I’ve Got the Joy, Joy, Joy, Joy, Down in My Heart. Where?! 

And I really mean that last part – where?

On one of my first visits to counseling, my therapist asked me what I wanted. What I want out of therapy? What I want in my life? My answer – “I want my joy back.”

Depression is a thief. It took lots of things away from me – sleep, right thinking, relationships, health, desire, peace, …and joy.

Speaking of peace (see Lightness), peace and joy are not the same thing, not to me anyway. Peace implies quiet, stillness, contentment.

And while I’m at it, happiness and joy are not the same thing either. Happiness has to do with external circumstances. Joy comes from within. So why don’t I feel joyful?

I have some joy now and then, but not all the time. I want my full joy restored. Like it was 8 years ago, before I had depression. And I’m trying to figure out how that happens.

I was encouraged by my psych doc, my therapist, my friends, to reach for it. In stretching towards mental health – away from depression, I was told I would also receive peace and joy. I understand peace, but I’m not finding the joy.

I was chatting with my mom about this last week. She is a very wise woman, a lady whom I hugely admire, respect, and love. Besides, she’s my mom! As I’ve grown older, we’ve had amazing discussions about issues of faith.  “As iron sharpens iron,” she’ll tell me, since we both benefit from our deep conversations.

I was a little stuck in writing this post, so I was sharing some thoughts with her, and she had some ideas, too, to help me to think this through.

She reminded me that joy is a fruit of the Spirit, which means that the Holy Spirit gives it. If I am living in the Spirit, then I have joy. But I must be fully yielded to the Holy Spirit, like Jesus was yielded to God, to be able to experience it fully. Yielded means I have to put aside my own agenda and timing, and let the Holy Spirit be my Guide. He gets to drive, I’m in a passenger seat. I’m not even riding shotgun or navigator. I’m buckled up securely in the back!

For a Perfect example: Jesus was fully yielded to His Father. The book of John in the Bible is replete with Jesus explaining that He is here doing the work of the Father. It meant that He had to die on the Cross. This was His Father’s will. Because Jesus was fully God, He knew that. But because Jesus was also fully human, He didn’t want to. Remember Gethsemane, when He asked God to “remove this cup?” But after that came His yielding: “Yet not my will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42, see also Matthew 26 and Mark 14). Jesus yielded to God the Father, and by doing so, saved all who believe in Him as their Savior to an eternal life, forever and ever, with God in heaven.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance [patience], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (‭Galatians‬ ‭5‬:‭22-23 NIV).

So, here’s what I’m thinking. I’m a Christ follower, being shaped into the image of Jesus. And Jesus was yielded. So therefore, I must yield. Lay aside myself, and allow the Holy Spirit to work in my life, to develop the fruit of the Spirit in me. I was given the fruit of the Spirit when I first asked Jesus to be my Savior. Now, as I continue on this earthly journey of faith, the Holy Spirit is fine-tuning me, molding and shaping me into the image of Christ.

I have the fruit of the Spirit; I have joy. Since I’m not experiencing joy, if I don’t feel the full joy in my heart that I know I’ve had before, perhaps this means that I’m not fully yielded. I’m not completely surrendered in this area of my life, to let God do what He needs to do by the work of the Holy Spirit to shape me to look more like Jesus.

I asked my therapist (who is also a Christ follower) if she had any ideas why I am not reaching out for/toward joy?  What is my hesitation? She suggested that perhaps it’s fear – fear that things won’t all come together the way I hope. The way I picture it will be. Maybe I’m protecting myself so I won’t be disappointed.

What if what I think life will be like when I’m all done grieving my move, when I’m finally feeling like this is home…what if it doesn’t turn out the way I picture it? What if I don’t develop close friendships like those I left? What if I don’t serve in leadership at a women’s Bible study? What if I don’t have a group where I get to share my story? What if…what if…God has something else planned? Something different? 

The question then returns to my willingness to yield. Can I – am I willing – to stay buckled in the backseat while the Holy Spirit drives? And not as a back-seat-driver, but as a child of God, traveling wherever He takes me, excited for the journey and the destination.

I highly suspect that if I’m willing to stay yielded, surrendered, I will experience the full joy I’ve been longing for. I also think it’s going to take time. Because grief takes time, and I’m trying to walk with Jesus through it, not rush it. Even though what I want is for all of this “settling in” to be done so I can get on with it! But I’m in slow motion, because God is using this time of healing to get me ready for whatever He has for me next on the journey.

What will full joy look like? I imagine joy as something that wells up inside me, effervescent-like, bubbling like a child does when squealing in sheer delight. It might be a confidence that things will be alright, a twinkle in my eye that is contagious and positive.

What does full joy sound like?  I don’t think joy has to be noisy. I hear the sound of water as it drops down an incline – a gentle waterfall, or as it laps up onto the edge of the beach – a gentle tide coming in. I guess joy sounds gentle.

I hope it will lift me up, and others who observe it in me. After all, it’s a gift from the Holy Spirit. I want it to be obvious and appealing to others. And when someone asks me, I can tell them that it’s what Jesus promised: “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with My joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! (John 15:11, NLT)

Lightness

Something happened a couple of days ago: I woke in the morning feeling lighter. Something in me had changed. I didn’t even realize it at first, and when I did, I was awed…and thrilled.

I’m not experiencing anxiety! Like… none! 

Sure, I have butterflies going into a new situation or with a new group of people, but that’s normal.

No, I mean anxiety – the friend that depression brought with it when it invaded my life 7 years ago.

For me, anxiety starts as pain in the pit of my stomach that moves upward to become pressure in my chest. My heart beats faster. The same sour taste at the back of my throat that I have with stomach flu. The shortness of breath, my shoulders pulled together, teeth clenched, swirling catastrophizing thoughts, crushing dread that relentlessly pushes me down.

It’s gone! No heaviness, no dread!

Maybe it’s because what I was dreading is here. I’m moved. I’m dealing with the grief and loneliness – the situation and emotions that I had been afraid of.

I told God that I’m in it now, and it’s ok. No fear or anxiety of it, because I’m here now, I’m living it, and I’m surviving!

I shared all of this with my therapist today; she asked when I last recalled the anxious feelings. It was a few weeks after our cross-country move. We went back to Minnesota for a special event, and I know I had it then. It snowed on the day we were flying back to Florida, and I remember telling my husband that I was ready to go “home.” And that’s my last memory of anxiety. My therapist pointed out that I “left it there.”

In Philippians 4, The Bible says

v. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 

v. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

That first verse gets thrown at Christian anxiety sufferers a lot. Just do what verse 6 says, and poof! your fears will be gone. For years, I prayed these verses, tried to practice them, held onto them tightly. And when nothing changed, I’d pray them again, practice them, hold onto them. Still no change.

It wasn’t that I didn’t believe God’s Word. I did, and I still fervently do! But Phil 4:6-7 isn’t a magic phrase that I do one time and all my fears disappear. I had always thought that if I practiced verse 6, then the next verse – the promise of God’s peace – would follow immediately.

I got tired of people quoting Phil 4 to me. I know already! I know I’m not supposed to be anxious. I know that I’m supposed to pray. I know I’m supposed to ask. I know I’m supposed to be thankful and express my gratitude to God. I know! Quit telling me – it isn’t working!

But now I wonder. I wonder if I simply didn’t understand the verses. Or had expectations that were incorrect.

Because I am experiencing ‘the peace of God which transcends all understanding.” But it’s been a long time coming. The second verse is a promise, but for me, the fulfillment of that promise took awhile.

God never breaks His promises. I did pray, and ask, and thank. Over and over again. And eventually, when God was done teaching me what I needed to learn at that time, He fulfilled His promise, and now I have peace.

God’s Peace. No heaviness. Only lightness. Spring in my step, spring in my heart.

I like lightness.

Counting Sheep

( Thanks, Mary B!)

On Monday morning, my alarm went off at 7:20am. I hit the snooze button. Beep, beep, beep – I like that feeling of lazily opening one eye and peeking to see – sure enough, 9 minutes has gone by. Did I fall back asleep? Did I dream? Beep, beep, beep – sure enough, 9 minutes later.  And then instead of snooze, I rolled onto my back and started praying – “Thank you, God, for helping me to fall asleep last night. For reminding me of Your Presence and Comfort. For prompting me with Your Word, with verses I memorized as a child – Your Word hidden in my heart.”

Let me back up a few hours:

Sunday night was tough. I had a crying jag – second one in 2 1/2 months, lasted more than 2 hours.

It started with me thinking of my daughter who had visited us the week before – oh, we had such a great time! But then the thought “I live so far away from her” flitted across my mind and my eyes filled with tears. Then I considered the thought a little longer, and the tears rolled down my cheeks.

And I kept crying! Every time I thought I was done crying, I’d think of someone else I miss. The loneliness was overwhelming (I wrote about this in Just Start With Where You Areand the water works wouldn’t shut off. But I allowed myself – this is me working through grief, and it’s a process, tears included.

Finally, when I felt like I was all cried out – it’s exhausting work – I got ready for bed. Looking in the mirror as I brushed my teeth, I saw swollen eyes and a red nose – not a pretty picture! This just made me want to cry again (haha), so I grabbed a couple of tissues to put by my pillow, just in case. And sure enough, I laid down and the tears wet my pillow.

“That’s enough,” I told myself. “But God, what can I think about instead of loneliness, so I don’t keep crying?” I wanted to focus on gratitude, but my heart felt too heavy and I was too tired to shift my thoughts. Then I began reciting Psalm 23 to myself, focusing on each line individually and meditating on the verse.

v.1 The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He is my provider – gives me everything I need. He directs my steps, doesn’t leave me to wander too far off on my own. And He’s my Shepherd – I know His voice; I will follow Him where He leads.

v. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; He knows I need rest! 

v. 2 He leads me beside the still waters.  He knows I long for peace, and calm, and gentleness, and He can give me all those things. I started to feel myself relax, breathing slowing, muscles loosening, arms and legs sinking down into the mattress a little more.

v. 3 He restores my soul. Jesus is the only one who can refresh and restore me. I need Him to renew my heart and return me to our relationship. “I’m sorry, Lord, for not remembering that You are always with me. Please forgive my wanderings and restore me to a right relationship with You. Help me to trust You in the midst of my grief, and to know that you have placed me right where You want me.”

v. 3 He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. “Yes, Father, You are righteous.”

v.4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. I thanked Him again for being with me through years of walking with depression. For his faithfulness even when I am not.

I don’t remember the rest – I was asleep. Psalm 23 only has six verses, but I only needed four of them to be able to relax and sleep!

I shared this story with a friend via email the next day, and l love her response: “Well, you were in the arms of the Shepherd, so it was like counting sheep?!?!?”

“Just start with where you are…”

I wanted this blog to be one of encouragement to those who have in the past or currently do struggle with depression, as well as to those who love someone who is battling this illness. Where I could share my thoughts and experiences, and point to Christ. So readers could see that He was – and is – always with me. Even if I don’t feel Him, He’s there. That’s His promise. That’s truth, despite what I think or feel. He never leaves me.

But what do I write when I’m the one struggling? It’s not depression, not even Adjustment Disorder. I’m dealing with grief due to loss and loneliness, those emotions that come from change, from moving across the country. Still in the stage of getting settled and adjusting to my new home, environment, routine, and relationships (which are few). 

A good friend once told me, “Just start with where you are.” This was when I was facilitating a peer-led Christian depression support group, and going through my own personal time of difficulty – wasn’t sure I’d be able to “lead.” My friend/advisor reminded me that I could model transparency if I just shared from where I was. So that’s what I did – I shared honestly and vulnerably. God used that evening to remind me that the group wasn’t about me, nor was it important for me to “have it all together.” In fact, to share honestly encouraged others to do the same, and pointed them to Jesus’ presence and His strength in our difficult times.

Over the past 7 years, I have consistently journaled – almost every day – especially during depressive episodes. Most of my entries start or end as prayers though there are some that are just thoughts. But I consider those to be prayers, too; they are usually written thoughts directed to God. That’s praying without ceasing, right? Heaven-directed thoughts? Now I need to journal, and I find myself avoiding it – not sure why. Forced myself yesterday, wrote a few pages. But the intense emotions I’m experiencing right now (mostly grief and loneliness) – I think they are scaring me, and I’m not writing them out. And I know it would be helpful, but I’m not doing it.

I’m not blogging with the frequency I want. I had hoped to be at once a week, but it turns out to be 3x/month. I know that’s okay. It’s just that I have lots of topics I want to write about, but I’m not writing much at all. Self-imposed demands that I’m not meeting – have to fight the self-talk that says I failed because I didn’t reach my goal. It’s harder to see the victories of three blog entries rather than the failure of not writing four.

I think not writing is coming from fear – fear of facing these emotions of loneliness and loss and grief head on. Even as I write this, I can picture myself physically turned and facing a tangible orange blob labeled loneliness, and tears fill my eyes, threaten to spill over. Maybe next week, when my daughter has returned home and my husband is traveling. Maybe I need to plan time to experience those emotions, so I’m stuffing them until I can give them the attention they are going to require.

They really hurt. I’ve often dealt with emotions like this is the sanctuary of my previous therapist’s office. Somehow, though, I know I need to do it just with God. And I’m afraid. I’ve prayed about it some – shared them with God as I’ve cried, usually as I’m getting ready to sleep. I’ll tell Him, “I’m feeling lonely.” And whatever comes after that. But those times have been short, because I’m falling asleep. I think what I need to do is share them with Him when He, and they, have my full attention.

My new therapist gives me great assurances and wise instruction. She said I need to blog. She encouraged me to use this as a time to grow in my relationship with God – letting Him fill the voids in my heart. To spend time with Him, letting the Holy Spirit comfort me as I face the loneliness and loss, the grief. She reminds me that I’m doing ok. I can release all the self-imposed stuff, all the “shoulds.” I should be writing this much. I should be making more connections, should have more friendships, be in service at my church (we don’t even have a church home yet, so why am I imposing that upon myself?).

So for today’s blog post, I’m just sharing where I am. Starting with what I’m feeling and doing now.

And I’m reminding myself, and anyone reading, that I am not here alone. God is with me. He promised, and He always keeps His promises. So we’ll face the grief and loneliness together. Who knows? Maybe I’ll blog on that next week!

Sometimes my eyes leak

Does this happen to you?  All of a sudden, your eyes leak.

Maybe someone jumps out and shouts, “Boo!”

Maybe you say, “I love you.”

Maybe your song comes on the radio: “‘Cuz I can’t fight this feelin’ anymore…”

Maybe your son walks quietly to the front for his solo.

Maybe your friend is grieving, and you’re holding her hand.

Maybe your daughter walks across the stage.

Maybe you’ve hugged and said good-bye. Again. And again.

Maybe you wish you could see them one more time. Right now.

There are lots of times my eyes leak. Yes, all of the above times. And then more times. Sometimes, they are expected. Other times, they surprise me. In startle or delight. In reflection or regret. In my fear. In my pain. In someone else’s pain. In the dark, when the lights are off and no one can see them. In a crowd, where someone might be watching.

My eyes fill up. They burn behind my eyelids. It feels as if there is something that pokes, for just a second, into my eyeballs. Blinking can sometimes make them stop. Or I close my eyes and one drips down my left cheek. Or I squeeze my eyes tightly to keep them in, but they spill out anyway. Pouring down my face. Off my chin. They are hot on my skin. They drip onto my shirt. Wait, is that one on my nose, or is my nose dripping too? I’m going to need a tissue. Or the whole box.

I’m learning to accept them. For the longest time in my life, I would choke them back. “Deal with them later,” I’d tell myself. Then I’d forget to deal with them, so they’d stuff down. Repeat that procedure enough times, and they can get stuck.

I went through 5+ years of major depressive disorder (MDD) where I couldn’t cry. I wanted to. I was sure I would feel better if could just get the tears out. But it had been so long. And the depression had separated me from many of my emotions, leaving me feeling flat most of the time. So I couldn’t cry. Not the deep cleansing sobs anyway. I tried. I watched “tear-jerker” movies, read sad poems. Nothing.

It wasn’t until my therapist made me sit with them. I could feel them, but I’d gotten pretty good at shutting them down. He told me to sit with them, and with the thoughts behind them. We waited in silence. And slowly the tears came. The pricks behind my eyelids. The eyes tightly shut. And then all the rest.

It was as if the dam broke. I know that’s cliche, but it really describes it.

I became concerned that if I started crying by myself, I wouldn’t be able to stop, so I continued to hold them until I was in a “safe place” where I could share them. I’d share a few with a friend, or my mom or sister, or a prayer buddy, or a coworker. Someone close, who knew me and understood me.

Now the tears come easily. Usually unbidden. Often unexpectedly. And I cry, and stop crying, by myself. I don’t really share them with anyone now. With whom would I? I can’t pick up the phone and call a friend when I’m crying unconsolably. What can they do? Last time I cried really hard with a friend, they stood across the room. Didn’t approach me, didn’t hug me or comfort me. I don’t think they knew what to do. Or maybe they were crying their own tears.

Please don’t misunderstand – I share them with my husband. He knows how to comfort me and what to say as he hugs me close. But there’s no one else to share them with.

Wait – that’s not true. God is here. He helps. Always. I simply need to let Him remind me from His Word:

Jesus wept. (John 11:35, NIV)

He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; (Isaiah 53:3a, prophesy about Jesus, NASB)

You keep track of all my sorrows.
You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
You have recorded each one in your book. (Psalm 56:8, NIV)

I’m not crying alone! Jesus is with me always, and He understands. The Holy Spirit, the Comforter, lives inside me. God cradles me on His lap. Someday, He’ll wipe all the tears away – there will be no tears in heaven.

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. (Revelation 7:17, NIV)

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. (Revelation 21:4, NIV)

I will turn their mourning into gladness;
I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. (Jeremiah 31:13, NIV)