The Writing is on the Wall

The Writingis onthe Wall

It is Mental Health Awareness month, with a slew of Social Media posts sharing Suicide Prevention Hotline numbers, reminders to let people know you care, etc.  Then in a week’s time two celebrities died from suicide, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain.  Coupled with the loss of Robin Williams last year, we have learned that depression and suicide reach over the barriers of influence, wealth, success, and the appearance of having it all. Depression, mental illness, mental health issues, addiction, and suicide do not discriminate.  They do not care about the amount of money in your bank account, your resume, the color of your skin, your history, your religion, your gender, your sexuality, or your age.

Just two weeks ago, I took my youngest daughter in for her middle school physical.  It’s been 4 years since our last appointment.  This time, not only was I handed a clipboard to verify all of our information was still accurate and note any changes since her last visit… but I was given a clipboard for her.  It was a survey to assess depression in my 11 year old.  Questioning if she ever felt like the world was better off with out her, if she ever felt alone despite having friends, if she slept too much, if she didn’t feel like playing or participating in activities, if she had ever thought about hurting herself or others, or if she had ever tried to harm or kill herself ever (and a follow up question asking if that was within the last year).  I was taken back by the addition of this survey.

We entered into the exam room, and as part of the physical we discussed the survey.  That was when I was hit with a bombshell.  Our pediatrician said:

“Suicide is the number two cause of death among children.”

I’ll wait while you let that sink in a moment, or google it to verify for yourself.   I know I was stunned to hear it.

We are a family marked by depression and suicide.  Depression runs on my husband’s side of our family.  He lost a sister when she was just a teenager.  I lost a friend in high school.  Another when I was in college.  I wish I could say that was the end of our experience with it, but it has not been the case. When you are the surviving friends and family of suicide, you see things differently and become more keenly aware.  I watch my children constantly looking for signs and clues in order to have early intervention.  This is part of our life.  We don’t allow our kids to make any sort of joke, off hand comment, or recite a quote/cliche phrase related to suicide.  It’s too real for us to ever take it lightly.

Despite our own experiences with it, I was still stunned to hear those words from the doctor.  NUMBER TWO for children ages 10+.

  1. Unintentional injury
  2. Suicide
  3. Malignant Neoplasm (cancerous tumors)
  4. Homicide
  5. Congenital Disease

It is absolutely beyond my comprehension that more children die by their own choice and volition than those who have been taken at the hands of others.  I can’t wrap my head around it.  It breaks my heart every time I hear about it on the news and yet I still didn’t grasp the scope of it.

It is #2 for children ages 10-14.

It is #2 for ages 15 – 23.

It is #2 for ages 24-34.

With that ranking, how can we even begin to think that suicide isn’t lurking around the corner hunting someone we love.  We can’t discount the reach of depression and mental illness.  Which is why we must be proactive about our mental health.  This means paying attention to our loved ones, so that we are not only aware that depression or anxiety is happening… but also to encourage the person to seek out help.  We must never create an environment where others do not feel that they must suffer alone vs. reaching out for help.  We must drop any stigma we hold or express about treating mental health.  Whether it is a judgement over people who are prioritizing “self care” or disparaging talk related to medication as a form of treatment, it needs to stop.

Especially for those of us who are among the community of faith believers.

I do believe in the power of prayer.  I have known people that have been miraculously cured of conditions that Doctors can’t explain. I’ve known people miraculously delivered from addictions.  I’ve known people who have been delivered from depression, anger, anxiety, past traumas, etc.  Miraculous stories full of hope and wonder.

I also know people of faith who have earnestly prayed for healing, and it has not come.  I know people who despite their prayers have continued a constant struggle with sobriety.  I watched a faithful church pray every Sunday for the miraculous healing of a severely handicapped girl, that 20 years later still has not happened.  I’ve heard people share how they were told that their prayers were not answered because they were not faithful enough.  My friend Jay, shared this on her Facebook page a few days ago…

“Stop telling people that they don’t know God if they’re having suicidal thoughts. Sometimes God is the ONLY thing they are holding on to.”Jay Sharpe

This is the harsh truth.  It is absolutely irresponsible of us to question or condemn someone’s faith because they struggle with mental health issues, mental illness, or contemplate suicide.  Irresponsible.

God has given us plants that have created medicines to combat these issues.  He has given scientists the education, tools, and resources to develop synthetic medications.  He as given doctors and counselors the wisdom to detect for early intervention, the ability to help someone get through the storms when they are in the midst of it, and the skills to teach them how to create coping mechanisms when they are in a stable state of mind.  These are GIFTS and CALLINGS that God has put on their lives to be tangible help in a world that seems so dark.

In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul describes how three times he cried out for the Lord to remove the thorn from his flesh, but the Lord did not.  Paul was a faithful believer, persecuted on behalf of his faith.  If the Lord sought not to remove that thorn from Paul’s flesh, even with his earnest prayers…  it is entirely possible for ANYONE to have a solid faith and yet the Lord will choose to let their thorn remain.  We may not understand His reason for doing so, but we know in the end He will be glorified through it.

It was eight years ago when I was diagnosed with a chronic illness.  In the beginning I was told that the medication I was prescribed would help me to feel better.  It didn’t.  I tried diet changes, supplements, hired a nutritionist, worked with a personal trainer, read all the books I could get my hands on.  I cried out for the Lord to heal me on more occasions than I could count.  He chose not to.   I kept feeling worse.  This illness was stealing away my life and my joy.  I remember sitting on my floor one night contemplating how I could continue to exist like this.  Was it fair to me?  Was it fair to my husband and children?  What good would I be?  It was only a few years ago, that the Lord provided a pathway for my healing.  Was I instantly cured?  No.  However each day I grow stronger, each day I am healthier, and I owe that the people and treatments God continually puts in my path.

I know people who have my condition where depression is one of their symptoms, for others the physical symptoms become so unbearable that they couldn’t take it anymore, men and women who suffered in silence because no one could understand the private hell they were suffering through because they “look ok” to the rest of the world.  I read posts in the support groups where many people shared they wished they had cancer because at least then people would believe them.  I can understand the desperation for the person battling mental illness, a storm raging inside that no one else can see, feeling alone, and desperate to make it stop.

Yes, there are those who suffer from depression and you can see it all over their lives.  They sleep all day, they struggle with every day life expectations, they are open and share about how down they feel… how lost… and how hopeless.  Many more suffer in silence.  They fear condemnation, judgement, and shaming… especially for those who appear to have it all.  The perfect body.  Perfect home.  Perfect marriage.  Stacked bank account.  Trips all over the world.  Celebrity status.

Do you know how hard it is to confess to the world that you feel like nothing when they think you have everything?

What do you have to be depressed about?  As if depression is defined by circumstance.  Or anxiety is something we can simply choose to turn on and off.  The thought that mental illness is something we can just get over or “walk it off”.  If climbing out of the pit was as easy as deciding to, don’t you think people would? 

It is as if the person has been blindfolded and placed in a pit with a ladder.  Everyone around watching sees the ladder, they know how easy it would be to just get out of that pit.  However, the blind fold of depression or mental illness makes it hard to see the ladder.  It clouds judgement.  It can change perception so that the pit feels like a canyon.  The voices from outside are shouting directions and encouragement, but the voices are muddled and indistinguishable, and it may feel they add to the chaos.  They need someone who is willing to walk into the pit with them and guide them out through counseling, medication to remove that blindfold.

And that is OK, and we need to stop telling the world that it’s not.

No more posting about how ADD and ADHD medication are just for lazy parents, unethical doctors, or big pharm trying to drug our children in to compliance.  Until you walk the shoes of an ADD/ADHD/OCD/ODD/et’al parent and child… you have no idea how these disorders impact our child and our family, or how often anxiety and depression accompany them.

No more chastising about how people use a diagnosis as an excuse for their weight gain, lack of motivation, fatigue, or other physical/mental/emotional ailments.  Until you walk in the shoes of a person with a chronic illness… you have no idea how they are struggling to stay afloat in a disease that is trying to pull them down.  Every day becomes a battle, and mentally it is exhausting and can lead to depression and anxiety.

No more assumptions that just because someone is blessed with wealth, physical health, or opportunity that they do not suffer in silence.  Just because a person doesn’t share their struggle publicly doesn’t mean that their life is easy and carefree… you have no idea the demons they battle every single day.

No more can we thrust our will or our opinions on how someone else needs to deal or cope with life.  We can not expect people to heal the way we heal, or cope the way we cope.  Instead, we become champions for their health.  Encouraging them to seek help, supporting them through diagnosis processes, medication dosing, and understanding that the more they try to push you away… the more they need you to stay (even if you are just lingering in their peripheral vision).

If you know someone who needs help, talk with them.  If it is a child or teen, talk with their parents.  Give them phone numbers to resources where they can get help, and let them know they are not alone in this.  Be there.  Be understanding.  Be helpful.  Be supportive.  Be encouraging.  Be present.  Do what you can.  And, recognize that you are not called to be their Savior.

The writing is on the wall when it comes to mental health in the US.  We can’t ignore it.  We have to fight it, for ourselves and the ones we love.  We need to stand in the gap and stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

Check on your friends.  The strong ones.  The single ones.  The parents.  The military vets.  The creative types.  The loners.  The wealthy ones.  The extroverts.  The happy ones.  The struggling ones.  Those with illnesses.  Those who seem to have it all.

If you’d like to read more about being Christian and suffering from depression and anxiety,  Brant Hansen and Carlos Whitaker have both written about their own struggles.  Just google search their name with the word depression added to the search, you will find plenty to read.

Local churches may have a list of Christian Counselors and Crisis Resource numbers that can help you get immediate help.

Or reach out to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline that has a # you can call or people available to chat with you online.   https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

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BUYING SALVATION- Making It Up to God

MBA

In the days before she knew Christ, she was broken.  She felt abandoned by her father.  She never felt good enough for her step father.  She had a great mom, who was overworked and under appreciated.  She attended schools where she was the perpetual “new girl” because they moved a lot.  And, even when she settled in, she was always different than the rest of the kids.  She would withdraw herself into the background, hoping to go unnoticed.

By the time she would graduate high school, she would find her self settled into rebellious ways.  She wanted to stand out, and if she couldn’t be recognized for her accomplishments and her good deeds…. she would take another approach.   The way she dressed, talked, walked all would tell another tale.  A story of a confident, wild child.  An illusion of someone who didn’t care.  A mask that hid her insecurity and her depression.  She would find her self bar hopping and bed hopping.   Looking for acceptance, love and appreciation any place she could find it.

Do you know her, this girl?  I bet you do.

She was that girl from high school, who went off to college and went “crazy”.    She was that girl who shocked everyone when she got pregnant in the 11th grade.  She was the girl who dropped out of school to become a stripper.  She was the friend you thought you knew everything about, until she attempted suicide.  She was your sister, who suddenly got wrapped up in drugs and ran away.  She’s the girl that so many people will often ask “what ever happened to that girl….”.

You may know her.   You may be her.

Then, by the grace of God, she met Jesus.  It may have been in rehab or even that stint she did in the local prison.  It might have been on that cold floor, with her tear stained battered face.  It may have been through that person who approached her on the street corner & told her there was another life for her than this.  The neighbor or roommate, who steadily went to church and simply extended an invite.  It could have happened at the funeral, when she was burying her best friend who died of a drug overdose.  He could have found her lying on her bed, needle dangling from her arm… and he whispered “I am not done with you yet” and breathed new life into her.

She met Jesus.  Her life, your life, changed.

With the deepest of sincerity, she appreciates and acknowledges what God has done in her life.  She is a new woman.  Married.  Children.  House. Dog. Cat. Fish.  She shares her testimony with the youth, the women, and possibly even during a service every now and again.

People look to her with awe.  They see the scars and wounds that have healed, ever present reminders of what she went through & where Jesus has brought her from.

And in her thankfulness, she strives to pay God back for his mercy and compassion and grace.  She volunteers for every committee.  Her tithing is above and beyond.  She leads the church study, leads a recovery group, disciples troubled kids in the church, she goes on missions trips, she dresses modestly, passes out hygiene kits to the homeless and witnesses to those who are lingering on the street corners.  She funnels Christ into everything she does, trying to prove to Him that she was worth saving.

All the while, she holds onto that past, which motivates her to keep doing good, trying to use all of these good deeds to erase the sins of her past.

To you who read this, nodding your head with understanding….

You can not buy your salvation, or ever pay God back for your salvation.   It was a gift.  For you.  Not to shackle you to the memories of your past, but to set you free into a future of great hope and joy.

Satan wants you to hold onto your past.  He wants you to believe that some sins can’t be forgiven or at least forgiven easily.  He wants you to believe you have to earn your salvation; because he knows that when you make a mistake you will feel like a failure.  Whenever we hold on so tightly to our past, we are sinning.  We are showing God a lack of trust in His word and a lack of faith in His promises.

You are a new creation.   (2 Corinthians 5:17)

You have been washed clean.  (1 John 1:7)

You have been adopted in to His family.   (Ephesians 1:5)

You are loved.   (Romans 5:8)

In John 8:1-11 a woman stood accused.  Jesus said to the crowd that if any of them were free of sin, they could cast the first stone.  No stones were thrown, the crowd dispersed.  Jesus said to her “Go, and sin no more”.     That was it.  He didn’t leave her with a debt that needed to be paid.

Because Jesus himself  will pay her debt, paid your debt… my debt.

In Isaiah 43:25 we read that our sins are blotted out.  Blotted out is different from erased.  Erased would imply that it was gone, entirely, disappeared.  Blotted out means that the transgression was marked through, illegible.  This meant an acknowledgment that the sin existed, but it is no longer counted against you.   We should never come to a place where we believe we are NOT sinners.  We all are.  The Word tells us that ALL will fall short of the glory of God.  But, we know that through the blood of Jesus Christ… those sins are blotted out.  They are no longer held against us.  There is nothing we need to pay back.  The debt is paid.  It was paid on the cross…. once and for ALL.

It’s time to let go of the past that shackles you and embrace real freedom.   Stop allowing Satan to steel your freedom through the lies of doubt.  Take down the wall you are building between yourself and God, when you hold on to those sins you think are unforgivable.  Stop wasting time and energy trying to buy your salvation or pay God back for your debt.  Find confidence in the fact that the debt is paid, you are free…. and in that freedom God will take you to places you could never imagine.

 

 

Oh Captain, My Captain. Robin Williams.

This has been a rough evening, for me, upon learning the news of Robin William’s death.  In my youthful desires to be an actress, Robin Williams would hold a very strong position in pushing that dream forward.  He was a performer that I admired.  I thought he was incredibly talented, funny, quick witted.  His range of characters gave me hope that as an actress I didn’t have to be pigeon holed in as a comedic or dramatic performer.  I could be both, equally good … as the role would require me.  I loved how his genuine connection to his characters would come through the screen.  I was envious of the fact that he had little inhibitions, he didn’t care about being embarrassed by making a fool of himself.  I have watched some of his best comedy acts over his life, and I never laughed harder than when Robin Williams was laughing at his own jokes.

In college, one of the first things I was taught was that acting was “the art of lying”.  The idea behind that statement is that a good, a truly GOOD, actor would be able to cause you to suspend your beliefs.  Meaning, you would believe that people singing a song in the middle of a fight it totally normal… that you could be transported to ancient egypt…. or that Peter Pan could really fly.  You would watch the screen and not think of the actor who was playing the role, but truly see the character first. It was true and honest connection, authentic emotions and pure delivery.

Robin Williams was capable of just that.  You would not see Robin Williams on the screen…. you were watching Mork, Jack, Peter, Mrs. Doubtfire.. even Genie.  He, for a brief moment, was that new person.  And you believed it, totally.

Some of the most talented artists have been the most tormented.  We mourn their death because they had an ability to touch us in a different way than even a “good” artist.  These truly gifted people pay a price for all that they give to entertain others.    We can hold these people to high esteem, follow their careers and lives, and still never fully understand the storm that brews inside of them.

Great actors, usually embrace their roles with such heart and vigor because they allow them  to put on a mask.  I know how this feels, to put on that mask & escape into a role.  We can be anyone other than who we were born.  We can escape our unhappy, unfulfilled, damaged lives for a fraction of time.  That character can be anyone and anything, without limitation, that we could never be.  And, we can rest in the safety of knowing when we are done, no matter how hard the role was… we can put that script away, put that character to bed.

Then, there are those who can’t.  The actors that allow themselves to connect with a character to the point that it becomes part of you.  You can’t shake it.  This happened with Heath Ledger, in his role of The Joker in the Batman franchise.   In conversations and interviews, Heath admitted that the role was so disturbing that he had to seek professional counseling over it.  It was on the medications prescribed by his doctor, that Heath would overdose.  Another great talent, lost.

Not that long ago, we lost Phillip Seymour Hoffman to overdose.  Another great talent, lost.  Suffering from a life time of addiction, struggling to be sober.  Overcome and overwhelmed by the expectations put upon him.  He wouldn’t be the only actor to succumb to the pressure and struggle that the truly gifted artists are burdened with.  Leave us too long in our own reality and the world gets to us… deeply.

And now, we mourn the loss of Robin Williams…  and there is shock and sadness.  Heartbroken.  Surprise.   No one knew the man who had the greatest smile, purest laugh and immeasurable talent battled against depression.  Even those who knew his struggle with sobriety, would have been surprised that while he was making us cry with laughter… he was crying himself to sleep.

Despite my greatest desires to one day make it to Hollywood or Broadway, God didn’t take me down that road.  I can’t help but thank God for saving me from myself, from a life that seems like it has everything to offer but leaves the truly greats empty and hollow.   Robin Williams leaves behind a family, who will not be able to understand how it came to this.  He leaves scores of fans and his own peers grieving and wounded.  But, there are also going to be those who get it.   Those greats who have already passed, too soon… too young; and those who are struggling right now in silence, alone.

What does that have to do with you and me?  Everything.    Because we encounter these great actors every day in our lives, on Sunday’s at church and in the grocery store.  The woman who seems to have it all together.  The lady who tells you that everything is “just fine” with a beautiful smile on her face.  The man who says that “recovery is going great”.  The husband and wife putting on a happily ever after display for the kids.  Or, even that person who looks you in the eyes and with out a tell tale sign otherwise says “the test results look good, the doctor is very optimistic”.

Every day we encounter people who are suffering in silence, putting on a good show for the benefit of others, and falling apart when no one is looking.

Some of the greatest actors in the world, have never graced a screen or stepped foot on a stage.  You walk among them, every day.

Pray for them.  Even though you don’t know them by name or what their exact problems are, God does.

Make yourself approachable.  In time, they may start to open up to you.  You can’t force it, but you can be open to it.

And, if the truth is that YOU are the one putting on the act….

You don’t have to play that role anymore.  Be honest with yourself, those who love you, and those who are in a position to help you.  Fight against allowing the despair to push you to a point of no return.

To a family I have never met, I give nothing but my love and prayers.  Robin Williams was and is one of my greatest inspirations, favorite performers to watch and talented beyond measure.  May he rest in peace, and may God be your comforter at this time.