God is the Lord of
death and life
and that means there’s
purpose and goodness in both–
in the mourning and the
God is the Lord of
God is the Lord of
death and life
and that means there’s
purpose and goodness in both–
in the mourning and the
I realize it’s been months and months and months since I last posted on here. I’m not going to make excuses, but I will say that the devil has been throwing everything he’s got at me and my marriage. It’s been a fun time. (Note: sarcasm.) But now I’m back and ready to share all my newfound wisdom with you guys, because what are you supposed to do when life gives you lemons? Make lemonade – and share the recipe.
So here is what I’ve learned in the past five months, in chronological order, so you can see precisely how I got the lemons and what I God did to make a thirst-quenching beverage out of them.
The first, and possibly hardest, truth that I’ve learned is one that God gave us thousands of years ago. Psalm 118:8 says, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans.” I always loved this verse because it validated my “I keep everyone at arms’ length” attitude, but I know now that I didn’t fully understand it. Because despite being apprehensive to trust people, I still chose them over God all the time. I chose to confide my feelings in my husband, to go to him with my hopes, dreams, joys, sorrows, and rely on him for comfort, peace, and love. I relied on everyone but God, and wanted to say that God was the only one I trusted. Well, I’ll tell you what. At some point in your adult life (for me, just a few months in) everyone you think you can rely on and trust is going to let you down. You’re going to get smacked with the reality that humans suck and it isn’t better to trust them. This will likely crush you. This is a lemon (though a rather large one). It is the horrible truth that we all have to learn if we’re going to yearn for something greater than this world, if we’re going to truly want more than faulty human love. The good news is the first part of Psalm 118: we have a Lord to take refuge in when all the relationships we once trusted have become tornadoes.
My next lemon came alongside the first (it was a storm of lemons), but through sorrow and sweat was accompanied by the first piece of the recipe. To make a very long story impossibly short, my first “big girl” job out of college did not go as planned. The organization was in deep financial peril before I was even hired, and things quickly spiraled out of control shortly thereafter. I was not being paid for the work I was doing, and soon the love of money began to consume me. In a recent Bible class, the speaker brought up the prophet Jonah, and how he’d become outrageously angry and morose when God took away a plant whose shade he’d been resting in. Jonah loved this plant, which God had graciously given to him, more than the people he’d been called to prophesy to. And he felt indignant, justified in his anger when the plant was taken from him. I did this with money. I cared more about getting what I “deserved” than paying attention to my marriage, and I let this need for success and monetary security drive me into a depression. In the aftermath of my mistakes, while standing in a pile of my regretful decisions, I found the first ingredient for lemonade: do not chase after worldly success. As college students and recent graduates, it is so easy to be swept up in the notion that we must go to school. We must do internships. We must build the perfect resume. We must find the perfect job. We must rise and create a life for ourselves, a career, a foundation. This is a trap, my friends. Life has no guarantees and we are not owed anything, and thinking that we are only leads to eventual hurt. There is a reason that Paul advises, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2) and why the wise Solomon says, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10). If you want to find happiness and contentment in all things, don’t put your desires in a career and money. Don’t make that your first priority, and don’t let worry about it creep to the front of your mind. Is it going to get you to Heaven? Can you take it with you when you go? No? Then don’t put it in front of the God who died so you could have eternity.
In the midst of all of these difficult lessons, I’ll admit I lost my way. And not only that, I lost my identity. The waves had caught me in their current and were pounding me so continuously that I forgot my own name, or why I mattered as a person. I forgot how to do anything but look inward, at my own pain, and because of that many things in my life suffered. The turning point came when the storm turned into a hurricane, and I was finally shaken awake. I looked around and saw only darkness. It was then that I finally cried out. I was the Israelites, who turned away from God, were conquered and made slaves, and waited until the last possible moment to cry out for their Lord. But oh, when I finally cried out… The God that answered was Power. He showed me only love, and gave me all the help I asked for. He gave me rest. He delivered answers to all my begging and showed me that He can heal anything. I finally understood prayer, and why we’re told to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and to “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6) The answer to most questions in any given Bible class is usually, “Pray more,” but the Bible says, “When you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6). We can’t pray halfheartedly for God to help just to turn around and keep trying to fix it ourselves. That’s not prayer. It wasn’t until I was on my knees, out of options, out of tricks or plans or hope, pleading for God to take it all out of my hands that He did. I had to believe. I had to need Him more than anything else; I had to trust Him more than myself. I finally saw that I’m destructive, too, and my plans only turn to ruin, and finally when I truly wanted God to be in control of my life, He was. This is the best part of the recipe, because it gives so much freedom. Let the Creator be in control of your life, and suddenly you will feel light. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)
Once I started letting God take care of things, the storm quickly began to die down. And it wasn’t so much that my problems went away, but more so that I knew the Creator of the Universe was taking care of them (and me) and He would see me through. Now, this is where the first lemon, the big, juicy one, got put to good use. With my newly realized outlook on the world (people bad; God good) I stopped taking my problems to man. When my husband and I fought, I didn’t immediately run to my friends for solace. I begged God to intervene, to soften our hearts. When my fears crept up my chest, threatening to boil over, I didn’t call my mother for advice or turn to my husband for reassurance. I climbed into the lap of my Heavenly Father and let him soothe me and make me safe again. I started running to my Dad, my Savior, my King whenever I needed anything, becoming acquainted with His throne and comfortable in His arms. And before I knew it, something previously unimaginable to me occurred. The God of the Universe became my best friend. And trust me, I know that sounds cliché and super cheesy. I hear how it sounds when I say it. But I really don’t care, because my BFF can stop the rain for four years, hold the earth still, part seas and raise the dead. If your BFF can’t do those things, you should really consider who you’re taking your problems to first. Because take it from me, the results are much more life-giving when I seek help from the Lord of Heaven than anyone on the earth.
Ultimately, my last lesson is a summation of the whole journey. The apostle Paul, who had been beaten with rods, pelted with stones, shipwrecked three times, and imprisoned, boldly said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (Philippians 4:11-12) and I think I may finally understand the secret. Through everything Paul was put through, somehow, amazingly, he survived it all. I can imagine him in prison, looking back on his life and thinking…how did I live through it all? How am I still here? Surely Paul realized that he couldn’t have made it through so many trials and storms on his own. So it must have been God who carried him through floggings and beatings and shipwrecks, and if the Lord can do all of that, of course He’ll get Paul through prison, too. Of course He’s going to feed him, and make sure he has money and clothes and companionship. So what does Paul have to fear? What can mere man do to him? That was my ultimate lesson. God does provide. He carried me through the roughest storm, pulled me from the current, kept me breathing when I thought I had no breath left in my lungs. He protects me and cares for me through everything, and so why worry? Why fear? I am content no matter what life brings me, because I know the power of my Best Friend and the love He has for me. He is a God who saves and makes all things work for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28). That is why Paul explains, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) “For your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (Matthew 6:8) and the beautiful truth is that He’s taking care of it all. And I am content knowing that.
As painful as the last half a year has been, I am so grateful for the storm. God made so much beauty from so much pain, and I can only hope and pray that I will be able to help someone else by sharing the recipe for God-made lemonade. If you don’t know God yet but would like to, please feel free to ask me any questions you may have. I promise, He’s been carrying you through your storms too.
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:4-5
“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6
Just a quick disclaimer: If you haven’t seen Pixar’s Inside Out yet, you should. Whether you have kids or not, enjoy animated films or don’t, just go see it. I’ve done my best not to include spoilers in here, and if you haven’t seen the movie, you in no way need to in order to read this post. But, still—read this and then go watch it.
On the surface, Inside Out is just a fun kid’s movie about an 11-year-old girl named Riley and her five main emotions: Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear, and Sadness. When Riley’s family moves from her hometown in Minnesota to San Francisco, her emotions go a little berserk. In the end, the movie is really about discovering what Sadness’s true function is, and it is played out so beautifully. However, as the movie continued and Sadness lost control of herself more and more, I began to see something else between the lines of this sweet children’s film. I saw a reflection of what my brain had looked like while suffering through depression. I saw Sadness touching everything I thought about; I saw Joy lost from headquarters, completely forgotten; and I saw a profound representation of what it had always felt like when my emotions seemed to simply shut down. And I’ll be honest with you…it was a little unsettling, all of those memories being brought back to the forefront of my mind.
Through middle school, high school, and college, I suffered through seasons of depression. I remember coming home from school one day and collapsing on the floor of my bedroom. The lights still off, my backpack fallen on the floor beside me, I curled into a ball and began to sob so hard that I could barely breathe. In that moment, I couldn’t even think long enough to know the reason why I was crying. I just knew that everything I thought about had been touched by sadness, and it was so heavy that I couldn’t bear to even sit up or hardly breathe. I remember sitting on the floor of a car having an anxiety attack because my best friend had been grounded and I didn’t know what I would do if I was left alone with my thoughts for that long. I felt honest, out of control fear that if I didn’t have someone there to distract me, my sadness might swallow me whole. I remember staring at the ceiling each morning in my freshman year of college, willing myself to fall back asleep because I couldn’t find a single reason to get out of bed. It was years of this. It was years of being terrified of the month of February, because it was when my depression always seemed to win after I’d battled with it all winter long. For so much of my life, my depression defined who I was. It owned me. It was as if I had placed a label on my own forehead reading “BROKEN,” and I was absolutely, 100% convinced that no medicine, no person, nothing could ever heal me. I knew, with all certainty, that if I wanted a normal life that didn’t include months of feeling worthless, I was going to have to be on medication for the rest of my life.
Yes, Inside Out reminded me of my depression. But it also reminded me of how I overcame it. I went 19 years of my life in a cloud of darkness, unable to find anything to save me from it. It’s not a coincidence that when I gave my life over to God, that darkness finally started getting pierced by the light.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.” – Revelation 21:1-6
That’s the point. That one day I will go there, and there will be no more death, or mourning, or crying, or pain. I will be made new. And in the meantime, I need to spend every moment inviting as many people as I can to come with me. But I know from personal experience that sometimes the pain is too much to focus on the future. Sometimes we need to be helped in this moment to be able to make it to the next. And Jesus Christ knew this, too, which is why he said:
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” – Matthew 5:4
Inside Out seemed to almost have been inspired by this verse, and it is such a relief to know that even Christ does not expect us to be filled with joy 24/7. Christ knows that there are times when we need to mourn, and He is here for us in those hours of pain. And if you need further proof that God is aware of our depression and can conquer it, turn to the Psalms. They are one of the best places to go to be reminded that God is with us even in our sadness.
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God. – Psalm 42:5
He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds. – Psalm 147:3
And, finally, if these verses haven’t helped you feel a little more healed, there is a man that died for the sole purpose of our healing.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53:5
“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” – 1 Peter 2:24
We’ve been healed! Jesus did not die on the cross so that I could walk around with a label on my head saying, “BROKEN.” He bore my sins to bring me peace, so that I could walk around with the label, “HEALED!” God knows about our depression. He knows that this world is ugly and hard—His son experienced it firsthand. And He didn’t leave us alone here to deal with it on our own. He gave us the Lord, Jesus Christ, so that we could be healed from all of these sorrows. So that we could one day go to the place where there is no mourning or crying or pain. This is why I haven’t been on medication for three years, and yet I haven’t felt depression “win” once throughout that time. Because Jesus won. He won.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33
Pixar did a beautiful job at explaining what depression looks like, from the inside out.
God did a beautiful job showing us that He can heal anything, from the inside out.
You know those memes that say, “What I think I look like” and “What I actually look like” with a picture of someone really attractive and a picture of someone looking really awkward? Well, when I was in middle and high school, I had this same problem every time I looked in the mirror. For some reason, I had this image of myself in my head where I looked like Kate Beckinsale (you know, the really gorgeous woman from Van Helsing and Underworld?) and every time I stepped in front of a mirror, my expectations were shattered. Looking back on it, I don’t know how I thought that was a realistic expectation, given that I was somewhere between 13-16 and Kate was like 32, but nonetheless, it was partially for this reason that I was never satisfied with how I looked.
There was always something wrong with me: whether my eyebrows looked hideous, or my nose was too big, or my eyes were too small—you name it, I noticed it. And the problem only moved south when I got into college—the only part of me I was happy with, my figure, suddenly started to change and grow and all of a sudden I didn’t love my face or my body. Even though I have never been “ugly” or “fat,” I refused to accept anyone’s compliments, always denying anything positive about myself. Looking back on it now, I think part of my problem was that I saw everyone else doing the same thing. Someone calls you pretty? Immediately shoot that compliment down. Someone tells you that you look nice today? “Oh, please, I’ve never looked nice a day in my life.” And somehow, it felt that if I did anything other than deny these compliments, I would be in the wrong.
It took a long time before I was able to look in the mirror and be content with what I saw. In all honesty, it really only happened this past year. Part of it was that I got away from some toxic relationships and found people who love me for exactly who I am. Most of it was that I learned to accept God’s love. But in the words of my very wise husband, what it really came down to was that I learned to value myself.
Because, in the end, it isn’t really about how we look. I could diet for years and work out every day, but if I don’t value who I am as a person, it isn’t going to matter what I look like on the outside. It was my insides that needed to be loved. The real question is, why don’t we love ourselves? Why don’t we love our outsides, or our insides?
The reality of the situation is that God loves you. God made you.
Genesis 1:27a says, “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them.”
So, not only has He made you, but He also made you in His image.
Romans 5:8 is one of many verses that tells us God loves us: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
So, we know that God loves us even in our sin—even in the worst kind of ugliness.
And Psalm 139:13-16 describes how intimately He created us: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
Let’s really look at what these verses mean. If we say we’re not happy with the way we look, are we saying that God could have created us better? Are we saying that the creator of the entire universe, who made this beautiful earth and the heavens and everything around us, that He messed up? If I hate my face, or my stomach, or my butt, do I hate God’s handiwork? 1 Peter 2:9 says that we are God’s “special possession”; are we hating what is most special to God? We know from the previous verses that God made us with great care and purpose, and yet we are spitting on His masterpiece every time we tell someone, “No, I’m so ugly.” Furthermore, we’re made in HIS IMAGE! That’s like if someone said, “You’re so beautiful, just like your mother!” and, with Mom standing right there, you replied, “Ugh, no, I’m hideous.” Truth be told, in not loving who we are and what we look like, we are spitting on God’s plan, His work, and His image.
To finish off, I’d like to leave you with some royal examples of how to love yourself exactly the way you are. One Little Mermaid gives quite the illustration, in my opinion. At one point in the movie, Ariel is woken up suddenly, out of a dead sleep, and when she makes the assumption that it’s her wedding day (thanks to Scuttles), she looks in the mirror, fluffs her hair once, and rushes out to see her man. She doesn’t brush her teeth. She doesn’t comb out her bedhead. She doesn’t change into a pretty dress and put on some makeup and rub out her eye sleepers—she looks in the mirror and, confident in how she looks after just waking up, goes to see her man. Another great example is Jasmine. Sitting in front of her vanity brushing her hair, she doesn’t turn away from the mirror, ashamed of how she looks. She smiles at her reflection. Not only that, but she has enough self-confidence to know that she is worth so much more than all the money the snooty princes keep bringing. “I am not a prize to be won!” Remember? Now, that’s a whole other topic for another time, but that’s some self-confidence if I’ve ever seen it. Shouldn’t we, as God’s special possession, see the same worth within ourselves?
Lastly—and this one really hits the nail on the head, I think—let’s look at how the sea witch Ursula looks at herself in a mirror. In this scene, she is using her magic to appear as the lovely maiden Vanessa. While looking in the mirror, she sings a song about her evil schemes and laughs devilishly, clearly very proud of herself. As she tilts the mirror towards herself, we see her not as the vixen Vanessa, but as Ursula, the octopus woman. And yet, she is grinning and laughing at her reflection, confident and proud despite her looks. Now, if Ursula can even look at herself in the mirror and feel confident, can’t we at the very least look at ourselves and be proud of our own dastardly accomplishments? Because, let’s be honest, you are not uglier than Ursula. So if she can look in the mirror and be happy with what she sees, why can’t you?
The truth is, loving yourself takes work. Accepting who you are, inside and out, requires a lot of effort. So I’m going to leave you with a “GO” challenge, as we like to do in my church’s college group. I want you to take a picture of yourself first thing in the morning—no makeup, no rinsing off your face, no fixing your hair. Use the very first picture you take, regardless of how it looks, and look at that picture once a day. When you’re looking at it, tell yourself, “This person was made by God. God created them in His image. He created them perfect. They are loved and wanted by God, just the way they are. They. Are. Perfect.” Do this every single day until you can look in the mirror and say it to yourself, out loud, and really believe it.
And, remember, if worse comes to worse, you can at least remind yourself that you are more beautiful than Ursula, and laugh wickedly with pride.
Author’s Note: I apologize for taking an obscene amount of time to make another post. I was getting married, and buying a new kitty, and going on a honeymoon, and a bunch of other things. I will be making a much more pointed effort to post once a week from now on! Thanks for reading!
Now, I’ll be straight with you: growing up, Ariel held that special place in my tiny heart, swimming into the number one position mostly because it was my dream to: 1. Live underwater and 2. Have hair that looked that incredible when wet. I also, as a brunette, may have had a slight vendetta against all of the blonde princesses, which didn’t help Cindy’s case either. But, since leaving high school and freeing myself from the authority of blonde-haired cheerleaders whose morning two-hour hair and makeup routines made me look like a potato in my standard jeans and t-shirt, I have gotten over my subconscious animosity toward the light-haired princesses.
If you knew me but knew nothing about my Disney preferences, you’d never guess Cinderella is my favorite, though. She’s nothing like me. Most girls pick a princess because she reminds her of herself: “I love to read, just like my favorite princess Belle!” “My favorite princess is Ariel, because she has a tail and can breathe underwater like me!” (Still the dream.) But Cinderella–who is devoted to kindness, shows unbreakable patience, and is grateful for every single minuscule gift that is given to her–shares very little in common with me.
In the first lines of the movie, a narrator introduces Cinderella by saying, “Cinderella was abused, humiliated, and finally forced to become a servant in her own house. And yet, through it all, Cinderella remained ever gentle and kind, for with each dawn she found new hope that someday her dreams of happiness would come true.” Every time I hear those lines, I’m reminded of what I’m striving to become. Ever gentle and kind. Though I may struggle with patience, gratitude, and unwavering kindness, Cinderella is an inspiration to me that in the harshest of conditions, these three characteristics are still achievable. And it reminds me of some other words, which weigh even heavier than the introduction of my beloved Cinderella:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23 (ESV).
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” – Colossians 3:12-14 (NIV).
You see, what you learn about me in knowing that Cinderella is my favorite princess is that above all the things I am (impatient, hot-tempered, selfish) and all the things I love (Disney, my fiancé, my family), I’m a Christian. And my strongest desire in life is to work to be a better Christian each and every day, striving towards the goal: my future home in Heaven. And Cinderella, who portrays so many of the qualities Christ calls me to put on, helps remind me of that goal every time I watch her movie.
And that is why tonight, as I finish writing my first blog post, I am watching as Lucifer chases after Cindy’s dear friends, Jaq and Gus (boy, is there some juicy context written between those lines—but I’ll save that for another post), and Cinderella herself scrubs the floors while singing a cheerful tune. A gentle reminder to thank God in every circumstance, even when your evil stepsisters tear up the beautiful dress your mice friends made you.