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


 

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.

 

turning sad June 21, 2013

Filed under: seriousness — Stephanie @ 10:44 pm
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“Some people turn sad awfully young,” he said. “No special reason, it seems, but they seem almost to be born that way. They bruise easier, tire faster, cry quicker, remember longer and, as I say, get sadder younger than anyone else in the world. I know, for I’m one of them.” –Mr. Jonas to Douglas in Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

I’m struck with a deep, profound sadness sometimes. There’s no discernible trigger, no circumstance. Nothing “happens.” It just is. A dark emptiness falls and casts its heavy shadow over every part my living. This sadness, it happens a lot to people like me. People existing with this insidious illness called depression. It saps the life and energy clean out of us, as sure as any other “real” disease. Simple things like getting out of bed or eating become overwhelming, monumental tasks. And a hazy fog settles over life, distorting the days or weeks or months with a thick veil.

And the light of a thousand candle-prayers can’t chase it away.

berlin-prayer-candles-320x240

For nearly twenty years I’ve fought this darkness. See, people who’ve had one major depressive episode are increasingly more likely to relapse, making my odds of relapse about…100%. The funny thing is most people have no idea. I’ve gotten really good at pretending. At dutifully wearing a mask of happiness, because “nobody wants to see a sad face.”

And I’ve heard nearly every reason this illness is my fault. And usually those reasons come down to I’m not doing enough to be a good Christian. I’m not praying enough, I’m not reading the Bible enough, I have some sin I haven’t confessed—and if I just had more faith, I’d be healed. Because good Christians—real Christians—don’t get depressed.

I have high blood pressure too. Is that a result of lack of faith? If I prayed more or studied the Bible more, would my blood pressure return to normal? Do real Christians not have high blood pressure? 

See how silly that all sounds? I can’t pray away depression any more than I can pray away high blood pressure. So why do I keep secret the pills that regulate the chemicals in my brain but not the ones that lower my blood pressure?

Because I still think it’s my fault. That there’s something in me that’s lacking and surely, someday, I’ll find that last piece of the puzzle and be well.

I think I found it.

See, Jesus, he never promised life wouldn’t hurt. He promised the opposite—“in this world you will have trouble.” And that means that disease and illness and sorrow and pain are a part of life. Bad things happen, sometimes for no apparent reason. People get sick. Worlds go dark. Life is messy and hard and ugly and nobody ever talks about that because it doesn’t fit with our idea of abundant life. But the upside of that promise of trouble is the guarantee that he has overcome the world, and that my strength and joy is found in him and his power. Ultimately, he wins. And Jesus is what makes life beautiful. He takes hold of the ugly and shakes it right out until his beauty shines in and through life.

It takes whole lifetimes.

So those days I wake up feeling fragile, and that homesick, heartsick longing for home creeps in, that yearning for a place I’ve never seen but know because he set it in my heart from the beginning; I can grab hold of the promise that this is not the end.
And when I struggle to believe what I know is true, when I’m wrecked and bruised and all I’ve got is a strangled, broken “Jesus…” I have to trust that it’s enough. And it is, even though it doesn’t always appear to be. Because I’m never anywhere the Lord doesn’t know about and isn’t right in the middle of with me.

And just maybe it’s him pressing in, drawing me closer.

© stephanie g pepper, 2013
for a thorough, serious yet amusing, spot-on blog post about depression, visit Allie at Hyperbole and a Half.