Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Death and Easter

Today I was reading from Matthew when Jesus urges his disciples to "deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me." [ch. 16]  This happens shortly after Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah who they have been waiting for. Oh, and Jesus decides that these 12 closest to him are ready to hear that he will be brutally killed by the leaders of their community. nbd.

They say hindsight is 20/20, and while my vision is more like 20/200, even I can look back at this conversation and think, "Oh, this is in reference to the fact that Jesus will die on a cross. He had to carry it himself, so he's telling the disciples that following him requires them to also experience some level of self-sacrifice, pain, denial, and suffering." But today, I realized that the disciples didn't know that. Sure, Jesus had started talking about his death - but did they already know how it would go down? Not from what we're told of the conversations.

So. This radical, wonderful man they have been following through the countryside. Watching him heal and perform miracles. The occasional zinger to the authority figures in the community. Loving and befriending the common man. Sending the disciples out into villages with power. Suddenly is telling them that he's going to die, and he expects them to follow. "Whoever loses his life for me will find it."

Uh, Jesus? I joined this bandwagon because of the cool miracles and awesome perks of being on the road, barefoot and carefree and loving people. . . . but dying? Really. Doesn't sound like something I'm quite ready for yet. Can I just do the first part, the thing you said about denying myself? That sounds manageable right now. Maybe denying my need for facebook for a couple weeks. I think I can do that. You know what, let me take a couple weeks to pray about this whole "cross" situation. I'll get back to ya.

Carrying a cross. It involves humiliation. Being made fun of by everyone, put on display for all your friends and neighbors to see. Searing pain and physical strain. Embarrassment. Shame. Nakedness. Sweat. Blood. Eventually, death. Because you aren't just carrying a cross - you're carrying your cross. So we've gotta die. I don't see a way out of it.

Death precedes life. It's backwards from how we usually think about it. The newborn child, precious little Easter chick, green grass beginning to poke through the brown Missouri mud. Beginnings of life, and death doesn't happen until way down the road, at least we hope. And yet, Jesus says, DIE FIRST. Then, you'll get to "find" your life. Terrifying. Unknown. Regrets. These are things we experience in death.

But the best is yet to come.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Life, as it Were

Hello, March.
The birds are beginning to chirp in the mornings, and daylight savings has helped the sun hang in the sky a bit longer each day. Spring is almost here. Spring. New beginnings and life, a fresh start.

And May, specifically May 11th, is right around the corner. That is the day I graduate and head off into the great unknown of the future.

But first, let's look back a little. Three years ago this week was when I first came face-to-face with y diagnosis of Recurrent Major Depressive Disorder. Since December 19th, 2011, this diagnosis has worked a number on my  life. Today, it's still something I square off with on at least a weekly basis. I have learned a great deal about it, and like any disease, have discovered what symptoms and signs to be on the lookout for that may indicate a relapse. However, although I have developed a deeper understanding of this, I always face difficulty in explaining it to others.

This afternoon, in the midst of some really difficult feelings and thoughts, I came up with a rough analogy of what life looks like for me right now. Imagine walking along a smooth, sandy beach. To your left is the ocean, vast and unpredictable, with waves towering and crashing on the coast. The water creeps up the sand, tides changing throughout the days and months. As I walk, my toes sink into the sand - the sun shines, breezes blow, and life is lovely.

For those individuals without depression, they are far enough up the beach that the waves don't reach them, and that is for the best, because the water represents the difficulties of life. Occasionally, they may get splashed by a high tide, and scurry up a little further on the shore. Sometimes, a surprise rip tide may pull them in, and they may end up far, far out at sea - but always, they are able to find their footing, stagger up onto the beach, and learn to move away from those waves. I can live this life too, and I have found that I am most effectively able to walk in this way when I am on medication and in counseling, treating the chemicals in my brain that make this life so difficult.

But then, there is life without treatment. And for a variety of reasons, I have experienced this sporadically throughout the past 3 years. Life with depression is like walking in the wet sand and not having the ability to move up to dry sand. Each wave that creeps up the coast represents a trigger or stressor that has the potential to stimulate a depressive response in my brain. The water that used to be simply a beautiful, unpredictable, and powerful force I could see at a distance suddenly becomes a force I grapple with daily. And I can resist some waves, but it's just not the same as when I'm walking on dry sand. I get pulled out to sea and sometimes spend days and weeks there, worn down by the waves and wind. When I make it back to shore, I am exhausted and more easily drawn in by the next one.

My only solace and hope for this unknown future before me, and the only way I can make sense of these years of being beaten down by waves is that there is a lifeguard. Sometimes, it feels like he is just sitting up at the lifeguard tower, watching but doing nothing. Other times though, I know he's walking with me. That he has rescued me from the waves before something worse happened. Each day, he's helping me learn what it looks like to continue walking forward, even when pulled out to sea. And there are days in which we just sit down on the beach. I say, "I can't go on" and he tells me "I know." We bury our toes in the sand. Let the water drip through our fingers. Rest my weary soul.

Now I stand. Move forward again. I don't know if I'm on dry or wet sand, and I can not say when the next wave will hit. 
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deut. 31, 6