Spring out of Winter

Spring is such a happy time of year, don’t you think? The pastel colors. Pops of red. And endless growing lime green.

But there’s one major thing that makes spring wonderful. Without it, spring wouldn’t even exist. That cold, bitter season many of us wish would discontinue.

Winter. Seriously, winter.

Now, South Carolina doesn’t have as long or brutal winters as my past homes in Northern Pennsylvania, New York, or New Jersey. Brrrrrr. Winter lasted from October to April. On my first anniversary – October 30th – we had a foot of snow. There were more than a few blizzards in mid-April too. But when May came to Pennsylvania…..oh, it was beautiful. Those first crocuses peak through the brown mud, and frost-covered tan grass. Sunny daffodils wave hello in the crisp winds. I appreciate spring. I NOTICE spring. The colors make me pause because they didn’t exist a few days ago.

Some tropical places don’t even get a spring. Sure, the calendar still holds the spring equinox. They celebrate the first day in late March, but spring can’t have physical evidence in nature. Without the cold, the trees don’t need to lose their leaves. Without the frost, the grass doesn’t disappear. Without a freeze, even the bugs don’t take a break.

Winter can be a season of rest. A season with no harvest. A season where we hold onto trust, hope, and faith. The trees appear dead, but we trust they’ll grow back in the spring. Those daffodils, hostas, irises, daylilies, etc. lay hidden in the ground, out of sight, and we have faith they’ll return with warmer temperatures.

Like those long winters in the north, sometimes life’s “winters” feel extra long. Maybe you’re waiting for an answer to your prayers. Maybe you feel like no one hears you, or listens to your cries. Maybe you feel like you’re in an endless loop of work, mundane responsibilities, or thankless jobs. You’re stuck in a cycle of laundry, dishes, errands, school, taking care of others, etc. Or, maybe, you don’t feel like you’re accomplishing anything because you see no evidence of making a difference.

I’ve lost count of how many “winters” I’ve endured. Sometimes I feel like I’ve been part of one endless winter with mere glimpses of sunlight through the thick clouds – that’s depression and I won’t dwell there, but I will say this: no matter how you feel; no matter how depressed or hopeless you feel… God never desires for you to stay in that place. NEVER. While wait periods, peace, rest times, and mourning seasons are normal, wallowing in pity, guilt, and anxiety aren’t meant for us. Depression and rest are two VERY DIFFERENT things.

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. – Matthew 11:28

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. – Isaiah 26:3

That all being said, winter can definitely hold a lot of sorrow, trials, and turmoil we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy. But, even those things can be used by God.

I bet the blind man in John chapter 9 felt like he was in an endless dark winter. He wasn’t resting, just waiting. Waiting for a spring he didn’t know was coming. Even the disciples thought he must deserve his predicament. Perhaps he was depressed. I know I would be if I had to sit stuck in the dirt on the side of the road. He was alone. No friends. No comforts. Then Jesus walks up and says He’s “the light of the world.”

Do you know what thing makes us notice light more?

I bet a blind person would know the answer.

I like to nickname my hubby “Andrew the bat.” I’ll usually call him this as I laugh at his squished face when I brighten our bathroom in the morning. He’ll be standing there at the sink, washing his face in pitch darkness. I’m sorry, but I need light to see where I’m going. Light illuminates the area, showing what we can’t see at night. And in that dark bathroom, the sudden flick of light calls attention to the brightness. The burst of colors momentarily blind us in their brilliance, and we acknowledge the light’s existence.

The bible doesn’t describe the moment the blind man found his sight. It simply says “he came home seeing.” I like to imagine he ran home with a spring in his steps, jumping for joy. He wasn’t shy in proclaiming the miracle to his neighbors, so we know he was excited. He appreciated the light because he knew what it was like to live in darkness. Like Jesus said in verse 3 “this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”

Knowing this story helps me look back at the “winters” and dark moments in my life in a new light, if you will. The sicknesses, depression, lost careers, deaths, disappointments, and valleys weren’t brought on because of sin or as a punishment… they were present so God’s work could be displayed in my life. Here, let me break it down in a simple list format:

Cancer caused me to thank God for health, and trust that “by His stripes, I am healed.”

The lack of having more kids naturally caused me to appreciate the one I do have. It also gave us the desire and opportunity to become foster parents and prospect adoption.

Depression caused me to appreciate joy. Joy everlasting. To seek out Psalms and the words of David when he also went through depression. I declared myself a woman after God’s own heart.

My failed careers each brought me to the place I am now. To quote Chariots of Fire: I feel God’s pleasure when I write. I know I’m where I’m supposed to be, and can’t wait to see the next steps He has in store.

Each waiting period forces me into God’s word. Some people might need far less to get them to see, but I know I need a kick in the pants too many times. I need a winter to notice when an answer to prayer sprouts life. I need a dark valley to notice the bright morning joy.

When you look up the definition of spring, two examples say “originate or arise from” and “a sudden jump upward or forward.”

It’s time to arise, my friends. Rest when you need to, endure the trial if you’re currently in it, but don’t neglect your call to jump out of it. Don’t stay in winter. Sprout into spring. Grow from the difficulties. Arise from the ashes. It’s time to thrive and spread the joy everlasting!

A Psalm of David. I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord. – Psalm 40:1-3

Living On Purpose

It’s been a hot minute, y’all! I missed blogging in May, but my blogging week was consumed at an amazing writers conference. It gave me a break from my normal schedule, a chance to connect with kindred spirits, intense classes to challenge my career, and a boost in confidence.

Over the last several months, I’ve been struggling with mass rejections and exhausted faith; a week rediscovering my purpose was EXACTLY the recharge and refocus I needed. I love how God knows what we need when we need it. He sees our needs. He knows our desire. And God knows our purpose.

Purpose. We all want one. We all NEED one.

The best-seller lists are lined with books promising to give people purpose. The Purpose-Driven Life, The Pursuit of Purpose, What on Earth Am I Here For, and The Purpose Effect are just a few. And no, I haven’t read any of them.

There are many quotes on the subject. Here are a select few. And I’m going to say a disclaimer right now: I don’t agree with any of these quotes…

“The artist’s job is not to succumb to despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.” ― Woody Allen

“I believe purpose is something for which one is responsible; it’s not just divinely assigned.” ―Michael J. Fox

“Our purpose in life is to be happy. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment.” ―Dalai Lama XIV

Why do I disagree with these quotes? Well, first off, Woody Allen’s outlook is that life is empty. It’s up to us to at least make it fun. Art = fun, right? Art = color, imagination, character, beauty, or fun. So, he’s saying if you take art away, then you take purpose away. I will be the first to say art is mandatory to live fully. To create is definitely a type of purpose. I wrote an entire book proving how we lose our humanity when we strip away art. But can there be purpose without this artist’s existence? Is there a way without us searching for this alleged antidote?

Short answer: yes.

Long answer: I’ll write it below.

Similarly to Woody Allen, Michael J. Fox puts a TON of pressure on our shoulders. We’re responsible for finding it, doing it, and achieving it according to his humble standards. There’s no God in his world. Talk about depressing and exhausting! He does have the word “just” thrown in, which leads me to assume he believes a divine deity might have something to do with assigning our purpose. I would hope so. If we left finding a purpose up to humanity alone, we’d have eternal chaos.

The quote from the Dalai Lama is possibly the worst of all. Do you see it? Let’s see if I can explain the flaw with this one…

We live in a current world of a LOT of depressed people. I’ve struggled with depression for the past twenty years. What I have isn’t a situational depression; it’s not brought on by a bad day, a misspoken word, or horrible accident. It’s a struggle of low self-worth, motivation, uncertainties, and life’s pressures. I actually don’t struggle with happiness. I’m a positive person. I’m what’s called “A happy person with depression” or “smiling depression” (this is an actual thing, ugh). By Mr. Lama’s standards, I’ve achieved my purpose. And also by his standards I’ll NEVER achieve 100% purpose because I’m never truly content. No one who’s depressed lives in honest contentment because we’re never always happy. Happiness is fleeting.

As wrong as these quotes are, I do want to point out what they get right:

Woody Allen’s artistic antidote could indeed be our purpose. Our purpose should NEVER be to succumb to despair, thus we do need to find the opposite of despair. And without Jesus there is indeed an emptiness of existence. Jesus would be the artist’s antidote for despair.

To Michael J. Fox’s credit, it is our responsibility to accept Jesus. We don’t need to find Him though, because He’s always there waiting for us, but we do have a responsibility to accept His gift of salvation.

Perhaps the Dalai Lama suffered from a simple case of a writer using the wrong word. If we replace happy with “joy” the quote takes on a deeper meaning. David – who’s arguably the most depressed individual in the Bible – said in Psalms 118:24 “You have put joy in my heart” in reference to God. Paul says in Thessalonians 2:20 “For you are our glory and joy.”

I know. I know. I can hear you saying “get on with it, Laura. Enough of this back and forth interpreting quotes. What’s our purpose?!”

I’m so glad you asked.

Because when we know our purpose, we know where we’re going. When we know our purpose, joy consumes us – not the fleeting happy moments, but a joy deep in our soul even when we’re unmotivated in bed. When we know our purpose, the mountains of rejections become unimportant. Rejections become answers to whether that person was a right fit for me: no, God has something better in store. When we know our purpose, our life has meaning.

[For my determined purpose is] that I may know Him [that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly], and that I may in that same way come to know the power out flowing from His resurrection [which it exerts over believers], and that I may so share His sufferings as to be continually transformed [in spirit into His likeness even] to His death, [in the hope]. – Philippians 3:10

It’s that simple. Our purpose is knowing Jesus, and becoming like Him.

I’m done, right? Case closed. End of blog post. But it doesn’t feel quite that simple in our every day life, does it?

How can we be like Jesus when we do our jobs? i.e. writing, selling, speaking, helping, healing, manufacturing, creating….. wait… Didn’t Jesus do all of these things? Don’t each of our jobs involve at least a few of these activities? Jesus wrote through His disciples (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John). He was, in essence, a salesman of salvation (He described it and offered it at the one price of accepting Him). He spoke powerful life-altering words wherever He went. He helped every person He came in contact with. He healed better than any doctor or nurse. He manufactured items when He was a carpenter. He created the world, didn’t He?! As well as every food and material all jobs work with.

How can we be like Jesus when we do our housework, raising kids, loving our spouse, relationship troubles, sleeping, eating, etc. etc.? The Bible talks about each and every one of these life events, challenges, and responsibilities. It’s an amazing read. I highly recommend it. I have a horrible memory though, so I need to continually reread it.

I’ll be the first to admit it’s exhausting to try to be like Jesus.

I grew up with the WWJD bracelets and the fire brimstone preaching what will happen if we sin instead of being Christ-like. Both of these methods didn’t work with a majority of my generation. We don’t need reminders of our failures or proddings to be perfect. I believe this is why, first and foremost, Paul tells us to KNOW JESUS more deeply, intimately, so we can recognize and understand the wonder of who He truly is.

I think we as Christians can get so lost in what to do, that we forget the why. We forget who we’re doing it for. We forget the purpose of it all.

When we concentrate on all the things we must do, we risk exhaustion to the point of giving up. We need to realize WE can never be perfect. It’s impossible. We can study the word of God all we want. Wear all the cool Christian jewelry and garb. Spurt out “thees” and “thous.” Make carpentry our profession, and take up fishing. But none of these things will bring us our purpose. Because Jesus isn’t any of this. Jesus, well, He’s all of this and more…

“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Heb. 12:2

“Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’” John 6:35

“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” John 11:25

“These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” Rev. 17:14

Those are highlights of what the Bible says Jesus is. When we know Jesus, we see our purpose because Jesus = our purpose. Jesus sets us free, and gives us the faith we need to live: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

You know what’s also interesting? In studying the scriptures of who Jesus is, I see my own purpose written… Life. Giver of living bread/food (chef). Faithful. Author. Joy-filled.

I always find my purpose when I look to Jesus. Because Jesus IS my purpose.

What’s your purpose? I dare to say you’ll find it in Jesus.

A Joy-Filled Pandemic

“How are you fairing during these trying times?” seems to have replaced the usual “How are you?”

I learned this month that 1 in 4 young adults have considered suicide this year. Depression rose 102% since February. Wow. I can’t say I’m completely surprised, but still… That’s quiet a number.

With all of this in mind, I’m going to be vulnerable with ya’ll right now. I’ve dealt with depression most of my life, and even considered suicide a few times. I’ve submitted to the doldrums of loathing myself, self-pity, not being able to get out of bed/couch for days, eating my sorrows, drenching pillows/blankets/clothes/etc. in tears, making myself sick, and consuming myself with a negative spirit.

That might or might not surprise some of you.

It’s a horrible place to be, and I’d return there too many times to count. It started when I was 14 years old. I believed I was fat (when I wasn’t), no one loved me (when they did), and I was worthless (when I was). Ages 18, 21, and a few other years were my lowest points. All these times had common denominators: I was stuck at home, very little social life, couldn’t see a future past that day, and I concentrated on what I didn’t have. Does this sound familiar to societies present situation? I think so.

Most people in our country, and world, are stuck at home, away from friends and family, unable to perform their God-given talents, and stuck in a routine they didn’t ask for. The refrigerator is always in sight. Kids are never amused. The couch is our only friend. But, it doesn’t HAVE to be this way.

“You’re crazy!” you might have said aloud. “I don’t have a choice. The governor/mayor has put us on lock down. Everything is closed. I have nothing to live for until a cure is found!”

It might anger you then to find out I just got back from a romantic anniversary vacation with my husband to the beach. It was absolutely beautiful. Five days and four nights exploring and enjoying Hilton Head Island and Savannah. Masks and no masks. Laughing, enjoying the sunshine, and not one ounce of depression. In fact, I haven’t had one suicidal thought or extreme depression this whole year. To top it off, I haven’t been staying home more than normal (being a writer, I tend to be home about 80% of the time to write anyway), we’ve had friends over, been out, gone to church, ate at restaurants, and hugged countless people. We’re actually living a more joy-filled life than ever before!

Huh. You might be fuming. You might be about to message me to tell me how irresponsible I am. I could have caught something or spread something. How could I leave my son with my parents, during the first week of school no less. It’s a pandemic: we should be at home!!

Why?

Oh, I just made you extremely mad with that question, I know it. I can see the smoke exiting your ears from here. But, what if I told you that you too could be happy? You too could experience the freedom I’m enjoying?

Being set free from depression has been a process. A process that took years, and then I was delivered all at once. I have down days like everyone, sure, but the difference is I don’t stay down. I’m actually excited about life. I’m excited about tomorrow. Pandemic or no pandemic. Trump or Biden. Lock down or freedom. Fat or thin. Friends or no friends. Rich or poor. Sick or healthy.

Because it’s not about our outward circumstances. The secret is knowing our worth in Jesus. When we TRULY understand this, then the outside situations won’t matter. But, they do actually get better.

I understand God wants the complete best for us. He wants us to be blessed. To prosper. I don’t desire a fantasy world, mind you, I desire what God wants for me. Which is everything we could possibly need.

Think about the book of Exodus. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt. Stuck in a perpetual existence of payless work, constant misery, and a dim future. Then Moses comes to deliver them, but their king (Pharaoh) won’t give them up. God has to send 10 horrible plagues to torment everyone. But wait, these bugs, pests, diseases, and weather conditions never effected God’s people. They were protected. Untouched by harm.

When we realize our blessings, there’s no room in our life for depression, anxiety, and a world-wide pandemic. We can actually enjoy our God-given lives.

I’m not talking about the feel-good how-to-book “count your blessings.” Gosh, you’ve probably heard that a million times. I know I have. I’m talking about REALIZING your blessings.

“Do you mean my family, what money I have, my job, a roof over my head, my friends, my car, food on the table, etc.”

No.

Although it’s wonderful to remember all we have instead of all we lack, I’m not talking about things. I’m talking about us. I’m talking about YOU. Your immense worth. Your talents. Your voice. Your mission in life. Your dreams. Your personality. Your smile (or your smize – smiling eyes – when wearing a mask). What makes you YOU. What you add to the human race. What you add to your family. But, most importantly, what God sees in you.

Depression is a scary and ugly thing. It stems from low self-esteem. Whether from a lack of something internally or externally. But it’s a disease. A disease that affects our minds and can morph into our bodies if we let it fester. And like any disease, it can be healed.

I read a Christian book recently that I hated the more I thought about it. I won’t say the title or the author’s name out of respect. The book was well written, the characters had beautiful arcs, and the story was moderately compelling. But the central message was dead wrong. The main character suffered from depression and suicidal thoughts. She’d attempted to kill herself a few times in her past after losing her spouse. This part was realistic and moving. During the course of the book a new romance blossoms. But she buries her secrets of depression and suicide until they come out in a nasty way. When her secrets are revealed, she believes the man will run away. When he doesn’t, she’s flabbergasted. He loves her no matter what. Then she says a line that I believe wrong to my bone marrow: my depression is a part of me and will be until the day I die; can you live with this part of me? Wow. Talk about depressing. I thought for sure the author would redeem themselves, but the story is left there. This character will always have recurring depression and suicidal thoughts the rest of her life, no matter how good her life may get.

That is NOT what God wants from us. When Jesus died on the cross, He took on all or our sins, diseases, and pain. He doesn’t promise us a perfect life, but He does promise to always lead us into triumph (2 Corinthians 2:14), He will perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish us (1 Peter 5), keep us from stumbling, and instead make us stand before Him with ecstatic delight and endless joy (Jude 1:24).

When I know my worth, I’m happy when other’s are happy. I’m not jealous of what they have, but rejoice that they are relishing in a blessing I too can have. We are ALL worth abundance THROUGH CHRIST. That’s the important thing: our worth is in Christ Jesus.

When we realize that God truly loves us. Loves you. Loves me. Made us special. Made us to have endless joy. Made us to make a difference. TO LIVE! To experience life. To love. There’s no room for depression when we know our worth.