Rising above: conquering negativity through Christ

A few weeks, and the depression sparked by the kids’ return to school had reached an absolute breaking point. I couldn’t muster the interest for anything, had little appreciation for life, and generally wanted to sink into what we have long and lovingly deemed “the couch vortex,” where I could dwell on how truly miserable I was. After a lifetime of struggles with depression, I had thought I’d finally kicked the issue as my relationship with God deepened. And then this. I was stumped, and of course, as with most depressed people, perfectly content to give up. And then, as only the best spouses do, B called me on it.

“You don’t have anything good to say any more. What about appreciating your life a little?”

And as only the most miserable of spouses do, I threw myself into indignation. Except there wasn’t much to wallow around in there, because B was absolutely right. Negativity flowed from my mouth, founted in my mind and heart. How had that happened? Well, it happened because I turned the tap on, that’s how. I chose to focus on the faults, the downsides, the cracks.

I apologized. I turned the tap off. I opened up the fountain of positive response. And for a good week, I sounded like the most fake Pollyanna on the planet. My dear friend couldn’t help but laugh at the smirk on my face every time I said that my day was great. And B urged me not to lie.

But the thing was, it wasn’t a lie. It was just a change in perspective, a choice to see the good in each moment instead of dwelling on the bad. The Bible is all for this: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). Sure, it means that I might ignore the bad. But what’s so wrong with that? Focusing on the bad makes me look down or back. Focusing on the good focuses on the now, and in the case of the silver lining, keeps me from dwelling on what went wrong and instead begs me to ask what I learned for moving forward. And most incredibly–though not surprisingly–my joy spread through the house, to B, to my friend, to others.

Along these lines, I was brought to tears this Sunday by Chris Tomlin’s “I Will Rise.” In the past, I had considered it a song of God’s strength. But in light of my recent change, I read it differently.

There’s a peace I’ve come to know / Though my heart and flesh may fail / There’s an anchor for my soul / I can say “It is well”

Jesus has overcome / And the grave is overwhelmed / The victory is won / He is risen from the dead

[Chorus:] And I will rise when He calls my name / No more sorrow, no more pain / I will rise on eagles’ wings / Before my God fall on my knees / And rise / I will rise

There is a definite peace in saying, “It is well.” Because it is. Because no matter what grave I’m lying in–or couch vortex–Jesus rose from the dead, and His power means that I can as well. I can rise. I can let go of the sadness, the sorrow, the negativity. I can fall–but only before God–and then rise, again and again. Even with a smirk. And often, after a week, without a smirk. With genuine appreciation for what I have, for what I can learn. Not that it is easy; that couch calls to me still. But it is a choice, whether I want to admit it or not.

This week, I will continue to choose to focus on the true, the noble, the right, the pure, the lovely, the admirable. When I am down, I will think of God’s sacrifice, of the power He demonstrated, and rise. In doing so, I not only experience new life, but I share it as well.

What will you think on this week, and how will that influence those around you?

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December Remembers

It did not escape my attention that I posted only one time during the month of December. To be honest, December sort of got away from me. The holidays are one of my favorite times, and as a general rule, I squeeze every last drop of holiday goodness out of them. I begin checking out Christmas books and stocking supplies for holiday crafts in early October; I make lists of every last cookie I’m going to make, and to whom they’ll be given. I come up with fabulous plans to make the most of the holidays. Between advent calendars and daily ornaments and paper chains, we often at least four different ways to count down to Christmas.

Except for this year.

Early in December, I took a week to visit my sister in Scotland. Not only had I never been to Scotland in the seven years my sister has lived there, but I had yet to meet my beautiful new niece. Plus I’d never taken a trip so indulgently independent. It was a wonderful trip. I spent time with my sister and her family that is priceless to me, deepening a relationship that I’d long convinced myself was too difficult to develop given the distance. I helped them set up their Christmas tree and laid my niece down for her naps and put reality to what had long been just random names and places. No matter how hard it was to be away from my family–especially in December–I was tremendously glad I’d done it.

But reality is reality: when I returned home to the gauntlet of the kids’ last week in school, the presents to be bought and wrapped, the cookies to be made, I quickly realized that we were not going to squeezing all those drops this year. Very quickly, I set aside many of the “things” I’d convinced myself made the most of the holidays. We ended up with one advent calendar. Fewer cookies. Store-bought lasagna. Simply wrapped gifts. Stream-lined decorations. I put the Christmas craft supplies away for another year.

This will not come as a surprise to you, most likely. The holidays came just the same, even though we didn’t count their impending arrival with ceremonious fanfare. Presents were given and received. We still watched the beloved holiday classics like A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, even though I didn’t plan their viewing down to the last detail, and we enjoyed them just the same. We hosted two parties but also spent many hours just puttering around the house the four of us, relishing cold mornings and warm days, late evening Christmas lights and early risers playing board games. There were days working out in the yard and around the garage mixed with Sea World and the Natural History Museum and days trips to see family.

The best gift I gave myself this Christmas was that trip, and the releasing of details it demanded. I panic sometimes, thinking that in order to really enjoy something I must do it in as many different ways as possible (just as my husband, who had to propose to me three times, just because I wanted to make sure I really relished the moment). This year, I realized that enjoying something simple–maybe just once, maybe because that’s all you’ve got–is not given up, and that all those years I was doing so much, I wasn’t quite enjoying the holidays as I thought. Not to say that those craft supplies are going to Good Will, but it may take us a lot longer to get through them. In fact, that’s next year’s goal: to leave something out, and leave room for some genuine enjoyment.

Poundage

B lamented one night that he had gained a few pounds, even though he felt like he’d been eating and exercising as usual.

“It’s the fruit,” I said. “We gain five pounds in summer fruit.”

I’ve had this theory since last summer, when I gained five pounds in summer fruit.

“That’s impossible,” he replied. Meaning, there is no way he could convince himself, as I had, that something healthy was to blame for our wider waistlines, and probably, that I was in total and complete denial.

“Think about it: we eat the same meals we eat all year long. But in the summer, I stock us with all the summer fruit I can find, and after each meal, we eat our way through it. Without adjusting anything else. Weight gain is a simple matter of calories in versus calories out.”

“But it’s fruit. It’s practically calorie free.”

“Practically. But not free. And not in the quantities we eat.” Truly, we make it through 1-2 watermelons, pineapples, and cantalopes a week, not to mention several pounds each of peaches, grapes, cherries, and strawberries. Especially this year, when everything seemed to be exceptionally good, and for a surprisingly long season, too. We are still eating very good local watermelon and strawberries, even though the season should have passed.

We considered the spread,our forks poised over the pineapple. “It’s only good during the summer,” I reminded him. “It’s our duty to enjoy God’s fruit while they last.”

So we continue to eat our way through summer fruit, and, okay, the heat-relieving summer ice cream, too. Because there is a time for every forkful, and that time is now. Besides, how else would  we get to the season of the unexplained winter five pound drop if we didn’t?

Falling into place

In thinking about God’s purpose for my life–what I should do and, more often, what I shouldn’t–I’m often presented with the tapestry analogy: “you are one thread in a giant tapestry, and you see only the messy back, and you do not see the finished picture as God sees it”, etc., etc. But this analogy always left me, well, tangled. Because I think I felt that, when I look at a tapestry, more often than not any individual thread doesn’t seem to matter much. Pull a few here or there, and I don’t think it would make a whole lot of difference.

But last night, B said something different: “you are the fourth piece in and third from the top in a giant puzzle. If you weren’t there, right where you need to be, there would be a hole in an otherwise complete picture. And the pieces around you, third and fifth in, second and fourth down, they’d have nothing to hold on to.”

Suddenly I feel important, as God always thinks I am.

Vacation bonus

There were lots of fantastic things about the three days B and I spent in Palm Springs in celebration of our twelfth wedding anniversary. The one that stands out in my mind? The time when I got carded at dinner when we shared a margarita. Notice: I got carded. Which I sort of expected, not that I look young by any stretch of the imagination, but because places seem to card until fifty nowadays. But when B went to pull out his ID, the waitress gave him a sympathetic smile and told him that was unnecessary. Sure, it’s possible that she assumed if one was of age, the other was. But I like to think I looked that fresh enough that I was questionable. Must have been all those other fantastic things we were doing…

Unconventional, but Happy

A thousand things he could give me–candy, cards, jewelry, etc. The one thing I want: his hand in mine, home at last after a week away, at my side when I’m scared. As the kids open their valentines, as the world bubbles with romantic tidings, I go for hernia surgery, happy to know that I will at least come home to those I love the most. Having us all together, even under these less-than-optimal conditions, makes for a happy valentine.