Out of the Darkness and into Life

 

crying-eyes-wallpapers-31“I will exalt You, O Lord, for You lifted me out of the depths . . . O Lord my God, I called to You for help and You healed me. O Lord, You brought me up from the grave; You spared me from going down into the pit” Psalm 30:1-3

Memory is a powerful thing. It can bring us delight in the thoughts of a loved one, or joy in the remembrance of a special day. It can take me back to the innocent days of childhood or allow you to recall again the arms of your daddy carrying you up to bed. Memories can also cause grief and pain to resurface, people whose absence haunts us, or situations that come rushing back from dark times we’ve tried to forget. I experience one of those painful memories in, of all things, a computer game. It was a game I played for mind-numbing hours when sleep escaped me and anxiety overwhelmed me. It was one of the deepest, darkest seasons of my life.

Like most of us, I’ve had “blue days” when my heart and mind were in a low place, but they usually came and went in a day or so. Many times they were connected to disappointments, frustrations and hormones (every woman reading this just nodded her head).   But they didn’t prove to be debilitating so I just rode them out like waves at the beach. Until a tsunami of anxiety and depression hit me and knocked me off my feet with a force I’ve never felt before. There was no riding this one out. There was no jumping back to my feet. There was no shaking it off, no bootstraps to pull myself up by, this was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. Night after night I lay in the bed trying to sleep, racked with body aches and mental anguish. When I did manage to drift off, as soon as my body relaxed, my muscles would jerk me awake from the tension I held all day. The cycle repeated itself hour after hour, night after night. I drudged through my days in a sleep-deprived stupor.

As bad as the nights were, the days were even worse. The constant bombardment of hopelessness, anxiety, and despair never left me. I cannot describe in words the mental torment I experienced, but anyone who has endured that kind of hell knows exactly what I mean. While I don’t condone it, I came to understand how people suffering from severe depression might welcome the relief of death. At one point I stood in my kitchen contemplating which knife would do the job the quickest when my son came in for a drink, and I realized I couldn’t do that to him. I never thought about suicide again.

I had been writing in notebooks for years, before blogs were ever the thing to do, thinking someday there might be something to my words. But in the midst of this season, I believed I would never get my mind back, never be able to write anything that made sense, and I threw years of writings in the fireplace and watched my words curl up in the flames and turn to ashes. I couldn’t bear to be constantly reminded of what I had lost and would never get back. Besides, I reasoned, I won’t be able to take them with me into the mental institution I saw as my future.

So how is it that I am here, ten years later, writing these words to you now, pursuing my dream to study as a seminary student and finding joy in my life again? How did I go from the deepest pit to standing here with the sun shining on my face? In a word – God.  Even from the beginning, I sensed that if I had even the smallest chance of survival, it would only be if I clung to God like a drowning man clings to a life preserver. Somehow – no, not somehow, I know how – deep in my spirit I knew that God could rescue me. I knew that if I grabbed onto whatever I could of Him, I had a sliver of hope. The truth is, I wasn’t clinging to God because all along God had been holding on to me. The only solace I found was in my Bible, in the pages of the Psalms. They speak to every emotion man experiences, and they were the words I couldn’t find at three o’clock in the morning. I read the Psalms constantly, wrote them in my prayer journal, prayed them aloud and wrote my own. They were my lifeline to God. They were God’s gift to me.

And one more thing – one early morning as I was reading Psalm 19, I noticed how David called God “my strength, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my shield and the horn of my salvation” (vs. 1-2). I sensed God speak to my heart, “Child, who am I?” “You’re God,” I said, “Who else could you be?” Again in my heart I heard “There’s so much more to me than you realize. Know me.” Those two words rang through my mind the entire day – “Know me.” I remembered a small book I had picked up several months earlier at a conference, Time Out: Planning a Personal Prayer Retreat, by Mary Kassian. It was published just for the retreat – I bought it for $5 – but it had listings of the names of God in Hebrew with scripture references. This book became my personal study manual as I poured over each of those names, looking up the Scriptures and writing each one out. I began to see God as I had never seen Him before. God was Yahweh Magen – the Lord my Shield, Yahweh Rophe – the Lord my Healer, El Emunah – the Faithful God, and the name that became most precious to me, El Hayyay – God of my life. Every name gave me renewed strength and hope and peace. In studying the names of God I felt like a parched, cracked desert suddenly graced with spring showers, drinking in liquid life.  That study continued for six years as I found more resources with more information. I began to study the original word terminologies in the Hebrew, a passion that has carried over in my studies and writing today. The God of the Bible literally saved my life. I will be sharing some of these names in a series of blog posts in the coming weeks. I pray you will find new facets of who God is and come to appreciate His multi-dimensional nature. I hope you will find a special name that becomes your personal, intimate connection to your Creator.

It was two very long years before I could sense a return to “normal” (whatever that is), and I still have bouts with depression from time-to-time. I learned later that I was experiencing a serious chemical imbalance that triggered the depressive episode. Medication is part of my self-care routine, but I always turn back to the Psalms and my studies of God’s names when I feel myself heading down into the pit again. I’ve learned through study and by experience that whatever I need – whether a Rescuer, Helper, Redeemer, Rock, Shield, Defender, Healer, or Comforter, God is always and forever El Shaddai – the Almighty Sufficient God. He is whatever I need.

El Hayyay – You are the God of my life, You saved me from my sins and you saved me from despair. You are Yahweh Shalom – the God of Peace, for only You could bring peace to my misery and pain. You will forever be Eli Maelekhi – God my King, and I will forever serve You. Amen.

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I Have Had Enough

“Moses asked the Lord, ‘Why have You brought this trouble on Your servant? What have I done to displease You?’” Numbers 11:10

Have you ever felt like God is picking on you? Do you ever wonder if He has singled you out for suffering and heartache? I know I have, and through conversations with others, I am not the only one. Life in this world is hard. We’re in good company though, because even the great heroes of the Bible had those same thoughts and feelings, like Moses in our key passage.

Moses had the difficult task of leading some two million people out of Egyptian captivity, across seas and deserts and into the Promised Land. Two million frightened, tired, hungry, complaining people. There had been tremendous drama as he repeatedly confronted the stubborn Pharaoh, his own skeptical people, mighty armies that chased them, the lack of food and water, jealously among the group, disobedience and constant wandering in the desert. Moses was exhausted, overwhelmed and ready to give up. He bluntly told God, “If this is how You are going to treat me, put me to death right now” (Numbers 11:15). You can hear the same tone in the voice of the prophet Elijah “I have had enough Lord, take my life” (1 Kings 19:4). What had brought these great men of God to such a desperate state? Here’s a few things from their stories I believe parallel our lives in these seasons.

They were both physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted and overwhelmed. We’ve mentioned the burdens that had left Moses drained and depleted. Elijah was running for his life from the wicked queen Jezebel and He thought that he alone was carrying the name of the Lord. He complained to God “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected Your covenant, broken down Your altars, and put Your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (1 Kings 19:10). I know this one all too well. As a wife and mother, I carry the burdens and weights of those I love often to the overwhelming point of exhaustion. I load myself down, believing I am responsible for everything that concerns them. I am learning the hard way (is there any other way we learn?) that I am not equipped to carry them, they really don’t want me to carry them, and it leaves me drained and them frustrated. When the weight of responsibility becomes too much, we feel burdened, alone and ready to give up.

They both had taken their eyes off of the Lord. Moses could only see the angry, complaining, disobedient people that confronted him and the impossible task of feeding them all. He told God “Where can I get meat for all these people?” (Numbers 11:13). He had forgotten the power and the promises of God and how He had provided, defended and protected them thus far. God’s answer to Moses – “Is the Lord’s arm too short?” (Numb. 11:23). “Is anything too hard for the Lord” Gen. 18:14)? Though Elijah had heard God speak to and through him many times, all he heard now was the vindictive words of Jezebel swearing he would be dead by the next day. He was listening to his fears and forgot the words of His faithful God. The Lord spoke to him again, drowning out the queen’s threats with His own “gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12). So often it is where our eyes are fixed and the words we choose to hear that bring us into these seasons of despair.

How do we go from the point of giving up to pressing on? God provides the answers. He instructed Moses to appoint seventy of Israel’s elders to help carry the load and relieve him of much of his burden. God reminded Elijah that he wasn’t the only one on the Lord’s side – “I have reserved seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal” (1 Kings 19:16). Now you and I may not have seven thousand or even seventy people who will step in and help, but are we asking those we do have around us? Can someone step in and shoulder some of the responsibility? I know when I have swallowed my pride and asked for help, I’ve never been turned down. God does not expect us to bear our burdens alone, he gives us fellow Christians to come along side of us. He gives us His Word, full of promises and hope and peace. He gives us His presence through the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus called “the Comforter” (John 14:16 KJV). He promises to take our burdens – “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7). When we are weighed down by burdens and worries, God invites us to lay them down at His feet.

Finally, we must keep our eyes on the Lord and our ears tuned to His voice. I’m talking to myself here because in the middle of the spiritual battle I am in right now, it is all too easy to let the circumstances and the voice of the enemy drag me into despair and hopelessness. Satan loves to tell us that God has abandoned us, that we will not survive our heartache, and that the turmoil we see now is all that will ever be. This is where I can either stand on my faith in God or let the enemy drive me to the point of desperation. I must keep asking myself “What does God say?” and go to His Word for truth and hope. I must remember Joseph’s words to his evil, scheming brothers: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good…” (Gen. 50:20). I must remind myself that Satan does not have the final say – God determines the outcome. And I must fix my eyes on Jesus least I drown in my sorrows like Peter when he looked away from the Lord and out at the raging sea. With my eyes fixed on Jesus I see solutions not problems, I see provision not want, I see strength not weakness, I see healing not pain, I see hope not despair, joy not sorrow, truth not lies, love not hate, peace not turmoil, life not death. With my eyes fixed on Jesus, I see – not an end, but eternity.

Holy, loving Father, the winds howl and the waves threaten to drag me under. Exhausted and overwhelmed, I turn my eyes to You, my hope and my comfort.  Speak peace into my weary soul, remind me that I am not alone and You are working on my behalf. Meet me in this place of darkness and lead me back into Your light. Amen.