Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Are You There, Amanda? Its Me, God...


"The God of glory thunders...

The voice of the Lord is powerful;   

the voice of the Lord is full of majesty."
Psalm 29:3-4 ESV

I find it very hard to be quiet anymore. I don't like my thoughts these days. Most of the time I find them to be tiresome and ugly. They are usually a mixture of judgement and self-loathing. Add in a little bitterness, anger and hate scheming in the background and you have quite the salad of human emotion. But doesn't Matthew 6 say "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also"? I treasure the emotion more than the Truth, so my heart follows accordingly. The emotion of the moment says to be rash and think only of myself but the Truth leads to a path made of purity and excellence. 

The problem with never being quiet is that most things are never truly heard. There is too much noise to compete with. Far too often, His call gets lost in the fray. 

The voice of the Lord is so beautiful. Its so powerful. It is a living, breathing entity that can shake the wilderness.  Its splits cedars in two and strips the forest bare. It is thick and heavy with majesty. Its tangible. You can hold on to it. You can draw strength from it. Its message is eternal.The same voice that spoke to Adam, Noah, Moses, Samuel and Mary speaks to us. The very same. 

Even as I write this, my heart aches for His voice. Why can't I be quiet? Why can't we all just be quiet and still, in wait for His thunder to shake us clean? 

I want to hear you Father. Even if its just a whisper. I miss the weight of your words, in every form, pervading the caverns of my heart.  I miss them. They used to be my food, my breath and my contentment. Help me to find them again. I want to meditate on something infinitely greater than my loathsome flesh and my traitorous heart. And for this reader, I ask the same. My we all come to a greater understanding of the dire need of Your word. May our ears be pricked in waiting for Your sound. Humble our hearts in the knowledge that nothing we will ever say, think or consume could ever come close to being more worthy than even a drop of your Truth. In Jesus name. Amen

"Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer." Psalm 19:14 KJV

"Give unto the Lord, O you mighty ones,
Give unto the Lord glory and strength.
Give unto the Lord the glory due to His name;
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
The God of glory thunders;
The Lord is over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars,

Yes, the Lord splinters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes them also skip like a calf,
Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire.

The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
The Lord shakes the Wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth,
And strips the forests bare;
And in His temple everyone says, “Glory!”

The Lord sat enthroned at the Flood,
And the Lord sits as King forever.
The Lord will give strength to His people;
The Lord will bless His people with peace."

 Psalm 29. NKJV

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Say It To Me Now...

So many of you may not know this but I work for the missions department of a fairly well known ministry. My job is to basically assist in whatever needs to be done to prepare for upcoming ministry trips to foreign countries. One of my major responsibilities involves talking with folks on the phone about the trip, answer questions, taking payments, etc. The other day a man called me and just started telling me this whole story about how he and his wife both felt they were supposed to sell all of their stuff and minister in a foreign country. After about twenty minutes of him sharing the events that led up to these thoughts, he asks me, "So basically, I was just wondering...how do you know when you're hearing God? Do you think I am?"

I kind of sat there for a second, dumbfounded. This was not in my job description. I was terrified to answer because, in this moment, I am representing the ministry and there could be repercussions if I tell this man to do something crazy and it doesn't turn out well. So answered as honestly as I could:

"Well...that's kind of hard to say. I have made some crazy decisions in my life. Some of them have worked out well...some of them, not so much. I sort of look at it this way; our entire lives are basically one big giant act of faith. We have been giving the freewill to choose how we want to live our lives. If we feel God is leading us in one direction or the other, it’s our decision whether or not we want to act upon that leading. We make moves, choices, based on the level of our faith. Sometimes they appear to have been the right ones. Sometimes they appear to be a big old mess. But the great part is that we have a God faithful enough to handle the messes that we make. I always ask for confirmation in three places: the Word, wise counsel of someone I trust and a dream. But at the end of day, there is no way to be absolutely sure. We walk by faith, not by sight and I chose to follow where there is peace. He knows your intentions and that you mean to be obedient. No matter what, He loves you and He is rooting for you to succeed."

He seemed to be satisfied with that answer but after we hung up his question still hung with me. How do we know when the Lord is speaking? How do you know it’s not just your own ideas getting louder?

I have made a lot of crazy decisions with my life. I made them because I felt they were the Lord's desire. Some were met with encouragement. Many were met with skepticism. Some were even met with anger. I had no idea when I was making some of these decisions how they were going to turn out. All I knew was that something had to be done because these thoughts were like burning flames in my heart. Some of them, I know now, were actually very selfish and self-serving, disguised as the will of God. But at the end of the day, I'm human. I will make about a million and a half decision is my life that will end in failure compared to probably a few dozen that will end in glory. But man...those that do...have and will change my life in some amazing ways. That's what its all about. Walking in faith. Choosing to live a life that is less planned at it is just experienced. Make mistakes. Learn from them. Just please don't be so afraid to screw up that you never experience what you were truly meant for. I did for so long...it was hell. 

I'm not saying things are any easier now. I doubt the Lord and myself constantly. But then every once in awhile, when I get really quiet and still, I can almost hear Him scribbling away on some parchment, planning what to do with me next. He's mapping out which doors He's going to open and where they will lead. I see Him, sitting at this big drafting table, His hand moving furiously across it as He's making something of my mess. He's talented. He has a lot of experience. He has great references. I can trust Him. So I just move. I create. I breathe. I make messes, hoping that every once in awhile I will get it right but knowing, there really is no true wrong.  

Take time to find out what you are really living for. Take time to decide if you know what it means to hear the voice of the Lord and whether or not you have the courage to listen. Then you can say to Him, " If you have something to say...say it to me now."

"Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good." 

 Romans 8:26-28, the MSG 

Monday, June 4, 2012

It Only Hurts A Little...

“I can’t breathe. Why can’t I breathe? I feel like the room just got significantly smaller. Is it hot in here? I’m sweating. Why won’t my leg stop twitching? Oh God…I just want to go to sleep. I’m so tired. I have been laying here for hours. Why can’t I just go to sleep? I’m going to be so tired in the morning. What if I feel like this tomorrow? How will I make it through the day? Oh God…I really can’t breathe. Should I wake up Mom and Dad? Maybe I’m dying. I feel like I might be. Seriously, why won’t my leg stop twitching? I just want to sleep. I’m so scared. I think I might be going insane. Oh shit. I really do. They will lock me up. That’s what they do with crazy people. They lock them up in the psych ward and pump them full of meds. I’ll be stuck in the hospital with a bunch of crazy people. Shit. Oh shit. I’m losing it. I’m gonna die.”

This used to be my nightly conversation. The battle I fought in my tiny darkened bedroom as I tried desperately to cling to sanity. But this wasn’t the beginning.

I was always an emotional kid. I wore my heart on my sleeve and was definitely prone to drama. For the most part I was a happy kid. Well I guess as happy as you can be when everyone else around you seems miserable. It wasn’t until around junior high that I began to struggle with depression. I pretty much had everything against me. Overweight. Acne. I had a horrible sense of fashion. I hung out with the geeks and the underprivileged. I was an obvious target for any hormone surging preteen looking to supercharge her ego. All the days of name calling, tormenting, alienating and hatred took their toll on me. By the end of my eighth grade year, I hated my life so much I was practically foaming out the mouth to be done with junior high.

Freshman year I was hopeful. It was a fresh start. I could be anybody. I do anything. I got some new clothes. I got a cute hair cut. I was ready to take on the world. One problem. My classmates hadn’t developed the sudden summer sunshine induced amnesia I was hoping for. They remembered me and were armed and dangerous. Freshman year was even more awful and I hated my life even more, which I didn’t even think was humanly possible. By the time sophomore year hit I was a mess. My parents were going through a hard time and my dad moved out. My brother had just gone away to college and I felt so alone.

The loss of my father’s presence in the house and my mother occupied with her emotions left a lot of room for me to run a little wild. I decided to deal with my problems the old fashioned way…drinking. And when that proved to not be enough of a distraction, marijuana found its way into my life. It was all so glorious. I was finally apart of the scene. I was a party girl. A rebel. A bad ass. One problem. I was still a loser. Even though I was doing my very best to fit in and drown my sorrows in Milwaukee’s best and bong water, I was still unhappy. I hated it all. My “friends” still made fun of me. I was still an outcast at school. I was still fat…which, by the number of Cheetoh’s I was consuming thanks to the “munchies”, was getting worse by the minute. I was a mess and I knew I had to do something. Salvation came when I got the opportunity to go to New York City the following summer.It was right before my sophomore year. I was so excited. Freedom was coming. Too bad right after that was when I had my first panic attack. 

I had decided before I left to change my life. I quit partying and smoking weed and was taking my first real adventure away from my small Ohio town. I loved New York. I felt so alive. So invincible. That's when it happened. I was sitting in Les Miserables, my first Broadway show. Our seats were pretty high up. I remember having to lean slightly forward when you sat down. I guess that’s how they designed balconies back in the day. Holy crap. I was really high up. I had only been seated about five minutes when my palms began to sweat. There was tightness in my throat and the room began to swim. I told my aunt I wasn’t feeling well and walked back to our hotel. Any fear I might have had about the city streets at night was nothing to the terror I felt inside at that moment. I honestly thought I was dying. My heart was pounding so hard I thought it would burst. I collapsed into the bed in our hotel room. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t move. I actually think I passed out for a few minutes.

Eventually, those agonizing moments passed. I brushed it off as food poisoning or something. When we returned from our trip, I found a surprise waiting for me. All of my stuff packed in boxes. We were moving. Not the greatest news to hear right before your junior year of high school. But in a way, I was relieved. It was a chance to start fresh. So we moved and honestly, my life got pretty OK. I had lost a little weight. I was on the newspaper staff. I made some new friends who were seniors. Life was improving. Then came my senior year. All my friends had moved away. It was my last year of high school. The fear began to rise up again. I wasn’t ready for it to all be over. I wasn’t ready to grow up.

I'm not sure when exactly the panic attacks began. They sort of crept up on me slowly. I remember having a really hard time sitting in class. I just wanted to get up and leave, but what teenager doesn't feel that way? I also started having this intense feeling of fear followed by bursts of rage. It first happened after my parents got back together and we decided to move out of our apartment. We were out looking for a new house. We had looked at dozens. They were really digging this older house, a fixer upper. I remember feeling this strange feeling in the house, like something bad had happened there. All of a sudden, my throat tightened and I felt really scared. My parents were busy chatting about the paint colors they'd use and the flooring they'd put in. I excused myself out to the car. I climbed in the back seat and fear quickly gave way to intense rage. I started screaming and punching the back of the seat. I was so angry. How could they expect me to live in a house that made me so afraid? Why didn't they care about me? After a few minutes, the rage passed and I just lay in the backseat, crumpled in a ball crying. What was happening to me?

On the drive home, we passed by a home for the elderly. It was this creepy old brick mansion on a hill, like something out of a horror movie. My dad started telling me about how it used to be a mental hospital years before but it had lost funding and they actually had to release all the patients. The fear rose up again. Were there crazy people just wandering the streets of my city? Was I one of them? If people found out what was happening to me, would they lock me up in a house of horrors too?

Thankfully we didn't end up moving into the house that satan built and I was relieved. But the fear didn't go away.I started not being able to sleep at night. The panic attacks were now taking on the form of weird tics and spasms. My leg would twitch really hard and keep me up. It got worse during the day. I couldn't go to public places because I would feel like I was going to pass out. I would have blurry vision or see spots or colors. My palms would sweat and I would get really fidgety. At first, no one seemed to notice, but eventually, it got so bad I was freaking my mom out. I remember at one point she was giving me Midol to try to calm me down. It also was getting really bad at school. I practically missed the first month of my senior year because I was "sick". I couldn't stay in class because I was having such severe anxiety. I would camp out in the clinic, school counselor's office or hide in the back of the yearbook room. The final straw was the day my dad found me hiding in my closet instead of at school where I was supposed to be. I had even gone so far as to fake a phone call from my mom telling the school office I was home sick. Something had to be done.

My dad took me to the doctor where they diagnosed me with depression and anxiety disorder. The doctor prescribed a low level of an anti-depressant to start me off. After we left the doctor's office, my dad being the loving but slightly clueless man that he is, took me to lunch at McDonald's, had me wash down my first pill with diet Coke and then dropped me off back at school. I was freaking out a bit. I wasn't sure if it was all in my head or actually happening but I felt like I was high. On the inside I still felt all the feeling I was feeling before but on the outside you would never have known. I was happy. A little overly happy in my opinion. The skater kid that sat next to me in my government class kept asking me what I was on and if he could have some.

Senior year, honestly was a bit of a blur. The good thing was as I had found Jesus and was finally hanging out with some decent kids. Kids who, you know, were actually nice to me. I was taking my medicine faithfully, which had increased in strength, I was also faithfully packing on weight. I was a zombie. I wasn't having panic attacks anymore because I wasn't really feeling anything anymore. All I wanted to do was eat and sleep. I would come home from school everyday, eat a snack, sleep for a few hours, eat dinner and then go back to bed. I probably gained a hundred pounds that year. I was still just as sad and lonely but I couldn't show it. I felt trapped. I felt like the tin man in need of an oil can. On the outside I was smiling and happy but miserable still on the inside. So I stopped caring about anything that wasn't fun. My grades began to suffer. All the sleeping, eating and having "fun" hadn't left much room for homework. I'm still not even sure how I graduated.

The other hard part was my faith. I really wrestled with God. Why wasn't he just healing me? How could I believe in Him and still struggle with so much fear? Why didn't he just take it all away? It felt like I was being a hypocrite telling others to believe in the power of God when I was taking psychotropics just to get through the day. I also worried that all my loving friends would stop being so loving if they knew that their friend was a total crazy face. I worried that their faith wouldn't outweigh their desire for a good reputation and they would drop me like a bad habit if I let it all out. So I stayed trapped.

After graduation, I continued to take the meds but knew something needed to be done. It was just as bad to be a prisoner in your own head than to be a prisoner of fear. So I decided to quit. Cold turkey. Now I'm not recommending this to anyone. It was totally the wrong way to do it. But at the time, I just wanted to be done with it all so bad I couldn't wait. I stopped taking the medicine. I just stopped. And I waited. Nothing seemed to happen at first. However, once the medication had fully left my system, the panic attacks began to come back. I was so angry. Why was this happening to me? Why couldn't I just be free? I was driving in my little red pickup truck and fighting with my fear and with God. Why can't I be normal? You said I wasn't given the spirit of fear. You said I have freedom in You. Why won't you just heal me? Then a thought occurred to me.I had never really asked Him to. I yelled. I accused. I questioned. But I never asked.

I had been so content to handle it all on my own that it never dawned on me that I had never flat out just asked Him for help. So right there, in my truck, I spoke the words that changed my life.

"Jesus...be my peace. Jesus, come and heal me."

I felt this rush of peace fill my car and then my body. It was working. From then on, whenever panic tried to set in, it just simply said, "Jesus, be my peace." That was all it took.

I would love to tell you that was the end of it all but if I did that, I would be a liar. I was fully free from it all for a very long time. Thankfully, I have never struggled with the panic attacks as bad as I did then but a few years ago, depression symptoms started to creep back in. I have even considered going back on meds from time to time. Not the same ones, obviously, but something. I want to make sure to point out I don't think medication is wrong. It doesn't change the fact I believe Jesus desires to set us free from all fear and sadness. And He can. But I also believe we live in a fallen world and not everything can be so black and white. I believe in the power of the Great Physician as well as the knowledge and abilities of earthly ones. You have to make that call with wisdom and prayer.

  I still ask Him to be my peace. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. But I still ask anyway.I am excited for the day when I am fully set free from sadness, fear and pain. As for right now, I get through it. And hell, I'll be the first to admit that sometimes I enjoy a bit of melancholy. It gives me great writing material. I also admit that I hate it too. I wish I didn't have to deal with it all. I wish I was terminally happy. But I guess if I didn't struggle with this I would never recognize how much I really need Jesus. Sometimes, He's the only reason I don't fall off the edge. There have been times when my fear of separation from Him was the only thing keeping me from ending it all. Sorry for being so morose, but its the truth. I love Him and because of that I force myself to hold on to hope. It won't be like this forever. All of it will be worth it because what waits for me after is more glorious than I can describe. There will come a day when sorrow, disappointment, loneliness and pain won't even be a distant memory. As for now...it only hurts a little. I'll live.

( Take depression seriously, don't be silent. There are hundreds of resources available to help people who struggle with depression and anxiety.  If you or someone you know is battling depression, please visit the National Allience on Mental Illness website for more information and resources in your area. And hey, friends, sometimes just being a shoulder to lean on can mean the world. Don't be quick to offer advice. Listen. Consider. Pray. Be a little dose of strength. It can save a life. Please feel free to email me at lovedbyondcompare@gmail.com if you just need someone to listen. I'm here for you.