Finding joy in the midst of depression

Depression is trying to tell me my dreams are dead.

And I want to listen. I’m tired and outside influence on my schedule is working against me. I barely have time to get done things I have to get done, like assignments for school, let alone the stuff I’d like to get done, like writing this.

Depression likes to suck the life out of everything. Don’t take my word for it, though. Feel free to ask other people who suffer with depression.

We live in a broken world and I certainly believe that part of my depression is in response to my environment, but it’s also, in part, chemical – something inside me that’s broken.

What to do about it? Well, in part, seeing the right doctors and taking the right medicine helps. The other thing, the one that keeps me going, is Christ.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Galatians 5:1 

There is joy and hope in knowing Christ. 1 Peter 1:3-9Galatians 5:22,  and Psalm 51:12.

Sometimes I struggle to find the strength to carry on with my dreams, but is these verses, and many more, that remind me that I can go on. Christ sustains me. Like in Philippians 4:13 where it says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” These verses serve as reminders that the darkness doesn’t win and we don’t have to let it win in our daily lives.

I’ve heard that Billy Graham is famous for (among so many other things) once saying, “I’ve read the last page. God wins.” That’s a comfort for those of us who walk with God. He is, as it says in Psalm 46:1, our ever present help in time of need.

I don’t know about you, but I feel needy often. I need help to overcome depression. I need help to overcome bad habits. I need help to figure out how to make the money we have cover the bills. I need help feeling grateful and being forgiving. I need help sometimes just loving my wife and kids. God is there for that. Thankfully. I can’t imagine what it must be like to go this alone, with just doctors and medicine to make me right. Just thinking about that makes me feel more depressed. Seriously. My doctors are in the VA. The psychologist position at my clinic has changed hands five times in the last two years, maybe more. The psychiatrist blew off my problems, behavioral issues, to want to look for the roots of my depression.

Look, dude, I know the roots of my depression: it’s living in this messed up world. I’d love it if they’d focus on things like overcoming addictive behaviors or developing my skills in anger management. I took a great class on that at my church. I used to feel guilty about being angry, which just fed my depression, but then I learned a great verse, Ephesians 4:6, “Be angry but do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger.” Couldn’t even get the VA doctor to talk about anger.

Anyway, the point is, I have joy in my life despite the depression. I have a wonderful wife. Incredible kids. I’m about to finish my bachelor’s degree. I have great friends. Even though I’m unemployed, I’ve had some really great opportunities to go do things, meet people, and experience lots of cool stuff. Just in the last 18 months I’ve been able to be a part of the work done by a number of incredible ministries like YoungLife, Inca Link, World Vision, MudLove, and more. Later this year I hope to take my youngest daughter on a mission trip to Moldova with Operation Mobilisation.

I may not smile all the time. Life’s going to be hard, but through all of this I have learned a few things. The obvious lesson, of course, is that God is always there. Another, perhaps not as obvious lesson, is that happiness and joy are two different things. It’s possible to have depression issues and still experience and have joy in your life. Finally, that there are people out there willing to listen when things get hard. Please, please, if you are having serious problems with depression, turn to a friend or find one of the many help lines out there.

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Every child matters, not just those in Sandy Hook

Blame guns.

It was God’s punishment on a sinful nation.

Mental illness is to blame.

Let’s eliminate public access to guns.

Let’s purge sinners from our nation!

We need more beds for the mentally ill.

Hogwash.

A gun is an inanimate object. Does a spoon lift itself to your mouth? No. A gun is a tool. If someone wants to hurt others they will just find another tool.

God’s punishment? Hardly. We live in sin in a broken world where we are free to exercise our will. Our punishment is that we spend eternity apart from God if we don’t accept the Gift he gave us, the Sacrifice he made for us. Not the deaths of innocent children. Those deaths are merely the result of the broken and sinful nature of our world.

Whether you view mental illness as strictly spiritual or strictly chemical, or a little of both, the illness alone is not to blame. I have dysthemic disorder, a chronic type of depression. Sometimes my mood dips and I skirt around the issue of hurting myself. I have a pretty hearty grasp on the sanctity of life, though, so I don’t.

Would stricter gun laws have made the events of last Friday impossible? Maybe, but not likely. When someone wants to hurt people, they’ll find a way. As a matter of fact, recent history is full of instances where people legally carrying a firearm stopped behavior like that of Adam Lanza’s, so it’s possible that stricter gun laws would actually result in more people being harmed.

Would it help if we institutionalized more of the mentally ill? Maybe. Would that have helped prevent what happened in Sandy Hook? The answer is unclear, but probably not. The truth is that our nation is focused on locking away convicts, not treating people with illnesses — whether you see that illness as spiritual or physical is immaterial.

But we must do something to save the children, some of you cry out. Yes, we do, but criminalizing everything won’t do it. Institutionalizing everyone won’t do it, either. Further, fixating on a group of kids who died senselessly won’t help, either. If the children of Sandy Hook matter, so should all children, everywhere.

The answer doe not lie in changing the system. The answer lies in changing hearts. The answer isn’t just about saving American children. The answer is about saving all children.

I read a statement from someone earlier today that Sandy Hook is what happens when we shut God out of the public square. Nope.

Sandy Hook is the result of hearts that are closed to God.

Our society clings to laws and institutions to make them safe. The reality is that laws do very little to control peoples’ actions. Where they work it is because someone has been raised to see the sense of the laws. There is a fear of consequences, at the least, and at best there is an understanding of how obeying a just law has a long-term benefit.

Laws and institutions do not encourage you to help others. At some point someone taught you that other people matter. This encouraged you to reach out to others when they are in need.

Our institutions rely on funds and when they don’t exist they don’t provide help. You and I, however, have hearts that want to reach out and help. We will find a way to do it, too.

The short version is that relationships are what heal and what makes the world a better place. The ultimate relationship, of course, is one with Jesus Christ. It is that relationship that helps me see that relying on man to make this right is a fallacy. It is that relationship that helps me to see that each life is valuable, and because each life is valuable, I cannot get any more upset over the children of Sandy Hook than I can over the 25,000 children who died worldwide that same day because they couldn’t get a cup of water. Each loss is tragic and heart-breaking.

I can’t keep a mad man from getting his hands on a weapon and killing someone, but maybe I can prevent a man from reaching that point by reaching out to him in his pain and helping him. Maybe I can help another child reach adulthood and become a doctor, a teacher, a pastor, by supporting a group like World Vision or Blood Water Mission.

Bickering with each other over gun laws and mental health institutions is just delaying the help someone needs. Get out and help someone. If you find yourself unable to get away from the mouse and keyboard, head to World Vision, Compassion International, Inca Link, or Blood Water Mission and help a child you can help.

24

My son is out walking the dog, so it is pretty quiet in here right now. Tomorrow at this time, though, will be a different story. We’re packed. Our passports are ready. I’m counting on God for great things when we go to Ecuador.

And yet.

When the time comes to go somewhere, I’m on everyone’s back about getting out the door “on time.”

What constitutes “on time?” I was raised, and later had this confirmed by the United States Marine Corps, to believe that on time was five (at least) minutes early and arriving on time was being late. In order to achieve this, I build in buffers for expected travel time, usually 20-30% more time is allowed for a trip than what I know it can be done in at speed limit (also known as Google Map’s estimated travel time). Needless to say, I get some places ridiculously early.

What does that have to do with tomorrow? We’re meeting at the church at 8:30. Taking the back way it takes about 12 minutes to get there. This early on a Saturday morning? I can get there in seven. You just know I’m going to want to be early (for no good reason, I might add — we’re stowing our luggage in the church bus tonight).  *Side  note — Chick-fil-a isn’t far from the church; maybe I’ll do breakfast there before we go.* We’re leaving the church at 9 to go to Miami International Airport. It’s a three hour trip (per Google maps). The last I saw, TSA recommends international travelers arrive two hours prior to their flight. This only leaves an hour for lunch and getting luggage checked in and stuff like that.

This is God’s trip. Not Jay’s. I need to pray about the time anxiety today. God has proven again and again in my life, especially as we prepared for this journey, that he can be trusted. It will work out.

At the beginning of this adventure neither my son nor I had a passport. Not only that, his birth certificate was missing and I had to order a new one so we could get his passport. The same day I realized this and looked up the cost ($50), someone sent us $50. A few days later it arrived and off we went to the Clerk of Court’s office, having received enough in the two days prior to pay for the passports. Well, more, as it turned out, because I over-budgeted for them, not understanding I didn’t need the card, just the book. But that was okay, too. A few weeks later I had raised — from my own pocket, through fund raisers and with donations from family and friends — about half the cost. That little extra from the passports came in handy. This past summer my ex-wife and I had reached an agreement about custody and child support that erased my back support debt, but I found out that her state didn’t close the case. This needed to happen if I was going to get my passport. I could pay the fee they demanded with the leftover from the passports. A few more donations came in after that and several folks told me they would send certain amounts. Great, that got us closer, but still left a pretty hefty sum to figure out.

That gets us to November 4th. A friend asked how close we were. I named a figure and he said that was how much he planned on giving us. Awesome.

Fast-forward to the seventh. None of the promised donations I was expecting had arrived, which meant there was a big gap again. One of my wife’s friends had told her she was going to donate to our trip and I saw her at church that evening. I had not discussed an amount with her and figured on maybe $40 or $50. I was way off. She paid the difference.

So, you see, I have all the reason in the world to trust God about this trip. I even knew it was going to work out this way. I said so to my wife, repeatedly, trying to ease her stress about it.

Which brings me back to time anxiety. I didn’t write all that just to share how awesome God is (though that was one of the reasons I wrote), but also to remind me I can trust him in all things.

Please pray for our team. There are 23 of us going. We’ll be working with Inca Link, visiting orphans in Quito and teaching children in the Amazon, as well as helping to build a school for preachers and missionaries in the jungle. Please pray for the children and families we will be in contact with. The orphans are orphans, in most cases, because their parents are in jail and won’t be back before the kids are grown, and they have no other family.

First Alliance will be focused on orphans this year for our Advent Conspiracy. With that in mind, I still have those bracelets available for $10 each. The proceeds of any I sell after today are going towards our project for Advent Conspiracy.

Twenty-four hours and we’ll be getting ready to go. I think I’ll be calmer now, too. Thank you to each of you who has donated, prayed, and shared this with your friends. Our God is an awesome God who has given me awesome friends, indeed. Thank you, Jehovah Jireh.

Did I say 23 were going? Make that 24. God will be there. Count on it.

10 Days til Ecuador

Wow. Time is flying. This Saturday my church is hosting the Run4aReason and then Freedom Fest. A week later and I’ll be off to Ecuador.

My son, Noah, and I will be helping Inca Link by building a school in the Amazon and working with orphans in Quito. We’re still looking for help — prayers and finances.

Christmas is coming up before you know it and we are selling bracelets that would make great presents for many people on your list, especially teachers and others who teach, inspire and imagine a better world for tomorrow. If you’re not interested in a bracelet, but still want to help, you can still donate via PayPal using the information below.

Thank you!