Wednesday, August 13, 2014

O Captain, My Captain || Depression and the Church

Have you ever noticed how rarely depression is talked about in the church? I have. 

Here's a fair warning. I can't be unbiased in this. Depression has, and sometimes continues to be a struggle of mine. It is very dear to my heart and I can, with full confidence, say this is a personal post.

As I've said before, growing up in the church, while beautiful, is not easy. Being a church kid means having it together. And not just sometimes, but all the time. Expectations are high and the pressure to be perfect is nearly suffocating. I don't think it's intentional; I think it's just our natural reaction to place people on pedestals. The problem with that, however, is that we leave them little room for error.

Which is why, when I sunk into depression, it was even more crushing because I felt completely alone in the church. The youth leaders I looked up to, fled the second the "D" word was mentioned. Instead of talking me through it, they brushed it aside and told me that I just had to "get closer to God". After all, as a youth pastor once told me, depression was a sin; you couldn't be a Christian and struggle with depression.

Depression is not an open topic in the church. It's treated as taboo and off-limits. And I really don't understand why that is. It's a terrible thing to go through. Absolutely terrible. 

Yet we ignore it. We brush it under the rug and refuse to acknowledge it exists.Which is the worst thing you can to someone who is depressed. Depression is such an isolating experience. You feel completely alone. It's like a war with your mind; one part is begging you to talk to someone about it, while the other side is telling you that you'll only make yourself a burden if you do.

We as the body of Christ are supposed to be loving and warm. Reaching those who feel unreachable. I know it's not easy. In fact, it's uncomfortable and requires an endless supply of patience. But loving others, means stepping out of our comfort zone.

It breaks my heart. It truly, truly does. How many more people need to succumb to this before we start acting? How many more lives is it going to take before the Church finally wakes up to this need?

Monday, June 23, 2014

My Lover

My lover is an enigma
Strong as a tempest,
Soft as a whisper
A man of his craft,
With work worn, calloused hands
My lover is unassuming.
A pillar of hope
My lover is a guide
Tethering my wayfaring soul to His
Chivalrous and wild,
Opening doors I never could
My lover is a gentleman
Loving the heart
And not the size
Directing a symphony
Of color and light
That greets me every morning
My lover is an artist
Unfailing and generous,
My lover is unexpected
And He is welcome.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Goodbyes Aren't My Thing

I'm not good with endings. I never have been. In fact, I am so terrible with them, that most times I don't allow myself to fully enjoy an event because I know it will soon be over. 

Yeah, I'm that ridiculous. So you can imagine just how terribly sad I am that my life as a college student has come to an end. 

When I was a student, I complained about my seemingly impossible workload (19 credit semester? was I attempting to kill myself?). Looking back now, I see just how easy I had it. College is such a special time. It's like a safe bubble; a four year (or five in my case) break from reality. Yes, it can be challenging, but in comparison to the "real world"? It's a joyous walk through a whimsical forest (analogies also aren't my thing). And one that I am insanely blessed and grateful to have experienced. 

I'd like to say this, Salisbury University is never where I thought I'd end up. Never in a million years did I think I would attend a "party" school and major in Communications of all things. But I am so glad I did. I needed to be shaken up. I needed to be driven out of my comfort zone. And most of all, I desperately needed to get over myself. 

I've experienced so much here that it's almost overwhelming. I don't feel that my words can do it justice. But, I am determined. So in an entirely cliched and cheesy way, I'd like to share a few lessons that I've learned and taken to heart:

1. Girl Friendships are Great

This one seems silly, but let me explain. Before this year, I always prided myself on the fact that I got along "better" with guys. To me, girls meant drama, gossip and thinly veiled barbs. Funnily enough, though, I've realized the majority of my close friendships this year have been with girls. I think, often times, we girls can intimidate one another. And that intimidation can lead to false judgement and jealousy of one another. I know this is true in my case. Many of the girls that I now love dearly, I was terrified of first. Now they've become my closest confidants, the people I run to when I need help. They have encouraged me, loved me, offered such wise advice and made my relationship with God so much stronger.

2. Do Things Alone
Before coming to college, I used to think I was independent. However, it wasn't until I lived on my own that I realized just how dependent I actually was on others. I am not, by nature, an introvert. I love people. Being around them is energizing to me. So the thought of doing things by myself terrified me. I wish I could say it was bravery that finally got me going, but in all honesty it was boredom. I was bored and tired of waiting on people to do things with me. So I started doing them by myself. I took long drives and explored the many beautiful places that the Eastern Shore has to offer. I tried out different local coffee shops and spent time thinking, writing, and spending time with God. And before I knew it, I fell in love with those moments. If you haven't taken to doing things on your own yet, I deeply encourage you to do so. There is so much value in them. 

3. Be Pleasing to God, Not People
This is a tough one. And one that I am still continuing to learn. Basically it's this, people don't matter. Well they do, but their opinions don't. You can't please everyone and not everyone is going to like you. This is hard for me. I have this compulsive need to please everyone and to make sure everyone is happy. This is wrong for many reasons, one being that I need to allow people to feel the things they do. If they're sad, they should be sad. It's not that I can't comfort them, but it's not fair for me to tell them how to feel. And most importantly, my goal on this earth is not to please others. I am not meant to be here for other people's desires. My purpose is to live for God and live a life that is pleasing to Him. People come and go, but God is forever loving and constant.

4. Be Open//Be Vulnerable
This is another difficult one. I've mentioned this in previous posts, but vulnerability is not my strong suit. To me, being open means being more susceptible to pain. And like any human, I try to avoid pain as much as possible. But if this past year has taught me anything, it's that vulnerability is a wonderful thing. Yes, it can lead to pain. And that pain will hurt. Quite a bit. But it can also lead to humility and compassion. Pushing people away and living with a jaded, cynical heart results in nothing good. Maybe you avoid pain, but you also lose the chance of connecting with and loving others in the way that God calls us to. And when you let others see you, that's when the real beauty begins.

5. Walk in Love
The media always portrays the extreme side of things, especially in regards to Christianity. On one side, we have preachers and politicians spouting off ridiculous, hateful things. And on the other side, we have people preaching total acceptance and tolerance of all things. Both sides presume to speak for the majority of Christians. However, I refuse to let the beliefs of others become my own. All I know is that I will strive to love others as God has loved me. He looks at me with new grace and mercy every morning and it's my goal to view others in the same way.

And that's it. Like I said above, there are so many things I could talk about, that it's overwhelming. Though this is long, it only grazes the surface of the past three years. I cherish these lessons and the memories I've made here. It sounds dramatic, but it's with a heavy heart that I leave this place. Salisbury has been my home, my place of safety and escape for the past years and I can't imagine leaving it. But I also know that I have to.

Salisbury will always be my home. I've made roots here. And I'll always look back at it with a fondness and love that may seem ridiculous to others. However, this is not my only place to grow roots in. The world is huge. The opportunities? Endless. I know it won't be easy. In fact, I'm told the transition after college is extremely difficult and I can already feel myself struggling to find my identity. It will be hard. I'll have times of sadness, joy, extreme nostalgia and the desire to go back to the "good ole' days". But I'm hopeful and I'm excited. Because I know that I still have so many things to learn and do. And God's going to be there every step of the way.

So thanks, Salisbury. You've been amazing and I'll miss you very much. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Spoon-Fed Christianity

There are many, many wonderful things about growing up in the church. For one thing, I know all the words and hand motions to some pretty spankin' Sunday school songs. Don't believe me? I will gladly participate in (and win) a Sunday school sing-off. Seriously. I go HARD on "Pharaoh, Pharaoh".

In addition to having a very handy repertoire of really catchy songs, it's an incredible blessing to have been raised in that environment. Despite whatever feelings I may have towards a place, I cannot deny the underlying sense of peace I get as soon as I step into a church. Growing up, I always saw the church as my second home, a place I could run to for safety and strength. Like I said, it is a huge blessing. 

However. There is also a downside to have been raised in the church.

Before I begin (she says three paragraphs down...whoops) I should say this post isn't meant to offend. In the past, I think that I could often write with the intention to offend others but this is not one of those times. This is something that I feel very strongly about and would like to share.

I think one of the greatest things about college is how much your mind is opened and stretched. You are introduced to so much and given the opportunity to think deeply and become passionate about things you had never thought about before. It's really an amazing thing, the ability to think for yourself. This is something I'm not sure I did a whole lot of growing up.

Oh, I've always been very opinionated (and very vocal about said opinions) but when it came to my faith, I pretty much just accepted whatever was said to me. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. There are a lot of negative things I could say about the church I grew up in, but one thing I cannot fault them for is their doctrine. That church has a strong biblical foundation and I am very thankful for it. So really, the things that I was being taught were based in biblical truth. They were great things to accept.

But whatever my pastor believed, I believed. Whatever thing he felt was wrong, I felt was wrong. Whatever my youth pastor told me I shouldn't do, I didn't do. And so on. My faith was not my own. I didn't take the time to form opinions of my own. Instead, I relied on others to tell me what I should believe. I was unmotivated to read and study my bible, so many times I took the easy way out. Their faith became my faith.

I wish I could say this was my own personal experience, but I can't. Unfortunately, I think it's a growing trend among Christians in the church, especially the younger generation. While working with youth, I've had teens come up to me and tell me that my tattoos are sinful, guns are great and we should all vote republican (seriously). There's nothing wrong with those opinions, I don't agree or disagree. But what I want to know is why. Why are those things bad? Is it because you have read and studied the bible and somehow come to that conclusion, or is it because you were told it was wrong? Most of the time the answer is the latter. That is what breaks my heart.

And it's not that I'm placing the blame wholly on the church. That would be silly of me. A good chunk of the "blame" should be placed on us. We as humans are lazy. We naturally look for the easy way out and what is more easy than being told what to do and what to believe?
We need to think

Maybe I'm taking this too far, but I think there is a subtle fear of thinking and asking questions. I think it's because we've seen so many people start to question their faith and then walk away so we're scared of it. But here's the thing. Too often people question their faith and don't make an effort to seek any answers. But if you really earnestly seek out the answers to your questions, I think those times of doubt can actually bring you closer to God. I think it solidifies your faith.   

We need a hunger. A desire to dig deeper into our faith and make it our own. We can't let ourselves become lazy and unmotivated and we can't let our faith be built on anything other than God. 

Because currently, I think we are raising a generation of lazy Christians. I know that sounds harsh, but we live in a culture where most atheists know more about the bible than the majority of Christians do. Just think about that. Let that sink in. People who don't even believe in God, know more about Him than those of us who say we will gladly give our lives to Him.

Like most of my posts, I'm not sure what this has become. I think what I'm attempting to say is think. Study the bible, form questions, seek godly advice and know what it is that you are professing to believe in.Don't just take everything your pastor tells you at face value, because as great as he is, he is still human. And we as humans are prone to fault. 

Make your faith your own, build it on God. Don't become a spoon-fed Christian.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

To Go With Intention

I've come to the conclusion that the phrase "I care about you" has become something we throw around too casually. We say it often, we say it with ease, and most times, we say it without truly understanding the weight attached to those words.

And what do those words mean? What does it mean to truly care about someone? Is just saying the words enough? Obviously the answer is clear: no, it's not enough. To care about someone, you need to put action behind your words. Some intentionality.

I think this is something our culture, especially the Christian one, has lost: the ability to be intentional with others. Which is truly unfortunate because intentionality is such a beautiful and memorable thing.

I think to be intentional with someone, it means you have to go beyond yourself. You have to take a step out of your comfort zone and put others before. And though that should be an easy thing to do, especially as a believer, often times it's one of the hardest to accomplish. Whether it's the fear of looking or sounding like an idiot, being too shy, or just not wanting to "deal" with others, we've lost the art of noticing. And, therefore, I think we've also lost the art of caring about others.

This past summer was difficult. It was challenging and painful in ways I've never had to deal with and for most of the summer, I felt weak and weighed down by burdens that seemed impossible to bear on my own. And despite being surrounded by many who earnestly told me they cared for me, few were willing to put actions behind those words. 

See, I am not the type of person who willingly shares. It's not an easy process for me to undergo. I hate the thought of burdening others with my problems that seem so insignificant, so I bottle up everything inside until I feel like I'm at my breaking point. And I was at my breaking point almost everyday last summer. I know this is going to sound corny or dramatic, but I just remember practically begging God to make someone notice me. Notice that everything was not okay and somehow know that I desperately needed someone to talk to. And to be honest, no one really did.

Please understand this post is not coming from a place of resentment or bitterness. It's coming from a place of conviction. Because despite having felt such a great need for someone to notice me, I fail on a daily basis to notice others. I hide behind excuses of being too busy, or not having enough time to "adequately" invest in someone. And honestly, all of those excuses are just crap (sorry, sometimes that word is needed). I do have time. I know I do. I'm currently sitting here, writing this post, so obviously I have time in my "oh so busy" schedule to be intentional with others.

I just...I don't want others to feel the way I did. I'm not saying that if someone had pulled me aside one day and asked me "how are you" that it would have magically made everything better, but it would have given me encouragement. Because I think that is the heart of caring for others; encouraging them, giving them hope to face whatever is going on in their life. Hope is such a powerful thing and we have the ability to offer it to others, but we don't. And I don't know why.

Roxie (the housedog) is currently looking at me like I've lost my mind because I am practically punching my keyboard and getting a little fired up. So I'll take a breath from my ranting.

It's just genuine intentionality is so rare to find and I think that means we remember the times we have encountered it. I always remember those people who made an effort to notice me and make me feel comfortable. And I so desire to be that for someone else. Not because I want to be remembered, but because I want to let them know that there is someone out there who is praying for them and offering hope and encouragement. 

We've been talking about this in my bible study and it's been hitting me hard. I have spent the majority of my college years practically ignoring those around me and now that I only have a few short months left, I want to make the most of it. I want to notice them, to listen to what they aren't saying, to be the person they can unload to, to care about them. I don't want to be just another person who doesn't recklessly throw around words with any weight behind them. 

I want to go with intention.