the perfect christian life and anti-depressants

(this article originally appeared in catapult magazine.  the topic has been on my mind, so i thought i’d bring her back out and put a new dress on her.)

A close friend knocked on our door a few weeks after our daughter was born.

He told us he’d waited these six weeks before coming by, what with the baby being so new and all, but now the time had come. He wanted to let us know that our child was in need of healing. This Down syndrome she possessed was in fact possession, and we could start tonight, we could pray it away.

This was not God’s intention for her.  We could call the devil by his name.  He asked us to imagine her healed and walking across the stage receiving her high school diploma eighteen years from now. He said we’d sit in the bleachers and we’d cry and say, “God did that!”

I held my baby, not yet two months old, in her blankets.

Life’s surprises had left me numb and now this? Now him in our living room — our brother, our trusted friend — delivering such a word from God?

I’d hoped he would want to hold her, praise her newness, but he hardly looked at her except to see what God wanted to fix.

What I held in my arms now was little more than a thermostat of my faith.

The Christian life has a lot of those: ways that determine how much faith we have, how much we deny or obey God based on what we will or won’t do.  What we do or don’t believe about things other than Jesus Christ.

kids

I’ve taken anti-depressants for years now — another one of those things.

Taking medication for depression can be a Christian no-no.

I’ve internalized that prevalent thought and every night, when it comes time to swallow down another tiny orange pill, I sometimes think that I’m doing something wrong. I believe that I’m less than the one who doesn’t need to do this, less than the super-Christian I used to be. I wonder if I’ve lost my creative edge. I believe that I tell the truth at a slant now. Everything that I have achieved is, in part, not valid because I’ve done it while managing depression with a prescription pharmaceutical.

Is that true?

These two stories share a similar lie that boils down to this: there is a better Christian way of being and it can be achieved in this life.  Extra behavioral choices added to believing that I’m saved by grace.

Is that true?

It is true that some life situations are better than others — managing depression through prayer versus alcoholism, perhaps? Or having no mental disabilities versus having a cognitive delay? However, none of these situations is any further away from or closer to God.

We’re all a million miles off the mark and will continue to be so.

If our daughter were healed of Down syndrome, she’d still be far from realized.

If I stop taking medication and don a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, I’d be no closer to or further from Jesus than I am today.

I still having trouble believing it is so, but it is.

Grace contends for its way and God decides some people will have Down syndrome.

He also loves people who struggle with depression.

Revolutionary, I know.

forgive me

Grace speaks this over and over: it’s not about us.

It’s about God and what He does or doesn’t do.

Maybe one day, we’ll all get it right — perfect people with a perfect score.

Oh, for that glorious, extremely boring, day!  I need to pray that I don’t hope for such a day.

But until then I’ll walk down the street having taken my anti-depressant, holding the hand of my daughter who has Down syndrome and I will say that I am loved and, by the grace of God, I’m still welcome.

photo credit: amykimballphotography

Posted in depression, disability, grace; free gifts, the church | 2 Comments

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psalm 34:18

the lord is close to the brokenhearted; he saves those whose spirits are crushed.

summerour friend tells us that he’s been tore up ever since his mother died and i’m thinking that he doesn’t know how right he is.

the words brokenhearted in the bible translate in the hebrew like this:

to tear the inner man into pieces.

skythe summer days dawn and shine until nighttime and it feels even worse to those walking around torn up on the inside.  it should be grey when your heart is broken.

green leaves hovering over blue water when the people you love are sick? laughing and summertime when your brothers and sisters are diagnosed and waste and die?  vacation plans and cannonballs when the hopes you’ve held forever are answered with a resounding no over and over again?

so we try for a fix.

maybe a drink?  maybe a relationship?

maybe we fly across the world only to find that the inner man comes with us and holds our hand as we walk off the runway.

there is no way to heal yourself up when the heart is torn to shreds.  i’ve tried.  i still try.  i try without realizing i’m trying.

and it never works.

nightthe first time jesus teaches publicly he says that he was born for this reason -

“to bind up the brokenhearted.” – luke 4

this is what jesus does.

he is binding up the shredded insides of men and women.

he is tightly winding bandages around what’s been torn so that healing can begin and hearts can mend in the way they were meant to.

set sailthere are things i can’t do.

there are places on the inside that even the most beautiful days and most loving friends can’t touch.

come, lord jesus.

Posted in depression, detroit, grief, healing, real hope | 3 Comments

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call for songs of loudest praise

art

“why do christians sing when they are together?  the reason is, quite simply, because in singing together it is possible for them to speak and pray the same word at the same time; in other words, because they can unite in the word.” ~ dietrich bonhoeffer

a stack of two-pocket fading folders with fasteners.  thirty pages of songs sung by the faithful.  come to the light.  step by step.  isn’t he.  alpha omega.

my faith started this way.  singing songs.

and it continues like this, too.

city

last night it happened again.  i sat in a living room and sang songs.

i remember being seventeen years old and doing the exact same thing.  shuffling in, making small talk, and being handed a blue two-pocket fading fastening folder.  someone telling me which page to turn to.

and then singing.

singing about crucifixion and a crown of thorns.  singing about meeting god in the morning and learning to walk in his ways.  singing about how far the east is from the west.

and love.  always singing about love.

a bird

a plane

and there’s a quote i can’t find about how the early church was always singing.  that it didn’t matter what was done to them.  prison, death, thrown to the lions – they just kept gathering together and singing.

i like to think of it.

that from the ascension until this morning there has always been a song being sung. songs never ceasing, just like we sing about.  from the first moment until jesus returns, every time one song ends, another one begins – generation after generation.

for two thousand years and more.

super man

so do your part.

take your eyes off of your life and open your mouth and sing with abandon in somebody’s living room.  i know it sounds awful, ridiculous even.  but you just gotta trust me on this one.

sing while the day is still called today.

Posted in christian culture, community, faith, healing | 1 Comment

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i don’t know if there are harps in heaven

tree shadows

when winter was done, truly over, i noticed that i had an odd reaction to the signs of summer.

every budding summer tree made me see autumn.  after freezing pipes and days we couldn’t step out the front door, the sight of the progression back through the seasons sent a chill down my spine.

it’s taken a while for me to thaw.

orchard

tomorrow’s the last day of our family’s vacation and if there were ever a signal that fall will be returning, i guess this might be it.

but that’s alright.

we hiked on the hills through a cherry orchard and if god’s heart is on display in nature, what are we to make of orchards, vineyards and farmland?

children

national

when i walk through the rows i imagine what words i want on my tombstone.

because i’m convinced that the hereafter can’t be too far off from life in the center of a cherry orchard.

this great what’s coming next.

the fear of watching the signs that point out yes, winter will come again.  and the fear of watching the signs of those you love growing old, getting sick and yes, that our time here is limited.

jubilee

this summer, if you have a way, get out into the exposed heart of god in nature.

read the words written in rows, in cherries and in sunlight.

they tell you what god is like.

kindness.
beauty.
generosity.
provisional.

and we will take that knowledge into the harshest seasons of this life.  we will hold it close when the trees are bare.  we will remember to make it through.

Posted in beauty, outside, time, weakness | Leave a comment

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all to reveal a secret we can’t hide

 

when

during communal prayer at church, anyone can say anything.  i’ve heard mothers weep for children and homeless men go off on political rants.

last sunday i had a prayer in my throat.

but i think and rethink.  i wonder how i’ll say it.  i’m always writing my words.

finally i pray.

and as soon, as soon, as i quiet down a woman’s soft voice rises behind our pew and prays this:

“lord, have mercy on all the arrogant believers.”

we open

prayers continue to float across the room, but i know that she said that for me.

at least i think i know.

i’m the arrogant believer who  needs mercy.

i feel small and ashamed.  it bothers me.

our eyes

during the week i hear a sermon where the pastor talks about the rules not applying to everyone.  that some believers hold others to high standards but for themselves, the rules change.

don’t you watch that movie, but i can.
don’t you eat that dessert, but i will.
don’t you go on that website, but i do.
don’t say those words, but i will.

for that believer, the rules don’t apply.

“lord, have mercy on all the arrogant believers.”

and

by the middle of the week, the barely audible prayer for mercy feels more like a blessing than a curse.

one afternoon, i’m talking with the mormons on my front porch.  it’s the third or fourth time they’ve been by.  i’ve read the parts of nephi that they told me to and when they ask if i believe that the jesus in that story is the same one i know, i say no.

“no, i don’t think it is the same jesus.”

the sorrow that comes into the earnest eyes of those faithful young men almost makes me feel bad enough to change my mind.

almost.

later in the week, i sit with my friend in a car and we talk about forgiveness.  that we both need it.  i tell her that my faith, my messy, arrogant, bold, imperfect faith, is not just for me.

i tell her the truth when i say that i’m in the exact same boat as everyone else.  one beggar telling another where i’ve found bread.

dream

today i’m wishing that after every prayer i pray there’d be a woman’s soft voice rising up somewhere from behind my back.

“lord, have mercy on all the arrogant believers.”

because i need it.

i’ve rarely known such an abuser of grace who tries hard and fails hard.  i’ve rarely known such a generous god willing to give his spirit to those who ask.

gratitude journal ~ one thousand gifts ~ 2293 – 2305

rental properties
this sun room
mazzy’s bald head
other lakes
vacation
one heart looking different now
green leaves
repenting of sin
sincere mormons
drew and dianne
de-stressing fights
basketball in the woods
fair rides

Posted in beauty, community, faith, spirit of god, thankful | Leave a comment

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gender roles in my own backyard

abba

we’re eating lunch at a plastic picnic table.  my knees barely fit underneath.  we’re mere feet away from the trampoline and the swing set.

this is how young it starts.

my son.  my beautiful boy.  this kind-hearted, contagious, leader of a boy.  he is a song.  he looks up from his paper plate and asks his two sisters and i -

“do you think it’s better to be a boy or a girl?”

bella

brother

mazzy answers quickly.  a boy.

ella says girl and i do, too.  then i add that i’ve only ever been a girl, so i’m not sure if i’m the best one to answer his question.

he agrees and we all begin to eat again, i think it’s done.  then he says this -

“but i think being a boy is a little better.”

when i start to talk about the great things about both, he starts to list the biblical reasons to support his position.

- god made men first.

- it is called “mankind”

- jesus came in the form of a man

my jaw has hit the yellow plastic as he argues for something i hadn’t known was taken. and the fact that these lines hadn’t been rehearsed at home isn’t lost on me.

oh church.

oh christian school.

oh humanity.

a little riled up now, i answer him.

you know when you make something the first time?  he nods.  you think “eh, it’s alright, but the next time i make it, it’s going to be amazing!”  that’s kind of how god was with the whole first and second business – we’re talking serious improvement.

mom, he says smiling sideways.

and the word “mankind” is a way of saying humankind, women are included in that.

and i’m not completely sure on this, but jesus took the form of a man partly because if he’d been a woman in his culture, in his time, he would have had no voice, no rights.

he quiets down and looks around the backyard.  the trees sway from wind he can feel, wind he knows is true, but that he can’t point to and say, “aha!  there it is!”

son

later we’re driving and i’ve thought about his small understanding of the gender debate, my small response.  he is trying to express something he sees – boys and girls, they’re different and for him, being a boy is better.

in some homes, in some cultures, this wouldn’t be a conversation.  it would be truth and he’d be celebrated above his sisters, allowed to do what boys will do.  but here in our house, in our backyard, it’s an observation that he wants to put out into the air and see what happens.

i don’t want to take him down at the knees.

i have to help him think about this well.

clean up

“abe i was thinking about what you said about boys being better than girls.”

yeah?  he asks.

“you’re right.  there are things that are better about being a boy.  and there are better things about being a girl, too.  but you’re a boy and i want you to know that i understand what you are saying.

but honey, many times and especially in the church, that idea that boys are “better” has really hurt girls and ultimately can make girls believe they aren’t as important to god.”

he looks surprised and wide-eyed says, that’s not true!

“i know, abe.  i know.  and i know you don’t think that way.  listen, jesus had a lot of power, right?”

right, he answers.

“but he didn’t lord it over people.  he was a servant.  he laid down his rights even though he did not have to.  

abe, you will grow up to be a man and you will have a certain amount of authority and responsibility.  you will need to decide how you want to treat women, how you think about them – you’ll have to choose the kind of man you want to be.”

then there is deep quiet and a staring out of the passenger window with the world flying by.

sister

helper
“and i think you’ll choose well, abraham.  because you are kind and loving.  you have a good heart and i love you.”

i love you too, mom.  i love you, too.

Posted in childhood, christian culture, mothering, outside, redemption | 4 Comments

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hired too soon

someplace

i come into an empty room; wooden floors and a basket of yarn in the corner.  the table is holding four squares of sunlight and a fireplace is giving off heat from a morning fire.

it is a beautiful place.

i get the same feeling when i get to the shore.  the empty beach stretches on and on, all along michigan, and i’m the only one out here.

i’m jealous.

i’m envious of a generous god.

daily wage

this is the question jesus poses to those who do not live comfortably with grace.

“are you envious because i am generous?”

he tells the story of the man who hires men in the morning, noon and night and pays them all the same.  the ones from the morning time aren’t pleased.

that question has always struck a nerve, a chord, something.

my soul answers with a resounding yes.

i am envious of your generosity, lord.

but maybe not like you meant it there.

vineyards

i see the empty, beautiful places.

i can go to them, inhabit them, experience them – and then i have to go.

and maybe you know that feeling, too.  the arrival and the leaving of an empty, beautiful place.

the ones that resound, the deep places.

the water’s edge.

a clean room.

you can’t stay forever.

but god, you can.

you do.

laborers

and i envy you for it.

the great generosity of so many places in this life, this world.

the circle of friends around the table, the room after they’ve all gone and are in their beds.  left over coffee in cups and crumpled napkins, evidence of the night, of friendship.

waves rolling in and out unseen.  every sunset, sunrise – always watched by you.  maybe seen by us.  the laundry in it’s drawer.  the clean house with doors locked and no one home.  the fields of wildflowers out doing solomon with no court ever seeing their blooms.

i’m jealous for all of your beautiful world, lord.  i wish i was able to see it and stay long everywhere, all the time – like you.

end of the day

but i can’t.

and so i take the wages promised for the work of each day and i’ll try not to bury this treasure.  i have a feeling that if i want it, then there must be a way for it to happen.

it is this way with you, lord.

if we desire to know you, it must be that we can know you.
if we want to see those we’ve loved and lost, it must be that we will see them, hold them, again.
if we want to stay long and exist in the generous way that you do lord, you will somehow answer that deep place in us, in me.

i pack up the beach bags.  i turn and leave the room.  the day is dimming and the laborers have worked until the agreed upon hour.

and still i hope for more.

Posted in beauty, faith, grief, outside | 5 Comments

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the friends you want to avoid

climbing

the problem with surrounding yourself with truth tellers is they tell you the truth.

i’ve been giving paper a sideways glance and walking into the kitchen to do the dishes. i would start to type a blog post and then delete the words not liking the tone, my tone, any voice that comes from my heart.

i didn’t know where to start or how to stop or if i should begin again, if beginning is the right word.

i don’t know the right words.

laurel

but i don’t talk about it.

it’s a weakness, a fault line cracked through the land of me way back when.  i tend not to tell you what’s going on inside.  unless it’s with a pencil.

so i just kept doing.

doing stuff.  doing anything.

mopping floors.  buying murphy’s oil soap.  considered washing the windows even.  okay, i did wash one and a half windows.  folded laundry.  made beds.  vacuumed.  looked into nursing programs and pharmacy programs and re-imagined life back in school.

the lengths we’ll go to to avoid the real things we’re meant to do.

mandy

then i did a dangerous thing.

i talked to my friends.

my jesus women who hear me out completely and are gentle in their hearing and telling. they sit on their three-legged-stools and speak the truth in love.

these are the women you want to avoid.

if you would prefer to keep avoiding things and cleaning stuff and taking classes – do not talk to the truth tellers.

but i did just that.

and surprise, surprise – they told the truth.

victory

i was surprised though.  the truth does that.

it always surprises.

it’s character is that way.  it brings the clean, cool air to your soul and when you know it, you know it.  and even when you don’t want to hear it, you are so glad to hear it.

so to all the truth tellers in the room.

please be quiet.

just kidding.

sort of.

friends

no, please don’t.

keep telling us the truth.

if you don’t, who will?

 

gratitude journal ~ one thousand gifts ~ 2276 – 2292

truth tellers
new toilets
moon over lake huron
tv time
ladybug rock
new kitchen
ice beer
my parents
purple sky at dusk
kids seeing it all
caleb major
sand bars
friends
mazzy’s grace
rest
peace
vines and branches

Posted in community, friendship, thankful, writing | 4 Comments

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all that i own does not compare

station

i forget that the most compelling thing about me is jesus.

i forget.

in the forgetting i lose myself and become ungrateful, confused.

girls

am i a good mother?

it is because jesus has wrought my iron will in his gentle hands.

is my marriage remarkable?

it is because he has been remarkably generous to two people who were nearly unable to love.

are my words worth reading, my choices worth emulating, my company not excruciating?

it is all and only because of jesus christ.

i recall the power

of trains

when i forget this, i forget myself.

i’ve been a bit dull and silent.  i’ve been selfish and argumentative, boring and needing forgiveness.

i’m trying my best to respond to his loving kindness.

but i am slow.

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after a while we took in the clothes

clean

that damp on the arms of hanging clothes on the line.

it is clean.

the breeze that lifts that damp and the sun that dries it.

a light-filled room if ever there was one.

honest

these days my moments are like laundered shirts, damp and clean, hung up on a line.

work and chore.

rest on the line.

breezes of utility and beauty.

honest

i would bury my face in the damp clinging until it dried and fluttered away.

i would string a line and pin up his growing tallness, nearly the height of me.

i would take a wooden clothespin to her kindness for her sister.

i would clip the dandelions handed to me from the neighbor’s yard.

i would lay down on the grass and watch each moment move and somehow take on the scent of a day.

pure

when they pull these days out and over their heads to wear as young men and women, i hope they catch the scent of our time together.

i hope it is pleasing and clean and good to them.

because they have been that for me.

each moment.  each day.  each child.  each friend.

pleasing, good and clean.

Posted in beauty, childhood, friends, good life, time | 3 Comments

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