Every Tattoo Has A Story

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I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and OCD in my twenties, and while I’ve aged far beyond those years I still have days when I struggle—and even suffer—with feelings of hopelessness and despair. Granted, they aren’t as frequent or extreme as they once were (thanks in no small part to brain chemical research and modern pharmaceuticals), but those feelings are a part of who I am, and they can rise to the surface before I even sense their advance.

In art, the spaces around and in between objects are referred to as “negative space.” Sometimes those spaces themselves can take on the appearance of shapes and real objects. (Google “vases/faces illusion” for a good example of this.)

I envision my depression to be like negative space in my brain, taking shape between my rational thoughts, insidiously growing larger and larger, taking over first one thought and then another… pushing, distorting, and completely transforming them until the mere thought of getting up and out of bed becomes too much. I then become only what I envision in my mind, and my mind holds nothing but disfigured lies.

My tattoo is a reminder that I am more than this.

In Acts 9:36-42, the apostle Luke recounts the story of Tabitha, a woman he describes in the original Greek as μαθήτρια (math-ay’-tree-ah) – a female disciple. This word is used only once in the entire New Testament and Luke chooses it to singularly identify Tabitha.

As Luke tells her story we learn that Tabitha was most likely wealthy, given her acts of charity and what would have been an atypically large home for that time and place. (Tabitha had died and the women placed her body upstairs.) But before any of this—before even giving us her name—Luke writes, ἦν μαθήτρια: There was a female disciple.

Yes, Tabitha was a woman devoted to good works, sharing her money, time, and skills making clothing for the widows of Joppa—women of limited means with few ways to support themselves. But first and foremost, she was a Christian disciple. She had a heart devoted to Jesus Christ that brought focus to her individual days and, ultimately, her entire life—a life that wasn’t quite finished…

Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, “Tabitha, get up.” Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord.

Depression tells me I’m alone…

but God surrounds me.

I am μαθήτρια.

Depression tells me I’m worthless…

but Jesus claims me.

I am μαθήτρια.

Depression tells me I can’t even move…

but the Spirit fills me.

I am μαθήτρια.

And I am alive.

 

Lent – Good Friday

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When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:33-34, 44-46)

You are indeed my rock and my fortress;
    for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,
take me out of the net that is hidden for me,
    for you are my refuge.
Into your hand I commit my spirit;
    you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God.

Psalm 31:3-5

“A new sort of power will be let loose upon the world, and it will be the power of self-giving love. This is the heart of the revolution that was launched on Good Friday. You cannot defeat the usual sort of power by the usual sort of means. If one force overcomes another, it is still ‘force’ that wins. Rather, at the heart of the victory of God over all the powers of the world there lies self-giving love, which, in obedience to the ancient prophetic vocation, will give its life ‘as a ransom for many.’” (N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion)

Lent – Day 29

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Today’s Thought: Grief.

In his anguish [Jesus] prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground. When he got up from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of grief. (Luke 22:44-45)

This scripture from Luke takes an honest look at suffering. The suffering Jesus felt—in all his humanness—at the thought of what he would go through on the cross. The anguish the disciples felt after hearing Jesus speak repeatedly of his impending death. Jesus was their Messiah, their King, and his death wasn’t part of the future kingdom they’d hoped for. Jesus found them sleeping because of grief. If you’ve ever cried yourself to sleep, you know the depth of the disciples’ sorrow.

Everyone grieves, but no one wants to talk about it. And because we try to ignore it, we never know how to handle it when grief hits us or someone else. I’ve had my own opportunities to sit with grief and the well-intentioned (but often poorly-worded) sentiments of those who don’t know what to say or do, but who want to make everything better. The thing is, grief doesn’t work that way.

Many years ago, a good friend of mine drove me home from the hospital following a 15-hour day spent waiting for my youngest child to come out of a difficult surgery. I vividly remember the two of us sitting on my living room floor eating pizza from a box, my friend reminding me to take a bite in between bouts of crying and spewing out everything I was afraid of and angry about because of overpowering, breathtaking grief. I don’t remember her asking a lot of questions or giving me any earth-shattering insight or advice. I do remember her giving me food and making sure I slept. I remember her presence.

What can you do to help the grieving? Stay close while they swim in those deep, murky waters, and don’t worry about saying wise things–they can’t really hear you under there anyway. Then, when they’re ready to crawl out on dry land again, be there with a towel (and maybe a pizza). Just be there.

Monday Meditation: The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen. – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

 

 

Lent – Day 10

March 13

Today’s Thought: Why won’t God stop bad things from happening?

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11, 14-15)

Pain and suffering affect us all at some point in our lives and for Christians, it oftentimes results in intense questioning of our faith. C.S. Lewis, author, Christian, and former atheist, processed his pain publicly in A Grief Observed following the loss of his wife to cancer: “Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.” Loss, especially unexplained loss like we saw this week in New Zealand, drives us to despair and to wonder… why?

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Lent – Day 2

Lent 2019

Today’s Thought: What happens to my relationship with God when life gets hard?

My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 NRSV)

I can hear your thoughts as you read that scripture only because I’ve thought the same thing. You’re wondering if it means you’re supposed to walk around smiling while your world is crashing down around you. First, I don’t recommend doing that because more than one person will think you’ve lost your mind. Second, smiling in the midst of suffering is absolutely not what James meant by this passage.

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Those Days

“We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.” ― C.S. Lewis

Have you ever had one of those days when nothing seems to go right? Days when you need to do just One. Simple. Task. but three more clamor for attention before you can even begin the one you started with? Days that commence unexpectedly at 3:45 a.m. when the cat hacks up a furball on the comforter that demands dry clean only? How about several of those days coming one right after the other… days that include things a lot worse than an unexpected dry cleaning bill?

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Lamenting

This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears.   (Lamentations 1:16)

I try not to read the news. At least not too deeply. I’ll scan the headlines just to make sure there hasn’t been an overnight zombie apocalypse (Shaun of The Dead left me scarred), but I try my best not to get pulled into news stories.  They’re very, very, very rarely good news, and my heart just can’t handle the pain and suffering that humans and nature inflict. So I should’ve closed my iPad and walked away this morning, but I didn’t. And now, I’m in complete lament mode.

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