A Look Inside (My) Depression

“When was the last time you thought to yourself, you know what – I’m actually pretty good. I kinda like who I am,” asked my well-meaning counselor.

“What would it take for you to love yourself?”

“I don’t know – if I could lose weight, write a book, actively accomplish something that I’ve set out to do, like if I want to wake up early in the morning then to actually get out of bed at 5:30 AM when I’ve set my first alarm. To have finally completed the 12 Steps of my addiction recovery program.”

My counselor then proceeded to show me the places in which I’ve grown over the last year. “Justin, you’ve gone almost a full year without a relapse into your former pornography addiction. You’ve successfully had financial discussions with Allie without getting defensive and allowing it to turn into a fight. From what I can tell – you’re becoming rather successful at work, you’ve built healthier friendships and your relationship with Allie gets sweeter and sweeter.”

“So what is it going to take for you to love yourself?”

“Where would you say you are on your fantasy scale of who you want to be – on a scale of 1-10?”

“I don’t know – a 5, maybe.”

“And what’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with being a 5 and telling yourself, “you know what if I improve to a 6 or 7 over the next few years, then I’m a champion. I’m overcoming my sinful nature and becoming a stronger man of God,” and maybe by the time you’re 40 you’re an 8, and so on and so forth.

I found myself far more engaged this session than previous ones. Often distracted by wondering if someone from work has texted me or if my wife is doing okay, or whatever other anxiety-ridden thing I might be missing out on – FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out), I found myself listening, emotionally there, and nearing tears of gratitude.

“Justin, I think you’re okay. You’re doing a great job. You’re doing some really hard stuff. You can’t take on the whole world all at once. What if you took your goals – let’s say you want to drop 40 lbs and we cut that way down and we say you want to lose 10 lbs in the next 6 months. That’s doable, right? And what if instead of beating yourself up every morning when the scale still reads 2** – you decide to celebrate the victory of going on a walk a couple times a week. Because that’s better than what you’re doing right now, right?”

You get the idea.

You’d think I was in 1st grade. The concepts were so basic, so simple, so “easy.” And yet for the last few months I’ve barely been able to get myself out of bed, get dressed, and accomplish anything. I’m convinced I’ll fail – I won’t reach the fantasy self (230 lbs, New York Times Bestselling Author, freed from shame and living in joy), so why try? I’m gonna snack, so why not have three snacks? I’m gonna get distracted, so why even take the laptop and the book to the coffee-shop with me?

Round and round goes the cyclical cycle of shame. Satan’s henchman whispering in my ear at night all the reasons I’m useless for God’s Kingdom. My neural pathways strangely trained to think the worst possible outcomes will occur in my life.

I could blame it on being introduced to pornography in my young teens. I could blame it on the way that’s affected my relationships and the shame and pain of doing things I regret because of that former addiction. I could blame it on the way loved ones reacted to my being found out – seen for what I was. I could continue to lay in bed and wait for the day of the dead to come knocking at my door, to take me home from the suffering.

Or.

I can wake up with a purpose – the purpose of loving being a 5 and becoming excited about the journey to becoming a 6. I can honestly share my story and my heart with others, knowing that there’s nothing to hide anymore – and as high and mighty as some may pretend to be, they have plenty of their own skeletons. Having always admired the authentic, why try so hard to be the polished?

So that’s why I’m writing today. I’m not so sure this blog even has all that much cohesion and I’m certain it’s not my best work; confident there’s much to be improved. But for someone that’s been sinking in depression for the last several months, simply externally processing and sharing my feelings and heart with my community is a win. Hitting “Publish” is a victory. It’s one small step toward becoming a 6. One step closer to becoming more like Christ, regretful to radiant, sorrowful to serendipitous, grave to grateful.

Let’s dust off the keyboard and see if I’ve still got it.

Until Next Time,

Justin

depression

No Pain, No Gain (Like You Haven’t Heard That Before)

I’m becoming increasingly convinced that one of the connecting points for many lasting friendships in the world is the endurance of pain, together. There I was sharing a margarita with a friend I hadn’t seen in several months and the conversation drifted to the tougher moments in life and how he could relate to x-y-z and I could relate to a-b-c. Perhaps that’s too simplistic a view, but being the sinful humans we are, we’ve all been hurt and we all have hurt, others. It’s our nature to be selfish, inflict pain, and to find ourselves in the crucible of sanctification, given the choice of asking for forgiveness and saying “F*** them, they’re not worth it.” We’ve all been guilty of choosing the latter at some point in life, but it’s never led anywhere fruitful. Bitterness and hatred is only serving yourself the poisoned wine, rather than giving it to your enemy. You’d be better off attempting to kill them with kindness, wouldn’t you?

Anyways – back to my point – in a world of filtered photos, edited texts, and Facebook posts that are a highlight reel of life…we need that one person to share that one painful story of rejection, anger, pain, hatred, betrayal, longing, addiction, abuse, etc. – and that’s all it takes – and then there’s an iconic moment in every redeeming friendship – a “me too – I’ve been there as well.”

I talked with a coworker about depression this week. Opening up about my need for counseling, I found myself given the opportunity to minister to his soul and providing him with helpful options that I’ve utilized for my own personal growth and journey towards freedom from the hatred and loathing of self.

All it took was an opening up, and a “hey, me too man.”

So I guess all of that is to say, you can filter your pictures and keep your Facebook as clean and crisp as you want, but my life is about to get as real as it gets.

I’ve spent enough of my time worrying about reputation, status, money, and what other people think about me, but as long as God says “well done, my good and faithful servant” and my wife is excited to see and kiss me when I get home, then I’ve lived life well. The rest doesn’t matter and it always works out in the end.

It’s amazing how much time we spend chasing peace and perfection, and some of the most peaceful, perfect, love-filled moments are those that are spent being honest and broken, and allowing love and grace to cover over them.

Tim Keller writes of a czar who adopted a son. The adopted son had squandered his wealth and was contemplating suicide due to his recklessness… (sounds like the Prodigal Son in a way)

“Because he couldn’t cover his gambling debts, he began to embezzle from his regiments funds. One night he was sitting in the tent looking at the books and he realized that his embezzlement was about to be discovered. He could hide it no longer from the accountants. He sat drinking heavily and prepared to kill himself. He had the revolver by his side and he took a few more drinks to strengthen his resolve for the suicide. But the drink was too potent and he passed out on the table.

That night the czar was doing what he often did. Disguised as a simple soldier, he was walking through the camp and the ranks, trying to assess the morale of his army, hearing what he could hear. He walked into his foster son’s tent and saw him slumped over the book. He read the book and realized what he had done and what he was about to do.

When the young man awoke hours later, to his surprise the revolver was gone. Then he saw a letter by his hand. To his shock, it was a promissory note, “I, the czar, will pay the full amount from my own personal funds to make up the difference found in this book.” And it was sealed with the czar’s personal seal. The czar had seen the young man’s sin clearly, the full dimensions of what he had done. But he had covered and paid for the sin personally.”

The crazy part is that Jesus does this for you and me, daily. We constantly squander the wealth and the gifts that He’s provided us with. We hurt our wonderful parents with our insensitivity to their wisdom, we hurt our spouse with our stubbornness to their pleas for wiser behavior and moral conduct, we disappoint our elders as they prod us toward holiness, and we discourage our brothers with our apathy – yet Jesus PAID our debt. He said, “I see what you’ve done and I know it fully. The price has been paid. Now come back home.”

I think my life’s calling is to call other’s home. I see what you’ve done – I’ve done some stupid shit too. Now let me pay the price for you, so that you can come back home. You don’t belong in the underworld anymore. Let me provide you with some clean linens and prepare a guest-room for you. You’re an esteemed guest, a high ranking official, and adopted heir to the King – grace and peace and love covers over you.

So friends, come home. Stop running. Stop hiding. Stop chasing success. Stop searching for happiness at the bottom of the bottle or at the sound of any empty pill bottle. Stop clicking through videos and images of women that don’t belong to you (I shouldn’t even look at my wife that way). Stop shopping until you drop. Stop buying friendships with your money. Stop connecting with others through your self-loathing.

Just stop.

You were worth it. You are worth it.

So worth it that he paid your debt in full and covered you in the finest clothes. “What we should say to each other on our wedding day is, ‘As great as you look today, someday you will stand with me before God in such beauty that it will make these clothes look like rags.” (Tim Keller, “The Meaning Of Marriage”)

Therefore we do not lose heart. Thought outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our slight momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

no pain no gain

New Insight In A New Season

I decided recently – again – that I spend far too much time online. By far one of my favorite coping mechanisms is reaching for the smartphone and surfing Facebook to see what others are up to. It helps me feel connected without risking being vulnerable in real-life. Requesting prayer from an online platform is a lot different than speaking face-to-face or over the telephone line about your life’s hardships and opening yourself up to someone else’s feedback and perspective.

It’s easier to crop an image and choose a filter than to deal with people seeing the real, angsty, almost always sweaty this time of year, Justin. One of the guys that I’ve grown up with invited me over to his house for a Guy’s Night this weekend – the fire pit was ablaze, cigars were lit, beer cracked open (or sparkling water in my case that night), and a huge, life-sized Jenga set was played.

Jenga Set

All that fun happening and I found myself wanting to reach for my phone to take a picture so that others would know I’d had a good time that night. (Also, because the Jenga set was awesome and I wanted to remember it.) The point remains, it’s so much easier to be able to document life online than it is to actually live it.

I’ve been encountering a lot of weird, heavy, dark, tough emotions lately and my first reaction is to find some form of coping mechanism (social media apps on the phone, booze, entertainment, etc.). Due to this and some other life-experiences, I’ve placed myself on bit of a fast from social media being so easily accessible on my phone and from alcohol for the next few weeks at least.

Technology is a useful resource but one of the things I despise about Sales is being married to my cell-phone, and reducing the amount of time I spend on it and coping with my stress and emotions in other unhealthy ways at home, is something I’ve chosen to work on.

After all, it was interesting what happened when I resisted the urge and left my phone in my pocket the last few evenings. I connected with total strangers and got to know about their lives, what they do, and the varying ways I can be actively praying for them. And I returned home to my wife, refreshed and ready to re-engage her with a fresh set of relational batteries because I’d taken the time to pour out God’s love on others and receive it from them as well. And last night – sitting across from Allie at Red Lobster enjoying the ultimate trio of salmon, lobster, and shrimp (mmm, seafood!) – we found ourselves connecting on a conversational level like we did when we were first starting to date each other a few years ago.

I think it’s time that we, as a society, begin taking larger steps toward becoming less dependent on hiding behind text-messages and social-media and instead invested the time in face-to-face interactions with those we love, and perhaps, those we don’t currently, but could lead our hearts to love over time.

An interesting tidbit from Tim Keller’s “The Meaning Of Marriage” is that as he pastored a church in Virginia, he took on ministering to a rather difficult couple with lots of problems and no one really seemed to like them. Over the course of a few months, he spent some of his ministry time in their house, inviting them into his office for counseling, and so on. Well – one rare mid-week day off, his wife was asking what he’d like to do that day and he said, “I think I’d like to hang out with the couple we’ve been working with.” His wife was surprised until he realized what had happened. As he’d been faithful in loving them, even though they weren’t all that likeable, he’d actually come to enjoy spending time with them – to love them, as he loved himself. He now genuinely loved his neighbor because he had led his heart in the direction of God’s will.

I found that convicting as I considered the people in my life that I don’t really like all that much or the coworkers that I tend to…avoid. I may make a greater impact for the Kingdom if I were to focus less on who I love and don’t love, and simply chose to love others as myself, as the Lord has directed.

Oh, and another thing – the world seems to spin a little smoother the more we align ourselves with what God has in store for us. Like many of you, I’ve spent plenty of time trying to direct my own footsteps and find my own, individualistic, “unique” way in life. It takes a lot of energy attempting to control all of the people and circumstances in your life. It’s just kind of ironic, humorous, and perplexing to consider that the “freedom” we’ve all been searching for in our youth is actually found in surrendering ourselves to the will of the God of Jacob – the same God that’s been keeping the world spinning on its axis just fine, since long before you and I came into existence.

So – the lesson I’m presently learning in life is quite simple: Love God. Love Others. Less of me, more of Him, so that His Kingdom can come, right here, right now, and we don’t have to wait any longer for His peace to fill our homes and flood our hearts.

Relying On Him

It was one of those weeks where you never really catch up on sleep – and just when you think the drama has come to an end, there’s a new twist and turn. From family drama to challenging professional interactions, arguments over nothing caused by irritability, and life-changing, deep conversations. From a margarita infused laugh fest to sober tears and lots of pain, there was all of it.

I’m not sure why but whenever life enters that spectrum where success suddenly doesn’t seem to matter all that much, interesting things happen. You’re at work – but you’re not really at work. You’re in the car driving, but your thoughts are taken back to your own memories of pain. You make it home safe, but you’re not sure how.

This week a family member made the strong, challenging decision to break off an emotionally abusive relationship and I couldn’t be more proud. But it’s hard to break away from something that we’ve become used to.

In a way, “love” can become as addictive as a drug, the dopamine that had been released during close times together creates a spiritual tie of sorts. It binds us closer, creates that need for closeness; and that’s one of the many reasons it hurts so much to break a relationship off.

The light that is at the other end of the tunnel is worth it though. I remember the time in my life where I was in a relationship where the other individual wasn’t all-in, but I was – it hurt a great deal to end the relationship one fateful May evening. But what I didn’t know is that just a little while later – on an October evening, I’d meet a woman that would love me wholeheartedly, forgive quickly, and encourage and champion growth together. It was no longer the endless, perpetual cycle of stagnancy; I made financial gains, spiritual gains, and relational gains. “He makes all things new.” Even you. And even me.

My heart has been overwhelmed with the pain of others recently. Thinking about all of the addictions that some wrestle with and that I’ve had to overcome personally. Allowing myself to feel the pain my family-member is going through. Spending valuable time on my phone outside talking brothers off the ledge.

It’s times like these that make me wonder – how does anybody do it that doesn’t know Jesus?

I mean, seriously. How?

Several times over the last week, when someone has overstepped their bounds and interfered with my life and I’ve wanted to lash out in anger, I had to rely on strength that was not my own – it was His.

Several times over the last week, when someone was feeling the same pain that I’ve experienced in the past, I had to rely on strength that was not my own – it was His.

Several times over the last year, as a brother in Christ confesses their battle with purity, and I’ve done the hard thing of giving them tough, Gospel inspired love, calling them to repent and then lovingly embracing them – I’ve had to rely on strength that was not my own – it was His.

So when you ask, how does the eldest of five, newly married, constantly busy, “rock-star-legend” (according to my wife) retail salesmen manage to keep it together (most of the time)? The answer is, I am His. My strength is His. I rely on Him.

I know Jesus, and I want you to know Him too. He saved my life, saved my marriage, gave me hope, and rose again – giving every sunrise new mercies.

There’s a new beginning each day. And we get to live with that hope, because of Him.

I’m praying for you, dear friend, as you’ve taken the time to read this – praying that you would know Him too.

tunnel

Start Loving Others

The most common thread in the advice I’ve received on writing is to start. Don’t get so caught up in mapping out your thought-process and attempting to steer things the direction you want to go. Just do it.

I think there’s a lot of truth there and I’ve seen it play out in many areas of my life. Love someone? Just tell them and then prove it by showing them they’re the most important person in your world. Ready to lose weight? Then put down the bread and get out of bed, sleepyhead (had to throw a cheesy rhyme in there somewhere).

Meeting with a childhood friend of mine was encouraging this morning. There are some friendships that you have in life that just never die. Perhaps they fall asleep for a long hibernation but once back together your hearts can pick up right where you left off and this guy is that kind of friend. Some people have the gift of making whoever they’re with in the moment feel like the most important person in the world; I think it’s because he’s allowed his heart to become like Christ and he genuinely loves everyone.

That’s something to aspire to – isn’t it? Loving everyone. That’s so, so hard. Think of the difficult coworker that just rubs you the wrong way – you really do not even want to try to establish a relationship with this individual but perhaps that’s sheer laziness on your part. After all, everyone’s deepest desire to be known – to be connected. All their pushing and shoving and stiff-arming is likely fueled by a distrust of others because of others that have hurt them. What difference a little genuine love could make in their life.

I think of the times I was hurting inside the most. In these life-chapters I had frequently bullied friends and family into a corner and told (not asked) them to stay out of my life. Isolation is the companion of the fool that goes his own way, because community requires accountability. It was in these isolated, depressed, anger filled moments that some of my best friends in life took the time to draw me out – to get me to share my feelings and make myself vulnerable again. Only then, in the light, could I be healed.

So today, I challenge you and I challenge me, to start loving others. It’ll likely be one of the more emotionally taxing things you do today but it will also probably be the most rewarding. And who knows – it could build a relationship between you and the other that could pay off dividends in the future. Because chances are, you aren’t the easiest person to love either.

start loving others

Good Mornings

Today is a Good Morning. It started with waking up at 5:00AM to make sure I could meet with a friend of mine at 6:30AM for breakfast and coffee – two of my favorite things – one on one time with a bro and delicious, bottomless mugs of Ethiopian blend coffee.

I don’t know why I don’t do this more often – wake up and get after it. Force myself out of bed for the benefit of the rest of the world, as well as myself. By waking up I took the time to invest on an emotional, mental, and spiritual level with another person and I’ve jump-started the rest of my day. I’m awake, alert, and ready to go long before I have to be clocked in at work and ready to go.

There’s a reason why you feel better on the mornings that you just get out of bed versus the days you snooze the alarm over and over again.

Today is also a Good Morning because it’s Good Friday. Today, we remember the day that Jesus sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane in the early hours of morning due to the anxiety of knowing what was to come that evening. Betrayal. Pain. Death.

And yet, we have the luxury of knowing that Sunday brings freedom from death because Christ escaped the grave and overcame death so that we don’t have to. By His blood, our sins are paid for, our righteousness has been bought at a price and all who have faith and repent can be saved. Incredible.

It’s interesting to think about the fact that our Savior, Himself, had to experience betrayal of a friend. The betrayal of a loved one or friends can sting and cut you down, the pain seeming to linger for a heart’s eternity. But there is hope – there is a Sunday for that. By experiencing the true love of Christ and His forgiveness over our own sin and darkness, we can be granted the strength and opportunity to forgive and release others of their transgressions to us.

I think the greatest example I’ve witnessed of this is my beautiful wife and the times I’ve hurt her with the words I’ve said or the actions I’ve taken. But something has always set her apart from anyone else I’ve given my heart in the past, she has always been capable of forgiveness. She’s always been filled with the Spirit, capable of a love deeper, more passionate, and more loyal than any I’d experienced before. It was because of this that my heart was drawn back to Jesus back in 2015 and because of this that I made her my bride in 2017. And it’s because of God’s redeeming work in my heart and in my life that I’m capable of loving her with that same kind of love in 2018 and beyond.

Perhaps you’ve been following along in our Psalms Study and you’ve seen the weekly tidbits of wisdom gathered from the Scriptures and I’ll do what I can to continue that at my writing leisure. But I felt today was the perfect opportunity to remind everyone that they can have a Good Morning too. The love of Jesus is available to you – you just have to make yourself available to it. And that’s the hardest part, isn’t it? (Because what if…he doesn’t come through this time, he doesn’t answer your first prayer, he forgets what you’ve been through…)

It’s worth the unknown, because He’s never left me hanging. In my moments of need, I’ve allowed myself to become anxious and worried time and again and it’s never added a minute to my life just as promised in Scripture – but somehow, someway, He always comes through for me. Let Him do the same for you.

Let this morning be the first of many Good Mornings.

good morning coffee

Psalm Study Week 2 (Psalms 8-14)

Here we are two weeks into the study of Psalms and I can already feel the Lord stirring my heart. It’s so cool to see how God’s Word is living and active, useful for teaching, rebuking, and training in discipline. I’ll follow the same format as last time, highlighting my favorite verses from each chapter and sharing my thoughts along the way.

  • Psalm 8:5 “You have made them (mankind) a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor.” (Parenthesis added for context.)
    • As Allie and I discussed this chapter, this verse struck us as awe-inspiring and left us with questions – like, what is the heaven hierarchy? What are angels, really? And while I’ve learned a great deal growing up about these kinds of things I did not want to pretend that I really knew the answer so we’ve prayed and asked God to help us learn more about the topic as we go along. But really what is cool about this passage is how we’re only a little lower than the angels like Gabriel and the Lord has chosen us to be holy and blameless in His sight (Ephesians 1:4), and crowned us with glory and honor.
  • Psalm 9:9 “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
    • This is truer than true. I think of all the times I’ve found myself in a burdensome time and it’s as if my heart’s gravitational pull is prayer. The sad reality is that this is often the only time many of us choose to pray. A plane strikes the Twin Towers and suddenly we are a nation of prayer again. Kids are senselessly slaughtered in an elementary school and we pray. He’s designed us in His image and our default is to run back to Him for comfort in times for calamity. I’m so grateful the Lord is my refuge and my strength, my stronghold in times of trouble. I think I’d also like to get to a point in my spiritual walk where the Lord is with me always and I’m in constant communion with Him.
  • Psalm 10:1,4 “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?… In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
    • These two verses are not exactly correlated but they both really stick out to me. Verse 1 reverberates an honest question that I feel we have all asked God at one time or another. We’re in the valley and we’ve been praying and crying through our depression and hardship for days and God seems nowhere to be found. Where, Lord? Where have you gone? Is the question of our hearts – the honest, heartfelt plea. I read a blog earlier this week by Hannah Brencher that went as far to say that the valleys of life are where we do the most growing. And often she’s found the trial passes once she’s had the strength to stand up and start walking again. Far too often we just sit frozen in fear and expect God to take the pain away – but what would we learn from that? A good father disciplines his children. Verse 4 just seems like a good reminder for all of us – when we allow pride to overtake us, there is no room in our thoughts for God. Are you consumed by the Lord’s love for others, or are you so enamored with yourself that you’re deaf to His gentle whispers calling you home?
  • Psalm 11:6-7 “On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot. For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; the upright will see his face.
    • Now I’m sure you’ve heard the idea of righteous anger. Right here, we see where that natural anger comes from. Created in His image, we can’t help but clench our fists when there is wrongdoing in the world. For some reason I find this verse encouraging. All men will be called to account for their wrongdoing in the end and on the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur on their heads. The upright, on the other hand, will see his face. Sign me up.
  • Psalm 12:1-2 “Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race. Everyone lies to their neighbor; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts.
    • Are we sure David didn’t sneak back into modern-times via time-machine and write this passage for the modern-day? Gracious Savior, come quick. Right? It’s just so disheartening to see all of the hatred and deception in the world, the lying, stealing, and cheating to get whatever you want. It burdens my heart to know I’ve taken part in it myself a few times along the way. I’m thankful for the Lord’s grace and His redemptive work in my life. I’m also thankful for David’s writing here as it relates to my present-day outlook on life as I read the news, surf my Facebook newsfeed, etc. “Lord, so few are faithful, so few say genuinely nice things and actually mean them without having some form of deception in their hearts.”
  • Psalm 13:2 “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?
    • In the moment, it seems like the enemy will remain triumphant over us. In that pit of despair. The good news is his diminished victory over us won’t last forever – it’s only a minor victory of a particular battle. Light wins the war that wages within. This is another reminder that I can pray honestly to God. “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts?”
  • Psalm 14:5 “But there they are, overwhelmed with dread, for God is present in the company of the righteous.
    • “They” is referencing the wicked, those who have trampled on the oppressed and ignored God’s calling back Home. I interpret a tone of “there they go again – surprised by the fact they feel empty and lifeless…” And the Lord’s heart is that it should be no surprise you feel dead inside when you’ve accept Death’s lies avoided Life’s truths. I’m comforted to know He is present with the righteous at heart.

Well friends, that wraps things up for this morning. I’ve gotta get myself to work. I hope you’re enjoying following along. Read Psalm 15 today and tune in next week for the third installment of our Psalm Study.

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