circumstances and tough breaks. I was talking to a friend of mine who has been living on the streets off and on since she was fifteen, and she admitted that even in government or state funded shelters there is no sense of security or safety. In fact, within 48 hours of street life, they are solicited for sexual acts…if it takes that long. And, some choose it. Because if one sexual favor means the difference between sleeping in the alley way or paying a few dollars to sleep in a shelter, to them, it might be worth it. This then makes them prime candidates for trafficking, and their problems just got a whole lot worse.

 I can’t imagine that choice, that feeling of fear and insecurity, the inability to really relax. But, being the thinker and imaginative soul that I am, I allowed myself a look at how easily that might happen to me and to my girls:

 Right now we are doing quite well. My husband has a good job and provides for us well, but in one split second my husband could die, and without his thinking ahead to provide life insurance, within a few months we could go from middle class to homeless. That fast. When you consider that one third of his paycheck goes to mortgage and then the other two thirds go to feed and clothe us, that money will dwindle quickly. Just a couple of late payments or missed payments and rejected calls from collections agents, we could found our house foreclosed on, our savings stripped and left with no other choice but to take to the streets. For us, it would take months. For some, it would take weeks.

 My friend I mentioned found herself on the streets when she was a teenager. Her mom was an alcoholic and her step dad was a pervert. One night she had a choice, she could roll over and give him what he wanted or she could hit the streets. With tears in her eyes and just enough clothes as would fit in an oversized bag, she chose the streets. She begged her mom to take her back, but her stepdad had already concocted a story that made her look like a whore and without the mental capacities to choose correctly, her mom refused her request. Her grandmother took her in for a while, but soon she passed away, and my sweet friend, again, was found to be helpless and homeless. She has not only been mugged multiple times, leaving her with a fear of having anything worth any value or money in any quantity, but she has been a witness to some of the most violent assaults that have forever left her fearful and haunted. Tragic. Perhaps even more tragic is she is one of thousands.

 On one of our meetings, I took her to the food stamp office. You know, the place that so many look down on unable to see beyond the masses that take advantage of it? The truth is, it does provide help. But, after sitting down with an elderly man, eager for food and desperate for help, I realized it’s increasingly difficult for the uneducated, unadvancing, and illiterate. As I walked away 45 minutes later, no further in the process than when he asked, my heart hurt for him…what hope did he have? I remember one day while mentoring at a local charitable organization, a woman was sitting in a corner, deep in thought, heavily burdened. I placed my arm around her and asked what was wrong. With big, sad eyes she said, “My baby is getting made fun of.” She had all of my attention. “You don’t know what it’s like to have to choose between feeding my kids or washing their clothes… and lately all I can do is feed them.” She didn’t have to say any more. I know kids. I know their cruelties. But she was right, I didn’t understand her pain, not fully.

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There is a flip side to poverty. Humanity. There aren’t just poor. They are people with fears, insecurities, and dreams. We dismiss them because we don’t know their stories, we don’t feel their pain. We judge them based on heresay and speculation and prejudice. They are humans with souls and hearts, and each one of them from the addict begging for the next hit to the struggling single mom has a story. But, that requires getting out of our comfort zone. Knowing those stories is more work than handing out a baggie or a tract or few dollars. Because, if you get to know them, you might see that they need more. They might let you in to that well-guarded untrusting heart of theirs, and then you will be compelled to do something.

 What you can’t see this side of poverty, the side that we sit comfortably on with our cell phones and laptops with cold iced water in a glass, is that some of those “hopeless” souls know more about God and His love and provision then you and I will ever have to face. Some of them don’t have a clue about love, any love, or provision or hope or God. We can’t afford to ignore either of them – every soul deserves to be seen, even the unlovely.  I once heard, “People aren’t unlovely because they are unlovable, but because they are unloved.” I wonder, the imaginative hopeful side of me, if there were more loving, would there be less poverty. It’s just a thought, but grounded in Christ and living out His example, love is abundance.

 One of the most touching statements I have heard lately was from my mom whose heart for the hurting I inherited and who has lived out love to the less fortunate all my life. “I hurt for them. I would invite them into my house to stay in a heartbeat. In fact, maybe your dad and I will buy a trailer and set it up for just that reason.” I love her heart, and I would gladly contribute to that endeavor, and maybe we will, but we cannot house them all, feed them all, clothe them all, or help them all. None of us can save everyone, but all of us can do something – and it starts with loving them.

 

Alleyway Jesus – Greg Milwee writes about “dirty” redemption

I just finished reading a book, “Alleyway Preacher,” by Greg Milwee, and it impressed me. Not that I am any expert, but I do read a lot of books and have written a couple of my own. With that, I know that there is an interesting balance that Christian writers are forced to make – the balance of cliché and preachy with relevance and believability. For writers that are especially compelled to share a message of grace and hope wrapped up in the love of Jesus in such a way to draw in those that need it most, this is a formidable task.

 I first “met” Greg Milwee online. He knew I had written a couple of books and wanted some information on how I did it and how he might do the same. To be honest, I get that question a lot, and I don’t feel qualified to answer those questions, but I could tell by the way Greg asked that it wasn’t about being famous or getting rich (which writing will NOT do for you), but it was about getting a message out and sharing a story. As he was desperate to get it in the hands of others, I encouraged him to go the self-published route, but I can see, now that we have the book published and I see it’s beauty and potential, he was definitely in a league with good writers and given some time and a good agent would have been able to get a book deal with an established publishing house. And, I don’t say that lightly… but for the raw talent he possesses.

 However, this is a book review, so here is what I thought:

 “Alleyway Preacher” is a great look at what life guided by the Holy Spirit looks like, and how that obedience has the power to transform lives around you. The characters are well presented, and in their development, you find yourself wanting to know more. They are believable. The way that they interact and react, their thoughts and their emotions, are very realistic. It revolves around a church, but the building itself is just a rotating door, the church as it acts and serves is exemplified in the people. As I read it, I was challenged in some areas and affirmed in other areas. One of the strongest lessons I received is the very life lesson that God is schooling me in now – when we submit to the Holy Spirit and respond to what He asks of us, it will very likely be misunderstood by those around us, those in the church and those in the world. But, as the book shows, if God leads you to do something He will protect you through it. Ministry isn’t pretty. Real ministry is often something others might consider lowly or unlovely, untouchable service… real ministry is being the hands and feet of Jesus, and more often than not, it takes place in the alleyway rather than from the pulpit.

 One thing that we aren’t very comfortable with in the Westernized church is the idea of sacrifice and discomfort. We want to include God in our lives, but we don’t want to live our lives for Him. Milwee does a good job of showing how that affects those around us. It is only through true submission and surrender of our own selfish desires that we can build His Kingdom here. He shares the gospel and a message of hope and love not just with imagination rather as one who has seen the power of being the Body of Christ.

 I intentionally didn’t tell you much about the events of the book. I want you to read it. I want it to inspire you to do more and live more sacrificially. I want you to be encouraged, those of you who already do, to know that you will indeed reap heavenly rewards for the good works that you are doing. And to those that need to see hope and believe in God’s ability to take the messed up lives that we offer him and turn them into hope and healing for those that need His love, I want you to know that it can be found through Him and living out His purpose in trust and sacrifice.

 

You can download the book here:

http://kindle.amazon.com/work/the-alleyway-preacher-greg-millwee/B00DJ3SP2K/1483921131

And you can find Greg Milwee on Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/gmillwee

A Mighty Wave

One of the things I loved most about working at the radio station wasn’t meeting the Christian artists that came through town… it was hearing their stories. I loved to hear what the Spirit of God did in their hearts to create and form the music that we all love to listen to, the music that speaks to us, the music that says what we need to say, that asks us to do what we cannot fully understand. Not too long ago we talked with Sarah Reeves…a precious young woman of God, who writes music that reaches into our souls and begs us take a listen. I want to share with you a piece of what I remember of her interview about the song, “Mighty Wave.”

The chorus of that song says this:
“Even when I’m walking thru the valley of death, even when I’m broken and nothing is left, You lead me on, You lead me on… So I’ll pour my tears in the ocean, and I’ll leave my pain by the shore, and with a might wave You’ll sweep them away til they are no more.”

This is the story Sarah tells:
This song came to me in a dream. I saw this picture of the beach and the waves were rolling in, strong but peaceful and sure. In the distance, I saw a woman and she was carrying a basket in her hands. I watched as she approached the shoreline, wondering what she would do; then, I observed in fascination as this woman emptied the basket, and as these huge waves licked the shore they took with them the contents of the basket – her tears. Mesmerized I kept my gaze on her. When the basket was emptied her bowed frame stood up, and freely she walked back up the beach away from the waves, carrying an empty basket. She faded out of my view but the water with all it’s magnificence still rolled, carrying those tears, that heartache further and further out to sea, until they were no more.

I listened intently as she told this story. She later said that she couldn’t get out of bed fast enough, that picture still clearly in her head, and the song that resulted is what you hear today. This song has played a lot in my heart the last few weeks. It has been a salve, a healing Truth that has helped me bear so much of what I’ve felt, not my own pain exactly, but the pain that I have watched my loved ones endure and persevere through. It hurts to see their eyes with tears and pain, their bent backs and shoulders, to watch them carry this basket that only gets heavier and heavier. And in some way, I suppose what I pray that I can do is to lead them to the shoreline, to help them carry their baskets, and rejoice as we watch the sorrows and pain dissolve into the Mighty Wave of God’s grace, and mercy and love until all that’s left is peace.

I love that story. I love that image. Listen to the song; may it bring you peace.