- It isn’t useful to pile guilt on top of your depression. It is often a temptation to blame oneself for depression, as if it is something you have chosen. Most of the time, however, it is not. Depression is just what it is, adding guilt over being depressed only leads into deeper depression. Argue with the thoughts that would convince you otherwise. Depression is sometimes a natural response to difficult circumstances, sometimes induced by brain chemistry, and generally only lasts for a season. By the way, don’t let others pile guilt on your for it, either.
- Realize you are a unique individual. Just because something helps someone else you know who is depressed, does not mean it will be helpful for you. For those who struggle with periodic depression over a lifetime, it can be a wise preparation to develop some self-awareness. Along the way, take time for some reflection as to what kinds of things help create depression for you, as well as what things you find helpful in the midst of it. These things can be useful when facing another round of depression.
- Though you may not feel like you have the energy or motivation to do it, I encourage you to get out of the house and be around other people regularly, even if you have to drag yourself out.
- Take care of your physical needs as best you can. Try to eat more healthy and balanced meals, as depression often expresses itself through one’s relationship with food, and unhealthy eating can also contribute to feelings of depression. Stay away from alcohol during depression…it is a drug that is a depressant, remember? Pursue an exercise routine, it can release mood lifting endorphins, boost energy, and help your focus. Enforce for yourself boundaries on your sleep…refuse to stay up out of bed when you wake up in the middle of the night, and refuse to spend all day sleeping. You may have to take sleep aids and read really boring books, or in contrast, you may have to force yourself to take that shower and get dressed or to go out to the store, but don’t let depression’s sleep patterns control YOUR sleep patterns.
- Find something to make you laugh, preferably on a daily basis. There are lots of options for this; a stupid movie, a humorous book, a pet you can play with or some ridiculous YouTube video are all options that could brighten a few moments of your day.
- Keep in contact with those who care for you. While you don’t want to drag them down into the dark hole you are experiencing, neither is it wise to shut them out of your struggle completely. Ask for support and encouragement when you need it, share your prayer needs, spend some time in positive social interactions, such as dinner out, a movie or a walk in the park.
- If you had bronchitis, you would go see your doctor and take the medicine the doctor prescribes. Similarly, chronic or deep depression may compel you to see a professional counselor or take medications to help you through. Don’t be afraid to get help when help is needed. Just as it is unwise to wait too long and let bronchitis turn into double pneumonia, it can be just as unwise to wait overly long before seeking help in depression.
- Your pastor, Bible study group leader or other Christian leader can be a good source of encouragement, helping you address the spiritual battle often accompanying depression. Keeping faith through the dark days can require support from other people of faith, and nurturing your spiritual side in the midst of it can help strengthen you to get through it.
- Provide regular opportunity to let God to minister to you directly and personally. Do your best to continue to attend worship. Talk honestly with God about your struggle. Spend time in the scripture, even if it is just reading a psalm or a few verses each day, and even if you don’t feel like it is doing you any good.
- Do at least one thing constructive each day. Often, when depressed, the load of tasks to be done is overwhelming, and begins to get bigger as time passes. As the list gets longer, it becomes more overwhelming and the depression grows stronger. Selecting something, anything, that you can do and scratch off the list helps. Some days you may take on a bigger challenge, other days, a simple task may be all you feel you can manage. So do what you can, but do something. If that something also happens to be the kind of something that also brightens your environment a little bit, such as a new coat of paint or planting petunias, so much the better.
- Last of all, grant yourself the grace and compassion you would grant to others who were suffering depression. Don’t expect more of yourself than you would expect of them. Cut yourself some slack. It’s okay if you can’t get through it instantly, some things just take time to get over, and depression can be the process that makes you slow down to get through the losses and fears. Give yourself time to make it through, one step at a time.
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Sunday, September 25, 2016
GOT THE BLUES?
Life has hard moments for everyone.
Some people appear to take things in stride, to keep the proverbial “chin up” attitude.
Other people fight back and, with a flurry of activity, attack perceived problems head on and get back on their feet in that way.
Still others go through a bit of a down time, perhaps consult with friends, work it through a bit, and move on. But there are many people who find themselves cast into depression, unable to shake loose what others might call “the blues,” but what for some people are minor challenges can be, for a person in the midst of depression, overwhelming and paralyzing. I have known many individuals struggling with depression in the events leading up to, during and after divorce, but I have known just as many people in healthy marriages who also struggle with divorce for one reason or another. Times of depression can be tough.
Today I thought I might simply pass along some tips for dealing with depression. Before I close the blog, I will also include some thoughts for those of you who, while not depressed yourselves, have a family member or friend you would like to help through their time of depression.
Now, for those of you dealing with a family member who is depressed, I will only offer a few thoughts. You don’t have to tiptoe around someone who is depressed, but it can also be counterproductive to be overbearing or pushy, too. Just do your best to maintain as normal a relationship as possible. You don’t need to avoid the topic of the depression, nor should you overly dwell on it in conversation with your struggling friend. Some days, a little challenge from you might be the encouragement that helps them turn a corner, or at least take a step forward.
Sometimes the greatest gifts you can give are the simplest, such as a listening ear, a thoughtful card, a meaningful scripture, an invitation out for lunch, or a token gift such as flowers or tickets to a show. Let them know you care, let them know you are praying for them, let them know you are available to talk or spend time together, but also let them know you will give them the space they need.
Finally, I would add, there are things you can suggest, encouraging your friend to see a counselor or to eat something, but always remember, your friend’s depression is not something you can fix. You can support, you can encourage, you can pray, you can assist, but you cannot fix this for them. Depression is a lonely journey, and much of it has to be traveled alone in the wee hours of the morning or in the silent recesses of the soul. Being available when needed and offering support during the difficult dark days can mean much more than anything else you can do. For the rest of the time, you just have to be patient, and in your patience, make sure you are doing your own self-care, lest you get dragged down into another’s depression.
Wednesday, September 21, 2016
SEEING IT THROUGH??
Reading the last blog, as applied to marriage and divorce, one could deduce that I was suggesting that God ALWAYS wants people to see their marriage vows through, no matter what.
Is that true?
That is to say, does God want every marriage to work? Does God want nobody to get a divorce? Can God save EVERY marriage that is in trouble?
Those questions are actually the kinds of questions Christians who are considering divorce or who have been divorced struggle with at times. The answer is a difficult one, and also an easy one. But applying such an answer with confidence can sometimes be not quite so simply. Today, I hope to challenge your thinking in this area.
Does God want every marriage to succeed?
Can God save any marriage, no matter what the problems?
Let me answer that by analogy.
Does God want everyone to come to Christ and be saved for eternal life? Can God save any person, no matter how sinful?
I suspect that, if you know scripture at all, you would quickly acknowledge that God most certainly desires that everyone be saved…2 Peter 3:9 is one passage that says so very clearly. Can God save any person? That is, does God have that ability, is there any person so far gone God cannot save them? Of course not, God’s grace is far greater than any sin that drags us from him.
However, you and I both know, not everyone does believe in Christ. The problem is not that God isn’t capable of saving them; the problem is that some people refuse to be saved. Theologians debate the role of God’s work and free will, but no matter how that theology works out, the fact remains that some people walk away from Christ rather than accept Him as their Savior.
It seems to me that makes a pretty good parallel for our question about marriage and divorce. OF COURSE God wants every marriage to work. In fact, I think everyone who enters a marriage covenant wants it to work, too!
Can God make every marriage work and prevent divorce? Of course God’s power is great enough to do that, but for whatever reasons, the world is not set up for God to force His will upon people who choose to reject it. It isn’t the case in salvation, why would we think it to be the case in marriage and divorce.
To complicate matters further, we are not talking about just one person, but two. In many cases, one partner longs for the marriage to work, while the other refuses to do the work or make the changes necessary to make it happen. Certainly a Christian can pray for God to move, to solve the problems in the marriage, to soften the heart of their spouse and rekindle their love. But for whatever reason, God allows individuals to refuse to work on their marriage, even if one of the partners wants it to work. Sometimes, God will do something that causes even the most hardened hearts to soften toward Christ or toward a spouse. Sometimes, though, God permits individuals to continue down a destructive path.
The complication of two individuals and the impact each one’s attitude can have on determining the success or failure of a marriage was probably most concisely presented by my own attorney during the final days of my divorce proceedings. The attorney had the final papers, which she went over with me and then pointed to where I was required to sign. In Kansas, one can file for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, which is what my wife had done, so that was what was written on the paper my attorney asked me to sign. I told her I did not believe the differences were irreconcilable, because I believe that if people work hard enough, actively seek appropriate help and are willing to make the necessary changes, any problem can be resolved in a marriage. I frustrated my attorney, I am sure, because we went round and round the signature multiple times, with her pointing out that something had to be decided, and choosing not to sign could create a rather awkward situation.
Finally, the last time I told her that I did not believe the differences to be irreconcilable, my attorney replied, “But if she is not willing to reconcile, doesn’t that make them irreconcilable?”
I then signed the papers.
You see, what God desires, what His perfect will is may well be for every marriage to succeed. God could make every marriage work, if both partners were totally submitted to God and to living lives that honor God. But the world we live in is less than the experience of God’s perfect will. Our world is fallen, tainted with sin, and people’s lives are cluttered with sinful behaviors, and their decisions affected by their fallen state. God COULD save any marriage and resolve any problem, but sometimes one or both partners are not WILLING for God to save their marriage, just as some individuals are not willing to let God save them. Whether it makes sense to us or not, that is how God has created the world to be.
So, was God’s desire for your marriage to not end in divorce? Of course God’s desire was for a great marriage in accordance with his will and ways. However, as Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians 7:15, sometimes an unbelieving partner will abandon a spouse. Or Jesus mentioned several times that sometimes individuals will betray the marriage vows by committing adultery with another person…they, too, have left the marriage. God’s desire is one thing, but when people get involved, things can get mucked up and something less than perfection results.
So, bottom line, I encourage you to never rush into divorce. Instead, give God ample opportunity to work in your life and the life of our spouse. Do everything you can to pursue God’s perfect desire of a godly and healthy marriage. But if the day comes when that great hope is dashed through the brokenness of this world’s fallen state, grant yourself the grace to accept that not everything is in your control, nor does life always live up to God’s greatest desires.
That is why there was a crucifixion.
Sunday, September 18, 2016
SEEING IT THROUGH
I have a copy of Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation. I haven’t read it yet, but I will. Because I grew up with it. My parents were from that generation.
I don’t know if it really was the greatest generation ever, I mean, America’s Founding Fathers were pretty impressive, and those guys who got the Renaissance going have something to take note of, don’t you think? Nonetheless, this “greatest generation” did something pretty impressive, accomplishing some pretty impressive things, like ending the Nazi threat of world domination by rising to the challenge through sacrifice, hard work, and inventiveness.
Also, from everything I have heard, the Great Depression, as well as the Dust Bowl days in the plains of the Midwest, were also pretty challenging experiences. Perhaps those very experiences were the very things that developed the character necessary to face the great challenges that evolved around the world in the subsequent years.
I think there were several things in particular that were the lessons my parents learned that shaped their lives, and which were communicated through their parenting.
The first lesson was that “things don’t make you happy.”
Dad used to say, looking back at how little they had and how hard their family had it on the farm in the Depression: “We were miserably poor, but I guess we didn’t realize it, because everyone else was poor, too!” He learned that joy and meaning in life were not tied to having the fanciest meals to eat, or the nicest clothes to wear. He knew that family is important, and it isn’t our circumstances, but our attitudes and choices that determine whether we are content with our lives or not.
The other lesson I want to pass along today is that Dad also believed that life is hard sometimes. Yet, hard times are opportunities to rise to a challenge, and even in the midst of hard times, there are joyful moments and experiences for those who bother to notice and enjoy them.
I wonder what kind of characteristics would be highlighted to describe the generations alive today. I suspect we may be remembered as the generation who allowed the moral compass to be misplaced, and political correctness to stepped into the vacuum left behind, claiming to be the “new morality”. I wonder if we will be remembered as a generation who lost their “staying power,” preferring instead quick and easy “bandaid” solutions rather than truly facing the tough issues, such as declaring a love for mother earth and green causes, while drinking water from fashionable plastic bottles that simply do not biodegrade.
I have known a number of marriages in which the couples hit hard times, and it appeared they gave up very quickly, rather than tackle the hard things. Last night at church we talked about people who come to Christ, but don’t last, giving up instead when hard times hit. We also considered how often people in churches will abandon ship rather than see the tough times through in their church, even though all churches face tough issues of one sort at some time.
Let me also add that living and working through the aftermath of divorce is also one of the hard times of life that can either get you down and send you looking for a quick and easy out, or cause you to rise to the challenge in a way that produces character and deepens your faith.
It occurs to me tonight, that just because the tide of the times may be flowing in directions that could encourage you to quit, to give up, or to take the easy way out in lives, doesn’t mean you can’t swim against the tide and stand strong. In fact, I suspect that choosing to swim against that tide makes your stand even more profound.
So whatever tempts you, hang in there. Maybe you will end up setting the standard for the NEXT “greatest generation”!
Wednesday, September 14, 2016
Sunday was the day that was marked as the 15th Anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. Much of the focus was on New York, but let us not forget the families of those who also died in a field in Pennsylvania or at the Pentagon in Washington. Saturday night, in worship, one of our talking points was how life can change in a moment, and we can realize that it is much more fragile and less secure than we sometimes think it to be.
Though not on the scale of the 9/11 attacks, we suffered our own tragedy Saturday evening, and I thought I’d like to share from the personal side.
Not to trivialize the 9/11 attacks, or to say that there is any comparison in terms of scale, our tragedy occurred when my wife’s beloved dog ran out in front of a moving automobile and was struck dead by it. If, like me, you have lost a pet you loved, you know what it can feel like, especially when it occurs in such a sudden and tragic way.
This little dog, a “Shorkie” (half Yorkie, half Shitzu) put up with a lot of verbal abuse from me, in which I generally referred to her as not being a real dog at all, because she was so small, and so fuzzy, that I knew her to actually be “a stickless mop”. If you have read my divorce books, you will know her as the dog described in a devotional who could never quite make up her mind where the perfect place would be to “do her business” when outside. She was very persnickety about that. Just the other day as I walked her in the early morning, I was amazed once again at how much difference a foot or so could make in locating the perfect place to make a “doggie deposit”.
Despite the teasing she (and my wife) got from me, Sophie was one of the happiest dogs you would ever meet, and specialized in bringing joy to others. My mother never particularly liked dogs, and certainly never allowed them into the house if she could help it. UNTIL Sophie (and Alzheimers) came into mom’s life. Mom had a number of physical ailments, some of which were very painful and discouraging. But when we came to visit and Sophie was with us, Mom’s entire countenance would change in an instant as Sophie ran to her chair and bounded into her lap…whether or not she was invited to do so! I was always amazed that Mom never did get mad at Sophie for that, but instead laughed, played, pet and even kissed the little dog. I don’t remember exactly how much my wife paid for Sophie as a puppy, but whatever it was, just the joy she brought to my aging mother was worth the cost and beyond.
After Mom passed away, Sophie continued the job of bringing joy to others. I often took her with me when going over to help Dad with things, and Sophie would stand with her front paws on the dashboard, looking out the window and wagging her tail, especially when we turned on the street that headed to Dad’s place. She knew the way. I think Dad’s love for Sophie came from the fact that he knew how much happiness the dog gave to Mom. But my 90+ year old dad always greeted her with a smile, and was glad to have her come visit. Although, he also regularly shook his head at her, amazed at the dumb things she did.
I anticipate that I may yet find a doggie bone buried somewhere in my car, as she rarely ate the treats given her at the bank, choosing to hide them in the car instead. I never did get that, because she rarely found them again, and when I did, they became treats for the other dog who knew treats were to be eaten, not stored.
Most of all, that little dog was my wife’s pride and joy, and kept her company whenever I was away on a trip. On the other hand, when she went on trips, she also left Sophie at home either to spy on me, to watch out for me, to keep me company or to give me something to do as I had to follow the proper diet rules and all the other instructions left behind. We will miss that little dog…and especially my wife, Nola. It is a sad thing to see someone you love in the midst of sorrow when someone precious to her has died.
We all know that loss of any kind is one of the hard experiences of life on this earth, and everybody experiences it sometime in one way or another…but that knowledge doesn’t really make it any easier when it is our turn to suffer loss.
I don’t know if dogs go to heaven or not, even though the old cartoon movie asserts that they do. I tend to think they might, as they aren’t the ones who brought sin in to the world, right? Anyway, if they do, then I suspect that Sophie bounded around until she found my mother up there in heaven, and then jumped into Mom’s lap and heard Mom say, “Well, honey, what are you doing here?” Then Sophie was the recipient of a great big, “welcome to heaven” hug!
Sunday, September 11, 2016
Someone said that the only thing that never changes is that everything is always changing.
Some changes are anticipated and embraced, other changes are avoided or resisted, especially when those changes are foisted upon us.
Some changes are gradual, occurring at a pace that helps us adapt, but some changes are so sudden that we find ourselves caught up in a whirlwind. No matter how it comes our way, change will always come into our lives. To survive well in this world, one has to learn which things are essential to cling to, which to let go of, and how to adapt to the new situation.
Change can remind us that our world is not as stable and secure we convince ourselves it is, and that nothing lasts forever. Fifteen years ago today, the world changed dramatically as battle lines were drawn, as evil announced it remains a potent force in our world so graphically illustrated by the evil men who flew their planes into various locations in their mad efforts to destroy innocent lives. The borders of the United States did not feel quite so secure. The world saw there is an underbelly of Islam where some individuals choose to dwell rather than pursuing the more noble tenants of that religion. War was no longer a pitched battle between two clearly defined and uniformed adversaries, but now lived in the shadows and attacks were on targets of impact rather than strategic, military installations.
I don’t think much of anyone appreciated the change that came to the world on 9/11/2001…except perhaps those who are filled with hatred toward the United States.
Regardless, the change came and we have all had to adapt to a different world view, like it or not.
How are you at handling change? If divorce is part of your life experience, then you know personally how dramatic change can be. As noted in the first paragraph, the change of divorce can also be gradual or sudden, anticipated or resisted, and regardless of which, change comes.
Grieving is part of adapting to change at any level, for with every change, some things are gained, some are lost, and often it is a mixed bag of sorrow and joy. Grief allows expression of tears for pain over the loss of something or someone special. Grief also helps us to treasure and celebrate the privilege of having experienced the positive things of life, placing those joyous moments in the proper perspective and chapter of our lives. In the changes and the grief they bring, there also comes a realization of hope, for a new chapter begins when an old chapter ends, and at that moment the new chapter has yet to be written by our choices, words and actions. Grief acknowledges that something significant is lost, but not everything is lost, that some things have ended, but some things remain.
What changes are you facing in life? What changes are you choosing? What changes have come, though you would never choose them on your own? How are those changes opportunities for something more than you imagined, more than you had in your past? How can you make those changes work for you as you embrace them, rather than drag you down as you resist and cling to a past now gone?
When life changing moments come into our lives, even tragic change such as that sparked by 9/11/2001 they are only the announcement that a new chapter has come. What we write into that chapter is our own to choose, preferably under the guidance of God. And, when you stop to think about it, if nothing ever changed, life would get pretty boring, don’t you think?
Wednesday, September 7, 2016
PET PEEVE, ANYONE?
(read on, there is a point!)
Monday was Labor Day. My wife and I have kind of started a tradition that I find kind of nourishing…in more ways than one. It began last Labor Day, when she suggested that we take the day and drive somewhere new where we could have some time away for a relaxing picnic. If we don’t leave the house, then we tend to do other things than relax. I have never been one for big Labor Day celebrations, except when I was in Cincinnati which hosts the most incredible fireworks show on the Ohio River that weekend…I’m jealous of my friend Alex, who told me that was what THEY did for Labor Day! But I digress.
She indicated she didn’t want to have to drive too far this time, so I pulled out a map and located a couple of State Parks across the border in Oklahoma on a nearby lake. We decided to go there.
State Park #1—mainly for camping, not much in the way of Lakeside locations, pretty full of people, and lots of trash on the ground, as well as dead fish and bait left by fishermen. Yuck.
State Park #2—the ranger had warned us there wasn’t much at this one, and so we thought just a shady place to throw a tablecloth on the ground could work. No shade near the water’s edge, and shade anywhere else had the same problem as #1—trash.
State Park #3—the ranger had told us was closed because of flooding that had destroyed a lot of the area. We kind of ended up there accidentally, but looking around, saw what he meant…pretty bad shape. However, not too far from it was a riverside spot that was shady and quiet. Though it would have been nice to have cooler temperatures, there was a breeze, and not nearly as much trash (must have been washed downstream in the flooding), and a big, green frog who offered protection from mosquitoes. At least, I’m guessing that’s why he just sat there a few feet away the entire picnic.
Noting a plastic water bottle in the water, I commented to her, “What is wrong with people that they are always dumping trash in places like rivers and parks?” I have been to a fishing lake near my home a number of times lately, and the trash left by fisherman and campers is amazing and disgusting. I always think that if you goal is to enjoy catching fish, then it would make sense not to pollute the place you are fishing, wouldn’t it?
I grew up during Lady Bird Johnson’s era, when she started the Keep America Beautiful campaign and declared the war on litter. “Please, please, don’t be a litterbug, don’t be a litterbug.” If you don’t know what that ditty refers to, count your blessings. If you do, I’m sorry, because the tune will probably be stuck in your head all day now! I also lived through the 70’s, with the big environmental emphasis on pollution and ecology. So maybe I am hypersensitive when I walk these parks. But maybe not.
Now, lest you blame it on Oklahoma, I’ve seen the same and worse in California and New York and the south and most places humans go. I find it odd that people talk about the “plastic bottle island” in the Pacific and how terrible it is, but have no qualms about dropping a plastic bottle onto the ground or into the water near them. Last time I checked, rivers and streams tend to head eventually toward what? THE OCEAN!!! In fact, I think this obsession with plastic bottles of water is ridiculous and irresponsible…but that’s just me.
Having said all that, the experience got me to thinking about what might be other areas of our lives we litter. For instance, what kind of garbage do we toss into our brains through what we watch and read? What kind of junk (food) do we throw into our bellies and allow to “pile up” on our sides, or to clog up the streams of our arteries?
There are even people who trash their churches by the things they say and do, and even literally as I have so often noticed bulletins, flyers and candy trash left in the pews and hymnal racks (even though the people walk right by a trash can at the back of the church on their way out…again, I don’t get it).
What about in our relationships? How many divorces occur because we don’t take proper care of the “parks” we call home and marriage? How much do we trash or litter those relationships with things best disposed of properly , or maybe recycled into something useful? In some ways, our Labor Day has now been recycled into something that is a relationship and memory builder (despite the yucky memories of decaying fish…bleah!) Of all the things in our lives, shouldn’t we be cherishing our relationships and making every effort to keep them beautiful? Yet far too often we allow garbage to build up, littering them with thoughtless words and junk activities, or trash the values that make it strong.
Well, I think I will stop before the rant gets too awfully long. I will leave it to you to decide whether you are littering your life and world, or making it beautiful. As for me, I kind of like the policy of trying to always leave the places we spend our lives a little bit better than they were when we arrived. It may mean picking up somebody else’s litter. It may mean repairing something around the house. It may mean pulling a few weeds. It may mean learning to be a nicer person. But our mark is left on everything we touch and everyone we meet. I hope we are smart enough to not leave litter in our wake!
P.S. Somebody pointed out how sad it is that when man first visited the moon (and subsequently), part of the heritage we left behind was…you got it, trash. Even the very cool Mars rovers, will one day become litter on Mars!