I wrote this the other day and it’s been milling around in my head since.

“how are you doing?” people keep asking me.  the flippant way (“what’s up?” “how’s it going?”) or the sweet way (“how are you?”) or the real-friend way (“how’s your heart lately?” “tell me how you’re doing.”).  it’s normal; people ask these questions, sometimes wanting to sit and hear the answer, sometimes hoping for a “good thanks, you?” in response.  and I just moved, and started a new job, and I have lots of really wonderful friends, so I get to answer this question a lot.

but I’m here on this blank “sheet of paper” because I don’t actually have that answer.  I don’t know what to say.  sometimes the “good thanks, you?” answer is all I’ve got, because people generally don’t have an hour to sit and listen to me try to unravel and understand my own feelings.  or lack of feelings.  my apathy and lukewarm or my kilimanjaros and mariana trenches.

I don’t even understand these places myself.  I wonder if even-keeled means boring, but I also don’t love the drama when I’m in the middle of it.  I’m my most creative when I’m at my darkest: the deepest ruts of despair and depression have historically brought about my most poignant creations.  and when I create – especially out of hardship – I feel like I’m doing what I was made to, down to the core of my being.  it’s like the natural outpouring of my soul.  Eric Liddell, the famous athlete, said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.”  and that’s how I feel about pouring out creatively.

but I don’t want to be sad, do I?  I just typed out three different versions of a sentence along the lines of “I love being happy but…” and the more I think about it, the less I think I do…?  I don’t know.  I think when I’m happy – placidly so, not because something amazing is happening – I feel shallow.  (I’m well aware how self-centered this may come across as.  I’m trying to figure it out myself, and that usually comes by writing about it.  this is weirdly personal.)

I’ve been in the throws of despair and hated it but still found a way to be deeply grateful for the feelings, thoughts, and experiences I’ve been given.  but maybe when things are good I don’t know how to be satisfied.

maybe this comes back to the thoughts I’ve been having recently about struggle.

I don’t want to live ‘struggle-free’.  what I want a is life that’s pulled along by the right struggle.  when I picture an existence that fuels and fulfills me and glorifies God with my particular gifts, I don’t picture white fences and easy-going conversation with the neighbors.  I just don’t.  something about that actually kind of makes me anxious.  this isn’t to say I want struggle for its own sake.  I certainly don’t want to toil on and on for the wrong thing, something pointless, or outside of God’s will for my life in the grand scheme, just so I don’t get too comfortable.

I’d just rather work hard with push-back for the noble thing God has set out for me than to either have it easy on the wrong path or struggle and tire but toward the wrong goal. I want the dignity and purpose that come from the right struggle.  I can’t imagine I’m meant for a ride without bumps.

and when things are too easy, or just feel like…nothing…I worry that I’m wasting beautiful time with stupid flat-lining.  I don’t know how to be grateful for “down time” when it’s a whole week or a month or six months.

maybe it’s a gift, this quiet in my spirit.  but it doesn’t feel like Holy-Spirit-stillness, it feels like I’m missing something, like I’m not pressing toward God or he’s not pressing toward me.  it feels like I’m doing something wrong because I’m not “sucking the marrow out of life”, as Thoreau would encourage me.  it feels like I’m just dog-paddling around in the kiddie pool.

I don’t want the kiddie pool.

maybe I don’t know what I’m asking for – I dealt with a lot of emotional shit last year (external and internal), and I’m not saying that was fun – but I don’t think I want to stay here.

I don’t want to look for God in the whirlwind and the fire but miss him in the still, small voice.  I want to learn patience, and quiet.  I want to learn to rely on his timing.  I want to learn what this “season” of life can teach me.

but this placidness kind of sucks when I don’t even know if God wants me to sit in faith or move in faith.  I don’t know.  I just don’t know.

so my update, when people ask:

I don’t know.  where I’m at, what I should be doing, what I shouldn’t be doing.  I don’t know if I should be grateful because I’m okay, or if it’s a warning sign that all I am is “okay”.  I don’t know if the quiet is convenient, aiding and abetting sinful distance from God, or if it’s a gift, after all the craziness.  and if it is a gift, is it supposed to stir up a restlessness in me that will push me toward God’s plan for me, or is it supposed to quiet my spirit and draw my closer to God in a time of rest?  I don’t know if pulling out my own hair because of boredom and confusion and apathy is better than suffocating myself with busyness and too many “yesses”.

what I do know is that right now I can’t create.  I can’t draw or play music.  I sure as hell can’t write.  not a scrap.  my fingers have only cliches and pedantic adjectives to offer.

I don’t want to demonize this period in my life, any more than I tried to demonize the hard times last year, or idolize the times that Jesus redeemed in their aftermath.

but it’s hard.  because it’s not hard.

as stupid as that sounds.

like Diana Goodman, I miss the mountains.

 

 

sometimes the hardest part about getting depressed is that it isn’t so much, “everything is going badly today, so now I’m feeling down”.  it’s more like, “for some reason, I can’t process any of what’s happening in a positive light, no matter if it’s good or bad.”  I’ve had some of the best weeks of my life interrupted by onslaughts of just crippling self-loathing, doubt, and depression, and the notion that there’s nothing I can do to combat any of it.  typically I just form myself into something that vaguely resembles a ball and cry for a while in a really pitiful, crumpled sort of way in the darkest corner I can find.

I think it’s important to talk about our struggles.  this generation is more encouraged to open up than any before it, as far as I can tell, and I’m glad for it.  (I do think it’s important to check ourselves for motivation, so that we’re not bearing our souls just for attention; unfortunately, social media can be an easy platform for self-pity-parties.  to my chagrin, I’ve hosted a handful of my own.  that’s not what this is.)  I’m glad that I live in a time where people are talking about hard things.

in that vein, I’ve shared a lot with y’all over this blog, facebook, and twitter.  writing helps me to process.  when I try to talk about my feelings, they come out in a jumbled, ugly mess with tears and fumbling words.  when I write them down, they make a little more sense.  in past posts, I’ve talked a lot about not having an answer to the things with which I’m dealing.  and that I think that’s okay.  I need to talk about them with or without a solution.

but to close out 2015, I want to share with you a story that falls into the hope-filled category.

I don’t have the answer to depression.  I don’t have the quick fix for self-loathing or the moments of hatred I have for this person God made.  but I do have a victory story.  a single, high-flying, epic victory that reminded me there *is* hope.

back in May (as I drew close to the end of those horrendous first six months of the year), I attended the 2015 TeenPact Massachusetts State Class as the State Coordinator.  it was my first year in the position, and after a really emotionally damaging week at staff training prior to the event, I went into the week feeling stressed, small, and inadequate in every possible way.  what I got for all of my anxiety was what was arguably one of the best weeks of my life.  the staff team made me feel reassured, encouraged, and valuable, and I was shown a lot of grace by a lot of people while I did a job that I’m still not good at, six months later.

half way into this amazing week, as we were driving from the capitol to our host home, something hit me.  the biggest freaking wall I can remember being hit with since maybe 2012, or 2013.  I wanted to hide from everyone I knew, cry myself to sleep and not wake up, crumple up and die.  I hated myself, my personality, my looks.  and the voice in my head, the voice that sounds exactly like my own, that pretends to be me, told me that everything I was feeling was logical and spot on.

I managed to make it inside the house (after an hour’s drive) without crying (something I’m proud of) and upstairs to “use the bathroom”.  I stayed away long enough that I knew the others would start dinner without me, and then I slipped into my assigned bedroom and shut the door.

what followed wasn’t pretty.  I quite literally crumpled to the ground, sobbed my heard out, and lay in a trembling ball for the next several minutes, wishing I could disappear.

it’s hard to realize you’re being attacked when the beating is coming from a voice that sounds like you.

when it’s your own voice telling you you’re worthless, it’s easy to think it’s a kind of humility to put yourself down.

when it’s your own voice telling you that everyone is just pretending to like you, how can you help but doubt every relationship?

when it’s your own voice, why wouldn’t you listen?

but then.  then.

“I know that my redeemer lives.”

a voice that wasn’t my own.  a voice in my head from no where (by which I mean, from Jesus), a piece of a verse from the book of Job, words I couldn’t shake.

“I know that my redeemer lives.”

again and again, I kept thinking it, seeing it, hearing it.

moment of bluntness.  I’ve had some really well-meaning friends send me scriptures when they know I’m depressed, without context, without saying, “I’ve been praying this for you”, or “this applies because…” and it feels like the cheap band-aid fix that Christians are allowed to get away with.  the word of God is mind-blowingly awesome, and has application for every situation.  but you can’t just slap it onto a friend’s hurt and smile and think you’ve done your duty.  (pro tip to my Jesus-following friends: relationships are important.  don’t just cite chapter and verse with a pat on the back.  it usually feels insincere.)

this wasn’t just a random scripture thrown at me.  this was the grace of God showing up to remind me that my. redeemer. lives.  redeemer.  saver of my soul.  lives.  present tense.

suddenly I felt like the Holy Spirit was there with me.  I didn’t feel all right, but I felt hopeful.

I got up, to my knees.

there’s a song you may or may not know called “break every chain”.  the verse states very simply, “there is power in the name of Jesus/there is power in the name of Jesus/there is power in the name of Jesus/to break every chain/break every chain/break every chain”.  it’s repetitive, which isn’t usually my thing, but it’s an incredible song, and you should look it up if you don’t know it.

I started saying it to myself, in my head, then in a whisper, then a little louder.  “there is power in the name of Jesus,” over and over.  and then I got this image of one of my old favorite Bible stories, from the book of 2 Kings, in chapter 6, where the prophet Elisha and his servant have been surrounded by an army of their enemies with orders to seize Elisha and bring him to their king.  verses 15-17 say, “15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” 16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

can you imagine that?  a heavenly host, surrounding the army that’s surrounding you?

I sat there on my knees with that image in my head, crying and calling on the name of Jesus out loud (side note: speaking the name of Jesus out loud makes all the difference, at least for me.  so does being on my knees), and my friends: it worked.

it was as if I could feel the devil being repelled.  as if reminding Satan that he’s already been beaten, that my soul belongs to one stronger than he, was a battle.  it was like a fight for my life, where the name of Jesus and the reassurance of his word were my weapons.  and I was winning.

real talk: I didn’t leave that room (when I’d fixed my mascara and came down to dinner pretending nothing was wrong) with any certainty that I’d never get depressed again.  I was shaky and may or may not have covered up a good many more tears that evening.  I felt pretty battered.

but I had – and still have – this hope that no one can take away from me.

for me, that hope only came from experiencing the tangible power of God.  from getting to actually see that he is stronger than the enemy of my soul.  it only came when he opened my eyes to the heavenly host encamped on the mountains around me, ready to fight.  for me.

I know that my REDEEMER lives.

I was a hot mess the following Sunday when our worship set at church opened with “break every chain” and I happened to be sitting in the front row, so everyone could watch me crying.  I also cried my way through Pastor Donny’s perfectly-timed sermon on the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the bit when he casually mentioned the fact that God looks at us and sees his son’s righteousness, and not our brokenness.

over the rest of this past year, I learned a lot about my feelings.  for years, holed up in my bed or hiding in a closet, I’ve begged God to let me feel less.  less pain, less anxiety, less panic, less defeat.  it seemed like too much to bear up under.  it’s only been over the course of this fall that I’ve realized what a blessing my feelings are.  I don’t want to feel less love- I love strangers and friends fiercely and I wouldn’t want that to stop.  I don’t want to feel less of the empathy that brings me to tears when I read about terrorist attacks across the ocean or one-human-to-another brutality here on my own shores.  I don’t want to give up the excitement that I’m so quick to grab a hold of, about a piece of art or a snatch of music, or a book I can’t put down.  I don’t want to give up compassion for a broken world, which pulls at my heart with an often painful thrum, keeping me up some nights in tearful prayer.

I’m thankful, finally, for the feelings.  even when I think they’ll crush me.

the truth is, 2015 carried more darkness with it than any year I’ve known.  in sharp contrast, it brought more light than ever as well.  more people I love, more gratitude, more prayer.  more news and celebration, more frustration with the place I find myself.  I don’t know where I’m going or what I’ll be doing a year from now, but I’m learning who I was made to be.  I’m also learning that I’ve missed out on a lot of blessings by insisting that my own low view of myself was more accurate than what God thought of me, and I’ve missed so many chances to bless others and be used by God because I was stuck in my own rut of insecurity.  I’m tempted to be haunted by all the “what would have beens”, but I’m also learning valuable, difficult, huge lessons about the magnitude of God’s free grace.  free things are oh-so-hard for me.  accepting the unmerited gift that his mercy is has yet to become easy, but I’m learning.  learning to shut up and stop trying to pay God back for things.  learning that the obedience that comes from gratitude is the sweetest and most rewarding obedience.

this has been my year.  learning, learning, learning.  victories and humiliations, all for the glory of God.

so to close it, I wanted to share this victory of mine with you.  not because I’ve found the cure, or because I’ve gotten over self-loathing and depression.  I share it because it’s important to talk about the bad things, and it’s important to talk about the good things.  that’s where redemption comes into play.  by sharing with friends the things I struggle with, I’ve gotten to a place of knowing I’m not the only one, knowing I’m not unlovable, knowing I’ll survive this.  by calling on God’s name I realized I’ll beat this, because he already has.

please don’t despair if you’ve tried this whole God thing and you’re still depressed.  depression is complex, but it’s not hopeless.  I’ve called on God in darkness before, and occasionally it’s “worked”, but more often the crushing alone-ness didn’t let up.  you may not be at a place where you can even think about fighting.  maybe your first step is some help from science, and recognizing that you need outside help may be what you need; I don’t believe depression is a purely emotional condition.  for me, the necessary shift was calling up the already-not-yet of God’s victory over darkness.  I needed to say it out loud and I needed to know I had hope, for the next time.  because there were next times since then.  and there will be more.  all I want to convey is that there can be victories.  that this fight isn’t a futile one, just because it feels that way.  that the story doesn’t have to end badly.

so here’s the deal: if you want to talk, message me*, call me, text me, email me.  I may know what you’re going through, I may not.  let’s be vulnerable and live real life together and not pretend to be okay.  but let’s talk about the days when we are, as well.  that hope might be what someone needs.

thanks, 2015.  I liked you a lot.

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~Lydia

 

*(I’m notoriously bad a facebook messages (okay, all communication really) but I’ll do my best.)

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I’m a huge fan of strong language.  especially in my own writing.

I may be biased as a writer, because I’m absolutely in love with words, but I think we can all agree that they’re powerful.  harsh words can wound, kind words can heal.  they mean something.  they’re important.

no doubt this is at least part of the reason that the Bible is pretty clear about the types of words we should be using.  google supplied me with plenty of opinion on Christians and profanity, mostly in the form of blog posts.  I read a ton of them before I wrote this post.  the majority expressed entirely negative responses to swearing, even going so far as to say that “swear words” themselves are sinful.  the few that disagreed, however, almost championed the use of strong language by Christians for its edginess, if nothing else.

I take issue with either of these opinions.

(I hate to break up the conversation, but I want to get one thing out of the way: I don’t swear using the Lord’s name.  ten commandments, duh.  I don’t even say “jeez” or “oh my god”.  I don’t want my words to ever bring dishonor to God, so I’m extra careful about that.  but I actually don’t think that what we call strong language automatically does so.)

okay! “what-does-the-Bible-say-about-swearing” speed round (paraphrasing):

– Ephesians 5:4 – “no filthiness/foolish talk/crude joking.”

– James 3:9-12 – “we bless God with our mouth and then turn around and curse people who are made in his likeness.  blessing and cursing shouldn’t come out of the same place.

– Ephesians 4:29 – “no corrupting talk should come out of your mouths, only what’s good for building up, that it may give grace to those who hear.

(similar mandates can be found in 1 Peter 3:10, Colossians 3:8, and Luke 6:45, among others.)

a post I read on ChristianityToday . com called “The Trouble with Cussing Christians” said this, which I really liked: “our words should participate in hallowing, rather than profaning, the world.”

but I’d like to suggest that “strong language” can play a part in beauty.

I believe that art points to the creator and glorifies him.  the best stories are his, after all.  the most beautiful sunsets.  music, color, taste.  the sweet, broken people we meet and have the privilege of knowing and loving throughout our lives.  art is beauty, and good art glorifies God.

it’s easy to rag on low-budget, poorly scripted Christian films or obnoxious contemporary Christian music- I do it myself often enough.  I don’t want to go there too much now because I really do admire the men and women behind those mediums for their hearts, their intentions, and their boldness.

but art should be excellent, and sometimes I think that as Christians we shy away from hard topics and strong words in favor of niceness and “propriety”, and I don’t think that’s always a good idea.  if anyone should be telling the hard stories, it should be the same people who know what redemption looks like– the recipients of God’s great grace.

I believe words are as much instruments of art as paints and pencils and cameras and musical notes.  they’re meaningful.  they express things, feelings, thoughts.  and that’s what stories are for.  that’s why I write, to pull words that everyone knows into strings of sentences that didn’t exist before.  is there anything closer to magic out there?

words are things of beauty.  I was talking with a friend recently at lunch who said that her favorite word was “epiphany”- that she’d even written a college paper on it.  and it’s beautiful, right?  the way it looks and sounds, what it means.  I have lists and lists of words I love, almost as much as names- estuary, plunder, incandescent, cunning, pique.  (I actually really love to say the word bastard, but…yeah, that’s one I usually keep to myself.)

sometimes the only thing separating one word from another is the depth of what they’re expressing.  sometimes when you’re hurting, your usual verbal repertoire is not enough.  sometimes your pain just can’t be expressed in simple, G-rated words.

so.  fiction.  why should characters in a story be any different than you or I, in our moments of pain and trial?  to use my own writing as an example, why would a teenage girl who’s just been kidnapped, branded, bought, imprisoned, and raped call the man responsible a “jerk”?  would you buy her pain if she did?  would you feel what she’s feeling?

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(okay, but this was hilarious. best scene.)

the main point that people often bring up in this discussion is making the characters realistic.  many writers (myself included) agree that when they’re writing, the characters often speak for themselves.  I don’t plan a lot of what I write.  (I never planned for Isla to get kidnapped and then all of a sudden it was happening and then I had a book about human trafficking and bravery and loving yourself that was initially going to be little more than a piece of romantic fluff.)  when they get going, characters do and say things on their own.

if you don’t believe the people that I’m writing, if you don’t buy the characters, how is the story going to affect you?  how will it move you, or mean something to you?  stories need to mean something.  they need to touch you, show you darkness and light and humanity and good and evil.  and stories are made of words.  how can we tell a powerful story without the jarring contrast of strong words?

I certainly haven’t gotten it down.  in many ways my writing is still terribly immature.  and I’m not lobbying for gratuitous, unnecessary language in fiction.  but I do believe in feeling things.  and I think the fact that we even have the label “strong language” means something.  in my own novels, it sometimes means that Blue Reavely’s (my heroine’s) father calls her a little shit when he’s drunk.  and sometimes it means he tells her she’s worthless and a mistake.

strong words are the ones that pack a punch, not just the ones we call “swears”.  the ones that hit you hard, or stir your soul.

I think compassion is a strong word.  it happens to be my favorite.  it still means really means something, and makes you think, because people don’t throw it around.  this can’t be said for many other words that are losing their impact because of our readiness to speak them: “literally”, “amazing”, “tragedy”, “love” (to name a few).

words are important.  I’m trying to use mine wisely, and sometimes that means using the ones that hit people hard.

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so!  tell me what you think about “language” in fiction!  do you think it’s avoidable?  do you think it’s necessary all the time?  are there ways to abstain from it and still emerge your reader into a gritty world?  and do you think writing language down is different than using it in your own conversation?  talk to me!  I don’t by any means think I’m an authority.  this is just my opinion, and I’d love to hear yours!

 

p. s.  remember to be intentional with your words though.  to go back to the idea of taking the Lord’s name in vain, I have one thing to say: if God’s name were itself a curse, we wouldn’t be warned against using it wrongly.  instead, his name is a thing of power, impact, and importance.  when we use it as a curse, we’re taking it out of its intended context and doing him dishonor, because he (and his name, therefore) represents the pinnacle/measuring stick of goodness, beauty, and holiness.  I have a hard time believing that words are in and of themselves evil.  (crass, yes.  don’t get me started on crude and crass words/talk.  I hate hate hate all that.)

p. p. s. “you can’t blame a writer for what the characters say.” ~Truman Capote (because…Capote.  duh.)

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I do it continually.  Every day, all day.

And because my problem could be mistaken for humility, it’s easy for me to ignore it or forget that it’s a problem at all.

I need to talk about self-loathing.

I couldn’t tell you at what point in my life I started hating myself.  My family and friends love me, sure, and I’ve been raised all of my life being told that the Creator of the universe does as well- enough to die to save me.

I don’t know why that won’t sink in.

Most of you know that for the past five+ years I’ve struggled with depression, off and on.  During those bouts of despair, it’s difficult – it feels impossible – to remember that life is precious, and to call to mind the great things my God has done for me.  I don’t want to talk about the details of all that.  I don’t want to defend the reality of my depression to you or belittle it so I feel superior either: I know that it was not as bad as it could have been, but I also know that for me it was very real.*  I felt like I was distant from God on those days, and I felt like it was my fault- and that made me hate myself, and feel like there was a wall separating me from my Savior – a wall that I had to tear down before He could help me.  I’m making progress- or rather, Jesus is, in me.  We’ll see what happens.  I haven’t been seriously depressed for a couple of months, hallelujah.

But this post is about something different.

I’m not writing this because I’ve finally come to terms with God’s love for me and I’m “all better”, or because I’ve discovered how to get over this self-loathing that punctuates every aspect of my life.

I’m writing this because every day of my life it seems like it’s getting worse.

And I need to talk about it.

My church, ‘Aletheia Boston’, blesses me beyond belief.  I started going there in January and have since been challenged in my relationship with God, drawn closer to Him, and convicted about the sins in my daily life.  I’ve also made some amazing friends.  The people who surround me on Sunday mornings (and any other time I spend time with them) pursue God, and encourage me to pursue God.  My pastors don’t water down the truth (that’s what the church is named for, after all), and I love it.  I’ve never felt so keenly that I’m in the right place, even if I am among the quieter members of my family and slower to get to know people.

All that to lead into a sermon that Pastor Adam Mabry preached a few weeks back (you can listen to the podcast of it here)- a message about the value of human life.

Honestly, I couldn’t summarize the sermon for you perfectly, but I did take some notes that, for me, were mind-blowing.

Pastor Adam read from Genesis 1, and said this: “You and I are made in the image of God- we are intentional and we are blessed.”  The scriptures don’t give us permission to put people into boxes because they come from a certain hemisphere or have a particular color skin.

Galatians 3:26-29 says, “26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

We are equal children of God; Pastor Adam made the point that when we hold onto our prejudices, we do so at the expense of the Gospel in the eyes of those around us.  We don’t get to see the world through “white eyes” or “black eyes” or through any other prejudice or point of view.  We get to have “Jesus eyes”, and that’s it.

We don’t get to assign our own value to any human life- we don’t get to say that one person is less important because they’re old or because they’re not yet born or because their skin is darker or lighter than ours.  We don’t get to view any person as a mistake, as worthless, as unimportant.  In God’s eyes, we are each beautiful and purposeful and have been fearfully and wonderfully made- and let’s not forget, in His image.

My favorite thing that Pastor Adam said in his message was this: “There is no version of Christianity where we get to decide who lives and who dies- because every human life is intentional.”  (He sort of shouted it too, which I loved. I was tempted to jump up and cheer.)

But guys.

In all humility, I don’t think I have a problem with putting people in boxes, with de-valuing them or having a racist/sexist/ageist/’you-name-it’-ist viewpoint on the lives of those around me.  In all humility, I adore people.  The more unique, the better.  I love watching strangers, finding a random act of kindness with which I can make someone’s day, observing my incredibly diverse church interact…  I love worshiping with a body of believers that represents more nations than I can count on both hands.  (*shameless plug for my wonderful Every Nation church*)

So when Pastor Adam finished preaching (and as I was volunteering that week, I got to sit in on both services), I was pumped because it was a great message, but I wasn’t initially challenged to go out and change something about myself.  I thought that, as this topic went, I was all set.  No conviction, just encouragement.

It wasn’t until later that day that I realized there was a message in between the lines for me- something Pastor Adam didn’t mention, but that he had spoken to, whether he realized it or not: how does walking around loving the world but hating myself glorify God?

All it does is tell God that He made a mistake when He called me to be His servant.  It says that His glorious plan for me would be great- but really I’m not what He thinks, and that He ought to go find someone else who is “better equipped”.  It’s me saying, “God, thanks for thinking of me, but I know myself better, and I’m not worth the trouble.

I don’t look at myself and think that I am one of God’s incredible creations.  I look at myself and wonder why He would even want me.  I wonder what He could possibly have been thinking when He made me.  I wonder why I had to be the boring person in my family.  I wonder why I don’t have any of the personality or beauty that I see and wish for in my family and friends.  I wonder why, why, why?

I don’t look at my person or my life and see value.  I don’t see the image of God stamped onto me.  I don’t see anything beautiful; I see the opposite. I don’t see the fact that He has called me for a reason.

And I don’t want to be crippled by hating myself any longer.  I’m tired of it.  My self-loathing and insecurity affect every conversation I have and every relationship I build.  I don’t want that any longer.  I’m writing this so that I’ll be accountable to start valuing God’s plan for my life.  So that I’ll remember that I have a purpose.  That I am special (not to go all Sesame St on you).

And I know that as long as I’m crippled by focusing on my negative view of myself instead of God’s love and grace and purpose for me, I will not be prepared or equipped or confident to do His will, and I will live a hampered, messed-up life.

I’d love if you could pray for me when you think of it.  It’s going to be a struggle.

Thanks for reading, my friends.

~Lydia

[job 42:2 – I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.]

(Aside: I’d really encourage you to check out the podcast from that sermon- the series our church is currently working on is called “Sex, Money, & Politics [and a few other things you’re not supposed to talk about in church]”.  The entire series is really phenomenal.  And if you’re anywhere near Boston, stop by- we meet at the YMCA in Cambridge at 9:25 & 11 on sunday mornings; there’s more information on the website.)

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*Note: I also fully understand that teenagers go through crazy hormonal imbalances, and am willing to concede that health played a part in my depression.  But I’d like to state for the record that that does not mean I was any better for knowing what was to blame.

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January is over, and with it my writing fast.

So here’s some closure for this whole situation, to let you know how it ended:

I did, despite all odds, survive.  I had a million, “Oh my gosh, what a brilliant idea I’ve had- I should go write that book this. very. second!” moments. But I jotted down the ideas and tried to focus elsewhere.  I think this was good for me.  For the first couple of days I felt like a total loser as I realized that I really didn’t have much of a life without my writing, in a way.  But my focus really changed, and there were several good changes I made:

1. I have a disciplined routine! Waking up by a certain time, spending time with the Lord, working out immediately, showering, juicing carrots, making a smoothie and then cleaning the house and getting to whatever the day held. It feels good.  This includes my renewed focus on getting healthier.

2. I realized I need direction for my life that sitting around writing all day has not given me, and I’m thinking that may begin with a long-term missions trip for a semester or so at some point, possibly to Haiti. I’m still looking around.  I also need a job, now that I’ve moved, and I need to stop procrastinating.

3. Most importantly I realized my need for a Savior more than ever.  Without my obsession to clog up my every thought, I realized at times just what a wretch I am, and what I need to focus on.  I started prioritizing my time in the morning spent reading the Word, and hopefully have become more focused in general.  And I plan on increasing that from here on.

So thanks for all of your prayers and the encouragement I found pouring into my inbox/figment page/blog from you, my lovely friends.

And now I need to wrap this up, because Isla and her plight are calling to me. 😉

(Oh, on a random/life-enriching note: you should check out “Jekyll and Hyde” the musical; the song “Confrontation” is my absolute favorite right now. It’s amazing. So…go listen to it.)

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It’s MAJOR confession time, dears.

The verse in Luke 10 that says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind…” is terribly convicting to me.

I’ve heard so many times that whatever a person devotes their life to is what they worship.  It’s their god.  And as I examined my life this morning, following a really incredible church service, I realized that as much as I love Jesus, He is not the focus of my life.

Jesus is not first in my heart.

I am the first to admit that I’m a sinful wretch who deserves nothing but hell and damnation, but this confession isn’t necessarily easy.  I don’t really like being vulnerable, which is probably because I’m so insecure about myself.  But here’s the naked truth, dear readers: I made writing my god when I started thinking of it first thing in the morning, the last thing as I fall asleep, and at just about every free moment thought out the day.  Plotting my stories, planning my characters- writing occupies more of my thoughts than anything else.  I’ll always choose writing over  any alternative.  I’d like to think I could be better than I am one day, but in the meantime I just love creating and imagining.  I also think my love for it is probably a gift from God.

But God’s gifts aren’t not supposed to take the place of Him in my heart.  And that’s what has happened.

So I’m ashamed, dear readers.  I’m ashamed that something that was a gift from above could make me forget so much- like the fact that I should use my passion to glorify God in some way.  And the fact that nothing I could ever accomplish or create will a) last into eternity, and b) come close to meaning as much as the truth that Jesus Christ died for my sin and I owe Him my whole being.

So I’ve made a hard decision: for the month of January (at least), I’m fasting from writing.  I’ll jot down whatever ideas I get, but nothing more.  I’m giving up my stories. Because as much as I want to be a writer, I want to be a child of God more, and I cannot “serve two masters”.  So here’s to what might be a really rough month for me.

“Oh, to grace, how great a debtor, daily ‘m constrained to be-

Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wand’ring heart to thee.

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love.

Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it- seal it for thy courts above.”

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It seems that troubling thing I hate more than anything is back- depression.  My life has been really good lately- I’m not upset with anything or anyone, I’m just…..whatever.  It’s that stupid depression that has nothing to do with circumstances or hormones or anything else that comes to mind as the obvious causes.  Anyway. I don’t want to bore y’all.  But I’m having a hard time writing the climax of my current novel when all I feel is despondency.  It’s like I don’t feel like I have any reason to do anything but blast the soundtracks to Les Mis and Phantom and sit at my window, talking to no one. :/  Oh well.  All that to say, I haven’t been writing as much as I would like, and so to meet my 100-pages-a-month quota for Esmeralda, I have 35 pages to pick up in the next two days.  Lord willing I’ll make it, but I could use some prayers.  So yeah, life’s handing me lemons, and for the life of me I cannot recall the recipe for lemonade.

Have you seen X-Men? Or Shrek? The hulk?  I can’t think what it is in the back of my mind that I’m recalling, but there’s something where something comes over the hero, something unstoppable that he can’t control that takes over his body.  One of those “Incredible Hulk” deals.  That was the feeling I just had, only it was of a less violent but perhaps more tragic nature.

I felt it coming on, htat dreaded, that horrid, that thing I hate above all else, depression.  I hate it so much.  I realized that I was getting angry and sad about something that wasn’t completely worth it, and that then I was heading down a familiar trail- one of those well-worn ones that is usually about self-pity but always feels justified at the time.  This time it was about how much I hate it when Mum thinks I’m lying, or doubts my integrity.  That really makes my blood boil.  If there’s one thing I can always hold on to it’s the knowledge that I am telling the truth, and when someone doubts that, I feel empty and vulnerable, and I want to hit something.  I know I’m being truthful.  Why don’t they (she)?

It makes me furious.

But anyway, I felt the depression coming on.  I have journalled about this for the past ten months or so.  It isn’t pms and it isn’t just hormones.  It’s real.  I get depressed.  This does not mean it’s something I can’t work on, or shouldn’t work on, it simply means I don’t control it, at least as of yet.

But I felt it coming on and I just thought oh no oh no oh no.  Not now.  It can’t be.  I was doing so well.  Why now? But here’s a question…

I will never forget in Anne of Green Gables when Anne says she is “in the depths of despair”, and Marilla says that such is a sin; to despair, she says, is to “turn our back on God.”

Is that true?  Is being depressed a sin?  Or am I allowing the devil into my head to tell me that it is, to tear me up inside, and if so, is that a sin?  I don’t know, and I don’t know where to turn.  I pray and pray but so far God hasn’t seen fit to pull me through this.  I’ll never doubt that he is with me throughout, but I don’t understand yet why he hasn’t taken my hand and just dragged me to the other side of this chasm.  I can’t understand it, but I guess we usually aren’t meant to.  Anyway, I’m signing off.  It’s nearly one in the morning and I need to sleep.  Maybe that will help.

In Christ, Lydia

So, I had a revelation.  I don’t have a whole lot of revelations- they’re not usually my thing.  I’d like to, but mostly I just notice a new issue I have to work on (I’m so “human” it’s really not even funny.) and I say, “Lydia.  Shut up.  Stop it.  You know that’s wrong.  Oh, you thought you were perfect?  Nope, just look.  Another thing to work on.”  (I really do talk to myself this way, and often.)  And then I try.  I really do, to work on it, the increase my time in prayer, to focus more on God, and to see my life through Christ’s eyes.  It rarely gets very far.  I’m not all that great on self-discipline.

However…

This past Friday (“It’s Friday, Friday, gotta get down on-” no?  Alright, fine.) was out church’s monthly Pastor’s Council meeting, and as usual it met at our house, so my mom could make an extravagant Puerto Rican dinner for the people attending.  There were a few people coming who were new to us- one couple had been briefly to out house in the summer for BBQ and the other man had never even see it.  Anyway, there was a certain pressure for the house to look nice, for everything to be in tip-top condition, spiffy and as bacteria-free as possible.  (Our house was built in the 1840s- there’s only so cob-web-free it’s ever going to be.)  Emmy and I woke up early and instead of going to our schoolwork started immediately on the cleaning.  It was mostly dusting, vacuuming, putting stuff on shelves, finishing the dishes, etc, but I do not exaggerate when I say that we worked, on our feet, the entire day.  I mean from 7:30am to past 11:00pm that night, with two hours off for dinner and fellowship.

I scrubbed the pots,

I swept and vacuumed the floor,

I did the laundry,

I washed the doors and frames of hand-prints,

I put away books and stray toys,

I dusted tables, vases, tvs and even ceilings,

I washed the side of the fridge,

cleaned every inch of the main bathroom,

took out the trash,

and set the table.

Lastly, I tended the fire.

And to be honest, I didn’t get along with Mum all day, so the Cinderella vibe was intense (see why tending the fire was important to mention?).  I was feeling used and exhausted, completely worn out- wiped.  There was a problem, though.  If I saw myself as Cinderella, where was the Prince?  The ball?  The fairy with a wand?  Even the glass slippers weren’t to be found.  I felt like I had the “Evil Step-Mother” thing going on, my hands were chapped and raw from hundreds of dishes, and I even had ash on my face and pants.  So where was my happy ending?

I really started to get moody.  (I do that a lot; this was nothing new, only it seemed justified.)  I went in my room at midnight, when I was finally done working but should have been leaving a ball, and pulled out this very laptop.  I went onto facebook and in 100 or so characters vented a bit to my friends, about feeling like Cinderella without the benefits.  I honestly, sincerely felt that I had the right.  I had slaved, ALL DAY, and for what?  Mum thanked me, oblivious to the frustration she had caused me all day, and most of the dinner-guests left thinking that Mum was Superwoman, doing so much on her own.  I had every reason to be fuming.  In my room I sat with the laptop in front of me and sank into my pillows, crying.  I was just flat-out exhausted.

Was this justified?  The weariness, yes, I think so a little.  I hadn’t even stopped for lunch.  But the frustration, the anger?  No, I don’t believe I was.  (For the record- Mum wasn’t an angel exactly, but she was very stressed and I could have been more understanding.  I certainly was no perfect peace-maker myself.)

What I was forgetting is that serving is supposed to be a joy.  My “gift” is serving.  I’ve always loved to do something for someone, help them with their kids, clean their house if they’re sick, cook a meal when they’ve had a baby.  But that, while it blesses them, is easy for me.  I get thanked, I get praised, I get the satisfaction of that person I served usually knowing who did it, and appreciating me.  It makes me giddy to help someone in need.  But what about when it’s helping my mom with a task she could NEVER do on her own?  Everyone at the dinner party may not have known all that I did so that they would see a beautiful house and eat a delicious meal, but they would be blessed, wouldn’t they?  And it would make my parents’ job of hosting new people at short notice that much pleasenter and easier.  Besides, who am I really serving when I work?

Usually, myself.  But the answer should be God.  As I sat there thinking, a scripture came to me that I had learned in song-form as a child;

“And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24, New King James Version)

I couldn’t remember that and not be utterly ashamed of my selfishness.  I was pathetic.  When I work, it was supposed to be a joy.  The Lord has equipped me with an ability and love for serving that should translate into a means of worship.  I was serving Him when I worked hard to keep our home afloat.  If everything I do is to God, and not to men, then how does Jesus feel about my incessant grumbling when I have to get my hands dirty?  I should have been overjoyed to have been given a task with which to give service to Him.

Thinking about it in reference to that verse dumbfounded me.  It was a much needed *smack* from God and I was so grateful.  Suddenly I was ashamed and simultaneously gladdened.  I fell asleep praying and crying out to God that he would forgive me and teach me to serve Him humbly and gratefully, and that I would learn to be more like His son, the perfect servant.  I woke up the next morning eager to be of help to my parents, my siblings who didn’t feel well, and anyone else I could possibly come in contact with.  I wanted, desperately, to “make-up” in a sense, for my pitiful existance the day before.

I kept thinking and another scripture came to me:  For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”  (Galatians 1:10, English Standard Version)  I felt that this was applicable, too.  It’s really not about me.  I am praying that it won’t wear off, but in the past two days since then, I am absolutely thrilled to serve, because it’s an act of worship.

Maybe I’m really simple.  Maybe everyone else has already realized this years ago.  But for me it was a fresh smack that I needed.  My hope is that this is somehow an encouragement to you, as it was life-changing for me.

In Christ, Lydia 😉