Saturday, July 22, 2017

Words of Affirmation

Before I get into this, I just want to remind you that words of affirmation and words of encouragement are, essentially, the same thing. Affirming words/statements provide encouragement and encouraging words/statements are encouraging. It's virtually impossible to have one without the other, so when I say "words of affirmation," I'm using the phrase as a synonym to "words of encouragement."

The other day, I had a bad day. I know that everyone has a bad day every once a while. My bad days are probably no worse than anyone else's--except for the fact that I deal with depression. While God is in the very active process of completely removing my depression (healing me), it is a process for me. So on my bad days, like so many others who deal with severe depression, I think "those" thoughts--not just thoughts of how I'm useless and worthless I am and how no one respects or likes me and how I'm so pathetic that there's no way anyone could love me or even want to love me, but yes, also "those" thoughts.

I've even decided how I'd do it. The most painless way I can possibly think of. One time, on a bad day, I started driving towards a light pole, speeding faster and faster. I'm here, so obviously I slowed down and parked my car.

Now, don't panic or feel as if I need an intervention. I'm fine. But I will honestly tell you that my bad days are really bad. Everyone asks how someone like Robin Williams (and so many others) could kill himself. I KNOW how.

I share such a horrible secret with you because I want to get to this part: I am learning more and more with each and every bad day how to get through them with positivity and JOY. Of course, there are other methods I use to get through my bad days, but the one that helped me through my bad day the other day was words of affirmation.

Bless his heart, my poor husband was super-overwhelmed when I laid out everything I was thinking and feeling on him. He listened and he offered what words of comfort he could, but considering how intense I was, there really and truly, honestly was nothing he could say--or do--that would get me out of my funk. Just him listening did make a huge difference, but it simply wasn't enough.

After he went to bed, I was still struggling, so I found myself whispering words of affirmation from the Holy Spirit to myself over and over. When that failed, I grabbed a gorgeous metallic-pink Sharpie and wrote the words of affirmation on my arms: "I love you. You are Awesome" (left arm) & "You are my JOY Song" (right arm).
I didn't need to sign them or write that they were from the Holy Spirit in order to feel as if He was speaking them to me--to my heart--to my very deepest soul--every time I read those words over the course of the next two or three days. But that's exactly what they did: they spoke to my very inner being and helped me remember that my bad day was just that--ONE bad day.

And the thoughts I was thinking about being unloved and so on were not at all true; they were lies from the enemy who knew that I was having a bad day and he was having a field day with my heart.

Sometimes reading the Bible isn't enough. Sometimes praying isn't enough--whether it's prayer alone or with a personal prayer warrior. Sometimes talking to someone isn't enough--even when the someone is supportive and encouraging to the best of his/her ability. Sometimes worship isn't enough--even when it's a favorite worship song. Sometimes laughter isn't enough--not even when it's a Robin Williams movie. :(  

Sometimes....just sometimes, we need not only to hear or read the words of affirmation, but we need to see and feel them in our very being. Writing them on my body where I could see and read them ALL THE TIME helped. It just did. Maybe next time writing the words of affirmation on my arms won't help. 

The important thing for me and for everyone else dealing with bad days--whether we're struggling with depression or not--to remember is that we must FIND the words of affirmation we need and read them, write them, hear them, speak them, color them....whatever we need to do in order to feel the affirmations deep in our very souls so that we can allow the Holy Spirit to minister to the very deepest part of us.

The Bible tells us that "we are not fighting against people made of flesh and blood, but against the evil rulers and the authorities of the unseen world, against those mighty powers of darkness who rule this world, and against the wicked spirits in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12, NLT). These are the forces that triumph, that feel victorious on our bad days, especially when we give in to the thoughts and feelings that are tearing us apart.

The wonderful good, amazing, extraordinary, super-fantastic news is that God Himself goes to battle for us! We don't have to battle the enemy who is putting "those" thoughts in our heads! We don't have to fight him. We don't have to fight the thoughts! The Bible tells us over and over and over and over again that God will fight for us. Our job is to put on our armor and STAND: "Be strong with the Lord's mighty power. Put on all of God's armor so that you will be able to STAND FIRM [emphasis mine] against all strategies and tricks of the devil" (Ephesians 6:10-11, NLT).

When I give in to the negative thoughts, feelings, and actions of my bad days, I'm allowing the enemy to win. And he and his minions are dancing with great glee because I am taking my eyes off God and putting them on self.

I have no desire to let the enemy win over my soul. There is NO WAY I am going to spend eternity in the fiery pits of hell. I can't stand the heat here on earth!!! ;)

I intend to go to heaven for eternity and spend it with my Lord and Savior in my gorgeously wonderful glorified body: "...we long for the day when we will put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing" (2 Corinthians 5: 2, NLT)!!! That means that one day, this chubby girl is going to have a body that will no longer be chubby or in pain! It means that this body will never again have to deal with depression or "those" thoughts or even bad days! 

I refuse to give up the HOPE of my eternal salvation just because I'm having a bad day! So when I have another bad day, I will remind myself of the words of affirmation from my Lord: "I love you. You are Awesome. You are MY JOY Song." I will read His Word. I will sing His praises. I will worship. I will bow down. I will pray. I will hear the words of Affirmation from His Holy Spirit deep within my very soul. And I WILL STAND FIRM in Him.

Saturday, July 15, 2017


Do you smile? A lot?
When you see someone looking at you? Even a stranger?
All the time?
Only when you're in public? 
Only when there is something worth smiling about?

Growing up, my mom was always telling me to Smile. I'd get up to do a performance of some sort (piano recitals, VBS presentations of what we'd learned throughout the week, church choir, church plays, various school activities, the list is endless) and mom would be in the audience smiling her huge smile. If I wasn't smiling, she'd make a smile motion with her finger to her mouth and I'd automatically smile.

Whether I want to smile or not, smiling is officially a huge part of who I am. I smile ALL the time. I almost got in a fight once when I was in high school because I was smiling. We were practicing for our band competition and the band director had us lined up across from one another. I was smiling at everyone on the opposite side of me when this one girl who I didn't know angrily asked me, "What are you smiling at?!" I grinned even wider and told her that I was just smiling! She took a step out of line towards me, but a friend standing close to me told the girl that I always smiled [like a goofball--I can't remember if he added that part or if I've added it to my memory ;)]. Needless to say, I'm pretty sure he saved my life. I have NO fighting skills, so she'd have beaten me to a pulp if she had decided to follow through!!

That experience didn't stop me from smiling one bit. It was too deeply ingrained in me by then. 

I might have smiled early on because my mom "made" me, but as the years went by, I smiled because I wanted to. I loved to smile and I certainly loved to laugh....a lot.

There have even been times when I've walked into my classroom and my students have said, "Toldja!" When I've asked what was up, I was told that they had bet one another on whether or not I would walk in with a smile on my face. I had no idea at the time that others noticed my smile--whether I smiled or not or even how often I smiled--or not. It was reassuring, I admit, to learn that when I was in public, I was always smiling.

Smiling has been one of my greatest blessings; I am truly thankful to my wonderful mom for making it so much a vital part of who I am.

I am sad to say, though, that smiling has also been my greatest curse. Since the first onset of my depression while my husband and I were living in Missouri, I have used my smile to hide behind--as a mask to cover up my sadness and deepest sorrows and anxieties. I have pretended that all is well when in reality I was not only battling depression, but I was also battling a desire to just die. I had come to hate my life in such a huge way. I had NO real friends while we lived in Missouri and I was simply miserable. I was so excited when we finally moved home; I just knew that my depression would end and I could quit pretending that all was well. I was out of "Misery" (my mom and I had started calling Missouri that) and I was back home with family and friends.

Then we learned that I was going to have a baby and my smile grew bigger, wider, and much more pronounced. I had thought that I smiled huge before that, but being pregnant was the greatest desire of my life and I was more JOYFUL than I'd ever thought it was possible to be. You couldn't wipe the smile off my face even while I was throwing up! And I threw up every single day of that pregnancy--until it was abruptly over.

James Isaac was stillborn on March 17, 1999. That is the day my smile died, as well. 

It is the day when the mask came back up and was permanently glued to my face. My smile was for the benefit of others. They grieved for me and hurt for me and I wanted to reassure them that I was ok--or that I would be ok--even though I wanted to be in the ground with my baby. 

I smiled because I didn't know what else to do. I smiled to reassure others. I smiled because it was too deeply a part of me not to. I smiled because I wanted to prove that I was strong--not only in body, but especially in my faith. I smiled. But I smiled only with my mouth. I have no idea if others noticed that I didn't smile with my whole being as I had done before. I've never asked because I hoped with every fiber of my being that my smile was good enough to make them feel better so they wouldn't worry about me...even though they should have been worried.

Over the next ten years, at least, my smile was plastered on, but it was fake--a mask--hiding severe depression, anxiety, and grief. I have recently learned that PTSD doesn't apply just to those in the military. I clearly was suffering from PTSD, but I pretended that I was the PollyAnna everyone expected me to be. I smiled because I was determined to be happy in spite of my pain and suffering, in spite of my grief. I smiled because I had read somewhere that some things we must do as a way of "faking it 'til we make it." Deep down, I hoped that if I kept smiling even though I didn't feel the smile that one day the mask would come unglued and my smile would be genuine--it would be the real me.

In a way, that was true. I smiled until my cheeks and my neck hurt. And one day, I realized that in order for my mask to be removed--for my smile to be real again, I would have to make A CHOICE to change. I would not become happy again just because I smiled until it happened. I would only become happy again when I CHOSE to make it happen. 

It was during that time that I discovered that I didn't want to just be happy, I wanted to be JOYFUL, full of the JOY of the Lord. That was when the Lord gave me the verse, "You love justice and hate
evil. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you, pouring out the oil of joy on you more than on anyone else" (Psalm 45:7 & Hebrews 1:9, NLT). I wept as I understood that God wanted to restore my JOY. But not only did He want to restore my Joy, but He wanted to anoint me with the oil of joy--more than anyone else.

I began studying everything I could about JOY, starting with every single verse in the Bible that mentions JOY--in every translation and in every definition of JOY. I began memorizing JOY verses and looking for JOY in everything around me.

My mask--my fake smile--did not come off quickly or easily. As I said, it was glued on. It came off in small pieces--slowly--one at a time. I would argue that there are still small pieces that refuse to come unstuck, but the wonderfulness of God is that my smile is real again--genuine. When I smile now, it's because I have the JOY of the Lord deep down in my heart and soul. He truly has anointed me with the oil of joy more than anyone else I know.

I do not take His gift lightly. So when I smile at you, know that I smile from a place of JOY. My smile is just one way I have of demonstrating that God has removed my depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and the painful mask I wore for so long.

And all I can do now is Praise Him with my Smile!