Strong, Beautiful Flowers Battered By The Storm

In “Streams in the Desert”, I read of a beautiful flower that grows both up on an unprotected mountain top as well as in the valley.  The version in the valley is pallid, without much shape or color.  The version on the mountain top, however, is beautifully colored and shaped – magnificent. 

It reminded me of how a tree that is planted and protected and watered by the gardener is always weak.  It never thirsts and so it never has to grow its roots deep to find water.  Then, when the storms come, the tree just falls over. 

I know that in the midst of my worst depression, I did NOT want to go through storms.  I just wanted to LAY LOW and stay under the radar where God “wouldn’t see me” (as if such a thing were possible), because I didn’t want to go through even more tough times than I already was (as if laying low would ward off more “crap”!).   If going through trials would make me a better Christian, I was going to be content with being a not-so-better Christian.  I would just get in by the skin of my teeth, and that was fine with me.  I’m just being honest.

But I was sinking.  I was dying.  It got to the point where tiny gusts of wind seemed like hurricanes to me.  I became wimpier and wimpier, afraid of more and more things, unable to cope with the slightest challenges. 

You just CAN’T STAY IN ONE PLACE IN GOD.  You either go backward or forward, but you don’t stay still.  It’s like not using your muscles – they atrophy and you can’t function.  So maybe, just maybe, God is allowing the situations around us to work our muscles and move us forward.  Just a suggestion – I don’t want to scare you off – but think about it.

Psalm 119: 75-77 says:

75I know, O Lord, that your laws are righteous,

and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.

76May your unfailing love be my comfort,

according to your promise to your servant.

77Let your compassion come to me that I may live,

for your law is my delight.

The psalmist is recognizing his affliction, but also God’s faithfulness, all in one breath.  He does what we do:  he asks for unfailing love to comfort us, and compassion come to us so we can continue through the affliction.

Then he continues with this (does this sound like anything you have ever said to God?)

81My soul faints with longing for your salvation,

but I have put my hope in your word.

82My eyes fail, looking for your promise;

I say, “When will you comfort me?”

83Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke,

I do not forget your decrees.

84How long must your servant wait?

When will you punish my persecutors?

85The arrogant dig pitfalls for me,

contrary to your law.

86All your commands are trustworthy;

help me, for men persecute me without cause.

87They almost wiped me from the earth,

but I have not forsaken your precepts.

88Preserve my life according to your love,

and I will obey the statutes of your mouth.

We are not the first to go through this.  Do you know that, even after David was anointed King, he had to spend something like 16 years living in caves, running for his life, pursued and persecuted?  His life was sheer hell.  He had so much to deal with.  His wife’s betrayal, the death of his best friend, and so much more.  And yet, he balanced his intimate knowledge of his pain with his intimate knowledge of his God.  He recognized that God had allowed the affliction for a season, and he was still willing to trust Him.

So consider yourself that tree, or those flowers.  Your roots are going deeper, you are drinking deeply from Him while the storm rages, you are becoming more and more beautiful to Him every day (even when you feel you aren’t attractive to Him at all by your actions or attitude).  Every day you don’t give up and don’t give in completely to despair is a day of victory! 

You get brownie points for keeping on keeping on.  When Paul finished his life, he didn’t say anything other than he had FINISHED THE RACE.  And that’s what we are here to help you do – finish the race you have begun so Jesus can finish the work He has begun in you.  And He is faithful to complete that workjust hold on.

Penny Haynes

Lie #327: Being Skinny Makes Your Life Wonderful

Unbelievable! I was at the gym on the treadmill and saw a commercial for a diet pill that basically told you (through images) if you take the pill, you’ll look like these young, tiny half-clad girls, and end up with a gorgeous guy holding you close. And you’ll be loved, desired and happy!

Bahahahahahahahaha. At least they weren’t subtle about it. They came boldly and put it succinctly. If you are skinny, you will be happy and fulfilled. QUESTION: How many of you out there are skinny and still have depression, anxiety and/or fear?

It was a lie actually told to me by my father when I was high school. I believed I was doomed forever to be lonely and unloved. The media repeats this message ad nauseum. And even if we acknowledge that it is wrong, don’t many of us still somewhere deep inside fear it is true?

However, let’s show the facts.

  • You see beautiful celebrities having affairs and divorcing other beautiful people all the time. Their skinniness and beauty doesn’t save them from misery. (Ask Tiger Woods’ EX-wife.)
  • You see large women being pursued by and having relationships with more than one man. (Just watch Jerry Springer. Hehehehe. I had to add that one)
  • Did you know that many people who go through gastric bypass surgery end up as alcoholics? They are skinny, but their loss of fat hasn’t made them happy. That hit close to home with us when someone who had the procedure died in an alcohol-related car crash.
  • The lies sound so real. But they are STILL lies. You will not find lasting peace because you’ve dropped some dress sizes. You will not enjoy rest from your labors when the scale numbers decrease. You will only be able to be still and relax WHEN YOU ARE FREE FROM INTERNAL TURMOIL. And that normally just doesn’t disappear without a fight for your life and liberty and pursuit of happiness.

    As long as you believe the lie that your happiness lies in some improved conditions for your body, your finances, your relationships, etc., you won’t attempt to uncover the real causes for your distress. That’s why the lies are so devestating. They divert our attention and therefore keep us in miserable bondage.

    Its also much easier to blame our unhappiness on something like our looks. Why? Well, for one, it makes us feel like, if we work hard enough, we can work our way out of these feelings. We hate the idea that the cause of our depression may be beyond our physical, external control. If we acknowledge that it is something much deeper and more painful to deal with, it may overwhelm us.

    But that’s where friends, counselors, pastors and support groups come in. We are here to hold your hand while you delve into those deep dark places in your memory and your soul. Your bathroom scale won’t do that for you. But we will.

    So if you catch yourself believing that lie, make sure to remind yourself of the truths listed above (especially the Jerry Springer one!). Then work on facing your fears and anxieties one by one, because the only thing you need to “lose” is your sadness.

    Penny Haynes

    Everything is meaningless…

    Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 really bugs me. 

    I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my work, and this was the reward for all my labor. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.

    Have you ever felt that way?  You’ve run this way and that way looking for satisfaction or peace, you’ve tried to make yourself happy with this thing or that.  But after you had tried it all, it was meaningless, and you still weren’t really happy.

    For us, it started with my husband and I losing our ministry positions at the church where I had been for 8 years. It was my home.  It was my family.  And serving was my life.  It was my purpose.  It was my identity. (OOPS, do you see a little problem in the last three comments…well, we’ll get to that later.)  And it was even worse for my husband in some ways, because he had been the staff pastor who had taken care of the congregation – picking out caskets, going to court, visiting in jail and the hospital.  That really WAS his everything, 24 hours a day.

    So what did we fill our emptiness with?  The next, most obvious need – to make money.  My husband was out of a job, so that was normal and natural, right?  Yeah, that’s what we reasoned too.  We moved into real estate investing, buying (and cleaning by ourselves – ick!) foreclosed houses and then renting them or selling them.  I still had a secular job to pay the bills, but Ronnie was building our future and retirement.

    And we bought houses, fixed them up, rented and sold them.  And we were STILL empty. What a surprise. (Not to mention, we have lost basically all our equity due to the economy – oh well…)

    When we found out he and I couldn’t have children (I already have 2 children from a prior marriage), it was almost a death blow to my husband. Now we have 8 dogs and a kennel, and yes, they are like his children to him. So he bought dogs, built dog houses, built a doggie-condo (that’s what I call the kennels), had two litters.  And yet we were STILL empty.  Hmmmmm.  I’m beginning to see a pattern here.

    For me, it was starting my own business in 2004 and trying to not only make money, but create a type of legacy, doing things no one else had ever done before on the internet, or being one of the first to do it.  I have created five (count them, 5) software programs to date.  I was hired as Lifetime TV’s Podcasting Consultant in 2006.  And guess what – I was STILL empty.

    Marriage definitely wasn’t doing it for us.  Ronnie, was at the end of his rope with our marriage as well as me, but he didn’t want to end it, unlike me.  I left him twice – once in 2005 and once in 2009.  I still wasn’t happy.   Next idea?

    Now during all of this searching and yearning and twisting and turning, there was the underlying truth that I just didn’t want to acknowledge: we were meant for a relationship with God and to serve him (not for our identity or purpose, but to add true meaning to our lives).  But we were running.  We couldn’t find a church where we felt comfortable, and always found something wrong with the Pastor. And we were trying to fill the GAPING HOLE where God should be with all sorts of other things.

    During my last separation from my husband, he completely turned himself back over to the Lord.  Honestly, I never thought it would happen.  But it did, and his prayers and love for me, and example of trying Him once again led me back from the abyss and allowed me to try again.

    Now, my depression didn’t end there.  I was miserable at church, but at least I WANTED to be near and right with God.  I just couldn’t do it due to the condemnation and guilt and shame and, well, crap I was feeling and hearing in my head.  But at least we weren’t trying to cram all sorts of other MEANINGLESS STUFF into the God-shaped hole inside of us.  We acknowledged that only God could fit in there.

    Then, something strange happened.  We put first His kingdom and His righteousness (Matt 6:33).  And guess what – all those things started being added unto us.  I don’t mean more houses and more dogs and more programming jobs.  I mean that we started being able to find meaning and happiness in the other things that we had been doing – not eternal satisfaction, but everyday happiness.  We could enjoy these things because we weren’t trying to make them FIX us and make us FEEL BETTER. 

    Our marriage has become enjoyable, because we’re not expecting it to make us happy.  The dogs are enjoyable (except when they bark at night), because we’re realizing they are just dogs, and yes, sometimes you have to sell them and they leave you.  My programming is enjoyable – as a creative feat and a possible money-maker; however, if I never do anything ground-breaking again, I’ll be just peachy-keen.

    So my question to you is: What are you CHASING and yet still finding your life to be meaningless?  What are you trying to soothe your soul with?  Is it food? (I raise my hand quickly!)  Is it work?  Is it shopping? Is it other relationships?  Is it retracting in isolation?  

    Your depression cannot be smothered by another relationship, activity or purchase.  You’ve got to work through your symptoms and, yes, deal with the root causes of the depression.  Chances are, they have something to do with you not being able to believe that God is good and on your side, at least not in your situation.  But that’s a post for another day…

    If you are feeling that everything is meaningless, it’s because it IS.  Without the correct perspective, nothing is truly enjoyable.  And the correct perspective is that all of this earthly STUFF is just that, STUFF.  It can’t fill the God-shaped hole in you, and never will.  Not even your loved ones can do that indefinitely.  It’s just another cover up.  So turn to God and try to let Him meet your needs, and let all those other things bring you a modicum of earthly happiness in their passing seasons.

    Penny Haynes

    The Battle to “Be Still”

    Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.  Ps. 46:10

    Being still is the hardest thing when you are anxious or depressed.  I know, in my case, that was because if I was still, my thoughts used to SCREAM at me, and there was no peace.  It’s like a soldier having to stand there being yelled at by a drill sargeant.  Being still under that type of barrage is almost impossible.

    I used to be terrified to be still.  TERRIFIED.  I didn’t want to have to deal with all of those fearful and depressing thoughts that were always swirling around my mind.  I kept my mind busy at every second.  If I wasn’t working, I was knitting or crocheting, or reading the RSS feeds on my Blackberry.  I was TERRIFIED when I ran out of things to do or read.  I mean, real panic attack material there.

    The worst part about this scenario is that it is almost impossible to pray and seek God’s help without being still – at least momentarily still.  Notice that, in the above psalm, it notes that He WILL BE exalted everywhere.  In other words, He is the Big Guy, the Big Honcho, the One In Charge.  He actually has the power to turn things around for us.  If we REALLY BELIEVED that He was in control – AND IS FOR US – we would be able to be still, because we would BELIEVE HE WOULD HANDLE THIS STUFF FOR US.

    That’s why we have to demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5)     We have to disarm these thoughts by revealing the lies and speaking the truth about the situation.  THEN, when we have SOME silence in our mind, we can sit before God and talk to Him, ask of Him, read His word, meditate and LISTEN TO HIM.

    But we have to be WILLING to do this.  I know that my depression and anxiety, no matter how unnerving and painful it was, had become my excuse to be lazy and give up.  I wasn’t ready to completely give it up.  That’s why I hung on to it for so long. 

    Ps. 81: 10 – 14 says:

     10 I am the LORD your God,
           who brought you up out of Egypt.
           Open wide your mouth and I will fill it.

     11 “But my people would not listen to me;
           Israel would not submit to me.

     12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts
           to follow their own devices.

     13 “If my people would but listen to me,
           if Israel would follow my ways,

     14 how quickly would I subdue their enemies
           and turn my hand against their foes!

    Sometimes we are just stubborn idiots, to put it plainly, and he lets us wander in our deserts, complaining about everything we don’t have while forgetting that we have been delivered from slavery and have a Leader who will provide for all of our needs.  He waits until we are ready to finally open our mouths so he will fill it, and listen to him, following his ways, so he would subdue our enemies.

    Now, I know that some of you are so depressed right now that you don’t believe that God cares one bit about you and your situation.  That’s ok.  Just because you don’t believe it doesn’t mean that it isn’t true, though.  Did you know that you are CHOOSING to believe what you believe?  From a purely earthly standpoint, you don’t KNOW that He isn’t for you – you are CHOOSING to believe that.  You also don’t KNOW empirically that he IS for you – but you CAN CHOOSE TO BELIEVE that HE IS FOR YOU.  This is one of those attitude adjustments that will make or break you.

    If you are WILLING to let go of this overbearing “friend” you have let attach itself to your life, and to stop playing the victim to it so you don’t have to actually DO ANYTHING about this, TAKE THOSE THOUGHTS CAPTIVE and think it through.  STOP the drill sargeant long enough to have a few minutes of peace, and spend them being still with God.  Read a few verses of scripture, pour out your heart to him AGAIN, and listen for His response the best that you can.  You may only be able to capture a few minutes of stillness, but it is the beginning of recapturing as much as you ever need.

    So head on over to the Forum Thread for What Am I Thinking and write it all down:  Get a moment of peace!

    Penny Haynes

    I Feel Much Better Since I Gave Up Hope…

    I know that sounds like a really stupid thing to say, but sometimes, you need to know that what you are hoping to find ISN’T ACTUALLY OUT THERE.  That was something that had a very freeing effect on me.  Once I found out I was tormenting myself looking for something that didn’t exist (basically uncovered the lie and realized the truth),  the despair of not getting what I hoped for evaporated.

    I was so consistently DISAPPOINTED.  Here I was, 46 years old, and what did I have to show for myself?  I was disappointed in my looks, my career, my marriage, my spiritual condition, all because I told myself I SHOULD look another way, I SHOULD have a more successful business, I SHOULD have a more romantic and idyllic marriage, and I SHOULD have an unshakeable spiritual confidence.  (I don’t know what other SHOULDs you deal with, but I once knew a lady who used to say, “Don’t SHOULD on me!”  I loved that. 🙂 )

    Now, sometimes other people do put pressure on you to be or do something else.  I have struggled with my husband’s concern for my weight (although he is also concerned for his own), his concern for me making money to earn back what I invested in building my business (and also to help support the family).  But MOST of the pressure I feel is SELF-INFLICTED.  I am the one doing this to myself.  Why?  BECAUSE I BELIEVE THE LIES PROJECTED BY THE MEDIA, and sometime well-meaning loved ones.

    The media tells me I must be beautiful to be loved, admired, accepted, and successful.  Even statistics prove a lot of it to be true.  Most CEOs of companies are tall and handsome.  Beautiful (and by my standard, that means skinny) women get jobs easier, and overweight women do not get as many promotions in comparison to skinny women.

    Unfortunately, I had this brought home to me as a teenager when my father, God bless him (he was doing the best he could to help me), told me, “Penny, I just want you to know that boys like pretty girls, and, well, I just don’t want you to expect anything.”  This is the phrase that threw me into my first full-blown suicidal depression at the age of 17 – along with his declaration that I looked like a football player in my jacket. )  

    So my self-esteem – despite being an “A” student, the highest female PSAT score in my high school, voted most talented, and even voted a “Senior Superlative” by other students – revolved around that one simple fact.  I would never be loved.  Ever.  As my grandmother and aunt would say (in my earshot), “She’s got such a pretty face – it’s such a shame.”  I was worthless, or so I thought, until one psychologist finally got me to blurt it out during a session.  And that was the beginning of the healing from my first adolescent bout with depression. 

    Now, as an adult, I see absolutely stunning women who are not skinny.  I saw Mandisa at a conference, and she is so amazingly beautiful, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her smiling face.  Queen Latifah is another woman that blows away my idea of weight=beauty – well, at least for OTHER women (yes, I still struggle with that).

    However, I have finally realized that my weight does NOT stop other people, including men, from loving me.  My husband LOVES me – I mean REALLY LOVES me.  He desires me.  So I’ve given up the HOPE OF BEING SKINNY IN ORDER TO BE LOVED, because I AM ALREADY LOVED! And true to the title of this post, I feel so much better after giving up hope! 🙂

    Then there is the lie that my marriage should look like a romantic comedy.  There should be a happily ever after when we no longer struggle, and he isn’t dealing with chronic pain, and all of my needs (and his needs) are being met.  BUT IT’S A LIE.  There IS NO SUCH THING.  At a marriage conference, the husband and wife leading shared that percentage-wise, their relationship was

    • a struggle 10% of the time,
    • luke-warm 85% of the time, and
    • red-hot 5% of the time.

    How’s that for an honest revelation?  WHY AM I EXPECTING MY MARRIAGE TO BE 95% HOT???  If the people who make it their life’s goal to have a great marriage are luke-warm 85% of the time, who am I trying to emulate?  WHAT I’M TORTURING MYSELF ABOUT DOESN’T EXIST!   I know this sounds stupid, like I should know better – but my longing for MORE touch, MORE excitement, MORE passion makes me forget what I know, and makes me think that something (or SOMEONE) else out there may be able to give it to me instead.  That’s another LIE.

    So ever since I gave up hope for a 95% hot marriage, and accepted a marriage where my husband loves me the absolute best he can, and I stopped resenting him for not being a character in a movie, I feel much better!

    Last example: one of my favorite people in the world called me and left a message saying she KNEW that there HAD to be a way to work HALF the time and make TWICE the money and love what she did.  I knew how she felt – she and I are almost identical in our thinking and feelings.  But I recognized the lie immediately – THERE IS NO SUCH THING. 

    She stays miserable with what she has because she is constantly hoping for something else that most likely doesn’t exist.  I mean, she COULD do it – by becoming an Escort (if you know what I mean), but in the real world, that scenario is just not going to occur, at least, not without learning some new skills and making new contacts and doing a LOT of hard work.  

    Now, don’t get me wrong.  I believe she needs a new, better job that she loves and makes more money.  But half the work at twice the pay?  It’s just my opinion, but I think she would feel MUCH better once she gave up all hope on that.

    So I ask you, for what LIE do you need to GIVE UP HOPE?   I encourage you to go to the Forum Thread about HOPES that you CAN achieve at and write out a new list of hopes for yourself that are healthy and productive, not unrealistic and reason for beating yourself up for not achieving them.

    Penny Haynes

    The Trouble with Tribbles (Or How Little Things Multiply and Take Over)

    I still have panic attacks.  Little ones, mostly.  Like the kind when all of a sudden your heart starts to race, and your hands start to tingle.  It happened this morning, when the bills came in, along with my unemployment benefits letter. 

    To fill you in, after working for myself for several years as a programmer and audio/video producer, my husband lost his job due to the economy, and I had to find a job to re-coup a steady income.  I let my business basically go and went to work for the Census in a local office.  It was full-time, TEMPORARY work, as the Census would shut down in September/October 2010.

    So I worked sporadically, some in every quarter in 2009, and then for almost a year straight from 9/21/2009 to 9/17/2010.  I thought SURELY I would qualify for the full benefits after working in all four quarters of each year.  But my calculations weren’t correct.  I WORKED during each quarter, but I was PAID in other quarters, and they go by pay checks.  That stupid 2 week behind paycheck business ruined my unemployment benefits! 

    My first reaction was panic.  You know, the initial SHOCKWAVE of panic that you think is going to bring you to your knees in one blow.  But then I remembered to THINK IT THROUGH.

    • Ronnie was now working a job, low paying as it was (and unfortunately aggravating his chronic pain to the point of reducing him every workday to tears – but that’s for another post).  So we now had SOME income. 
    • This was not going to be the full $330 plus the extra, but it WAS something.  It will probably be $200 or so after taxes per week.
    • I had been reducing payments on my old business debts in order to build up my bank account to pay bills while I was unemployed.  I have about three thousand in there at the moment, enough for a few months of emergency funds.

    So the TRUTH of the matter? We are fine financially RIGHT NOW (which is all I am EVER to be concerned with, and trust God for tomorrow).  No bill on my desk was unpayable.  Getting $200/week while I’m looking for a job and learning new programming skills is a great deal – much better than NOTHING!

    So the panic attack passed.  Why?  Because I stopped and took time to analyze AND CORRECT the thoughts that were causing the panic attack

    Yesterday, I had a panic attack simply looking at my self-appointed schedule on my white board.  It was ridiculous, really, but I had told myself that I would buy new sheets, deposit checks, do the grocery shopping and work out – before my husband came home.  As it inched closer to 3:30 pm, I started panicking that I wouldn’t get it all done, and SOMEHOW, I would get in trouble for not doing it all. (With my personality, getting in trouble for any reason is my achilles heel.)

    Again, I had to go through it step-by-step. 

    • Did I promise anyone else to get sheets today? NO.  Even if I did, would we have died and chaos reigned if I didn’t?  NO.
    • If I didn’t get the shopping done today, would we have food to eat? YES.  Would my husband have the white bread I promised to buy? NO.  (So I HAD to get the white bread so he could have sandwiches for lunch – that could be a quick stop.)
    • If I didn’t deposit the checks, what would happen?  NOTHING.  I was not overdrawn.  No checks would bounce.  There was no repercussion if I did it the next day.

    Once I thought it through, the panic attack went away.  Luckily, I bribed my 19 year old daughter to buy the sheets for me (I had to pay her $2 in gas money), so one thing down.  I got everything else done in the end, plus made what I thought was a great (though very kitchen-messing) meal, and still watched House with my husband.  The panic attack was FOR NOTHING. 

    Do you know, I even panic about not going out to see all of the dogs in the kennel and giving each of them individualized attention?  I think of them as kids, so I feel like I’ve locked them in a closet and am a bad mother. It can actually trigger condemning and horrible thoughts about myself.  Stupid, but true.  So this morning, as I was trying to have my devotion and prayer time, I dealt with the thoughts OUT LOUD.

    • Penny, they are DOGS.  They are a PACK of dogs.  They play with each other all day long (well, the 5 girls and the male puppy do – the sires are in their own pens). 
    • They are better taken care of than most dogs, with the highest quality food, their own homes with fans in the summer and heaters in the winter. 
    • Ronnie sees them every morning, and plays with them every night.  They are getting personalized attention, just not from me.
    • The dogs may WANT to play with me, but they ALWAYS want to play with me.  The moment I leave the kennel, they will want more.  They are FINE.

    And the panic attack passed.  And the guilt I’m used to feeling after thinking about the dogs WAS GONE, so there was no fodder for depression.  I’m telling you, forcing yourself to calmly walk through the reasoning behind the attack can nullify and extinguish it.  You just have to take the time to do it.  And the PEACE afterward was WONDERFUL!  Oh, I just sat and reveled in it – this deep, heavy, all-surrounding peace. 

    So start working through your panic attacks.  By thinking and talking them through, you can stop them dead in their tracks.  The trouble with tribbles is that individually, they are small, so you don’t pay much attention to them – until they start multiplying and take everything over, including the control panel of the starship (your brain).

    Head on over to the forum’s panic topic and share what you’ve been panicking about.   By working through it, you are helping yourself and anyone else who reads the post and uses it as an example!

    Penny Haynes