life:filtered

…learning to live a life filtered by the truth of the gospel.

Experimenting September 21, 2016

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 6:46 pm
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Monday, my therapist, James, suggested that I take a 90 day social media sabbatical. He laughed and said my eyes widened at his words, and I’m sure they did. I can’t go 90 minutes without checking Facebook, much less 90 days. Think about it, he said. My psych nurse endorsed the suggestion when I mentioned it to her later that day. Too much social media, she said, like TV, exacerbates depression. The studies prove it. So I wrestled with it. There’s no doubt that I am addicted to Facebook, spending up to 12 hours a day checking, liking, watching, reading. Glancing at the little blue and white icon on my phone, hoping to see the red circle indicating that someone liked what I said; that someone liked me. See, Facebook is my lifeline; my connection to the world. All of my information is gleaned from scrolling through my newsfeed. I spend hours just looking back at my own timeline, looking for confirmation of my self-worth. Pathetic, I know. (But I don’t think I’m the only one.) And this dawns on me: I have no life outside of the one I present on Facebook. I do nothing.

And so I realized that I had to follow James’ suggestion. I had to go live my life out from behind my phone, my laptop. Who am I even? What motivates me? What excites me? What do I want to be? What do I want to do with my life? What do I love? I cannot answer these questions if my phone is constantly in my hand; if my head is bowed, staring at a 5.44 x 2.64 inch screen, finger hovering, swiping, tapping. I have to put down my phone. I have to engage my life before it’s too late.

Kentucky writer James Still once said in an interview that “writing comes out of a life lived.” If I want to write, I have to live. And one thing I know is this: I want to write. But I have not been living for a long time. I have been existing, one orbit around the sun at a time. And I don’t want to come to the end, a sad old woman wondering where the time went. Wondering about all those things left undone, unsaid, unwritten.

This all coincides with a desire to find myself. It started a month ago, this nagging desire to figure out what it is that makes me tick. To find my passion. The need to try and make something of my life. To do something, make a difference, even if it’s a small difference. To leave a footprint.

And honestly, Facebook isn’t going to help me discover my calling in life.

Today I read a timely blog post by Ann Voskamp from A Holy Experience. She writes:

“You miss Jesus—when you don’t look for Him in the right places…
Your soul misses Jesus when more time is spent on Facebook than face in the Book.
Your soul misses Jesus when more time is spent on Instagram feeds than feeding on His Word.
Your soul misses Jesus when more time is spent on Twitter chats than chatting with Jesus whom you claim to follow.
Balanced social media can be a soul meal; too much social media can be a soul suicide.”

And I might add that you miss life. I know I miss the everyday graces. I’m so busy figuring out how to post about an experience that I miss the experience itself.

So here comes the experiment: 90 days without social media. It will be December the next time I check Facebook. I’ll miss the election drama. I’ll miss my birthday. I’ll miss countless events in my friends’ lives.

I’ll miss sharing my life in short anecdotes. I’ll miss posting pictures of my boys being who they are. I’ll miss sharing quotes that inspire or motivate me.

And I’ll miss the affirmation that comes from the likes and the comments. The feeling of being somebody.

And I admit that this will be hard for me. To disconnect. To let go of my voyeuristic need for constant information. Already, two days in, I’ve thought a few dozen times “I’d like to share that on Facebook.” But Facebook hasn’t been there for me and I’ve felt the void.

I know, I need a plan. I need something to fill the empty space, to replace social media. Maybe more than one thing. So here’s my plan.

Read. In one day I’ve read a collection of short stories (“Final Vinyl Days” by Jill McCorkle) and I’m now halfway through an autobiography (“Dimestore: A Writer’s Life” by Lee Smith). I plan to indulge my intellect and feed that part of me that I’ve long neglected.

Write. Every day. Chronicling my time free from social media, journaling, writing a story, writing my story. Discovering who I am as a writer, finding my voice.

Volunteer. Get out into the world. Yesterday I sorted papers for Paul’s teacher. And this morning I shelved books at the public library.

Who knows, maybe I’ll clean my long neglected house. Maybe I’ll learn to engage with the world. Maybe I’ll get off the couch discover who I am.

So when my finger hovers above the screen, my eyes searching for the blue and white icon, I’ll put the phone down. Pick up a book. Or sit at the computer and watch my words fill up the screen. Read a book to Eli. Run. Call my Mamaw. Unload the dishwasher. Shelve books at the library.

And maybe in the process, I’ll discover who I am and what I’m here for.

(This will post to social media, but trust me on this, I won’t be there to see it. I hope.)

 

this beautiful thing August 2, 2016

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 5:00 am
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This beautiful thing happened last week. Beautiful as a sunrise, bursting with color and lighting up the sky. But just as a sunrise only happens after the dark of night, so too with this beautiful thing. I’m getting ahead of myself though. Let me go back.

At the beginning of our story, I am a ship without an anchor, drifting alone at sea. And then a storm arose and hell cut loose. It’s hard to tell this story because I won’t go into a lot of details about the storm. But suffice it to say that this storm raged violently. And I raged with it.

It started with a Monday morning therapy session two weeks ago, processing some junk and dragging it out kicking and screaming. Junk that hadn’t seen the light of day in decades. And my broken self would have been glad to leave that junk in the dark, buried beneath the surface of my consciousness. But out it came. Therapy is good for that. I had opened Pandora’s box and nothing was going back in. What came out of that box was ugly. And I got ugly with it. It triggered me and whether it triggered a mixed episode, a full on hypomanic episode or an ugly reaction to the ugliness, it was ugly. Get it? I was a mess of anger and rage. I hurt people that I love. I couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. Couldn’t see past the red hot anger. I spiraled out of control and finally crashed to the bottom of the pit. This wasn’t like the pit of depression with its suffocating ocean of thick darkness. This burned. Like raging hot coals heaped on my head until I thought they would burn right through me. And who can walk on burning coals?

But here’s where it gets good. I have these friends and what they do is point me to the truth. From the one who understands exactly where I’m coming from to the one who tells it like it is and the ones who turn my eyes straight to Jesus, these friends surrounded me. They bore my burdens, carrying them as if they were their own. And I began to see the Lord’s hand moving. Slowly, surely moving. Randy said, you’ve done this before and the Lord brought you through it. He’ll do it again. And Renee, God chose you, he loves you. Find all the times the Lord says he is your shield and protector.

I desperately wanted these things to be true.

And so I started to believe them. I found verses like Psalm 3:3—“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory and the lifter of my head.” And Psalm 28:7—“The Lord is my strength and my shield…” But it was Psalm 18 that stood out. “I love you, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (Psalm 18:1-3) I held these verses close to my chest as I fell asleep last Sunday night.

I woke the next morning to a text from Julie. The first three verses of Psalm 18. Awe. It seems like a small thing, inconsequential and maybe even coincidental. But I know it’s not. God did that just for me. He has nothing to prove, yet he chose to prove himself anyway. So that I would know how much he loves me. So that I would know he is with me. And so I fell back into him, trusting that he would catch me. “Come to me” and “rest” (Matthew 11:28-30). I started to think of it as a retreat; a falling back into him and allowing him to advance and defeat this for me. I fell straight into his secure grip, into his safe arms. I had doubted that he would catch me. Why am I so slow to remember who he is? Slow to trust who he is?

Nothing has changed yet everything has changed. Pandora’s box is still wide open. Those things that triggered me are still there. I am still fragile. Still reeling from the work I’ve done and the work I’ll continue to do in therapy. But, I don’t have to do it alone. He is here, with these people he has given me walking along side me as well. And he has given me peace and calm as only a gentle, kind Father could. 

And so I write all of this because I want to show off my God. I want you to see him for who he is, in all his glory. In all his goodness and mercy. I want you to stand in awe as I have. To know that he is alive and well.

This beautiful thing.


©stephanie g. pepper


 

Who am I? Who I am. April 19, 2016

Filed under: seriousness,Uncategorized — Stephanie @ 4:00 am
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Who am I? Whenever think about that question, I usually respond in bullet points. I am a wife, a mother, a writer, a reader, a Christ follower…and the list goes on. But who am I? Where is my identity? I know what the answer is, but it is so hard to believe. I am a child of God. A redeemed daughter of the Father, saved by grace alone and called good. Why is that so hard to believe? Because I don’t think I’m worthy to be called these things. In my eyes, I am a miserable wretch, undeserving of grace, of anything good. But that isn’t true. My true identity no more rests in those lies than it does in the fact that I have brown hair or am 5’4” tall.

On a women’s retreat recently, I was consumed by anxiety and wrought with fear. Fear of being inadequate. Anxious about the social aspect of the weekend—making friends, finding a place to sit for meals. I realized that for all my bravado, for all the times I proudly said “I have bipolar” instead of “I am bipolar,” for all the times I put on the persona of a confident woman, I was still allowing my illnesses and weaknesses to define me. I was identifying as being bipolar, being anxious and being inadequate. They were my identity. Even realizing this during a conversation did not allay my fears or calm my anxious heart. I continued to categorize myself in terms of my faults, my weaknesses, my illness, not allowing God to have the final say in who I was. And they consumed my heart as I allowed these thoughts to reign.

So what is identity? The dictionary defines identity as “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.” And being is defined as “the most important or basic part of a person’s mind or self.” At its core, identity is how we are defined. It is fact. And while there are many facts about me, it is in the facts that are me that my identity is found. It is in these facts of being that we find our true self.

What’s the difference in facts about me verses facts that are me? A fact about me is that I have brown eyes. I am not brown eyes though. I could have colored contact lenses and a casual observer might think that I have blue or green eyes. I have brown hair but someday it will turn gray. A fact that is me is that I am a child of the King. I am his beloved daughter. Those facts define me to the core of my being. They are who I am. It is the most basic part of my true self. It is who he has made me to be.

How, then, do I live out of the reality of who he says I am, who he has called me to be instead of letting “about” facts take the place of “are” facts? It’s a heart change. One wrought by years of beating down a path in your heart to make the truths personal and real. It’s allowing his words to penetrate deep down and take root in your soul until your heart finally believes the truth of who you are.

While other things may be descriptors of my person-hood, they are not definers of my soul. One word separates the two—have. I have brown eyes, I have anxiety, I have bipolar. But I am a child of God. My identity is found only in who he says I am. And he says I am loved, honored and precious.


©stephanie g. pepper

 

The Great Depression, 2012 April 13, 2016

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 3:13 pm
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In February of 2012, Super Bowl Sunday, I fell into the worst depression of my life. The Great Depression. There is pain so raw that you become numb. Darkness so deep that it’s blinding. I was drowning in an ocean of darkness. Always clawing at the waves, fighting against the undertow, reaching the surface only to gasp and find my burning lungs filling with thick, black water before being pulled under again.

By Monday, worn down by months of this blinding darkness and pain, I simply gave up. I quit. All I could think about was death. I wanted to be dead. Actually, I didn’t really want to be dead, I just didn’t want to live in the darkness and pain anymore. The light had been almost completely extinguished, barely the flicker of a distant match in a cave, and I couldn’t see my way to the light. So, wanting the pain to be over, I walked further down the path than I’d ever dared:  I considered the end. I am not proud of the fact that I fantasized about suicide. It is a shame that runs deep, but it is the truth. I did not make a plan. I had no pills at the ready, the knives stayed in the block, I did not fill the bathtub. But the longing was there, rooted deep inside. As Kathryn Green-McCreight writes in her book Darkness Is My Only Companion, “It [suicidal energy] is not wanting to hurt the self. It is simply wanting not to hurt.

Having traveled so far down that dark road, I called a friend, but she didn’t answer. It was by grace that she called me back at arguably the worst time. I told her where I was, what I was contemplating. And Heather, she didn’t panic. She kept me on the phone, talking with me for forty-five minutes. Praying for me in the car rider line as she waited for her children at school. Until Brian got home, she talked. Just hearing another voice was enough to pull me away from the precarious ledge I was standing on. After we hung up, she called friend, who called another friend, and soon my little network was praying.

I told Brian. Saying the words out loud somehow gave them less power and the urge to die was fading. The pain was still there, the darkness still suffocating, the waters still raging, but I could breathe just a little bit.

I spent the next day in bed, alternately crying and sleeping. Brian stayed home from work to watch me. I saw my doctor that afternoon. Unable to look him in the eye, he bent down and met my eyes, not letting my shame take me any further down the road than I already was. This was serious and did I need to be in the hospital? I was adamant that I didn’t need to be hospitalized. I was scared, though in all honestly, I probably should have been someplace safe. I was embarrassed and ashamed at the thought, though, and he accepted my pleas that I not be in a psychiatric hospital. I was sent home with a prescription for Zoloft and five sleeping pills. The sleeping pills he gave to Brian, not trusting me with a medication that could be used for ill purposes.

During The Great Depression, I all but lost my faith. Questioning God, asking why, but getting no answer. I lay in the mire with Job. I cried in the night; I cried in the day. I especially cried when surrounded by his people in church. When confronted with the life-giving words of Scripture, I cried, longing to believe the truth being presented. I ached with my need for God and for that Light that shines in the darkness.

The days turned into weeks, turned into months, still dark but growing a little lighter day by day as the anti-depressant kicked in. It took more than three months for me to recover from The Great Depression.  Unfortunately, in May, I rebounded and flipped into mania, although I did not know at the time that mania was the cause of my euphoria. I had not yet been diagnosed with bipolar and simply thought I was feeling great after the long months of depression. I had beat it, I thought. I had beat back depression and run into the light. And the light was so bright that, again, I was blinded.

©stephanie g. pepper

 

When a good thing is a trigger March 21, 2016

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 4:37 pm
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In the mental health community there’s a lot of talk about triggers. A trigger is anything that causes uncomfortable emotions. It can be something small like a song you hear on the radio or something big like news of a death, it doesn’t matter. All that matters is that it triggers you and sends you reeling into panic, anxiety, depression or mania.

Strangely, one of my biggest triggers is a place I love. My church. When I’m in a bad place, just walking into the building can trigger panic and anxiety. It started a few years ago when I went through the worst depressive episode to date. I was sitting in the third row, a silent observer. It was the first Sunday of the February, a communion Sunday. My pastor talked a lot about gospel transformation, allowing the gospel to take hold and transform. And as the music started and people filed to the kneelers for communion, I started to shake. For so long I had longed for this gospel transformation, longed to let the gospel take over me with its power. I watched in the semi-darkness as those around me experienced that transformation, the very thing I was missing. Or at least, that’s what I imagined was happening. So I pulled a scrap of paper from my Bible and scrawled these words, “I quit. I can’t keep doing this. It’s too hard. I can’t keep trying only to end up back in this place of darkness time after time. I’d rather not get my hopes up that [gospel] transformation might happen.” The room grew darker by the minute as my heart filtered out the light. I couldn’t force myself out of my chair and up to the kneelers that morning. Couldn’t feast on the bread of life or drink deeply from the cup. I was turning to stone. A stone that was being crushed under the weight of depression. And in the sacredness of that moment, I gave in to the darkness. I let it wash over me without resisting it. The weight was oppressive; suffocating. The fight had gone out of me. Darkness was my only companion.

The next few days are a blur. I went into one of the deepest depressions of my life with thoughts of death and pain clouding my heart and mind. I had been in this place before, but this time it felt scarier, more intense. While it’s true that a change in my medications was partly to blame, there was a battle being waged and my heart and mind were the battlefield.

But I didn’t quit. I continued to go to church, though for weeks after that experience, walking into the building produced an extraordinary anxiety. I took Klonopin just to make it through the service. I sat in my chair shaking, the medication barely taking the edge off the anxiety. How could something so close to my heart cause my heart cause such deep pain? Why did I continue to go? Why subject myself to the pain? Because deep down, I knew that it was my only hope. The only place speaking truth in the darkness.

Even now, communion can cause anxiety to rise up in me. I sit and watch, sometimes unable to make it to the kneelers to partake. Some Sundays, I force myself out of my chair. Others, I just can’t do it. There’s too much at stake. The days I do, I kneel, forcing my heart to calm itself, barely able to pray, barely able to take in the beauty of the table. Feeling like I am somehow less because of this feeling inside my heart. I long for an anesthetic to numb the pain of my longing. But maybe that pain is good. Maybe it is God’s way of drawing me close. If I could only let it—let Him, in. The pain could be a signpost of God’s transformative power working in me.

So I’ll continue to push through the feelings and make my way to the communion table. I’ll push through the anxiety and allow God to transform me. Let the gospel take root in me. I’ll fight the darkness with the truth of the Light. But transformation is a work in progress as God slowly walks me through this journey. And I’m further down the road than I was four years ago. Even four weeks ago. And as Paul writes, the one who calls me is faithful, and he will do it.

©stephanie g. pepper

 

callings August 27, 2015

Filed under: musings,seriousness — Stephanie @ 1:00 am
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I’ve never truly admitted to myself that I want to be a writer. But I do. I want to be a writer. And maybe I already am. But I hesitate to apply the term to myself. I always say, “I write.” Not “I’m a writer.” Maybe because it sounds too arrogant or too grandiose or something like that. Maybe I’m not brave enough to call myself out like that. It’s a pretty loaded statement. There’s no turning back once you declare something like that. You’re either all in or not. To me, it feels like there’s no halfway to it. Oh wait, I lied. I’m not a writer after all.

The truth is though, I feel like I’m called to be a writer. I honestly believe that God has gifted and called me to write the same way he calls some to preach and others to serve. And that sounds conceited to my ears. Do I even have the courage to agree with him? Can I allow him to make that claim on my life? Where do I take this call? But God lays claim on everyone’s life…and I guess, no, I know, that this is his on mine. It has been mine since I can remember, even when being a writer was just a childhood dream. And then in high school, people started telling me I was a good writer. But I didn’t believe them, not really. I doubted myself then as I doubt myself now. I question not only my call, but my ability. No matter how many times I’m told that I’m a good writer, I still question it.

And why write? What is so important about words that God would call some to be writers? In the Bible (words), God calls Jesus the Word made flesh. God used words to make his truth known throughout the history of Israel. He inspired Moses to write down the history of creation and slavery and freedom. Without those words, we’d likely know nothing about our God and our heritage. The songs of praise and adoration from David and the other Psalmists. And look at Paul’s letters. He used words to express God’s truth to the gentiles. Words are everywhere. And I think God calls some of to write his truth still—through non-fiction and fiction, because truth is everywhere if you look for it.

So here I stand with a call, pondering my next move. If I agree with God and say I’m a writer, then I’ve got to write. And writing is hard. Sometimes words flow and sometimes it’s like dragging them out of hell. But God never said it would be easy, he just said to do it. So I am trying. Trying to write, but more than that, trying to be faithful.



©stephanie g. pepper

 

Have a little faith August 23, 2015

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 4:04 pm
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“The opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s certainty.” –Anne Lamott

We said the Apostle’s Creed this morning in church and it was a good thing. I have been struggling with doubt lately and the corporate confession of what we believe was good for me to hear and say. Faith is hard and admitting that mine is riddled with doubt is even harder. It’s a tough thing to admit, that I’m a doubter, but that’s what I am. But I’m in good company, it seems. Peter doubted as he walked on water. Thomas doubted as the resurrected Jesus stood before him. Elijah doubted after he called down fire from heaven. And I doubt, even though I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. Sometimes I doubt every word of the Apostle’s Creed. I doubt that God exists, I doubt that Jesus was who he says he was, and I doubt that the Bible is true. It’s an ugly thing to say about myself and I wish it weren’t true about me. I wish I could believe blindly and never once question. But that’s just not my experience.

I have to be honest. And being honest means this confession is a part of my life. The question is this, is doubt the enemy of faith? Or could it be as Paul Tillich says, that “doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it’s an element of faith?” Could doubt be a part of faith? Could they be bound together? My doubt implies that I have faith. It means that I wrestle with my beliefs. That I care enough about it to think it through, even though thinking it through means that I question the things that bring me life. I think it makes me human.

So why confess my doubt? Why open myself up to shaming and judgment? Because I care enough about my faith to struggle with it. I care enough to bring it out into the light and let God deal with it there instead of hiding it in the darkness where it festers and grows and eventually consumes me. I believe there is no condemnation for me because of my doubt. I believe God delights to meet me in my doubt. That it affords him the opportunity to show off, like he did this morning, and give me all the more reason to believe.

Doubt is faith stretching out. Growing wings and taking flight. And my faith is stronger with each season of doubt.

And so with Dostoevsky, I say, “It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.”

I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24)

©stephanie g. pepper