The Worst Kept Secret: Depression

I guest posted on Crystal Twaddell’s Made to Brave blog this week about depression during the holidays. Unfortunately, it is a sad reality that more people are depressed/suicidal/anxious during this time of the year than any other time. As I’ve said before, depression and anxiety go hand in hand. Anxiety is high energy fear of the future, while depression is low energy fear of the past.

It seems that it’s more socially acceptable to be anxious. After all, if you have a busy schedule to be anxious about, doesn’t that make you important or popular? But if you’re depressed, it means (supposedly) that you’re ungrateful for everything in your life, and no one wants to invite you to parties because you drag the mood down. I’m not downplaying the severity of anxiety, but I do believe we as a society talk about anxiety more than we talk about depression. It’s time to continue the conversation by discussing what happens when your anxiety disappears: it is often replaced with depression.

Anxiety is a large part of us. For some of us, it’s who we are. If you struggle with anxiety, can you even think of a time in your life when you weren’t anxious? Although we want to be set free from it, when we finally get better, we sometimes get worse. The hole that anxiety leaves in our lives is big and loud and aggravating. If we’re not anxious, then who are we?

That’s when depression kicks in. When we don’t have something to worry about, we get depressed. When our schedule isn’t filled to the brim, we get depressed. When we don’t have our usual five o’clock panic attack, we get depressed. Not because we miss our anxiety, but because we don’t know how to move forward. I know, because I’ve experienced this big time over the last couple of years.

During the holidays, we expect that Santa Claus and the smell of pine and gingerbread cookies and all the sugar will make of our problems go away. But they don’t. As a matter of fact, the holidays often make things worse for us. Some of us have to see family members we don’t like. Why do we have to sit across the dinner table from the people we haven’t spoken to in twenty years because of a fight that happened over a shovel? Some of us put our hope in gifts only to be sorely disappointed when we unwrap all the presents just to find our hearts as empty as ever. Did you really think that a new computer would make you feel more fulfilled?

With that logic, it’s no wonder that so many people kill themselves or die of natural causes during this time of year. Depression hangs in the air like the frost that comes out of our mouths when we’re whispering in the cold.

But depression is not the final word.

I encourage you this Christmas season to start by being honest. If you’re depressed, please get help. Reach out to a friend. Go to church. Even comment on this post. Be honest about how you feel and why you feel that way. Our emotions are not the truth, but they are an indication that something in your life needs to be fixed. It is essential for you to get the help and answers that you need in order to move on with your life and to enjoy the many blessings of the Christmas season.

This year, I feel like more than ever we’re trying to get back to the true meaning of Christmas, Jesus coming to Earth to bring us peace with God, with others, and with ourselves. If you focus on the other stuff, I cannot guarantee that you will feel peace at the end of the day. However, I am a living testimony that Jesus is the giver of life, not just eternal life when we die, but abundant life while we are still breathing. There have been times where I’ve wondered what the point of life is, and I’ve felt God’s peace saying that He has a purpose for me here. The same is true for you. You may feel depressed, hopeless, even meaningless, but God has a different story for you. The hope of Christmas is that you’re not alone, and that your life is worth living.

Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi on Unsplash


My Song for the Season: “Here Comes Heaven”

Every year, I focus on a different aspect of Christmas. I’ll usually hear a song on the radio that sticks out to me and reminds me to be conscious of whatever God is teaching me. Listening to actual Christmas music about the birth of Christ and not about drinking hot cocoa and waiting for Santa Claus is so refreshing for my soul!

The last couple of years, God has put it on my heart to pay attention to the fact that Jesus came to us. Before the Christmas season even started, I listened to Elevation Worship’s new CD Hallelujah Here Below on Spotify. On my phone, if I’m listening to a particular CD, sometimes Spotify will throw in songs from the artist that are on a different album. When the song “Here Comes Heaven” came on, I thought it was from a Christmas album. But that’s the beauty of Christian music: when we have Christ in our hearts, it is Christmas every day. This song brought tears to my eyes when I first listened to it. I knew this is what God wanted to teach me this year.

Before Christ came to Earth, the people of God did not hear a prophecy or any word from the Lord for 400 years. For centuries, people waited for salvation and peace with God. They performed their rituals in hopes that they were pleasing God, waiting to hear from Him. Little did they know that He was preparing the way for Heaven to come to Earth.

In the ninth chapter of his book, Isaiah prophecies what it would be like for the Messiah to come to Earth:

“the people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned” (Isaiah 9:2, NIV).

When I was a kid and would have panic attacks, I would run to my parents and ask them to help me. Instead of addressing it, sometimes they would just tell me to think about something else. If I couldn’t sleep, my dad would tell me to dream of going to Florida on vacation. Just putting my attention on something else brought me such peace.

This Christmas season, I want to focus my attention on Christ. During the most depressing time of year, it is easy to get caught up in buying the right presents, filling our schedules with parties, and forcing ourselves to interact with family members we don’t like. But that’s not what Christmas is about. In fact, it’s not about us at all. Christmas is about Jesus coming to Earth, giving us peace with God, peace with others, and ultimately, peace with ourselves.

“Here Comes Heaven” is about how peace has finally come. We don’t have to strive anymore. We don’t have to wait anymore. While we shop and wait and traffic and wear our ugly Christmas sweaters to different events, we can trust that the work is finished. Jesus already took care of everything that needed to take place.

What is our response to Christ coming to Earth? Worship. Praise. Recognition. It is okay to enjoy different Christmas traditions, but at the end of the day, we need to remember the One who took away our grief, our confusion, and our enmity with God. We can now have all the fruits of the Spirit.

This year, consider what it means for Heaven to come to Earth in your life. While God has a global (universal!) perspective of His creation, He also values you and has a unique and specific plan for you. If Heaven came to you this year, what would that look like? How would your life be different? What fears wouldn’t make sense anymore? What mourning would be lifted from you? What wait will finally be over?

Photo by Sam Schooler on Unsplash


What IS the True Meaning of Christmas?

At the beginning of this year, a lot of my Christian writer friends were posting about their word for the year. While I had never done it before, I decided to pray about what my word would be. My word for 2018 is “declutter,” based on Hebrews 12:2.

For most of the year, I decluttered my living space, my work space, my schedule, my relationships, and my heart. My goal was to get rid of all the junk in my life so I had more room for God. Now, at the end of this year, God is asking me to do the converse: make room for God so that there’s no room for the junk.

If I’m honest, I’ll admit that there was a lot of junk this year, not only in my personal life, but in the world around me. Social media has practically become a garbage dump where people are venting about random stuff that no one cares about, and then other people are tearing them apart for it. I’ve spent a huge chunk of this year (you know, eleven months), trying to find the redemptive qualities of the toxic environments, when God has been calling me to run away! Now, I’m not saying all social media is bad, but in this season, it is not the best for my soul. No more looking for the nutrition facts of bio-hazardous material!

All the while, Christmas sort of just showed up, and now we’re plagued with the same question that we are every year: What is the true meaning of Christmas?

Well, what is it? Why do you get together with your family every year? Why do you do all your shopping? Why did you buy that ugly Christmas sweater for the party you’re attending next week?

I believe in the midst of all the junk in our lives, we run the risk of missing the point. Sure, family, friends, giving gifts, belief in miracles, and even politics are all important, but they’re not the point. When we realize what the point is, that’s when all the other stuff in our life makes sense.

Christmas (in particular, the Advent season) is about God coming to Earth in the form of a baby, Jesus. The prophets spoke of this child for centuries before He was even born. I was just reading in my devotional today that Jesus fulfilled 108 prophecies spoken about Him during His life on Earth. When Christ was born, God did something huge, something that had never been done before, something that we are still talking about millennia later! I think it’s time we pay attention to the message God is saying to us (and has been saying to us for thousands of years) through this miracle.

Jesus coming to Earth speaks to people’s heart in different ways, especially since He came for multiple reasons. He came to set us free from our sin. He came to give us an example of righteousness. He came to put the law to death. He came to show what it means to be humble. He came because He loves us.

Sure, the thrill of opening presents on Christmas morning is euphoric. Seeing my family is such a joy. Listening to Christmas music and decorating the tree and wearing silly ugly Christmas sweaters is essential to get through the holiday blues. But nothing gives me more lasting joy, more perfect peace, more everlasting love, than knowing that the God who created the Heavens and the Earth came to this broken, desperate, hopeless world to show us how to live and to demonstrate His love for us.

Remembering the true meaning of Christmas makes all the junk disappear.

Photo by Gareth Harper on Unsplash


Anxiety During the Holidays

As a culture, we tend to idolize and idealize holidays.  The food has to be just right.  Everyone has to get along.  The decorations have to be creative and fun, and the house has to be spotless.  You better come up with some good stories and some exciting news to tell your family.  There’s some serious pressure to do everything right and to not mess it up.  After all, you don’t want to be the one ruining the holiday.

I’ve struggled with anxiety for several years, and the holidays have gotten progressively harder for me.  My anxiety tells me that I have to be perfect, that I can’t mess things up, and it literally ruins the holiday for me.  All I ever want to do on the holiday is stay home and do nothing.  But that’s not the way the world works.  I don’t get to call in sick to Christmas.

When I started dating my husband, I actually confessed this to him.  I was nervous about being around his family, especially since I was meeting a lot of them for the first time.  What if their first impression of me was not good, and they hated me for the rest of our lives together?  They also had their own set of rules that I was afraid I would ruin.  But if I went back to my own house, I felt like I was walking on a tightrope, and that anything I said or did could cause everything to go off balance.

I am fully aware that all of this is irrational, but it does not shake the feeling that I get whenever the holidays roll around.  What I’ve learned after letting this happen is that, if I let anxiety win, I miss out on a great day.  Since I’ve been praying and having the support of my husband holding me accountable, I’ve been conscious about not letting my anxiety get the best of me.  I intentionally focus on what I look forward to, not what I anticipate going wrong.  And for the last couple of years, I’ve actually been able to laugh, talk, and relax with both sides of my family instead of being overcome with anxiety.

If you are like me, here are some practical tips that I have discovered to at least avoid the panicking feeling:

  • Watch what you eat/drink.  People tend to indulge on sugary snacks and drinks during the holidays.  Sugar causes your heart to race, which in turn causes your anxiety to increase.  Alcohol may calm your anxiety, but it may also give you acid reflux.  Be aware of how certain foods affect your body.  If you’re feeling anxious, drink some water or some peppermint/herbal tea to calm down your body.
  • Remember the true meaning of the holidays.   As a Christian, I celebrate Christmas, the time of year where we remember Jesus our Savior coming to Earth.  Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the one who reconciles all people to each other as well as to God.  When I am anxious, I can remember that Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  When I am nervous about upsetting someone, I can remember that my identity is in Christ and not in what people say about me.  If you’re feeling anxious, remember that God is with you.  One of God’s names is Emmanuel, which means God With Us.  God is with you, even in your time of weakness.
  • Guard your heart.  Not everyone believes the same things that you do.  Some people might mock you for trusting in God.  Do not let their negativity, complaining, or criticizing keep you down.  If you need to separate yourself, find another family member to talk to.  If someone wants to chew your ear off about how wrong you are, don’t let it get to you.  Just take a deep breath and let it go in one ear and out the other.
  • Breathe.  The holidays are meant to be a time for relaxation, reflection, and fun.  Don’t let your anxiety get in the way of the rest that you deserve.  You work hard all year, so you are allowed one free day where you don’t have to do anything.  You can be anxious any other time this year; give yourself a break just this one day.  Literally, close your eyes, breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth, until the anxiety is gone.  The anxiety will pass; you just have to let it leave.

Merry Christmas to all!  I pray that the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, meets you all in a special way this year.  I can’t wait to hear what He does in your life!

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


The Thrill of True Hope in a Holy Night

“You better watch out, you better not cry. You better not pout; I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.”

On Christmas Eve, my sister and I would run up the steps and bang on the front door to Grandma’s house. Grandma would open the door to her warm, carefully-decorated house, and as we thawed from the wintry cold she would click her tongue and regretfully inform us that, just like every year, we had just missed Santa Claus.

We little girls knew that even if we missed him, he had brought us presents. After dinner, we would rip open our presents and enjoy the thrill and anticipation of each new box. My hope was in knowing that there were still plenty of boxes to unwrap.

All around me, cameras would flash and conversation would erupt over the latest news and the funniest jokes of the season. My family members would coo over the gifts I received.

Finally, my hands would grab the final gift under the tree. I would slowly rip off the paper, savoring the last bit of excitement of the evening. I would open the box, and the fun would be over.

With the last present opened, the party would cease. Family members would rub their eyes and call it a night. We would all hug each other, pack up our cars with new stuff, and go home.

Each year, I would go home feeling empty. Did we really wait all year just to go over Grandma’s house, open a few presents, and that’s it? After all that anticipation, I didn’t even get to meet Santa Claus.

“He’s making a list. He’s checking it twice. He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. Santa Claus is coming to town.”

I did the best I could to be a good child. If I really thought about it, I didn’t know what was good or bad, and I didn’t know what Santa Claus really thought of me. I just did whatever my parents told me.

The fact that I received presents every year confirmed that I was doing something right. Still, I didn’t think a few nice presents were worth following a bunch of boring rules.

What I really wanted was some love and attention. I wanted to be noticed not just for what I did, but for who I was. I wanted a reward that satisfied me. Santa Claus could only offer me toys that made me happy for a few days.

“He sees you when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake.  He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!” 

Someone, somewhere, was watching me. I had a perfect image to uphold. If I made a mistake, that would be the end. And that someone watching me would remember my mistake forever.

Around Christmastime, kids care if Santa Claus is watching. But ONLY during Christmastime do they care. I have never gone to the beach on a hot July day and heard a parent threaten her kids with the notion that they may not get Christmas presents.

All year round, kids need constant attention and tender loving care. They don’t need a list of rules to follow; they need a loving protector who will watch them and guide them.

At the age of twelve, I met the One who I needed. For my whole life, I had thought that this someone was like Santa Claus, waiting for me to mess up so he could stop giving me presents. I thought He was distant and that He hated me. I thought He could never love such a stupid worthless failure like me.

But I was wrong.

“O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.”

As a child, I knew that story of Jesus coming to Earth. That was all it was to me, a story. As I learned the Christmas story in church, I didn’t know that one day this story would change my life.

As I entered into my tween years, I tried to control my life. In the end, I developed an anxiety disorder and lost complete control of my body and the world around me. Looking back, everything was chaotic.

I tried to make sense of it all.  I tried to express how I felt. I was surrounded by people, but I was all alone.

I desperately needed help. I would sob alone in my room, looking up at the stars brightly shining in the sky, begging someone to hear my prayers.

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ‘til he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.”

When I was twelve, my dad dragged me to church to attend youth group with people my age. On that night, I heard the Christmas story in a way that I had never heard it before, in a way that completely transformed my life.

The story went like this: God humbly left His heavenly throne to become a small baby that would grow up and learn about human struggles. He would heal people and share about how much God loved them. He would die a death that He did not deserve so that we could have access to God again. He would rise from the dead to prove that He is stronger than death.

Jesus came to Earth to show how much He loved us, not to show how high and unattainable He was. On that night, I accepted Jesus as my Savior. My pastor taught us a prayer, and I believe God heard it.

God showed me who He really was. He cared about me and looked out for my well-being all year round. He forgave my sins, and even though I still make mistakes, he reminds me every day that He loves me too much to hold my sins against me.

After choosing to follow Him, I’ve learned that I am valuable. Since He appeared, my soul has felt its worth.

“A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

Since I made the decision to follow Jesus, each Christmas means something to me.  We exchange gifts, and I remember the most special gift I have ever received.

Instead of feeling empty, I feel complete. Instead of feeling alone, I know the ever-present God is with me. Instead of longing for more, I remember that God is everything I need.

The past broke me and made me forget my worth, but today is a new day, a new and glorious morning.

“Fall on your knees, and hear the angel voices: O night divine, O night when Christ was born.”

What if Christmas meant more than opening gifts and waiting for Santa Claus to show us whether we have been good or bad? What if God really did come to Earth? How would your life be different if you truly believed that Jesus came to this Earth to give you hope, to fill you completely and to show you your true worth?

God came to your world to show you how much He loves you. He is offering you a free gift that will satisfy your soul. You have a choice: will you accept it, or will you be content with that small thrill of anticipation year after year?

Photo by on Unsplash