life:filtered

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

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


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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

 

Jesus, bipolar and me January 29, 2015

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 4:25 pm
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I have Jesus and I have bipolar.

So now it’s time to talk about how Jesus comes into bipolar disorder. What he does in that chaos. We all have our own messes and mine just happens to be bipolar, among many others that I have.

When I first got diagnosed, I was relieved. Finally I had an answer to my questions—why I got so depressed so easily, why sometimes I flipped into a raging machine (the manias aren’t always that pretty). So my first prayer after walking out of my psych nurse’s office was one of profound thanksgiving. Thank you that I have an answer now. Thank you that the right meds will fix this. The next thing I thought about was my identity. How it wasn’t bound up in any diagnosis, but bound instead to the identity that is mine in Christ. That I was the same person I was when I walked out of the office as when I walked into the office. I have had to remind myself of that many times. That only Jesus defines me. But though it has taken more than a year, I am stable and can reflect on how he has carried me down this road.

When I’m in a depressive or manic episode, Jesus feels like he’s not even there. To say he feels a million miles away is an understatement. But, that I’ve gotten through the episodes is proof to me that he is there. That he’s not distant or absent as I feel it, but that he’s right there. My pastor is fond of saying that we’re always right where we’re supposed to be and that Jesus is right in the middle of the mess with us. That’s a hard word when you’re in the middle of the storm.

What does Jesus do in my life? The one wracked with bipolar? He buoys me up in those times when I’m crippled by depression. Those times I can’t see anything but the storm. The waves crashing over and around. I lose sight of him. Every time. When I’m a raging mess, he calms with his hand, staying me just long enough that the danger passes. Either way, I’ve lost sight of him. But he’s never lost sight of me.

Those are the times I lean on the faith of others, I reach out and borrow their faith, praying that it’s enough when I can’t see through the spray. I let the worship of his people wash over me. Seeing their faith, knowing that they still have faith is enough to quiet my fears. I’ve said before, many times, that the prayers of his people have pulled me through the worst times of my life. I could name all those saints here, but I’d forget someone so I’d better not.

I can’t say I’m always faithful to find him in the storms, but thank God he’s always found me. Because in the end, there’s always Jesus.

 

indifference January 24, 2015

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 8:36 am
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I’ve been writing a lot about my mental illness recently. So much that maybe I’ve lost focus. For a blog about filtering life through the gospel, I haven’t been doing so much of that. And that’s because I am feeling indifferent towards God. Even hostile at times, sitting in church with my arms crossed defiantly. Not because I’m angry. Not because I’m hurting. Not because of anything other than something inside me. Like most everything else in my life, it just is. And I’ve been struggling to break out of this place like so many times I’ve struggled to break out of a depression. But sometimes I just don’t care.

There, I said it. Sometimes I don’t care.

It’s not that I don’t care about God, I do. It’s just that I don’t care about doing the things that would draw me closer to him. It’s something in my soul that is dragging me down.

So I quit reading my Bible, quit praying. I still go to church, out of obligation or habit. Maybe both. But I don’t feel it. I still sing the songs and bow my head. But I’m a thousand miles away. I don’t feel it. I know feelings are indicators in a life of faith but can’t be relied on as truth. I can’t rely on an experience of God every time I step through the doors of the church or open the Bible. But his name, it’s rarely on my lips anymore. I seldom have a thought that is directly about him.

Why do we walk through these times of apathy? Of being so out of tune with God that we move to the place where we don’t care? Of stumbling along out of step with him? It feels horrible. Until the numbness sets in. Then I feel nothing. I lose my motivation to change where I am and can only hope it doesn’t take a crisis to get me back in harmony with him.

But the truth is, I’m pretty comfortable where I am. Comfortable writing instead of reading the Bible. Comfortable watching Law and Order: SVU instead of praying. More likely to sleep than get up and spend a little time with the Lord. I make excuses for reasons I can’t do it. My kids beat me up every morning. There’s no time alone. I can’t leave my little one alone to read or pray. I’m too busy, too plugged in, too tired. Excuses. Every single one.

Except for times like these, when the comfort irks a little more. When it gets a little under my skin to not care. When I hear a song that calls me home. When my heart skips a little to think of Him. The Holy Spirit poking at me just a little.

So somewhere, buried deep in my being, the desire is still there.

Is that enough?

I hope so because right now, it’s all I’ve got.

 

being stable January 18, 2015

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 2:43 pm
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After a lifetime of ups and downs, riding a roller coaster I never bought a ticket for, I can finally say it: I am stable.

I woke up one morning and realized that I felt good. Not the good that comes from mania, but normal good. I felt normal emotions with ordinary highs and lows. Over time, I realized that the “normal” was sticking around. And that makes me really happy. Because after so long being either in mania or depression, mostly depression, I feel like a human being. No deep darkness, no painful emptiness. No sleepless nights and raging mania. It’s a profound relief that I’m not sure I can describe. It’s like getting off that roller coaster when you hate roller coasters. Like finally crawling into bed after a long day. Like finally holding that baby you’ve carried for nine months. Relief where you close your eyes and sigh because whatever it is, it’s finally over.

It’s a combination of medications and therapy (huge shout-out to my psych nurse and therapist!). It’s striving every day for normalcy. Taking meds every day, going to therapy twice a month. Doing things that make me healthy.

And writing is a therapist prescribed part of my treatment.

So here I am writing. Once again stepping out and shedding light into the darkness. Opening myself up to judgment because of my illness. But I’ve found some things out in the last few months. One, that people are way more supportive than I ever thought. Two, that my mental illness does not define me. Three, that there is Light in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. God has answered my prayer, and the prayers of many others, for rest from the disease I carry.

 

lean hard July 9, 2013

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 10:28 pm
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“When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.”

Grandma's Bible

Grandma’s Bible

Once when I was young and we were visiting, I picked up my grandmother’s Bible. It was a thick volume, bound in bonded black leather; King James’ English in large print for tired eyes. Thumbing through the thin, gold-leaf pages I came to a bookmark. There wasn’t anything remarkable about it other than what she’d written on it. There, in careful, labored script, were the words “lean hard on Jesus.” That thought puzzled me but not for long. I had no real interest in it so it quickly disappeared. At least, I thought it had. Turns out it had buried itself down deep into my soul and taken root. And a year or so ago, in the midst of an incredible season of darkness, a simple phrase scrawled by a quiet woman on a scrap of paper, pushed through the aching soil of a deep valley. The darkness of that gorge—of depression—is a darkness that can’t be seen but only felt. It saturates every aspect of living—even, and maybe especially, God. Trying to hold on to faith and hope and Jesus in the midst of that kind of oppressive suffering is, well, hell. But that phrase, I can’t say that I repeated it like a mantra, but it would saunter into my thoughts at times when I could barely lift my head.

And so this woman that I barely knew spoke Truth into my life years before I needed it.

I’ve always regretted that I didn’t know her better; that I never found out what made her tick, what she loved, where she hurt. And I wanted to know her secret, the reason she always whispered His name in everything she did, where her peace came from, why she was so content. But she had already given me her secret—lean hard on Jesus—and we never knew it.

We are kindred spirits, she and I; tied together by an invisible thread, in refuge under the shadow of the same wings. Leaning hard on our Jesus.

©stephanie pepper, 2013