“You know that trick where a person pulls the tablecloth off of a table set with fine china, leaving everything standing as if it hadn’t been touched?”
This was to be our final staff meeting as a team. Dr. Jim McCoy had been at First Baptist Church of Weaverville, N.C., since 1997; his retirement meant the coming Sunday would be his last as our pastor. Our administrative assistant was expressing her feelings regarding the inevitable . . . . (continue reading at Ready or not, church, change is coming – Baptist News Global)
Recently, social media was abuzz with the hashtag #thingsonlychristianwomenhear. If you haven’t followed the conversation, you might want to peruse some of the comments. I have heard most of the things listed, particularly since I was ordained in a Baptist church in December 2010.
Lucky for me, I was raised by parents who taught their children that persistence and conviction can overcome most obstacles. See, even though my father was a Southern Baptist preacher, I was encouraged to ask questions when I was a child — even (maybe especially) if they were about Christianity. Thus, if my siblings or I heard something at church or elsewhere that did not ring true, we felt free to ask our parents.
I should add here that there is a slight possibility that our parents over-taught this principle of independent thinking as we didn’t always exercise the self-control necessary to wait until we got home to state our opinions on things. (Mother suddenly started teaching teen girls’ Sunday school when my sister and I wound up in the same class. Coincidence? Probably not.)
Anyway, because of all those questions, all that examination, I’ve found the Bible to be a fountain of truth and the church to be a place where I can get to know God and God’s people better. To this day, I love being at church and delight in Bible study. True story.
Yet, #thingsonlychristianwomenhear included remarks that are all too familiar to me. Some of the things folks say to me about my vocation make me laugh. For example, a number of people have responded to the knowledge that I am a pastor with shock, asking, “Don’t you believe in the Bible?” I’m always tempted to respond, “Well, I won’t be turning over my handmaiden to my husband for the purpose of procreation, if that’s what you mean.” But employing a great deal of restraint, I refrain because that’d just be mean and would fix exactly nothing; so, I say something like, “I do believe in Holy Scripture; that’s one reason I questioned God for 20 years before I agreed to all this.”
I’ve also been asked lots of times, “How does your husband feel about you being a preacher?” The response ever on the tip of my tongue is, “Well, my first husband thinks it’s just great!” (I’d leave out the little detail that my first is also my only husband.) Instead I say, “Actually, my husband and I feel that God called us together: me to go into the ministry and him to support that journey.”
Still, that doesn’t mean I’m immune to the pain that comes from #thingsonlychristianwomenhear. The one that really frustrates me is: “We just aren’t ready for a woman in the pulpit.” OK, I know it seems innocuous at first, but I typically hear this one from churches who actually think they affirm women in ministry. On the one hand, I get it: churches have split over much less. Shoot, I’ve seen church conferences dissolve into fisticuffs due to a change in the family night supper menu.
Here’s my question to you, though: Do you ever plan on ever being ready? If not, then for heaven’s sake (literally), be honest. Just say, “Here at this church, we do not believe God calls women to the pastoral ministry; we believe God only calls males to this task. Therefore, we never intend to recognize your ordination as legitimate. That’s who we are.” Yes, it’s harsh; but it’s direct and truthful, unlike the previous, passive-aggressive non-response.
On the other hand, if you aren’t ready, what are you doing to get ready? Do you have women leaders making announcements, reading scripture, or passing the offering plate? Do you have women on staff? If so, do they have opportunities to participate in pastoral care or preaching? By the way, I’ve known a number of Baptist churches who, while they boldly declare that they absolutely do not believe in women preaching, will have a woman in the pulpit to “share a testimony,” or “bring the message.” Somehow by changing the verb, they’ve sanctified the behavior; and listen: I give them credit for trying. At least they are allowing God to speak through feminine voices.
Me, I don’t consider myself a real flag bearer for women in ministry. I just know without a doubt that God — demonstrating supernatural perseverance through two decades of denial — called me into this vocation. And, as it happens, I’m not a male. Go figure. Plus, I was not at all “ready” for this journey. But, by grace, God didn’t call me to be ready; God called me to be willing. Once I surrendered to God’s direction, the path to readiness miraculously presented itself.
Church, you don’t have to be ready. Just be willing. Then, together, we can change the tone of #thingsonlychristianwomenhear from one of judgment and ridicule to one of mercy and grace.
Originally published as
Changing #thingsonlychristianwomenhear – Baptist News Global
Having battled depression since I was in the first grade, I’ve gotten lots of suggestions and advice over the years on how to “get over it.” Here are just a few of those and the responses I would love to have given.
- “You take things too seriously.”
See, me, I think you just don’t take things seriously enough. Have you given any thought to world hunger lately? Poverty? Abuse? Because I have and it’s pretty serious stuff. You see me getting upset because of one (so-called) minor incident and you think I’m overreacting. What you don’t get is that, I’m not just responding to this occurrence. I was already thinking about the world’s pain and suffering. Then this thing happens and I’m catapulted into a thought process that attempts to take into account all sadness, all pain, all brokenness of all time. You try thinking about that without getting serious.
- “Just don’t think about that stuff.”
Oh okay. If you’d just hold my brain for a minute or . . . I dunno . . . a decade.
- “You’re just too sensitive!”
What you don’t understand is that I do not have an emotional epidermis. Think of me as a hairless cat. Wait no. No one should think about that. Ever. Think of me as . . . well . . . think of me as someone who doesn’t have an emotional epidermis. Best I can tell, my filters are super permeable. More stuff just gets to me.
Also, I’m not consciously choosing to be “too sensitive” as you seem to think. I’m trying to handle emotional difficulties better; but when you say “You’re just too sensitive,” what I hear is, “You are broken. Fix yourself.” Your not-at-all-well-thought-out advice reinforces what I already believe about myself. And that makes me want to curl up and sleep for a week. Which just makes people say, “You take things too seriously.” (See above.)
I promise you, I’m working on it. You can’t imagine how hard I’m working on it. This time, I just didn’t have the energy to use the coping strategies I’m developing. And I’m tired of picking up the mask every time I face people. So when you see me like this, please refrain from giving me your pithy solutions; instead of reducing my depression, they actually inflame the condition.
- “Perk up!”
On it! Thanks for the suggestion. Wow. Wish I could have known you 45 years ago. Would have saved lots of money in counseling and pharmaceuticals. Gosh, really! I’m all fixed now. Thanks!
- “It just doesn’t make sense. You don’t have any real problems!”
You are so right. I don’t. That’s why I don’t understand why I feel this way. Nothing is wrong. Except for everything. And also nothing. But everything.
Here’s the way things go down inside my brain:
Brain: You have no real problems.
Me: Then what’s wrong with me?
Brain: Lots of people have it worse than you! You have no reason to be depressed.
Me: You’re right; I’m such a loser.
Brain: Think about all the people who have truly difficult struggles. Victims of assault or abuse, people in poor health, those who are bereaved. You literally have no problems.
Me: You’re right. I have absolutely no right to feel this way.
Brain: Then stop feeling.
Me: Okay, how?
Brain: Ummmm. Yeah, I got nothing. Not my expertise.
So I hear you, I do. I even quote you to myself all the time. As a matter of fact, there’s no need for you ever to say this to me again. I say it to myself plenty.
- “Why don’t you just . . . [add overly simplistic, completely ludicrous, non-solution].”
Is that a question or an accusation? If it’s a question, settle in friend. I’ve got lots to say. Most people, though, don’t really want to hear the “why.” It’s not really a question at all. It’s an expression of frustration and I get it! It is hard to live with or around someone who is chronically sad. But if you really want to help, give me compassion not judgment. Compassion is infinitely more effective in reducing depression’s symptoms. So instead of making the above statement, why don’t you just create a safe place for me where love is plentiful and mercy is abundant, k? Thanks.
Here’s the thing: if someone you know or love is suffering from chronic depression, resist the urge to give offhand advice. Instead, offer grace: because grace, like love, never fails.
They had already been married six years by then, so it caught her completely by surprise. It was 1931 and they lived in Brazil at the time, far away from the small towns in South Georgia where they spent their respective childhoods.
Grandmama's ring visible on her left hand in this photo from September 1989
“He just tossed it over to me.” Grandmama loved to tell the story. “Just tossed it! The diamond only--it was in a little pouch of course; else I guess we would still be looking for it!” Grandmama laughed easily, particularly at her own jokes. “Asked me did I want to get it made into a ring.” She’d be fiddling with her ring by this point in the story, moving it this way and that so her diamond would catch the sunlight and throw it all over us. “Can you imagine? When I’d never seen something so pretty in my life.” The way she looked at it even then told us she hadn’t found anything yet that could top it. “Your Granddaddy wadn’t one to go and buy gifts much, so I told him right quick that I sure did want him to have it set into a ring!”
I heard the story nearly every year of my childhood. Grandmama loved that ring; I am certain I never saw her without it. She wore it with great joy and pride for more than sixty years until her passing in 1994, five years after Granddaddy died. She left her ring to my mother who wore it with as much love as her mother had.
My mother’s attachment to the ring extended far beyond the monetary value and physical beauty of it. That ring was a symbol for her parents, their love for each other, and their devotion to the family that grew out of that love. Mother wore it all the time. She was wearing it each time she welcomed a new grandchild (a total of eight in as many years). She was wearing it when she and Daddy celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. And she was wearing it in January 2015 when she had an allergic reaction to a medication that resulted in an urgent 911 call.
The first-responders got Mother stabilized and out of immediate danger, but that did not alleviate her own sense of impending doom. As her heart raced and her breathing slowed, she fought to stay conscious while the EMT’s strapped her to a stretcher and carried her to the ambulance, bound for the closest hospital.
Her throat and tongue were too swollen for her to speak audibly, but she remembers crying out in her own mind, “I need to tell someone that I want Baker to have my mother’s ring!” She had made the decision, but had not yet told anyone, not even Daddy. She was terrified that she would die without anyone knowing.
Mother (who the grandkids call Gangi—which sounds kind of like “Angie” except “Gangi” is pronounced with two hard G’s) and her oldest grandson (Baker) have always had a close relationship. She stayed with us for three weeks after his birth and spend much of that time holding our cuddly boy. As he grew, Baker continued to look forward to his time with Gangi. Whenever she was around, he had what he called “a hug attack.” Actually, preschool Baker’s speech was hardly decipherable; his malady sounded something like “uh hud atat,” making the condition all the more adorable. Back then, he would climb onto her lap and snuggle in until the attack subsided. Relapses were common and frequent and Gangi was always willing to administer the necessary treatment.
It was this special connection—one that neither has outgrown—that prompted Mother’s desire to give Baker Grandmama’s cherished ring. Once she recovered from her near-death experience, she put it in writing that Baker was to receive the ring. That summer, she told him that she wanted to give it to him and that he could fashion it in any way he wished for the girl of his dreams. By that time—Summer 2015—Baker and Addison had been dating for over three and a half years. Mother already loved Addison and though she didn’t tell Baker then, it was Addison’s hand that Mother hoped to see adorned with the ring. (Only time would tell.) She told Baker that whenever he was ready, she would give it to him. In December 2016 at the annual Christmas visit, he went to her privately and said “Gangi, I would like to have the ring!”
I asked her how she felt about the whole thing, wondering if she questioned her decision or if she missed having the ring on her own hand.
“Oh no! I am completely happy about it,” she replied. “My heart is absolutely filled with joy knowing that this precious ring will be carried on into another generation. My parents were married 65 years and it would mean so much to them that their commitment to marriage and family continues in this way. They would be just thrilled that their beautiful diamond now glistens on the hand of their great-grandson’s fiancé.” Mother, unabashedly biased, added, “And I KNOW they would LOVE Addison!”
“How would it be if I proposed tomorrow night?”
The question of how and when to propose was one my son, Baker, and I had discussed a number of times over the previous three months. The logistics were the problem. While Baker and his girlfriend, Addison, are from the same hometown, they go to universities in two different cities. Also, Baker wanted his sisters home for the proposal, but one works full-time and lives in DC and the other is away at college. Plus, Baker needed to talk with Addison’s parents; but he rarely comes home and never without Addison. Talking with them without her knowledge would be quite a feat.
At the time of his question—Thursday night around 10 pm—Baker and Addison had been home for only about five or six hours. Neither of his sisters were in town and he still hadn’t talked to Addison’s parents.
Baker did already have the ring*, though; in fact, he’d had it pretty much since Summer 2015. Back then, my mother had offered him her mother’s diamond ring. She told Baker just to let her know when he was ready to propose and the ring would be his to redesign in whatever way he chose. So, Christmas 2016, he asked her for the ring; the two of us went to Jewels that Dance in January.
“Addison had specific ideas about what she wanted in an engagement ring,” Baker told us the next night after the deed had been done.
“We made it a game!” Addison explained. “I would show him a ring and tell him what I liked about it. Then I would ask him to guess what I didn’t like about that particular ring. It was really fun!”
“We played it a lot.”
“Because it was fun!”
“It was more fun for her than for me.”
So, using the diamonds from my grandmother’s ring, Baker (in collaboration with the jeweler) designed the ring with the round cut solitaire in the center and six of the diamond accents on the band. Between the accent diamonds, he had the jeweler fashion a palm branch.
“I’d seen people put symbols on their rings that represent their relationship,” Baker explained to the group gathered in our family room post-proposal. “And of course I could have put a music symbol because that is certainly something that is characteristic of our relationship.”
They’d met in the high school marching band. Addison became drum major her senior year, and Baker earned the role the next year when he was in 12th grade. Baker went on to major in music and Addison continues to participate in the music programs at her university and church.
“But really, I wanted something that represented our faith, because as important as music is to us, our faith is certainly more central to who we are as individuals and as a couple,” Baker explained. “The palm branch was an early Christian symbol. That’s why you’ll see it as an architectural motif at First Baptist of Asheville.”
Baker and Addison are both members and active participants of FBCA. Last summer, they were interns there—Addison with the children’s programs and Baker with the music ministry. The church has had a major impact on their lives and their relationship. The palm branch represents both their faith and their home church: a perfect addition!
But back to that Thursday night. Baker got busy making calls and forming a plan. Fortunately, everything worked in his favor. Addison slept late Friday morning—something she rarely does. Her parents’ schedules were flexible enough that he was able to talk with them before she awakened. We already had plans to go out to eat—the two of them and both sets of parents—to celebrate Baker’s 21st birthday (a week late). From that, he pulled together as many of their traditions as he could fit in one day.
Awkward first photo, before they actually started dating. Homecoming Dance 2011.
You should know that they started dating when he was 15 going on 16 and she was 16 going on 17. (They are now 21 and almost 22.) On their first date, they went to Brixx; for their first Valentine’s Day, Baker gave her a bear (dressed—naturally—in a baker’s outfit) from Build-a-Bear. Every year on their anniversary, they go to Brixx; to date, Addison has six Valentine’s Day Build-a-Bears. And not so much tradition as habit—they often have reason to stop by First Baptist.
Hold up. Let’s just pause for a minute and picture 15-year-old Baker going into Build-a-Bear, choosing a teddy bear, going through the whole process of stuffing it, then picking out an outfit for it and dressing it. If that weren’t enough, then he had to walk back through the mall carrying the signature Build-a-Bear box. Yep. He did that.
Anyway, after talking with Addison’s parents Friday morning, Baker went over to Build-a-Bear. He left with an adorable bear—filled to just the right level of fluffiness (he’s an expert by now)—dressed in a bridal gown, complete with veil and sparkly shoes. My job was to order desert pizza from Brixx to have at home for the post-proposal celebration. (We were optimistic about a positive result!) Baker then called FBCA to make sure he could access their Sacred Garden that evening. A dear friend served as Baker’s accomplice; while we were at dinner, she would go to the Sacred Garden to set everything in place. The night before, Baker had contacted several close friends and his younger sister. They would be at our house by 10 pm to celebrate with the newly engaged couple. (Shout out to the world’s best millennials for making the four-hour drive with less than 24 hours’ notice!)
When we finished dinner, we parents said we would wait for the bill, asking Baker if he and Addison would go on home to let our dog out. He agreed, but just needed to run by the church and “pick up organ music he had left there” (wink, wink). Once there, rather than go in where they usually did, Baker suggested they just cut through the Sacred Garden and enter through the door on the other side.
“What’s that?” Addison asked when she saw something unusual set up in the Garden.
“I don’t know. Let’s go check.”
“It looks like a shrine to a teddy bear!” (The wind had blown Teddy’s veil up, giving it a shadowy and slightly eerie appearance. Not exactly the effect Baker had in mind!)
They approached, Baker went down on one knee, Addison squealed (repeatedly), Baker proposed, and Addison said yes.
“So,” I asked her as I looked at the ring sparkling on her left hand. “How did Baker do?”
“It’s prettier than anything I could have imagined!” she said.
“Yes!” Baker said, clinching his fist in victory.
(Wedding date yet to be determined, but it will be sometime after Addison gets her next Valentine’s Day bear.)
*Want to know the beautiful back story on the ring? Click here for the rest of the story!
It’s not really known as a purveyor of youthful fashions. Sure, youngish folk stop by, even find a bargain on occasion, but its merchandise appeals to the more . . . well . . . seasoned shoppers. You can find holiday apparel by the rack-full there, plus polyester blends in every wearable form, and Alfred Dunner pantsuits aplenty. But, to be sure, no one under the age of 50 is too disappointed when they leave Hamricks empty handed. I mean, it’s not like it’s Forever 21 or Charming Charlies.
I like Hamricks, though. The prices are reasonable, and they have a great selection of Lee jeans—a favorite of mine. Anyway, not too long ago, I was meandering through the markdowns and overheard a conversation between two women who were probably in their twenties the year I was born.
Woman One, using her thumb and finger to pull a garment out from the rack for viewing, stared at it quizzically and asked her companion, “Is this the style now?”
"My daughter wears them,” Companion confirmed. “Granddaughter too.” She shook her head, seemingly baffled by millennial women and their utter lack of fashion sense.
The blouses in question are the ones made of flimsy fabric splashed with color; many of them have empire waists such that they cinch just above the rib cage and fall free below the hips.
Woman One continued flipping through the hangers, shaking her head. She selected one, held it up, and caught her reflection in a nearby mirror. Companion peeked in to see the result.
“No. No way,” Woman One said to Companion’s face in the mirror before turning to put the blouse back in its place. “I’m not wearing that! People will think I’m pregnant!”
Oh Sweetie, I thought. Bless your heart. Just bless your sweet heart.
First published March 18, 2013
Have you noticed? Every garment promises it—from blouses and dresses to jeans and jackets: “Slim Fit.” “Super Slimming.” “Secretly Slimming.” “Sleek and Slim.” “Slim Style.”
I’ll admit, I’m one of the reasons this marketing strategy works. It’s true; I’ve bought lots of things (and not just clothing) that promised to perfect me upon purchase. So before I start my rant, hear me: I’m guilty.
Now. Let’s move on.
Issue #1: Why do we think that a garment will solve all of our body image issues? (And by “we,” I mean not just you, but me too—see above.) We’re fatter than ever here in the US of A, and the diet industry is growing just as fast as we are. Let’s try a new slimming technology: Let’s eat right and exercise. But let’s eat right because it is the right thing to do and because it is wrong to eat junk and to overeat. Let’s exercise because the benefits are greater than the inconvenience. And then, healthier and stronger, let’s buy what we want and wear what we like, knowing it really isn’t clothes that make a person. It’s character.
Issue #2: Why in the Sam Hill do size two jeans need so-called “slimming technology?” Seriously. It’s one thing to slip slimming secrets into my size 12 jeans; it’s another for size 2’s to promise such nonsense. I’ve seen it, and if you look, you’ll see it too: jeans smaller than size 4, blouses in XS that promise to make their wearers appear even smaller. Crazy. Come on now. Have you ever seen a size 2 person who was just a little on the plump side? If you have, you are the one with the problem—and I mean this—get yourself some help.
Issue #3: What’s so great about being slim? You know what I think? Here’s what I think: I think it’s a white thing. You read me right. I said it’s a white thang. A Caucasian quirk. How do I know? I know because I have lived my life surrounded by people of other ethnicities. Not only did I attend inner-city schools, I’ve worked and lived in environments where my pale skin put me in the minority. And it’s been my experience that other ethnic groups have more liberal attitudes about beauty. Lots of things define beauty. Skinny can be beautiful. And so can curvaceous. Green eyes, dark eyes; light skin, dark skin, freckled skin; curly hair, straight hair, streaked hair, natural hair, permed hair; long legs, short legs, fat legs, skinny legs, legs that climb on rocks. It’s all good. So get with it white folk; then get over it.
Well, in the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.” (Which is of course an outright lie: I could talk for days about this topic—or any other). So I’ll just close with what I used to close my Weight Watchers’™ meetings with, “You are beautiful today. When you lose weight, you will be thin and beautiful. But today, you are just plain beautiful.”
First published January 27, 2012
Though I was in my early 30’s when I was diagnosed with chronic depression, I had gone to counselors from time to time since my teens. And listen, I’m a big believer in therapy. Frankly, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t go to see a counselor.* I mean if you can afford it, for heaven’s sakes get into therapy. Actually, even if you can’t afford it, check into some options for inexpensive or even free services. Really.
Anyway, counseling was familiar and comfortable and not at all scary. Antidepressant pharmaceuticals? Pills that chemically alter my brain? Yikes!
Plus, at the time of my diagnosis, I was nursing my youngest child; I was wary of anything that might affect her nourishment. So, I did my research, using a new resource called the world wide web, and asked my medical doctor and counselor lots of questions.
(An aside: I learned how to do efficient and thorough research thanks to my undergrad degree in history from Campbell University. History majors—and other liberal arts grads—learn how to collect and process information, and to draw conclusions from that data: helpful skills in any career. Hire a liberal arts major. We are good deciders.)
After weighing the benefits and risks, I decided to give Prosac a try. The initial dose was ineffective, so the doctor increased my prescription to the next level.
Now remember, pre-antidepressants, I cried a lot. Everything made me sad. I had to be careful watching movies or reading books, listening to the news, whatever. Crying was the norm. It was as if I put my whole self into the story—true or fiction—and experienced the same reality as those in the story.
- Flooding in the Midwest? Like everyone else, I would think of the loss of loved ones and pets, and the pain of losing things like heirlooms and family photographs. Yet, not only did I grieve with these strangers, I could almost feel the despair of sorting through soggy belongings, hoping to find any tangible shred of family memories.
- Character kidnapped in the novel? What must the family of the missing one be experiencing? And how did the kidnapper become this way in the first place? Was this person a victim of child abuse or neglect? What makes someone do this to another human? I truly ached for the real people the characters represented. Agony.
- And the TV show Roots, based on Alex Haley’s biographical novel of the same name? I may never recover from that one.
I upped the dose of Prosac. Soon, I realized I wasn’t constantly on the verge of tears. In fact, I felt almost nothing at all. It was glorious (in the beginning). Freeing. I flat did not care! My mantra may actually have been the original “sorry, not sorry.” Then came the night when I was watching 60 Minutes or 20/20 (one of those human interest/news shows). The story that night told of a man and his wife, their beautiful love story that began in grade school and continued into their golden years, and her agonizingly pointless battle with pancreatic cancer. Her dear husband cared for her tenderly until she passed away; now, according to the show, he grieved so profoundly that he struggled each day to achieve basic function. It was a gut-wrenching TRUE tale of love and loss, pain and death.
And yet, as I watched the weeping widower on the screen, I thought, “Dude. People die. Get over it. What? You didn’t think she was going to die? We’re all dying. You, me, all of us. Geez, get a grip.”
I talked to the doctor the next day about considering another medication.
Eventually I tried Effexor and did really well with few side effects. I did so well, in fact, that after just a few months (never mind I’d struggled with depression for the better part of three decades) I decided I probably didn’t need medication at all (raise your hand if you’ve been there). I contacted a local psychiatrist and scheduled the next available appointment; my visit with him lasted an hour. It started with me telling him I thought I could come off the medication, continued with me giving him a detailed history of my depression, and ended with him giving me a prescription for double the dose. True story.
There’s been a time or two over the years that I’ve tried something new on the market, wanting to see if I had fewer breakthrough episodes and if the newer med suited me better. Not a good idea for me: I've just never done a great job of transitioning off one and onto the other. I always ended up under my covers, curled in the fetal position, overwhelmed by such things as poverty, oppression, and world hunger (which I think we can all agree are, in fact, overwhelming in nature).
So now it has been about 20 years since I started taking antidepressant medication and I no longer try to rationalize myself off of it. Here’s why:
- The medication does not conceal my true self. Instead, it removes the barriers that block me from feeling like me.
- Chronic conditions of many types require medication for relief. Diabetes. High blood pressure. Migraines. Think about it. No one says, “Don’t you think that insulin is covering up your true self? Being in a diabetic coma is just part of who you are.” They also don’t say things like, “You know, if you had prayed more, you’d never have gotten high blood pressure.” Instead, they say such things as, “Wow! You must have gotten your migraines under control! You seem like your old self again!” Depression is like these other chronic medical conditions: when you treat it, you feel better.
- The medication is one part of a three-part treatment plan I follow. I exercise regularly and attempt to consume healthful foods. Additionally, I take an antidepressant. When the three of these are in place, I can manage the depression. Without one of those parts, I don’t feel my best. Simple as that.
Bottom line? If you’re on the fence about taking antidepressants, keep researching, keep talking to your doctor, and keep considering your options. But remember that taking a medication is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of wisdom. And it is okay.
What about you? What are your thoughts on antidepressants?
*One thing about counseling: it’s hard; exhausting at least, grueling at worst, but in any case, seriously hard. And it often takes a while to find the right counselor. I have the world’s best therapist now, but it took many attempts. If you need a break from the effort, I get it. But don’t give up. Finding the right counselor is like finding true love: totally worth kissing a bunch of toads to get there.
I have always loved Abraham Lincoln. As a child, I read all of the biographies on him I could find. (I can still picture the section of my elementary school library where the biographies were shelved, and even in my recollection I quickly move from the A's through the K's to get to Lincoln.) I love his witty sense of humor, his passion for justice, his devotion to family, his relentless pursuit of knowledge, and his profound wisdom. I also love knowing that he thrived, despite a lifelong struggle with deep sadness. In his book, Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness, Joshua Wolf Shenk says this:
In three key criteria — the factors that produce depression, the symptoms of what psychiatrists call major depression, and the typical age of onset — the case of Abraham Lincoln is perfect. It could be used in a psychiatry textbook to illustrate a typical depression. Yet Lincoln's case is perfect, too, in a very different sense: it forces us to reckon with the limits of diagnostic categories and raises fundamental questions about the nature of illness and health.
According to his biographers, Abraham Lincoln was many things: intelligent, diplomatic, compassionate, and humorous. He also suffered from depression, so he was often contemplative, withdrawn, and despondent. But, he was never just one of those things; all of those qualities combined to make him the great man he was. If one ingredient had been missing, he wouldn't have been the Abraham Lincoln we know.
Every year on February 12, I re-read the Gettysburg Address in honor of Lincoln's birthday. Have you read it lately? Well, if not, you may not know that this little speech was given at a ceremony to dedicate a cemetery where soldiers who fought in the Battle of Gettysburg were buried. You may not know that this battle was a great turning point in the war, when the Union began its climb to victory. You may not know that Lincoln was not supposed to speak at the service that day--his attendance was sort of an afterthought. The keynote speaker, some guy named Edwards, talked for an hour or two, but nobody remembers what he said. (A good reminder for this public speaker!)
Here are the few words Lincoln said that day (actually his edited version--like all good writers, he tweaked his original before publishing). You'll certainly recognize these familiar phrases. But this time, as you read them, feel the tension of battle in the air, tension laced now with the hope of victory. Feel the weariness of Lincoln's soul as he counts the costs, naming them one by one--"John, David, Mark,. . ." Hear his heart and mind questioning, "Is the union really worth it?" Look into Lincoln's sad eyes, his deeply lined face (he looks so much older than he did just four years ago) and hear his spirit sing out, "God bless America, land that I love." Sing with him. We are, after all, the living. And we have much unfinished work before us.
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met here on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But in a larger sense we can not dedicate - we can not consecrate - we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled, here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but can never forget what they did here.
It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us - that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion - that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
When I was four and my brother was just a few months old, I started first grade.
Okay, not exactly. I mean, I didn’t actually GO to school. But I might as well have because my sister and I played school all the time; I was always the student. At the time, we lived in the parsonage across from Benson Baptist Church where Daddy was the pastor. Our bedrooms were on the second floor; in the hallway, my sister set up her chalkboard easel along with chairs for me and a few teddy bears. Under her dedicated (relentless) instruction (inquisition), I learned to read not long after she did.
And I loved it.
I loved biographies, especially ones about Harriet Tubman, George Washington Carver, and Abraham Lincoln. I loved novels by authors such as Eleanor Estes, Gertrude Chandler Warner, and Lucy Maud Montgomery. Reading became my very favorite pastime.
I gravitated towards books wherever I saw them; so it is not surprising that I picked up a storybook to read in the doctor’s office one day. Flipping through to find a story that appealed to me, I settled on the short, but horribly powerful story, “Jesus Understood.” I’ll attach PDF links below for those brave enough to read it themselves; here’s a quick summary.
A young boy named Bobby is hit by a car and finds himself in the hospital near death. Bobby’s roommate tells him about Jesus, saying that all you have to do is raise your hand and Jesus will come by while you sleep and take you straight to heaven. Bobby is too weak to manage even this; but the creepy little zealot in the next bed rushes to prop up Bobby’s hand with pillows. The next morning Bobby is dead, transported to Glory because (say it with me now), “Jesus understood.” (And here I thought it was scary that the wolf gobbled up Little Red Riding Hood’s poor helpless Granny.)
Keep in mind that by the time I was in elementary school, I was already exhausted from carrying the weight of the world on my young heart. So, when I read that story (I may have been 7 or 8 at the time), I thought I had finally found a way out. What if it’s true, I wondered. What if all I have to do is prop up my hand, and then I can be done here. I won’t have to be sad any more. I figured it was worth a shot, so night after night, I propped up my hand with pillows and stuffed animals. Inevitably, my hand would relax out of position. I would wake up, not only tasked with facing another day, but also frustrated by my failure to accomplish what seemed to me to be such a simple task.
As I said in an earlier post, I’ve never wanted to harm myself; I just wanted a get-out-of-life free card—a way to be done with the sadness without actually being at fault, without people getting mad at me. You see, I wanted to be free from the sadness that flooded my heart so very often, but I didn’t want to hurt anyone in the process.
Okay, I realize this sounds ridiculous. But if depression is anything, it’s a liar. Even as an adult, I can get sucked into the lies depression tells me. As a child, I had even less defense against depression’s deceit. Having read this story that made death look so much easier than life, I was tricked by depression to think of it as a true account rather than a pathetic contortion of truth by an amateur eschatologist. Consequently, I adopted this habit of sleeping on my back, my right elbow resting on the bed surrounded by miscellaneous props to keep my hand in the upright position. Unless memory fails me, I did this for years--not every single day, but often enough that I remember it vividly. (Obviously, this is not the sanest thing you’ve ever read. Mental Illness: it’s crazy.)
Eventually, I gave up on that strategy, but for decades I continued to long for a way out that would absolve me of guilt and free me from feeling so very, very sad. Relief finally arrived by way of medication.
In the next post, I’ll share with you how I made the choice to begin taking antidepressants and about some of the roadblocks I encountered along the way. I’ll also tell you how I handled the stigma associated with mental illness.
Oh, by the way, I’m not the only one who was affected by that abusive little bit of literature. I found this post on the humorously titled website, Smother Goose. Check it out if you like to hear a totally different response to that twisted tale.
Want to read it for yourself? I found these PDFs of the three pages.
Page 1. Page 2. Page 3.
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