Why Medicine Can’t Cure Your Depression

In a recent post, I wrote about Robin Williams’ tragic decision to end his life. Many of my comments about his decision to commit suicide were speculative based on his widow’s comments after his death. And while I don’t know exactly what went through Williams’ mind in his last moments or if he was even lucid in those moments, I can be certain of this: Depression kills.

Current thinking is that depression is a problem best solved by drugs — and the medical community. In recent years, antidepressants were the second most commonly prescribed medication after medication to lower cholesterol. [1]

According to Tom Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, “Much of the growth of antidepressant use has been driven by a substantial increase in antidepressant prescriptions by non-psychiatrists.” [2]

Clearly, doctors are writing prescriptions without taking a look at underlying reasons. And, for some, it’s not working. [3]

The truth is that depression should be addressed as a spiritual problem by our churches and by our pastors, not merely by professionals in the medical community.

The Great Cover-Up

Like many of you, I grew up thinking that Christians shouldn’t get depressed, so when I did experience pain, I masked and denied. In turn, I became completely sad and disconnected with what was going on inside me. Piles of unresolved problems chained me on down on the inside, but I felt there was no one I could share these with.

As a young person, I learned a lot about Christian doctrine and Old Testament tradition, but I don’t remember ever learning about practical ways to manage my emotions or relationships.

It was not until I began attending a church where the pastor held a degree in counseling and regularly offered ministry times at the altar that I began to unravel the mystery of me. The church did not try to pretend away the fact that Christians will have real stresses and problems — and addressed them at a spiritual level.

After battling a profound depression the first three years of my marriage and not knowing the causes behind it, I went down to the altar for prayer. The pastor mentioned that depression can be the result of compressed anger and fireworks went off in my brain. He went on further to say that he felt someone at the altar needed to say the name of a person he or she wanted to forgive. Out loud. It turns out that someone was me.

I didn’t even know that my depression was caused by intense anger that I held towards a person, and the solution for me was releasing that person in forgiveness.

When I did, I walked away completely freed of the dark funnel cloud that had been swirling with me at the bottom of it for some very long, dark years.

Who Should Take Responsibility?

The problem with making an appointment with a primary care doctor and getting a prescription is that the solution offered in most cases is really not a solution — the problem is often covered up, medicated, but not eliminated. The symptoms are addressed without taking a look at the cause(s).

As pastor and author Henry W. Wright notes in A More Excellent Way: Be in Health, depression is a “result of a chemical imbalance in the body. It is produced by conflict at the spirit and/or soul level in which the limbic system responds to this stress and the depression is a result of the chemical imbalance produced by the body in response.”

Drugs can artificially right this imbalance; however, the answer does not address the causes behind the depression — so, therefore, drugs (without other comprehensive services) offer an imperfect cure. As Wright notes in A More Excellent Way: Be in Health, “Drugs don’t solve problems. In fact, drugs can interfere with the dealing of root problems because they mask the real issues.”medication

The answer is to address the problem at the spirit and soul level because that is where lasting results will be found. I am not suggesting that you get rid of all of your depression meds if that is what you are using. If you have been taking medication for some time, Wright stresses that you body may be completely dependent on these drugs to function. And you will need to consult your doctor about the best way to taper off of those when you are ready.

However, I am suggesting that you ask yourself: What could be the root of your depression?

For me, in the case of my depression over an individual, the root of that particular depression spell was unresolved anger that I was internalizing. I have since learned that I have a propensity towards internalizing emotions when I have a problem in a relationship.

This makes me more prone to depression.

Understanding Depression

In Victory Over Depression, Bob George states that depression does not originate in the emotions but in the mind. As such, your response to depression should be as one who understands that your reactions to certain events and situations causes chemical reactions in your body. Similarly, in A More Excellent Way: Be in Health, Wright notes:

Your homeostasis (equilibrium in the body with respect to various functions and chemical composition of fluids and tissues) is controlled by the various hormones. You are very chemical in your creation … For every thought you have, conscious or unconscious, there is a nerve transmission, a secretion of a hormone or neurotransmitter somewhere in your body to react to it.”

As Wright observes, because we are chemical in our composition, our various thoughts have an impact on our nerves and hormones. For every thought we think — something happens inside our body. If we are constantly allowing ourselves to be drawn into negative thought patterns and self-pity — our physical body is impacted.

Similarly, George observes that Christians will experience depression and disappointment, but how we control our thoughts and our thought processes will impact how we feel. According to George:

The degree of disappointment you experience from an adverse circumstance will be in direct proportion to the degree of your basic faulty thinking patterns. In other words, the more unrealistic your expectations, the greater your disappointment when you face reality. It is in this ‘seedbed’ of disappointment where you will have the choice of responses that will either protect you from or make you a candidate for depression.”

Clearly, the reality is not that we will never experience depression as Christians, but rather, that we know and understand what is happening in our minds so that we can combat depression rather than succumb to its devices.

What Should the Church Do?

The job of the Christian community and the church then is to address depression as it is — a problem the church should be adequately versed in and equipped to handle so that Christians do not have to stumble after an artificial alternative in medicine.

People suffering from depression, like I have been at different intervals of my life, are in need of mind renewal and emotional healing like only Jesus can provide. The church can help to offer times of ministry for individuals suffering from depression by providing times in the service and other help such as counseling outside of the service.

While churches can supply these resources, it is ultimately in the offering of Jesus that people will receive the healing they need — He will give a prescription for each individual case.

And unlike the prescriptions of earthly doctors, His prescriptions always provide a lasting cure.

 Notes:

[1 & 2]. Statistics from 2010 CDC data cited in the “Director’s Blog: Antidepressants: A Complicated Picture,” written by Tom Insel, director for National Institute of Mental Health. 2011. Insel advocates a comprehensive approach for the treatment of depression that includes psychotherapy and acknowledges that drugs are not a perfect fix.

[3]. According to a New York Times article “Antidepressants Lift Clouds But Lose ‘Miracle Drug’ Label” about efficacy of antidepressants — 35 to 45 percent reported feeling complete relief from their depression symptoms when they went on an antidepressant while 55-65 percent did not. 2002. It should be noted that the efficacy of antidepressants varies depending on the study.

Additional Resources:

Want an in-depth look at depression? Bob George’s Victory Over Depression talks about what happens in the mind with depression and how to overcome depression.

Are you interested in the spiritual roots of many diseases? Henry W. Wright’s A More Excellent Way: Be in Health talks about spiritual causes for many illnesses such as depression and his advice about how to look at disease from a spiritual standpoint.

 

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and two children.

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A Christian Perspective: How to Overcome Depression

When I first moved to Georgia at the tender age of 21, a newly married bride with not a clue about how to be a wife or an adult for that matter, I slipped into a profound depression that lasted for three years.

I really didn’t realize it at the time, but I had walked into the perfect storm, a whirlwind of stressful life changes: a move to a different state into a new role as wife away from my support system of friends and family, a start as a transfer student in a much bigger university, and a transfer to a new branch of Starbucks. I had no idea why I felt the way I did or how to make myself better. “Depression” sounded like a textbook term that had nothing to do with me. It never occurred to me that I was suffering from depression or what the root causes for that could possibly be.

Everything was new. And, to make the transition that much more difficult to embrace, I began to suffer renewed feelings of loss over a previous relationship that I had never been able to find closure in. I faked my way through lectures in lecture halls, shifts at work — and then fell into bed feeling like I was at the bottom of a cycling torpedo of black despair.

I didn’t think there was any way that I could possibly claw my way out of how I felt. One of the reasons that it went on so long is because I didn’t talk about it with anyone. I lived a double life — presenting a smiling façade to the world and suffering alone with my own angst. It was not until I went forward for prayer one Sunday and the pastor mentioned that he felt someone needed to forgive someone and say that person’s name that some things began to click for me. I said the name of the person I needed to forgive; instantly, the black clouds enveloping me parted.

Although I didn’t have all the answers leaving the altar that day, I understood something important about myself: I had been carrying the weight of unforgiveness and the other person’s negative view of me around for years and carried it right into my marriage. I felt so depressed partly because I had so much repressed anger at the individual in the relationship and anger at myself for “failing” in the relationship. Even though I was married, I had never processed through the emotions from the previous relationship; therefore, those emotions reared up at a time when I was feeling insecure, vulnerable and out of my element.

Christians Get Depressed

Somewhere along the way I got the idea that as a Christian I have to be happy all the time or the world will not want what I have to offer, but what I didn’t realize is that the world does not need a false façade or a fake person. The world needs real and authentic, flaws and all.

The reality is not that Christians will never get depressed. Christians do get depressed. We need to look no further than the book of Psalms to see a man often in the depths of despair. David got depressed! He expressed great despair when God took his child that he conceived with Bathsheba; when armies advanced and his enemies outnumbered him; when troubles overtook him and his body was weak and sick as a result.

Depression is not something to hide or pretend away. When we are depressed, our mind is processing through a loss of some kind or reacting to a stressful event or situation. The solution is not to pretend that we don’t have a problem but instead look to the root of the depression and determine the source of our negative feelings. Is there a relationship that we need to reconcile? Do we have unresolved anger towards a person, an individual, ourselves, or God? Have we just experienced a loss of some kind such as a death of a loved one, a loss of a position, or the loss of our health? Those circumstances can encourage negative thoughts that leave us feeling depressed. (More here on Forgiving Others: Taking a Relationship Inventory.)

David had the right idea — he poured out his heart to God and penned his very real emotions into poignant psalms. He didn’t put on a brave front to God and pretend like he had everything under control. He got real and admitted his need for God. However, nowhere does it say in Scripture that God was upset at him for having those emotions. God can handle our bad feelings.

Because of my own struggles since that day at the altar, I have come to understand more about how to overcome depression — and accepted the fact that Christians do get depressed, but we don’t have to stay depressed. We may not get to choose the circumstances that leave us feeling down or the reactions people have to us that make us feel isolated and unloved — but we most certainly can choose the way we handle and react to those times when a blanket of gray envelops our souls.

1. Practice thanksgiving in the moment.

I used to consider myself a realist — I thought that in order to see the world realistically and shield myself from unneeded pain meant anticipating when this pain would rear its ugly head. However, this just made me a paranoid, critical person who wasn’t very fun to be around. Thanksgiving didn’t seem like something that would help me crawl out of the pit of pain I had fallen into.

However, it is no coincidence that so many verses in the Bible stress being grateful in all circumstances — thanksgiving helps to take the edge off of the pain, even forget it. Ann Voskamp recommends listing gifts daily in her study One Thousand Gifts. She carries around a little list and writes down her “gifts” as she goes through her day.

This may not sound like a profound activity, but what I didn’t realize is that I had gotten into the habit of meditating on the negative problems happening in my life, and it was taking my mind to a dark place. The more time I spent stewing over what was wrong and who had wronged me, the more time I spent in the throes of depression.

Habitually listing what I am grateful for and rehearsing that in my mind felt a little forced and silly at first, but as I have continued to engage in intentional gratitude, I have found that my depression lifts much sooner — and I can have peace even in the midst of very stressful circumstances.

2. Prayer.

Prayer sounds like a no-brainer solution that well-meaning people offer you when they don’t know what else to say, but it really does work. Even though it is helpful to talk to others, no one else can help us in our situation like God. I can be honest with him about how much that person’s remark hurt me, or how scared I am about taking a step of faith, or how angry I am at my husband.

Many times, my prayer time is a great emotion neutralizer. I come into it with angry, despairing, devastating emotions and walk out of it with a different perspective, a sense of calm, and a release from all of the bad that has been swirling inside of me. As Philippians 4:6-7 recommends: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Photo Credit: creativewright.com

Photo Credit: creativewright.com

The truth is that when I am at my lowest, I just don’t feel like praying at all, but when I do it despite not feeling like it I really see results. In fact, as this verse suggests, God promises to guard my heart against the anger, despair, and bitterness that threaten to overtake me. God’s peace becomes my protector.

3. Know it’s a season.

The reality with depression is that it sometimes can last for a long time — especially if it is following a loss of some kind. There may be quite a bit of time that passes before you begin to feel good again. In her CNN article “Going Public With Depression,” published shortly after Robin Williams’ death, Kat Kinsman reflects on her own journey battling depression at fourteen and how she feels now as an adult:

Now, 25 years later, I’ve lost too much time and too many people to feel any shame about the way my psyche is built. How from time to time, for no good reason, it drops a thick, dark jar over me to block out air and love and light, and keeps me at arm’s length from the people I love most.

The pain and ferocity of the bouts have never eased, but I’ve lived in my body long enough to know that while I’ll never ‘snap out of it,’ at some point the glass will crack and I’ll be free to walk about in the world again. It happens every time, and I have developed a few tricks to remind myself of that as best I can when I’m buried deepest.”

While I can’t agree with everything Kinsman says concerning depression (namely, I believe that we can overcome our negative thinking patterns and indeed “snap out it”), I like how she acknowledges that we can look to the hope that we may be in a hard season, but it won’t last forever.

Knowing that the depression will pass and that there will be a day when I wake up and no longer feel trapped in a black hole helps me when I don’t feel like talking about it, praying about it, or keeping in touch with the outside world.

4. Keep moving.

In yet another juncture of my life, when I had quit teaching and was feeling isolated and insignificant in my role as stay-at-home mom, I felt like I was in a major slump. Something told me to just keep going. Keep attending church events. Sign up for a mom class. Keep searching for a school for my daughter. Keep showing up at my husband’s basketball games.

Sometimes when we are praying and working through things, and we still feel like we are in the valley — choosing to continue to engage in social avenues helps to lift some of the heaviness. As Joyce Meyer suggests in Approval to Addiction:

When we are hurting, our natural tendency is to nurse our wounds. We may want to isolate ourselves and think about how pitifully we have been treated. I have discovered that when I am hurting, the best thing I can do is keep moving. While I am hurting, I just keep doing what I would be doing if I were not hurting. I go to work, I study, I pray, I go out and preach, I keep my commitments. I keep doing the good things God has given me to do, and I trust Him to take care of the evil things.”

5. Focus on others.

As I detail in another post, I was at the doctor’s after a miscarriage for an ultrasound and follow-up visit, and I felt God’s nudge to minister to some of the nurses and patients at the doctor’s office. I have to admit that I was very uncomfortable with the idea. Offended, even. Are you serious, God?  Do you really want me to say some things to these people when my own heart is broken?

It turns out that reaching out to others in my own pain and sharing my story had a very healing effect on me. I actually started feeling more sorry for some of the pregnant women in the office then for my own un-pregnant state. I have to attribute this feeling to God because my own feelings did not suggest to me that I should do anything but focus on my own state. God knew by pulling my heartstrings that I would help myself by turning outward and aiding others.

(We can often swing to drastic extremes where we try so hard to pretend nothing is wrong and only focus on others that we lose ourselves in the process. With keeping our commitments and focusing on others, I definitely am not suggesting doing these things without taking care of ourselves. There definitely needs to be some alone grieving time after painful events or losses; however, sometimes we can isolate ourselves to the point where we hurt ourselves more.)

As I look back on some of the seasons where I thought that my depression would consume me whole, I can admit quite happily that I made it through. In time, the feelings lifted, and I was able to enjoy life again. Although I was fortunate to get the healing I needed at the altar as a young bride, there have been other seasons that took some persistence and perseverance to make it through the tough valleys.

Simply knowing that bad things will happen, and I will experience negative emotions but do not have to let these things derail or define me — helps a little when sadness steals its way into my heart.

 Related Resources:

Joyce Meyer “The Poison of Unforgiveness”

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and two children.

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Self-Care: What to Do When You’re Stressed

clock

It’s been one of those weeks.

You know what I’m talking about. A week where seemingly everything goes wrong.

Your children are particularly whiny and disobedient. You don’t sleep well because your mind won’t rest. You run late to every engagement on your calendar. You’re the mom who forgets to bring the snack when it’s your turn.

And to top it all off, you have a headache you haven’t been able to shake for days.

You know. THAT week.

Well, that describes my past week. A week where I battled moments of depression and abused myself regularly with tirades of, “You suck!”

It’s at times like these when I most crave quiet and rest and time with my Savior.

However, how do you find the time for you when your days are dominated by investing in others from sunrise to sunset, leaving you physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted?!

This is my current struggle.

When do I find time for myself? Blogging and running are things I enjoy, but at the risk of sounding greedy, here’s my real problem: I want more! I need more!!

I want to start a personal journal — a space where I can clear my head of the mental vomit that has no business being published here.

I would like to train for another 10K — believe it or not.

I want more time to sleep. I want days where I can sleep in and wake up without the assistance of my alarm.

I want to run away to a cabin — alone — and enjoy nature and a good book!

Am I wrong for wanting these things? Am I wrong for trying to make plans to deliberately fit these things into my life?

Are moms not to have time for themselves?

I stumbled across a piece on Facebook where the author talks about how moms always put their needs second to the needs of their children. She states the idea that when it comes to moms’ needs, we will have a turn to focus on ourselves at a later time.

And while that is a noble way of looking at motherhood, I don’t think it’s a wise approach. Moms have needs too. Needs that can’t be put off indefinitely until “later.”

It’s like what the stewardess on a plane says before liftoff when giving instructions in case of an emergency: if you are traveling with small children, be sure to put on you air mask before attempting to secure your child’s mask. Now, consider why that advice is given: because you can better take care of your children’s needs if you have first met your own.

Jesus understood the need for personal time and space.

Luke 5:16: “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

Matthew 14:23: “After He had dismissed them, He went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray. Later that night, He was there alone.”

Mark 7: 24: “Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet, He could not keep His presence a secret.”

Jesus needed alone time. It’s something we all NEED. And it’s something I have to make a priority in my life right now.

How do you make time for you?

Today’s forget-me-not: Me.

View Jamie’s original November 7, 2014 post by clicking here.

Jamie Wills

Jamie Wills

Jamie is a high school English teacher, wife and mom. She is a marathon runner and writes regularly in her spare time on miscarriage, running, spirituality and everyday life on her blog -- posting things that God shows her that she doesn't want to forget, or "forget-me-nots." Jamie holds a master's degree in education and sponsors speech and debate at the high school level. Jamie is the mother of three children -- two beautiful daughters, Beth and Hannah; as well as Angel, a baby she lost in August of 2010. She currently resides in Georgia with her family.

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What Can You Do When You Learn Your Friend Has Had a Miscarriage?

What Can I Do When I Learn My Friend Has Had a Miscarriage_ (2)

It has happened again. Another dear friend of mine has suffered a miscarriage.

I hate it.

I know the darkness that comes with pregnancy loss. I know the loneliness. I know the pain — physical and emotional — that overwhelms.

And I just want to make it all go away for her. But I can’t. And that is frustrating.

So, is there anything someone can do for a friend who has suffered a miscarriage?

To answer this question, I thought back to the days right after I lost our Angel. I thought back to what others had done that helped me as I began to work through my loss. Here is a list of things you should consider doing for your friend as she grieves.

1. Take a meal.

The last thing a grieving parent should have to think about during this time is what to make for dinner. Mom and Dad (and their children if they have any previous to this loss) need to eat — even if they don’t want to. Help them out. Take that chore off their to-do list and — in a kindness that will speak love to their hearts — take them a meal.

2. Be there to listen.

I have found that grieving mothers want to tell their stories. It helps them to process what happened. All you have to do is make yourself available. Sit with your friend. Listen. If need be, cry with her and give her a hug. Just being there to listen can help so much!

3. Say very little.

For some women, remarks meant to console like “Perhaps this (the miscarriage) was for the best” or “I’m sure you’ll be able to have other children” or “This happens to a lot of women” may be comforting, but to other women, these statements seem to minimize their losses. Instead, you can never go wrong with simply expressing your sadness at her loss and/or giving her a hug. Again, just be there for her.

4. Consider a small gesture.

Send her and the father — he lost a baby too — a card, or flowers, or some other small token of remembrance. Gestures such as these acknowledge your friend’s pain and acknowledge the life of her child — two things that are overlooked after one experiences a miscarriage. Never be afraid to remember your friend’s baby. Be certain, she will never forget that little one — no matter how long he or she was in the womb. To acknowledge her baby is to acknowledge her and what she went through. It makes the experience less lonely and honors the little life that passed too soon from this earth.

5. If she already has children, take them for a couple hours, for a whole day, or for a sleepover.

Your friend and her spouse need time to grieve. It is nearly impossible to do this with children around who demand constant attention. If it is possible for you to do this, it would be greatly appreciated!

Above all, remember that your friend just lost a child. Yes, the baby was only a few weeks or months old, but in that time, this new mother made plans for her baby’s future: perhaps she narrowed down a list of potential names, perhaps she cleaned a room in anticipation of the arrival of this new family member, or perhaps she bought a few new baby items.

One thing is certain. For her, this new mother loved loves this child, and now, that baby is gone.

She will grieve. She will cry. And, eventually, although it will leave a scar, she will heal.

Will you help her?

Today’s forget-me-not: The grieving mothers of miscarriage. See them. Support them.

As Matthew 5:4 says, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Adapted from a post published August 1, 2014. To view original post, click here.

 

Jamie Wills

Jamie Wills

Jamie is a high school English teacher, wife and mom. She is a marathon runner and writes regularly in her spare time on miscarriage, running, spirituality and everyday life on her blog -- posting things that God shows her that she doesn't want to forget, or "forget-me-nots." Jamie holds a master's degree in education and sponsors speech and debate at the high school level. Jamie is the mother of three children -- two beautiful daughters, Beth and Hannah; as well as Angel, a baby she lost in August of 2010. She currently resides in Georgia with her family.

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How Helping Others Helped Me Get Over the Tragedy of Miscarriage

An ultrasound when you’re not pregnant has to be just about the saddest thing ever.

That was my thought as I walked into my doctor’s office a week after a devastating miscarriage. I was scheduled for a follow-up ultrasound to check to see if my surgery at the hospital the week before had successfully removed the remaining tissue.

I could visualize it now: my empty uterus blown up on the screen, its rounded walls encircling life no longer. No comforting blinking blip of a baby’s heartbeat — just a yawning expanse of gray fuzz where a fetus had been just a few weeks earlier.

To make matters worse, I was not feeling great. I had a racing heartbeat and low iron levels — walking from the car up to the office was an effort for me. I was feeling sorry for myself, and I was prepared for others to feel sorry for me too. I figured God had arranged a motherly ultrasound tech to do the ultrasound, perhaps a kind nurse to minister to me in my time of brokenness.

But God had other plans.

The ultrasound tech who found me in the waiting room was not the maternal tech I was hoping for — she was younger than me, thin. There was a vulnerability about her. Although she gave me instructions in a most professional way about what clothes to remove and where to position myself on the table, I felt a sensitivity immediately in my spirit, a prick.

We chatted pleasantly for a few minutes. As pleasant as a conversation about a lost baby can be. Yes, I did just lose my baby in the hospital one week ago. Yes, I was supposed to have my 12 week ultrasound today, but instead they changed it to my post-miscarriage ultrasound. No, this was not my first pregnancy. The conversation then took a rather innocent turn. I had mistakenly thought that my ultrasound was going to be after my doctor exam and had filled up on water. So, I commented on how excruciating it can be to have an ultrasound with a full bladder. She began to relate a story to me of an ultrasound she had had recently where she was in intense discomfort.

I assumed she had children and asked how many she had. She quickly explained that she had no children but had actually had an ultrasound to look at a cyst on her uterus that she had been having problems with for the past few years. The moment that she said “cyst” a word dropped into my brain, and I tried to shake it off, but it came again. Unforgiveness. She continued to talk and the word came again. Unforgiveness. It drowned out all other sounds and kept interrupting my thoughts like an incoming message chime in an email.

As much as I would like to say that I am a wonderful Christian and that I wanted to speak to this woman and tell her about my own past struggles with unforgiveness and the physical problems it caused me, I really didn’t. However, I also know that God gives me very specific words for people at extremely inconvenient times, and when I ignore his assignments I always regret it. Feeling a thin film of sweat develop on my brow, I made my way off the table and into the bathroom to get the rest of my clothes on. God, do you want me to tell her that her condition may be caused by unforgiveness in a relationship? I only heard silence and the efficient hum of the ultrasound tech’s movements on the other side of the door.

I already knew the answer.

In the least awkward way possible, I opened the door, smiled at the woman and said to her, “I am not a medical professional, and this may not even be for you, but when you were talking about cysts a moment ago, I got a word in my mind for you.” I then proceeded to tell her I was a Christian and how my decision to hold onto hatred for a friend after she had hurt me had caused a problem with bleeding.

The issue continued for over a month until I felt convicted about it and apologized to my friend. The very day I forgave her and sent her an apology the problem went away. I told the ultrasound tech that sometimes we just get physical problems (we live in a fallen world and experience illness as a result), but at times we get physical problems as a result of emotional or spiritual problems. I offered her my story and told her I did not want her to suffer, so she could weigh out if what I said applied to her.

The awkward thing for me in that moment was I could very well have been wrong. I could have imagined the words in my head and imagined that it had anything to do with her. I could have greatly offended her and made a stressful situation worse. Yet, Jesus was bold with people. He gave them actions to complete and didn’t mince words. He was compassionate, but he didn’t just stand around and lament the condition people were in. He healed them.

Truthfully, I wasn’t feeling very much like Jesus, but if He was indeed giving me these words for this woman — He was offering her a step to healing. And a step to Himself.

I was just a flawed woman in a doctor’s office after the loss of a pregnancy. A woman who could be wrong. A woman feeling dizzy and lightheaded and sad for my baby. But when I began talking, I felt such strength and power — as only Christ can provide, and I didn’t feel sad at all. My problems were so far removed from me at that moment. And I really felt that there was something sadder than an ultrasound when you aren’t pregnant: a person without the hope of Jesus Christ.

Even in my condition, I had a hope to lean the weight of my sadness on.

She didn’t say much in response, but I could tell by the look in her eyes that something had moved her. And because nothing else came to mind and she looked like she needed a moment to process everything, I gave her a hug and stepped away. I didn’t know what was going on her life or what was going on with her body — but God did. And all I could do was offer Him.

The lesson I learned in the ultrasound room is this: God wants to use me even when I feel that I am at my lowest and weakest point. He always has others on His mind, and while I mainly have myself on my mind — reaching out and ministering to others in my own broken state can heal not only the other person but can help to heal my own heart. As Shelene Bryan notes in Love, Skip, Jump, “It is in sacrificially loving others that God can use us and fulfill us in a way that nothing else can. By surrendering our plans and desires to Him we can be part of something He wants to do.”

Is there something right now that the Lord might be asking of you? Something that makes you a little scared, a little uncomfortable? You may have to push aside your own desires or even reach out in the midst of your own suffering; but I promise if you do, you may be able for a moment to forget your own sadness and feel the goodness of God in the midst of your pain.

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and two children.

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An Anchor in Illness

Recent stories in the news have brought individuals to the forefront who have chosen to die on their own terms. My last post focused on Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old terminal cancer patient, who decided to take her life this past weekend rather than suffer with the pain of cancer.

In similar form, Robin Williams surprised everyone with his suicide a few months ago. In contrast to Maynard, Williams did not announce his decision to the public beforehand but instead went quietly into his room, belt in hand — and never came out again. His widow cited that Williams’ depression over a Parkinson’s diagnosis had contributed to his suicide.

Although their methods were different, both Maynard and Williams had one thing in common: they wanted a say in their final moments. Death looked more appealing to them than a finale that involved uncertainty and a loss of control over their bodies.

The Stress of Illness

Illness is tough. I haven’t battled anything as monumental as a cancer or Parkinson’s diagnosis, but I have to admit that even my relatively small struggles to get my health back after my recent miscarriage and hospitalization added to my stress and depression. Even though I had been promised a full recovery after three months, I still felt pretty discouraged when I looked at the healthy, happy people around me, and I felt confined to the four walls of my house because a quick trip to the grocery store inspired my heart to race and my head to throb.

I couldn’t remember dates and names very well because my hemoglobin levels had dipped so low that my head was in a constant fog — and following my son around the playground for an hour made me tired enough to be in bed all afternoon. In addition, I felt a sting when family members didn’t exactly rush to my aid or even remember to check up on me. I felt very alone.

My husband reminded me that at least I had an end in sight, but what if I had been told that I didn’t have a chance of recovery? As I was pondering the effect of my own health situation, I felt the Lord speak to me about the hope He gives us to combat the challenges of illness.

1. His hope is an “anchor for my soul.”

I love these words from Hebrews 6:18 that are now a line in a popular Hillsong worship song. His hope literally “anchors” me when I feel the worry and strain of what is happening in my body and feel that my emotions are getting carried away. A verse I felt really spoke to me after my miscarriage was Romans 14:8: “If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” I can rest in health or illness because I can trust Him as the author and finisher of my life.

hope 2

2. Another source of comfort for me is that I have access to the God of the universe.

The greatest physician of all, the Creator who formed my body. One of the benefits of being a Christian is that He heals all of my diseases (Psalm 103:3). He doesn’t guarantee a healing — and I don’t understand why some get healing and some do not; however, I have the hope that I can approach Him and ask for that healing.

3. Even if I do not receive healing in the way I want, I can trust in the fact that all suffering has to go through Him first.

If it His will that I do not get a complete healing, I can know that He will walk through the illness with me. He will provide comfort for me and strength along the way.

When I was on my way to the hospital because I was having symptoms that I suspected were that of a pregnancy loss, I felt the sun shining on me through the car window, and I felt the most wonderful sense of peace. I kept hearing the words in my head, “You can let this go. You can let this pregnancy go.” I just felt this sense of strength girding me up on all sides — even though I was in the midst of the crisis of losing my baby.

Once we made it to the hospital, I continued to feel a supernatural calm, and when I was waiting to go into surgery after learning I was having a miscarriage, a wonderful woman from my church who just happened to be working in the operating room that night popped her head in and prayed for me before the surgery. I felt that God had sent her to my side to further ease me through the process.

And, again, when I was released and the horrible reality of what had happened had washed over me — I felt literally that the dark, bottomless hole in my soul I had fallen into was sewn up by a master surgeon.

This is not to say that I did not experience grief or pain — because I did and am still processing through that — but I had a wonderful help in the midst of my crisis.

4. Lastly, one of the other things I felt God whisper to my spirit is that I have the hope that my trials and suffering are temporary.

I get so caught up in trying to have perfect circumstances, but that is not what the Bible tells me is the reality for this life. The Bible assures me that I can expect trials and suffering (John 16:33) but to “take heart” and not be thrown off by difficulty. Another “anchor” for me in my suffering is that I have hope that all of this present trouble will pass away. It encourages me to know that while my physical body is deteriorating, my spirit is ever being renewed — and I will experience the perfect circumstances I desire when this life is over. The longing I feel for this is normal — all of creation longs for it too (Romans 8:22).

Illness is stressful and hard. It changes the dynamics of relationships and can be a heavy burden to bear. There is nothing easy about losing physical capabilities and having to rely on others to take care of you. However, God’s desire is not for us to succumb to worry or fear but instead rest in Him — the hope that “anchors” us in our trials.

 

 

Carol Whitaker

Carol Whitaker is a coach's wife, mom, writer and singer. She left a career in teaching in 2011 to pursue a different path at God's prompting. While she thought that the path would lead straight to music ministry, God had different plans -- and Carol found herself in a crisis of spirituality and identity. Out of that place, Carol began writing about the lessons God was teaching her in her desert place and how God was teaching her what it meant to be healed from a painful past and find her identity in Him rather than a title, a relationship, a career, or a ministry. These days, Carol spends her time shuttling her little ones back and forth from school, supporting her coach-husband on the sidelines, and writing posts. Carol also continues to write music lyrics (that no one has ever seen) and hopes to pick up piano playing again. Carol is a self-proclaimed blog junkie and iced-coffee lover. She resides in Georgia with her husband and two children.

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