Tag Archives: psalm 46

Friday Faves: Dealing with Bummed-Outness Edition

9 Sep

Since I’m going to a Women of Faith conference (full story) this weekend, you’d think I’d be in a great mood.  I mean, what a great opportunity to commune with the people of God, right?  Absolutely!  And I feel the need for it now more than ever.  Looking for a church in the area is taking its toll on me.  So is the pressure of leading a weekly small group.  I’m giving out, but not filling up.   The rainy weather doesn’t help.  Even the local schools are closed due to flooding.  (Is it even safe to go out there?  Should I invest in a house boat?)  Really, I’m just plain ol’ bummed out.

I don’t know what to do for this depression (and anxiety) except to walk through it and know it, too, will pass.  I spend more time praying, thinking, talking to God and less time social networking, hanging out, and uh, showering.  Hopefully, the Women of Faith weekend will kick start my spirit.  Until then, here are some “faves” that help me get through the murky times.

*Bebo Norman is my go-to guy for hard times.  Whether I’m about to have a panic attack or cry my eyes out, I pop in a Bebo album and I feel immediate relief.  It reminds me of when David played his harp for King Saul when Saul was overcome with bouts of madness.  Bebo’s music is a gentle reminder that someone’s been in the depths, made it out, and that God is still very much present.  Lately, I’ve also listened to Jason Gray and Andrew Peterson, and of course, my old stand-bys–Rich Mullins and Fernando Ortega.  I used have specific playlists on my iPod for “sad times” and “mad times” and “happy times,” but they somehow got deleted.  Another song that resonates with me is “Hold My Heart” by Tenth Avenue North.  While I enjoy artists like Tenth Avenue North and Josh Wilson, when I’m down and out, their upbeat songs feel like salt rubbed into an raging wound.

*The Book of Psalms is an inspiration for many, and when nothing else makes sense, the psalms usually do.  I particularly love Psalms 42 and 46.  I also turn to the book of Hosea, which may sound like a strange choice, until you consider this passage from Hosea 3: 19-20,

“I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the LORD.”

As cliche as it sounds, the Bible is an amazing source of comfort in its prose, stories (Elijah, for one), and guidance.

*One day someone who is very dear to me gave me a copy of Henri Nouwen’s The Inner Voice of Love as a present.  She told me to read it, but not all at once, just bit by bit.  So I did, and still do.  In Nouwen’s most personal work, he shares his journal entries from a time when he underwent extreme hardship (some may call it a “nervous breakdown”).  At the urging of his friends, Nouwen published this book.  I rarely read an entry without bursting into tears. I also read Jesus Calling by Sarah Young (read review), which is great for use in small groups or for personal devotions.

*It may sound silly, but online games like Gnome Town and Words With Friends (both on Facebook) provide needed distraction.  I cannot always live in the pain, focus on the hurt, feel the depression, deal with the anxiety.  So, instead, I build a world of friendly forest creatures and get my butt kicked by high school kids who know more words than me.

*Since I’m a writer, it should come as no surprise that words at a healing balm to my soul.  In his song “The Cure for Pain,” Jon Foreman sings, “So blood is fire pulsing through our veins.  We’re either writers or fools behind the reigns.  I’ve spent ten years trying to sing it all away.  But the water keeps on falling from my tries.”  Like Foreman, I keep trying to write, not sing, it all away.  Still, I keep my journal close by and consider my notebooks full of scribbles among my most treasured possessions.  One of these days, I’m going to get a nice leather or mole skin journal (usually, I get them for 50% off at Barnes & Noble or as gifts from friends).

*Dogs, not diamonds, are a girl’s best friend.  Lonely days seem a little less lonely because of my two dogs–Cassie the Peekapoo (left) and Maddy the Shih Tzu (right).  They sense my mood and cuddle with me more often when I am down.  My bird, Kylie the Cockatiel, chirps praises to God when my spirit feels faint.  Animals are truly a gift from God.  And so are friends and family, who are willing to listen, even they don’t understand or don’t know what to do.

I’m not going to apologize for my less-than-chipper mood because it is my goal to be real, rather than entertaining.  Ideally, I like to be both, but real trumps entertaining.  Pray for me and I will pray for you!

How can I be praying for you right now?  What do you do when you feel bummed out?  Do you suffer from clinical depression and/or anxiety?  What kind of pets do you have?  Do you journal and/or blog to relieve your stress?

Anxiety Does Not Equal Lack of Trust

26 May

Recently I was asked, “How can you call yourself a Christian…how can you say you trust God if you have so much anxiety?”  Tears swelled up in my eyes as the truth of the question hit me full force.  It’s the same thing I’ve asked myself over and over and over again.  Why, God, do I suffer this anxiety when I say I trust You and love You?  Why doesn’t reading Joshua 1:9 or Psalm 46 over and over again “work”?  Why can’t I trust You and lean not on my understanding.  Why, God, why?

Yet I realize that I’ve never cleaved to God like I cleave to Him during anxious periods.  I know the anxiety will pass and despite the messages flying through my body screaming, “You are not safe,” I know I can find safety in Him, even as I cry, even as I gasp for breath, even as I scream out to Him.  I’ve also learned that life here on the fallen planet has affected everything, including the way my brain function.  Not only is there an emotional and spiritual component to this anxiety/panic thing, there is a physical one as well.

I suppose if that person were to ask me the same question now I would say, “How could I not trust God and have so much anxiety?  For if I didn’t trust Him in this, I surely would have been driven mad ages ago.”  Simply put, my anxiety is an outlet for which I can trust God more and more.  Not that I welcome it, but I am learning to accept it and manage it (so that it will not manage me).  Anxiety, like many things, is a refining process, peeled away in layers, and not all at once.

When I share about my battles with anxiety, I’m often met with the comment, “We all get scared.”  Uh, yeah, thanks for minimizing my problem.  If it were as simple as that, I would be cured instantaneously.  It’s like an annoying alarm clock that you can’t turn off, no matter how many times you push the off button.  You can throw the clock around, slam it against the wall, and scream until you drown out the noise, but you can never make it stop.  The best you can do is hit snooze to find some relief.  Yet you know it will come back despite what medications you take, despite your therapeutic techniques, and despite your prayers—it will come back and you will be forced to fight the beast again.

Though I feel alone in my terror, God is there with me.  I cannot imagine calling myself a Christian and not having Him with me when I feel so anxious or the knowledge that He is keeping me under His wings during a panic attack.  This is where I place my trust.

Scribbles :: Yet We Believe

8 Aug

Originally, I wrote this post for my personal blog, but for some reason, it seemed to “fit” on Backseat Writer. It may still show up over on my personal soapbox; we shall see.

By Amy Sondova I was going to read Psalm 46, my steadfast passage where I turn where I don’t know where else to go. But the pages in my Bible stuck together so I ended up on Psalm 42 (read here), which starts out, “As the deer pants for the water…” If you’ve ever been to youth group, Bible camp, or a exceptionally touching bonfire, you’ve heard the song. It’s such a happy little tune, you know? You can even sing it as a round.

Yet Psalm 42 is far from a cheery church song; it’s a passionate plea for help. It starts out pleasant enough stating, “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs after You.” That is, until you realize animals pant when they’re REALLY thirsty. Have you ever seen a goat or cow or horse pant? Dogs pant all the time; they look happy, but other animals tend to pant when they’re VERY thirsty.

The soul in this passage is practically dehydrated for God.

Reading down to verse 3 it’s easy to understand why the psalmist’s soul was so parched. It reads, “My tears have been my food day and night…” There were several dark times in my life where I was in this place. I would cry myself to sleep, wake up with swollen eyes and cry again, and then I’d hobble through the day trying to make sense of my life between tears. If you’ve been there, you know how absolutely exhausting this type of extreme mourning can be–and how you may only stop crying because you have no more liquid left in your tear ducts.

The verse then continues, “…while men say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?'” As if things weren’t bad enough, now you’ve got “the liars” questioning your very real emotions because obviously those who trust God don’t have problems or feelings or anything, right? (The term “the liars” comes from Amy Courts’ song “The Liars,” which you can listen to on her MySpace page. Part of the song goes, “But now the liars say that you’ve deceived me/ And I can’t hear your voice above the crowd/ So can you speak a little louder”).

The passage seems to hit a crisis of belief on verse 5 which starts out with writer addressing his own soul, “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” I can’t even begin to tell you how many of my prayers to God are just questions. And then the writer shifts focus with this line, “Put your hope in God…” It seems like he (it’s probably a “he”, sorry girls!) is actually telling himself to put his hope in God, like positive self talk.

Then the psalmist finishes the statement with this assertion, “…for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

Let’s recap and put this all together. The psalmist soul is dehydrated for God and he is crying day and night (literally and/or figuratively). While he’s in his state of misery, he is mocked (much like Job was mocked by his wife) by “the liars”. Where is your God now? Where indeed? It seems like the writer asks himself that very question and then says, “But, wait, why am I so depressed? I’ve no idea, but YET I will trust God. I will believe in Him no matter what the liars say or how things appear to be.” The rest of the psalm repeats this pattern, but the writer also reminds himself that God has always been faithful to Him.

The most powerful word in this whole passage to me is small and seems almost insignificant. In fact, it’s so short it only has three letters. The word is “yet”. This psalm doesn’t deny that human tragedies, depression, emotions, and horrible experiences or times when faith cannot be found, when God seems distant, and we just want to give up. Instead of denying emotion and feeling, this psalm embraces it and then flips it on its head with a simple “yet”.

Yes, this sucks, yet I will trust God.

It’s in the “yet’s” of life where we truly find the stuff of faith. We hold on to what seems foolish to a dying world, gasping for air, as the liars look on and laugh, “Where is your God now?” Yet we believe, even as we struggle with doubt. Yet we believe.

Print copy of Scribble.

Spiritual (and Physical) Hypochondria

19 May

A few months ago, I was diagnosed with “moderate hypochondria” which came as no shock to those near and dear to me. Hypochondria is one of those things that can be tremendously funny and horribly terrifying. The funny part is that it’s completely irrational, but the horrifying part is that the fear is terribly real.

Hypochondria is a psychosomatic disorder which revolves around the fear of getting or being sick. While it varies in intensity from person to person, a hypochondriac will get something simple like a headache and believe or fear that she has a brain tumor. Normal bodily sensations and pains are intensified and even imagined. Some hypochondriacs go to the doctor too much while others are terrified to seek treatment. I used to be the former, now I’m the latter. I hate going to the family doctor, but I go when I must.

The Internet makes it easy to find new and interesting diseases from sites like WedMD or the Mayo Clinic. In trying to find cold relief, a hypochondriac can “end up” with pneumonia. For me, the hypochondria comes in bouts of anxiety. Sometimes I’m relatively OK as long as you keep me away from “E.R.” and “Grey’s Anatomy” but other times a commercial for “House” can freak me out. Plus, there’s the power of suggestion. If someone close to me has a bladder infection or a kidney stone or an ovarian cyst, then I suddenly “develop” one as well (or rather the symptoms).

Hypochondria hasn’t always been part of my life. As a child, I had surgery on my ears due to fluid in my cochlea (“tubes in the ears”), my tonsils removed, and knee surgery at 16. Despite terrible allergies, terrible sinus infections, and ovarian cysts (painful!), I was OK. That is until March of 2001, when I had the worst sinus infection imaginable. I kept going to the doctor trying to find relief for the pain, which wasn’t even lessened by prescription pain medications. After several tests including a spinal tap (those are HORRIBLE), it was discovered that I suffered from a rare condition called psuedo tumor cerebri. I was rushed to Philadelphia for emergency surgery–a shunt was inserted into my body to drain the fluid causing pressure in my head. This pressure was crushing my optic nerves, not only giving me terrible headaches, but causing me to go blind as well. I survived that ordeal and didn’t realize I was in for another.

A couple of weeks later, my right arm flailed about uncontrollably and went numb. Since my appendage was hanging on my body like dead weight, my mom drove me to the emergency room. After a few minutes, I suppose I just got tired of waiting, so I had a grand mal seizure (you lose control of your entire body) right there in front of everyone. I got rushed into a room where I had another seizure. Apparently, I was out quite a bit and there was fear I was brain damaged, but I was OK. The room looked like a scene from “E.R.”. Cabinets were open, stuff was thrown all over the place, a big blue breathing tube was popping out of my face, some weird thing was going out of my nose, and there were electrodes all over my chest.

After getting yet another spinal tap and other tests (which weren’t nearly as unpleasant as the spinal tap), it was discovered I had a blood clot in one of the main arteries of my brain. So I had to be put on blood thinners, which meant that the thickness of my blood was checked several times a day. I was in the hospital a week the first time and ten days the second. I became very good at stretching my arm and getting blood drained out of it. I also became very bruised.

Finally, I went home but I was terrified I would have another seizure. I had to wear a medical identification bracelet because I was on blood thinners and anti-seizure meds. And for a while my balance was off, and I had to use a cane. Plus,  I had frequent doctor visits to neurologists, the family doctor, the eye doctor, and everyone else that needed to see me. It was definitely not the way I wanted to spend the spring semester of my junior year.

Now it’s seven years later, and I’ve had sinus surgery due to chronic sinusitis and been diagnosed with several other chronic disorders which I don’t wish to mention, and now I hate going to the doctor. It seems to have worsened into hypochondria after the lingering deaths of both my grandparents.

Hypochondria makes life difficult at times, but fortunately I don’t live in a constant state of fear. I have random cycles in which I am forced to deny how I feel physically and rely on what I know to be true mentally. I have to trust that God is in control of my health and my life, which is something with which we all struggle. The problem is that my body ACTUALLY thinks it is sick, except that it isn’t. It actually feels pain when nothing is wrong. The pain is very real, but the underlying pain problem is not.

At least I have a diagnosis, but I tend to think that we as Christians often live as spiritual hypochondriacs. Instead of trusting God, we carefully analyze every situation to gain control. We feel the sting of others more deeply than we should and take on “illnesses”. We look around and say to ourselves, “The world is not safe. God is not in control.” We despair and fall away from truth.

During times of physical and/or spiritual hypochondria, I take comfort in Psalm 46, especially verses 1-4,

1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.

I don’t know about you, but if I saw the mountains fall into the ocean (an earthquake perhaps?), I would be scared out of my mind. Yet this psalm urges us not to fear because nothing escapes the watchful eyes of God. I like how verse 4 contrasts the volatile ocean with the “river whose streams make glad the city of God”. Completely out of  our realm of control is God, who invites us to be still and know Him (vs. 10). There is so much comfort and power in these words, especially in times of trouble, anxiety, and yes, hypochondria.

While I’ve tried to pray my hypochondria (and other ailments) away, so far I haven’t had any miraculous healing. But I have learned a lot about being still and knowing God, the value of praying and encouraging others, and living in situations I would have never chosen for my life. Since I can’t change it, I simply (or not so simply) accept it, rail against it with the truth, and trust God with the rest. It sounds easy enough, but it’s the fight of my life. Fortunately, thought sometimes I feel like it, I am never alone.

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