MARCH 10, 2020: A Bit Of Goodness Tucked Out Of Sight…

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orb web spiderHuman beings are creatures made for joy. Against all evidence, we tell ourselves that grief and loneliness and despair are tragedies, unwelcome variations from the pleasure and calm and safety that in the right way of the world would form the firm ground of our being. In the fairy tale we tell ourselves, darkness holds nothing resembling a gift. What we feel always contains its own truth, but it is not the only truth, and darkness almost always harbors some bit of goodness tucked out of sight, waiting for an unexpected light to shine, to reveal it in its deepest hiding place. – Margaret Renkl, Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss

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Confessions Of A Depressed Christian: Psalm 42

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As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (vs.1-2)

…and normally we all stop at the end of verse 2, there. Because, as bite-sized verses go, this one looks great as a bumper sticker, or on a tee-shirt, or put in with whatever inspirational “quiet-time” picture you’re posting to Insta-Twit-Face. It is seen as someone engaged in a passionate worship session. Indeed, one of the first worship songs I learned to play on guitar years and years ago for the youth group cribbed the first verse as its focus.

But, there’s more to this Psalm than just that. There’s this immediate passage:

My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (v.3)

…that tends to kicks the expectations of those seeking only life-affirming, positive happy thoughts from the Psalms right in the Olsteens.

This is a lament. Well, technically, this is listed as a maskil, which–after doing a quick Google search to make me sound all smart and stuff–I’m told is a Hebrew term that may mean a “contemplative poem” in this context, but scholars (i.e.–people who are way smarter than I am) aren’t entirely sure.

What I do know is that, this particular Psalm was written by the sons of Korah, descendants of the Levite that attempted a coup against Moses in Numbers chapter 16. These “sons of Korah” are a testament to GOD’s ongoing and powerful grace and mercy in not holding it against Korah’s sin against his decedents, as they remained faithful to GOD and served in His temple. But, that’s besides the point of this rambling article I started.

Let’s read the rest of the Psalm:
These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.

My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of Jordan, the heights of Hermon–from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love, at night his song is with me–a prayer to the God of my life.

I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (vs.4-11)

I can only imagine what was the writer of this Psalm was experiencing emotionally as he was penning these words. Personally, I can identify greatly with his words of anguish as he longs to seek the Lord, thirsty as we are of water, only to find feelings of abandonment, dark loneliness, suffering from what Martin Luther called “the dark night of the soul,” while his enemies and critics constantly mock him for continuing to seek after GOD, Who from their perspective, has completely abandoned him.

Some days…okay, some entire months it seems that the depression I suffer is soul-crushing, and I am alone in the pitch darkness. But, like this particular Psalmist, my lament always ends, despite all the hopelessness, the self-loathing, the pain of living, the suffocating darkness, with the admonition to “put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.” Not because it magically fixes everything I’m going through (far from it); instead, it’s really the only thing I can do.

Praise the Lord, oh my soul…

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Book Review: SPURGEON’S SORROWS Realistic Hope for those who Suffer from Depression

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spurgeon's sorrows

Zack Eswine
Christian Focus Publications
2014

“There comes a time in most of our lives in which we no longer have the strength to lift ourselves out or to pretend ourselves strong. Sometimes our minds want to break because life stomped on us and God didn’t stop it.”

  • Christians should have the answers, shouldn’t they? Depression affects many people both personally and through the ones we love. Depression is not new though, indeed the “Prince of Preachers” C.H. Spurgeon struggled with depression and talked openly about it. Here Zack Eswine draws from Spurgeon’s experiences to encourage us. What Spurgeon found in his darkness can serve as a light in our own darkness. This is not a self-help guide, but rather “a handwritten note of one who wishes you well.”

When it comes to the subject of depression, it’s no secret that I’ve had a proverbial dog in this race for quite some time–I remember it first manifesting regularly when I was 9 years of age. After years of psychiatric therapy, it eventually turned out that the depression was a part of a bigger mental health condition, a chemical imbalance that I won’t go into detail here. This is just a book review, after all. I became a (for lack of a better term) born-again Christian when I was 15, and the long and short of it is that, at no point did I think that doing so would automatically negate the depression that came with my mental condition. Oh, there were plenty of other well-meaning Christians who were quick to tell me that this shouldn’t be, that I shouldn’t have this depression and have suicidal thoughts at times; that I obviously have some kind of secret sin that I need to confess and get right with God, or some kind of demon infesting my mind that needs to be cast out in faith, or the inevitable questioning the authenticity of my faith to begin with. Those are always amusing.

The point is, I’ve been a Christian for 30 years as of this writing, with depression and mental health issues being a part of my mortal life for over 35 of my 45 years of existence. During that time, I’ve come to three conclusions: 1) My depression is the medical result of the fallen nature of my physical body, and not a punishment for some secret sin or whatever, 2) my faith in the Lord has gotten stronger and deeper the more I confront my depression head-on, and 3) I really suck at trying to explain all this to my fellow Christians who don’t deal with clinical depression. Fortunately, there’s books like Spurgeon’s Sorrows to help put into words the very things that I can’t express goodly.

For the Obligatory History Lesson: Charles Spurgeon was an English Reformed Baptist preacher who lived in the 19th Century (between 1834 to 1892), and was nicknamed the “Prince of Preachers”, having influenced many Christians from many differing denominations throughout the years. The pastor at my church has been known to call me “Spurgeon” as a kind of term of endearment; I always thought it had to do with my beard and method of Bible study. Turns out, it had a lot to do with the fact that Spurgeon also struggled with depression as much as he upheld the faith.

In Spurgeon’s Sorrows, author Zack Eswine not only goes through the historical background and theological musings of Charles Spurgeon, but sheds the light and investigates his own struggle with depression and anxiety, and how the method of dealing with it ran contrary to the common response to depression and mental illness in Victorian times–namely, that Spurgeon saw it more as an opportunity to grow in his faith in Christ Jesus, rather than despair thinking that this somehow was a sign that God had rejected him. That, again, is an overly simplistic explanation for the purposes of the review; fortunately, Eswine does go a bit further here, presenting Spurgeon’s writings, Scripture references and, most of all, presenting hope that this goes deeper than the standard “maybe you have a secret sin that you’re not confessing”/”get right with God” type of answer that seems to be thrown around a lot without discernment.

Overall, for those Christians out there who are struggling with clinical depression, and are afraid to bring it up with others for fear of getting misunderstood and a pat “Just have faith and cheer up!” type answer, Spurgeon’s Sorrows is a must-read. It will help you to face depression for what it is, and do so in a way that will strengthen your faith rather than question it. Highly, highly recommended.

Confessions Of A Depressed Christian: DEPRESSION, CHRISTMAS, & STAR WARS

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charlie brown christmas depressedI will confess that, like many other children, I used to love the Christmas season. There was always something magical about the time, something in the air. The world just seemed to be brighter, shinier and lit up, somehow. I was probably what you would call a Spirit of Christmas Junkie, come to think of it. The build-up to the big day, Christmas Day, then the inevitable After Christmas Depression that would come over, a malaise that hits and stays with until after the first of January and everything gets back to the standard day-to-day mundane existence of it all.

I haven’t been excited about Christmas for years, now. I do recall the exact last time I was actually jazzed about celebrating the season: 2013, and that was because my betrothed at the time had an enthusiasm that was downright infectious. No need to retell the tale of how that ended up. Needless to say, it’s almost like the depression I suffer from has intensified since then, over five years ago as I write this.

Now, the act of gathering with what’s left of the family seems merely perfunctory, going-through-the-motions kind of celebrations. I still have times, often out of nowhere, where a wave of grief and sadness and shock will hit me. It’s the nature of the condition. And starting right after Halloween, the closer we get to Christmas, the more and more I can feel this dark time close in on me.

I’m not writing this to elicit sympathy. I simply want to share what I go through each Christmas, and despite the loneliness, the despair and darkness of the time, why I still celebrate Christmas. What Christmas really means to me.

First, it means that my pain and suffering are not unknown to God. Instead, they are shared by God. He is not the absent God of the deists, or the remote God of Aristotle. Nor is He only the moral/creator God of the Old Testament. He is a God who has chosen to walk among us, to get down into the messy, dirty and broken world of our humanity.

At the tomb of his friend, Jesus wept. Not perfunctory tears, but tears of great grief. Even though he knew before he got there that Lazarus was dead, he wept. Even though He knew he would in a few minutes raise Lazarus from the dead, he wept. Even though he knew that Mary and Martha’s tears of grief would soon turn to tears of joy and shouts of thanks, he wept. Even though he knew all would eventually be made right, Jesus wept.

The incarnation means to me, in a deeper way than I had experienced before, that God’s heart beats with love and sympathy for the losses of my life. But even more than this, Christmas is also precious to me because it tells me that the worst thing is not the last thing. Jesus came, not only to share our sorrows, but to redeem them. And to give the hope of the resurrection. The hope that pain and suffering and loss are not random, not pointless, not the hand of impersonal fate. And definitely not the end of the story.

Let’s pretend that there exists someone who only has seen one Star Wars movie: The Empire Strikes Back. For whatever reason, this is the only one they’ve seen, and are unaware that this is merely the second part of a continuous story that began with A New Hope and concluded with Return Of The Jedi*. This person would probably conclude that the story, although powerful and profound, is pessimistic and somewhat sad; so much is still wrong, so many sacrifices wasted on nothing, so much evil still holding sway.

This is where we are at right now. At this point, we are still living in the middle of a bigger story arc. But Jesus has come, and told us that the future volumes are already written, that evil and death and suffering are not the final word, that sacrifice is not in vain, that pain has a purpose. That death is not eternal. For the Author has stepped into the story, to make all things right, in their time.

This is what I believe. This is why I still hold Christmas as a time for hope and joy, despite of what my chemical imbalance and circumstances tell me. The hands of the King are hands of healing and redemption. Suffering and separation are not forever; pain is not the final word. Death itself will die, and resurrection will rule.

The worst thing is not the last thing. This is what Christmas means to me.

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[*=I‘m only going with the Original Saga here, as an example; let’s not get pedantic with the comments, here]

Regrets

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I should have never put myself out there. I should have known better; every time I get a glimmer of hope, that somehow I feel like I’m contributing something to the church, helping with the best of my abilities, that I actually fit in somewhere…and then I find myself ostracized due to my chemical imbalance. My depression. Manic depression. Tourettes. Whatever. It starts off so well, but then turns to shit. Lord help me in my bitterness; I am, however, waiting for the other shoe to drop, when they come up and tell me that my services with recording the sermons will no longer be required. To find someplace else to worship with the corporate body.

I wear the sunglasses indoors so that everyone can’t see the sorrow and pain in my eyes. Nobody wants to see that. They want to see sunshine, rainbows and unicorn farts. Hear nothing but praise reports, how happy you always are.

I don’t know what to do, Lord. I don’t know how to explain it to anyone, not enough to do it justice.

Maybe getting back involved with a small group again can help things. Maybe. I shall try Jake’s group. At least I know and am still friends with him and Chelsea. Baby steps and all.

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I can only count to 19 and a half now…

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Here we are, smack dab in the middle of the Holiday Season in the year of our Lord 2018. I thought I’d finally get around to pounding out a bit of an update on how things are going for you ol’ Uncle NecRo. And sticking to the age-old adage that a picture speaks a thousand words, here’s a recent one:
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Yeah, that’s me there, receiving my daily antibiotic treatment that has been going on since the first week in November. Here’s the whole torrid story:

For a while, my large right toe had been getting twingy. Something I chalked up to the diabetes. It’s been a struggle trying to keep the blood sugar levels at a nice manageable place. But, one evening in September, after stepping out of the shower, the nail from that toe came off, entirely. Odd, but I figured I may have inadvertently banged it hard enough against something to cause it to do that. It happened to my left big toenail back in 1994 when I dropped a couch I was helping move on it, while only wearing sandals. That grew back; I figured the same would happen with this one.

Only, there was some dark discoloration on the toe, and underneath the skin of the toe itself. I kept soaking it in antibacterial water and wrapping it up with some antibacterial topical creme, but it only seem to progressively get worse. Finally, on the final day of September, after recording the sermon at church, I checked myself into the ER at the Fremont hospital to have the thing looked at.

What I though was going to be an in-out situation turned into a three-night stay at the hospital itself. As it turned out, the toe–as well as much of the rest of the foot–was dying. There was a battery of tests done, was seen by several doctors of differing expertise relating to my ailment, and long story short: at the tail-end of October, I went in for a procedure to open up the artery in my right leg to get blood flowing again. It was quite horrendous, I don’t recommend having to have it done. They didn’t put me under; they put me into what they called “twilight sleep”, so I was aware of what was going on, but time itself became kind of wibbly-wobbly.

The first week in November, it turned out I had to amputate the toe. While the blood flow was back and very strong (and normal color returning to the foot and other toes), the damage was too far gone to benefit keeping what was left. They didn’t amputate the entire thing; there is enough left to keep my balance and feel relatively normal. Still, the joke is that the piggy went to market and never came back. Ungrateful piggy.

I’ve been staying at my parent’s place during all the recouping process. My mother being a retired Nurse Practitioner, she was more than capable to help out and give advice with all this, and provide much support when things kept escalating further than I thought it would go. The healing is going well, and anticipate being back at my usual place of dwelling when the daily antibiotic treatments end on December 16th.

I would be remiss, though, to mention that, during all of this, my depression spiraled almost out of control, to the point where I would sit in the darkness and weep silently maybe once every couple of days or so. To be expected; I’m at my lowest, feeling like I’ve lost a bit of myself (literally), what’s the point of this existence…the usual. It’s been rough, almost as bad as it was when Kim left, but again I had the support of my friends, family, and my faith to get me through.

The adverse result of this, however, was me not motivated to write. At all. Usually, when a stint like this happens, I am furiously jotting down everything into my unplugged journal notebook or whatever sheaf of paper happens to be around me at the time. Not this time around. I haven’t been posting, I haven’t been reading any of the books I have, I haven’t been doing reviews…I haven’t even been wanting to listen to METAL like I usually do. Mindless drivel on YouTube and movies. Then, staring into the darkness as I lay on the couch, my mind wandering to how things could have been, what could the future possibly hold for one such as myself, yadda-yadda-yadda.

So, in short, that’s what’s been going on recently. I’m starting to kick my own self in the rear to get back to writing something, this particular post being the first swift kick. Hopefully, those won’t just be empty words. Cheers, all.

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Suicide, I’ve already died, it’s just the funeral I’ve been waiting for…

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dark tunnelI wish I could talk about my struggles with depression and suicide openly without fear of misunderstood alienation.

Okay, let me rephrase that to be a bit more on point: I wish I could talk about my struggles with depression and suicide with my fellow Christians without fear of misunderstood alienation.

To quote an Aerosmith song, it’s the same old story, same old song and dance: whenever the topic of suicide comes up, whenever doing that “fellowship” thing with the brethren and sisteren in whatever setting it is, it’s always accompanied by statements of not understanding what would make anyone think that taking their own life was the only option.

Which, really, is a good question. Especially when you factor in the list of recent celebrity suicides, people who would have been the last persons anyone would expect to take their own lives. Even on a more personal level, people that have been known personally, whether family members, friends, or work acquaintances. The question lingers, what would drive someone to take their own life?

Unfortunately, we evangelical Christians seem to have a very simple answer to a very, very complicated issue. It’s trotted out every time it’s brought up: “If they only knew God, if they only gave their lives to Jesus, they never would have had suicidal thoughts any longer.”

That phrase runs a very close second despised Christianese phrases I’ve come across in my years as a Christian. The first being telling someone “God has a plan,” to someone who just buried their loved one. But, I digress.

I have one very strong word to say about that: Bullshit. There’s no other way to say it. Do you know why? It’s simple.

I struggle with suicidal thoughts to this day.

Now, if you’ve made it this far without clicking away and blowing me off as some kind of fake Christian at this point, good. Because maybe you understand that, regardless of Jesus being our Lord and Saviour, the Holy Spirit indwelling us and sanctifying our minds and bodies, and Father God declaring us righteous due to the work that Jesus did on the cross for us, and even knowing the many promises in the Bible where God said He would never leave us or forsake us, that even the full brunt force of the gates of Hades couldn’t loose His grip on us, we still have that bone-deep weariness that makes us physically not want to engage, to not get out of bed; a weariness that no amount of sleep or good thoughts or even coffee can relieve us of.

You understand the intense, shameful sense of self-hatred that can come, believing yourself toxic and harmful to those closest to you, and you understand how easy it is to begin thinking that, maybe if you were no longer around, everyone will be better for it.

You also understand that depression is far more complex than just being sad. There’s emptiness, a kind of void that is tangible, and sometimes a strong numb feeling, a disconnect with life and those around you.

You also may understand that, if you talk about any of it, you may be perceived as not having enough faith in God to heal you. Or, they may think you have some kind of unconfessed sin that’s causing this. Or, my personal favorite statement of ignorance, you may have a DEMON! and all you need is more prayer and Bible study and faith in God. Maybe there’s an Essential Oil that cures depression?

Sorry, I tend to wax pretty sarcastic with this. Anyway.

Can God heal me of my depression instantly? Yes. There’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever. Have I prayed for God to take away my depression? You have no idea the many times over the decades where I’ve begged God to take away this suffering of mine, to make the darkness just go away. To let me be carefree, bubbly and happy, like I see others in the Body of Christ. But, for some reason I really cannot fathom with my puny human brain, God has seen fit to let me continue with this proverbial thorn in my side. As He told the apostle Paul, His grace is sufficient.

Maybe you’re reading this, not because you struggle with depression and suicidal thoughts, but because of a genuine desire to understand why, without resorting to pat answers. We are called to be a light to the world, to reach out and comfort the broken and weary of living. But, how can we if we don’t understand the darkness that we endure?


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