Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Not Alone: Stories of Living with Depression

Many of you know that I had the opportunity to contribute to another book called Not Alone: Stories of Living with Depression.  It's a collection of essays by a community of authors that tell their stories of how they've dealt with the varied aspects of depression in their lives.  In a very candid and raw fashion, each person breaks the silence in hopes of diminishing the stigma that exists in our culture today.  And by sharing these stories, we've attempted to offer hope to those that suffer today.

In contributing to this project, I quickly found that it was much more difficult than I had anticipated.  Reliving some of the experiences with depression caused me to face some things that were not very comfortable.  As I wrote, it was as if a dark cloud settled over me and I felt my overall mood shifting.  It made me realize how powerful these emotions are and how I will most likely carry them with me for the rest of my life.  It also revealed to me how God has been with me throughout my suffering.  As somewhat of a divine counselor, He not only guided me through the most difficult times of my life, but He strengthened me, taught me and shaped me into who I am today.  So, although my memories of depression conjure emotions that I instinctively attempt to repress, I realize that they are assets as well.                

Depression is a very real experience for many people living in today's culture.  Because of the negative connotations that come with it, depression is usually not something that we freely discuss in everyday life.  The causes are too numerous and varied to mention here, but they can include such things as abuse (both emotional and physical), chemical imbalances, death of loved ones, divorce, rejection and various family issues. There is no one reason that a person might suffer from chronic depression, but one thing is for sure, our fast paced and demanding society definitely contributes to some level of depression in everyone.  It can leave the person feeling isolated, secluded and alone.  People that deal with chronic depression usually hide the effects and do their best to cope with it in isolation, never knowing that the person sitting right next to them in Starbucks very well might be equally suffering.  So they remain silent, hiding away, believing that no one could ever understand what they feel, believing that no one cares.   

For those dealing with depression, Not Alone is a collection of stories that will resonate with the reader with words of hope, comfort and empathy.  Whether sharing the first initial discovery of depression, how they sought help or giving words of hope that depression can be managed, the authors all tackle the lie that you must suffer in solitude and isolation. With courage and honesty, these stories give a glimpse into the mind of the depressed individual. While you will not find a cure for depression in these pages, you will find a sense of community. You might find yourself thinking, "That's EXACTLY how I feel!"  You will find words of comfort. You will find support.  And when all is said and done, you will find that you are Not Alone.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Interpretations: What Did Jesus Mean?

During the course of our lives, most of us will follow a certain set of philosophies, cultural ideologies or teachings of some kind.  Whether physical, mental, spiritual or theological, these aspects act somewhat as guides or templates in determining the paths we will take in life.  Behind each of these particular aspects, usually lies a person that the philosophy, ideology or teaching was developed from.  In the realm of Christianity, Jesus Christ lies as the foundation for each and every belief, doctrine, philosophy and theology in general.  To the Christian, Christ points to every aspect of faith, and consequently every aspect of faith points to Christ.

It's important for us to interpret scripture, not only from our personal point of view, in terms of what a particular passage says to us spiritually, but we also need to consider contextual, historic, cultural, and lingusitic aspects as well.  As stated above, it's also very imperative to search and decipher what Jesus said and taught regarding the potential interpretation.  Some areas of teaching are very explicit, in which Jesus addresses the issue directly, or indirectly.  And as you may well know, some areas are a bit critique.  Either way, it's important for us to do our best in deciphering what Jesus taught on the issue we deal with in life.   
Recently, I ran across a particular passage that has taken a bit more study and reflection.  I had planned on presenting this verse in my blog, exploring the various interpretations and then discussing which I thought was correct in terms of what Jesus is trying to get across.  Instead, I thought that it might be interesting to first start a discussion.

Take a look at Luke 22; specifically Luke 22:35-38.  What do you think Jesus is talking about in this passage?  Why does Jesus command the apostles to buy swords?  I will share with you that my traditional interpretation of this passage had been wrong up until now.        

Luke 22:35-38.  

"Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”
   “Nothing,” they answered.
 36 He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. 37 It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’[b]; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
 38 The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
   “That’s enough!” he replied.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Pray for Bethany House

I'm going to ask you to join me on a journey. I can't tell much about it, because I don't know much about it myself. I don't know exactly where this journey is going to take us and I have no clue how long it will take us. Success? Failure? I have no idea. Will we get lost? Probably. Will we get tired? Definitely. Will we get discouraged, frustrated, scared or angry? Yes, yes, yes and yes. Will you think to yourself that my request is a little ridiculous? Probably. The final destination of our journey is a place that doesn't exist yet. Right now, our journey's end is a small vision in the recesses of my mind, but it's beautiful. And it's a place that we will all gather together one day and rejoice. We will all come together in this destination and praise the God of this universe, because He finally got us to where He sent us. So, do I have your curiosity piqued yet?

Right now, the vehicle that we are going to use for our journey is simple: prayer. An that's all this journey is at this point: a prayer. This is not a goal, a plan or even a idea yet. This is a prayer, and that's it. So I guess in many ways, I am only asking you to walk with me. You don't have to buy a plane ticket, pay for gas or even get your biked tuned up. Just put on your shoes and walk with me for a while, until God reveals what comes next. A walk. That sounds good, doesn't it?

Our walk together begins with a vision that God put on my heart this weekend. I just got back from a three day personal retreat, and the place that I visited is a convent in Houston that offers a non-denominational retreat house for groups or individuals. It has become a sanctuary for me and a beautiful refuge from the everyday stresses of life. It's a place that I find rest. It's a place that allows me to slow down. I slow down mentally. I slow down physically. I slow down spiritually and listen to God, rather than dictate wish lists to Him. When I walk into this place, I feel like a child curling up in his fathers arms, as the weight of my burdens lightens. It's simple. It's monastic. It's always there waiting for me.

Have you ever wished you had a place like that to go to? When you feel like running away? When you feel hurt and alone? A place where someone will be waiting, with a hot cup of coffee? A place with a bed, so you can rest and a meal waiting for you when you wake up? A place to share creative expression in music, art and faith? It's simple, but it's always there. Someone is always there waiting to open the door, no matter how late it is. It's a refuge. A sanctuary. What if that place existed right in your community? What if it existed?

So this is where we begin our journey. I'm just going to ask you to join me in prayer. Remember, that's all it is at this point; a prayer. So often, I think we limit our prayers to things that can only be accomplished within the natural realm. We pray to a supernatural God, and yet we rarely expect His answers to resemble His character. What if we prayed for God to give us this place at the end of our journey? What if we called it "Bethany House"?

Bethany was a small town located on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives. It was about 2 miles Southeast of Jerusalem, and the home of Mary, Martha and Lazurus. If you were traveling to Jerusalem and found yourself stopping in Bethany, you wouldn't be able to see the city yet because Bethany was nestled at the bottom of the mountain. This gave the town a feeling of quietness, peace and seclusion. Jesus often found refuge in Bethany to stay with His closest friends as He ministered in Jerusalem during the final days before His death and resurrection. Some of the most significant, spiritual and passionate events of His ministry culmination took place in Bethany. It has also been thought of as a center for caring of the sick, the destitute and weary pilgrims of Jerusalem.

So, as God began to paint this picture in my mind, the images of Bethany came to mind: Bethany House. I'm not sure where Bethany house is, what street it's on, how to find it or what kind of condition it will be in when we get there. For that matter, I'm not sure of what condition we will be in when we get there. But I know this; there will be light on in the window and a pot of coffee brewing in the kitchen and a bed waiting for us to rest our weary heads on.

Will you join me in praying for Bethany House, whatever and wherever it is? Will you join me in this passion that God has put on my heart? I know it sounds impossible, but nothing is impossible for God, is it? It says in Daniel 4:35 that "All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: 'What have you done?'" He can do what he wants and I believe that He wants this! !I can see it! I can feel it! It's out there somewhere, and we'll find it together.

Mark 11:24 - "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."

1 John 5:14-15 - "And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him."

Monday, August 15, 2011


Those of you that know me, know that I can be a rather melancholy person.  Because of that, I've always been somewhat obsessed with death.  It's always caused an inner conflict within me and I'll admit, some fear as well.  I've read verses like 1 Corinthians 15:54-58 and meditate on the words "O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” and thought to myself, "Really?"  I don't know about you, but I've felt the full sting of death many times.  There is an uncertainty with death, and  regardless of the depth of my faith, there are times when I think and wonder at the mystery of my existence.  If you say that you are 100% sure of what will happen to you when you die, you're lying, or you have some spiritual insight that I've not yet grasped.  Because regardless of how strong our faith in God might be, there will always be a hint of doubt.  That's part of what faith is about.    

My friend Mike died just over 13 years ago.  I'm not sure why I'm thinking about him today.  Maybe it's because my mind is wandering from excessive writer's block.  Maybe it's because Summer is coming to an end, kids are going back to school and change is in the air.  Maybe it's just because I'm feeling a bit nostalgic and yes, melancholy this afternoon.  Or maybe it's because I just read a blog posted by a friend of mine about loosing one of his best friends this week and the grief he is now experiencing.  Nah, that can't be it.

Mike died on the Monday after Labor Day in 1997.  He came to my house on Sunday for lunch, bringing with him his beautiful little daughter, Jordan who was only 1 year old at the time; the same age as my oldest son, Ian.  We cooked hot dogs for lunch, drank a few beers, ate Popsicles and filled up a little baby pool for the kids, and our feet.  It was a good day.

Mike was having a rough time with life, as well as his marriage, so we talked a lot.  He shared a lot of his struggles with me.  I listened.  It felt good to listen.  It felt good to talk.  When he left that afternoon, I walked with him out to his car.  After getting Jordan situated in her car seat, he looked me right in the eyes and thanked me for inviting him over.  I could tell that it meant a lot to him.  You could see it in his eyes.  Just before he drove off he rolled the window down and said, "Hey, let's going fishing tomorrow since we have the day off."  I thought about it, hesitated a few seconds and then declined the invitation.  I would have loved to have gone fishing.  We were fishing a lot back then and I was always looking for an excuse to go.  But for some reason, I felt the need to spend more time at home and with my family.  I had no idea how much more was going on by turning down his offer.

The next day was Labor Day.  Mike went fishing anyway, with another friend named Tommy.  I didn't know Tommy very well, but we had all fished together a few times.  I felt a little jealous that I wasn't the one who went.  It should have be me with him.  That morning I felt a twinge of regret, thinking how nice it would have been to be in the water, hooking a few speckled trout.  But the day went on.  We sat around the house and did as little "labor" as we could.  We watched TV and played around on the computer.  All in all, it was a pretty boring day, but it was good to spend time with my wife and son.  It was good to rest.   

Just after we finished lunch, I was sitting at my desk on the computer when the phone rang.  It was Mike's wife, Kim.  She said my name, paused and her voice began crackling.  I could hear her crying and my heart began to race, feeling that sinking feeling deep in my soul.  You know that feeling?  The feeling you get just before something bad happens?  That feeling that you are right on the border of a tragedy?  As soon as you step over the line of acknowledgement, everything in your immediate world is going to change, and you feel it.  You sense it.  Here we go.  Stepping over the line.  

My first thought was that Mike had left Kim.  Not too long before, Mike had run off to Florida to escape marriage problems and the stresses of life that were troubling him.  I imagined that he had again decided to temporarily escape, and Kim was naturally upset, and was calling in hoes that I would help her track him down.  That's what I was thinking.  I wish that had been the case.  Something so simple could have been solved.  Something so simple could have been worked through.  I would have been glad to have driven out to Florida to find him.  I would give anything to have the memory of finding him fishing or sitting in some beach bar drinking a beer.  I would have convinced him to come home.  He always listened to me.  We would laugh about it today.

That's not how things worked out.  After the phone fell to the ground, I remember hearing someone picking it back up.  I heard a voice that I didn't recognize.  "Jake, this is Kim's aunt.  Kim was calling you to tell you that Mike was killed this morning.  I'm so sorry."  I stepped over the line.  Everything changed.  My reality changed.  Everything looked different.  Everything sounded different.  It was as if I stepped into another dimension.  The sting of death.

"What?  What?  What?"  That's all I remember saying.  I looked around the room, back and forth in quick movements of panic.  She hung up the phone.  My wife Kelly was sitting on the bed across the room.  She knew that it was one of those phone calls.  It was one of those lines crossed in life that you can't cross back again.  She was crying.

Through tears she muttered, "What?  What happened, Jake?  Is it Mike?  Is he dead?"  I nodded my head and began weeping uncontrollably.  It was the kind of weeping that comes from deep inside your soul and you have no control over it.  My head fell into my hands and my shoulders began heaving up and down.  This was one of the rare times in my life that I've felt the full force of mourning.  I understand grief and the powerful clutch of it.  The cold embrace of death surrounded me and I felt empty.  I walked outside and on to my driveway, staring up at the sky.  What had just happened?  Why wasn't I there with him?  Why didn't I go?  Could I have saved him?  Would I have died as well?  Why, God?  Why?        

Mike was struck by lightning from a small isolated thunderstorm that popped up late that morning.  I remember seeing it pass just to the West of my house, thinking how strange it was. There was no chance of rain that day.  Mike had left Tommy and the boat at the shore, while he ran across the beach to get his truck.  Tommy didn't even know what had happened until the ambulance showed up.  He was killed instantly.  The thoughts ran though my head once again: It should have been me with him that morning.  Maybe I could have done something.  Maybe I could have stopped him.  Maybe my obsessive compulsive tendencies would have kicked in and I would have insisted on him waiting for the storm to pass.  Why wasn't I there?   

About a year before Mike's death, he became a follower of Christ.  Not many people know that.  I had been a Christian for a few years before him and he had always thought I had fallen off the deep end.  But we were close friends so he eventually began  to ask me questions about what I believed.  He didn't talk about his faith that much with others, but we had many conversations about spirituality and God.  One evening in particular, when Mike was having an especially rough time in his marriage, he called me.  "I don't get it!  I became a Christian just like you encouraged me to do, but my life still sucks!  Why?"

I didn't have an answer for him.  I agreed with him that life did suck from time to time.  I shared with him that I often felt the same way and even questioned my faith occasionally.  I also shared with him the good things God had done in my life.  Mostly I just listened.  I listened to the pain in his voice and tried to feel it with him.  I told him that I understood and he wasn't alone in his struggles.  I never judged him and I never questioned his faith.  I guess that I just tried to be who Christ would have been for him, if He was sitting with him that moment; the same Christ that sat with me when Mike died.  The same Christ that works through me when others grieve a loss and feel the sting of death.  And the same Christ that reminded me of Mike this afternoon, and reminded me that I'll see him again.  The sting of death is gone, life still sucks sometime and I still miss my friend.  See you soon, my friend.