Hidden

Show me your glory pic. Me

I remember a time of chasing shadows, running so fast as a little girl trying to outsmart the stretched out version of me. I wanted the sunshine not the shadows and even as an adult I still want that very same thing.

Last week I wrote about my very real battle with seasonal depression, I am unafraid to be vulnerable with you because I know that God unlocks places within us for a reason. My freedom journey is sweeter when I take others with me. Joy has returned to me, but my heart has turned to those who still wrestle and wonder when things will change for them. They are waiting for the dark cloud to lift.

I typically refer to depression as “the dark cloud” but this morning as I was reading scripture I felt a tug on my heart as I read these words:

“Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me under the shadow of Your wings…”

(Psalm 17: 8 KJV)

I felt like God was whispering to my heart.

It was never a cloud, but the shadows where you were hidden and tucked away with Me.

As a child, I tried to outrun my shadow but the faster I ran; the faster my shadow followed me. An outline of my form and elongated, a shadowed version of me; I could never outrun it. I wasn’t mean to.

“Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” (Ps 91:1)

In Exodus 33, Moses meets with God and doesn’t want to leave unless the presence of God goes with them. In verse 18 he said, “Please, show me Your glory.”

But, a full discovery of God would overwhelm him. So God gives Moses a way to be hidden and still experience the presence of God. He couldn’t see the face of God, but could see His back.

“When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by.” (Vs. 22)

Throughout scripture it talks about being hidden in the hand of God, or in the shadows of His wings. Everything about this speaks to me. He is a God who protects us and shelters us. The cloud becomes a shadow, a hiding place tucked away in the safety of God. A shield and a refuge from the storm, hidden in the One who numbers our days and knows exactly what we need and when we need it.

It’s not the dark cloud, friend. You are hidden in the shadow of the Almighty.

Much love,

Jennifer Renee

Where The Sad Girls Go, How to love someone who is depressed

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“You don’t look pregnant anymore.”

I began to cry as we walk out of the doctor’s office.

“I’m so mad I could cuss.” I say, standing in the parking lot looking less pregnant.

“Do it.” My husband says, giving me permission.

“I can’t.”

“Then I’ll do it for you.”

And then he swears for me. I stand there in utter shock and then I double over laughing through the tears and say something snarky like, “You are going to split hell wide-open.”

We laugh through aching hearts and somehow I know that everything is going to be okay. We are going to be okay.

I think that is when I wrestled with my first encounter with real depression. Every fall it comes back and I wrestle trying to find words and look much like a Cymbalta commercial minus petting a cat and gazing out the widow.

I figured out where the sad girls go because at that broken moment, I was one of them.

I’m not sure if it’s connected to that time loss during multiple miscarriages, or just seasonal, but each year just as the leaves turn beautiful shades of orange and red and then finally let go giving way to winter. I become like the barren tree stripped of leaves and life, but it is still me, just the quieter version of me.

And in my head I go, that’s where the sad girls go.

Each year it becomes less of an issue, but I still go off–grid and have a hard time finding words. Even writing becomes difficult and I miss the more vibrant, spunky side of me. I stop making calls because I feel like I have nothing to say worth hearing.

The sad girls drift off inside of their headspace and dream of brighter days. I feel so thankful that each year it becomes less of thing, but it’s still a thing. It’s real. But, I’m not sad. I feel hope rising to the surface of my heart because I know this will pass. It always does.

I’ve battled depression on and off for years and I remember thinking that my husband was strong enough to lift the dark cloud off of me. But, he couldn’t. Somewhere in my headspace, my winter months of darkness and bareness of joy, I wrestled with prayer and with God and stopped wrestling with others. My hands were up in surrender with the white flag raised, “God, If you can save me, throw me a lifeline. I’m desperate, I’ll take crumbs I don’t even need a full meal. I just need something.”

And God always came to my rescue. Sometimes it seemed like the sadness lasted for much too long, but it eventually left and my color returned. Laughter filled my lungs and a song spilled out from a renewed heart. When I couldn’t pray, I asked others to pray for me and had trusted friends to hold my hand on the journey. I never asked them to jump in my pit of despair with me, just maybe take me out for chips and salsa and give me a reason to change out of my yoga pants. And after the conversation became lighter and tears stopped, we would have a cake-date afterwards. Sometimes you just need to celebrate the small victories because if we can’t, our expectations might be a little too Hollywood, airbrushed fakeness, and not based on reality.

I’ve learned that letting others see my ugly and broken moments is receiving love when I’m the furthest thing from perfect. In the past, I wanted others to only see me when I was happy and living life to the fullest, but God has given me the truest friends and family that have been unwilling to leave my side at dark, broken moments. They love me just because, no strings-attached, no need to jump through hoops or fake anything. I just get to show up and that’s enough. Man, that’s nice. 

So, how do we love someone in depression crisis and soul funk?

Realize that it’s bigger than you. Ask really good questions about feelings and what they need from you.

Realize that if you are doing all the things that they “need” and it’s still not enough, take breaks for your heart and do whatever you can to not go into crisis-mode with them. Someone has to be the strong one; Lord knows it doesn’t feel fair. But someone has to be the voice of reason and hear the voice of God if the other person’s judgment is murky.

If you feel yourself fighting so hard, fighting with your loved one as you walk on edge through the crappy minefield and look them in the eyes and say, “We are treating each other like the enemy when we are allies.” And join forces again. Keep reminding yourself that this is not who they are, but as they wrestle with change in their hearts, minds, hormones, and brain chemistry, everything is pretty much based on fear and a lie. The things that used to make them happy don’t anymore and they don’t even know why. That’s brutal.

Get help! You might need personal therapy, it’s so brave and should be celebrated, not an embarrassment. It doesn’t mean you are failing, it means you care enough to not give up. You need a friend that is sticking as close as a soul sister possibly can. Prayer journal, angry journal, or verbally barf on someone you can trust. Someone who can drop a truth-bomb like, “What is coming out of your mouth doesn’t line up with the Word.” Don’t let what you feel rule what you know to be true. Like, this too shall pass like a kidney stone with spikes the size of Texas, but it will pass. So, let me speak truth wrapped up in love and hold you while you cry. 

Figure out your default setting. For me shutting down emotionally is what I do. I’m working on it. When you feel yourself shutting down, ask yourself why. For me, my broken girl syndrome might emerge instead of the confident, godly woman that I have become. Anytime I felt backed into a corner, trapped, or embarrassed publicly, I would just check out and put up a wall to protect my heart. Or I would come out swinging. My default is flight, not fight. I hate conflict, but boundaries need to happen if someone is crossing lines and just expecting you to deal with it and be the nice one. Communicating is essential if you want to have something that lasts. Period. If you stop the lines of communication, you might as well stamp an expiration date on your healthy relationship.

When you love someone, you do whatever it takes to protect the one you love. A person in crisis no longer knows how to protect and cultivate your tender heart; they are focused on what they are feeling and what they need. So, it feels very personal and selfish. Try to focus on what you love about them, remember the better days and pray for better days to be restored.

Figure out their default setting. Harsh truth, anyone who is depressed doesn’t even know what their default setting is.So…there’s that. But, they do have a love language and things that fill up their tank.

Stop doing the same things. You need something to look forward to. Try to break away from your normal routine and do something fun.

Find a reason to hope and dream again, take your “wounded one” with you and live a little. No lists, agendas, or jumping through the hoops, just being together and chasing after joy and each other until hope returns.

Just because they are depressed doesn’t mean you have to be too. When I was going through my seasons of depression, I didn’t need my man, or friends, to join me and set up camp there. It was my depression and because I love them, I just needed them to understand, love me, and pray for me. Not push me or tell me I’m wrong for feeling that way. I never expected them to fix me, so it would be stupid for me to feel like I am the Junior Holy Spirit and able to fix someone else’s depression.

Guard your heart and mind and take your thoughts captive, it’s the only thing you are accountable for right now. I’m so grateful for a God that loves me just because I’m His and I’m enough for Him, even when I’m at my worst.

You are not alone. You might not feel Him, but God hasn’t left you.

“See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands, Your walls are continually before Me.” (Is 49:16)

I get it, I know what it is like to wrestle with this and win. Don’t go through this alone; let someone walk you through this!

Much love and prayers,

Jennifer Renee

Photo Credit: Melissa

Permission to Run

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A three-hour drive would be enough time to tell him everything, my plan was to end with this: Run.

Forget about how much you love me. Forget about asking for my hand in marriage and getting your first job to pay for my engagement ring. Don’t think about the fact that I’m the first woman you ever said, “I love you” to in a car parked at your daddy’s church with the rain falling so hard it sang us a love song. Just drive me home and I’ll tell you everything and all the reasons why you should run.

But, he didn’t run. As my words spilled out, I watched him grip the steering wheel so tight I thought it would snap. I watched creases and frown lines etched from pain from hearing my story. I found myself comforting him, but I tried not to reach for his hand, for his anything.

I wasn’t raised in a pastor’s home like he was. I didn’t have the view of marriage that he did. Marriage scared me to death. I knew marriage was supposed to mean forever, but I also knew I never, ever wanted my parents back together. Sometimes people come together and become toxic. When one person wants Jesus and the other wants a bottle and to chase women, marriage is a trap and toxic. That wasn’t the way Jesus meant for it to be. In my young mind I thought if you stayed in that you became broken down, trapped, and flailing. Everyday is about survival and brutal. You watch your little girls become different people when a man and fear walks through the door. Your strong self, becomes a scared self. You think about taking your life, you think about running, and you pray with groans, not words. You pray with tears and one-worded-prayers…Help.

And I didn’t want that, not for me. Not ever. I wanted the fairy tale, but fairy tales were a lie and somehow fairy tales saved my life at the same time. I had reason to hope, to dream, and I started that process of escape when I was too little to know what a dreamer was. If it got loud, if I heard raised voices, I could slip away to another place that I created in my head, my La la land, and I liked it there because it was safe. My dad called it having my head up my a**, but I called it wonderful. I felt Jesus there, that heavenly Daddy. And every time I went somewhere else in my mind, I found Jesus waiting for me in my secret space.

If you yell at me, I will check out. I will put my head up my a** and only come back to you when you stop the yelling and scaring me and scarring me.

That was when I learned how to build walls and go somewhere else, an isolated fortress of protection. That’s when I learned how to run, even if it was only in my mind. A running dreamer.

I could emotionally run away until I learned that I didn’t have to anymore. I could stand. I could pray one-worded-prayers. I could hold on. I could let go. And I could ask God to teach me how to let someone love me even if I thought running would be a better, smarter idea.

Sometimes we have baggage that we picked up from other people, our family history, and the ones we love. We wonder if genetics and bloodlines will be stronger than the new creation that God is building in us. But, with all my heart I believe that the old has gone and the new has come when we become followers of Christ and we must be brave enough to believe that the Word will cut and be sharper than all the wrong things we picked up along the way. Sometimes we have to wrestle with the truth for a little while because we have believed lies for so long.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17 NIV)

The old self carried around baggage that we thought belonged to us, the new “us” is not tethered to the past, bloodlines, and bruised knees from falling so hard. When our past life is more like a poorly written country song instead of a fairy tale, we can take God up on His word and ask for a little bit of “new” and a little more of letting go. We can add to our one-word-prayers and add five more words.

Help me let go of yesterday.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” (Is 43:18 NIV)

The NLT version says it this way, “But forget all that–it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.”

I love that. Forget about all that, all of the mess, and the things you would rather not replay in your mind, and watch what I am about to do because it’s going to blow your mind.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ez 36:26 NIV)

I know what it’s like to have a heart of stone. I know what it is like to shut people out and runaway to my emotional hiding place. And I know what it is like to let the former things remain in their proper place, out of my way and a thing of the past. And you can too, you don’t have to carry around the former, broken things and beat-up baggage from bloodlines and bad mistakes. If all you can utter right now is “Help” that’s okay. But, if you can and you mean it, add the five other words, “Help me let go of yesterday.”

Much love to you,

Jennifer

My Broken Girl Story- My Messy Beautiful

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My daughter came to me wearing a frown as she carried her favorite stuffed animal, Chickie. When you love something hard it’s bound to tear, sometimes in the same place where the first wound originated. Chickie has required multiple surgeries and so have I. What I have been through physically is nothing compared to what others have faced. I started writing seriously seven years ago, before then I was just playing. Prayer journals and angry poetry placed at my bedside as I dealt with miscarriages, surgeries, and tests that hurt so badly that I would fold in the elevator only to stand when the door opened. I never wanted anyone to see me folded, weak, and messy.

Six years ago I was recovering from an emergency surgery. I had two weeks to prepare beforehand and I was trying my best to figure out another option other than what my doctor strongly suggested.

“It’s now or later…how long do you want to suffer? I would never recommend this surgery to a thirty-one-year-old unless it was needed.” I nodded, still scared to death as he set the date and I emotionally ran away.

With several staged interventions of loved ones and friends, I folded again and surrendered to the cutting of surgery and process of healing afterwards. But I wasn’t ready for the fear that was surfacing and the nightmares that happened as I drifted off to sleep. This peaceful sleeper began to fight and scream with terrors. My husband would rush to my side and one time had to physically pick me up and put me back in the bed. We were both terrified and knew this was not normal for me; I was running scared even in my sleep. I was a rag doll who needed to be fixed with torn places no one could see, both on my heart and in body.

I’ve always been the girl who never liked to slow down, especially if it was forced. Yet being forced to slow down was the best thing for my health and my heart. Now I make rest and taking care of myself a priority. I stopped running, I asked those really hard questions like…how old was I when my mom placed two brown-eyed-girls in a car and drove off to find the three of us a safe place? Where was our family in all of this? Where was God?

I acknowledged that what happened to her and to us was not okay as I forgave again and rejected bitterness. Again. God was always right there leading my mom, carrying her as she cried and fought for her girls. It seems like there has to be a good reason for running and hiding and pauses for healing both physically and spiritually. And so I did all of that really well and gave myself room to go retrace broken places in my past. I kept a few people at arms length until I healed. I gave myself permission to not be okay until one day I really was okay and better than ever. And as I sit here with the sun on my face and joy in my heart, I can tell you with confidence that God heals your broken past and gives you a stronger, clearer voice with beautiful things to say if you let Him. Sometimes our messy is the most beautiful thing that could ever happen to us. Our messy gives way to the beautiful and the miraculous.

It’s okay to run from the things that hurt you as long as you always find yourself running to God who makes forgiveness actually attainable instead of a nice thought. God can mend broken homes and hearts and sometimes He gives you an open door and a trusted friend to wrap their arms around you and help you cry a little, or a lot, as you come up for air before you lace up your running shoes. One day the running stops and the messy, beautiful dance starts because you are free. Not perfect. Not free from battle wounds, but in a place where mending begins.

Ask those hard questions, let God mend your torn places. I’m convinced that we travel back and forth from broken places and seasons, we are never really exempt from hard, tattered places…and so we run like rag dolls and let God do His surgery. We let Him unfold our fetal position posture and we stand stronger and there we find Him waiting with healing in His wings. Your messy is beautiful and exactly what this world needs. Let the messy mingle with the miraculous…wild, free, and fiercely beautiful.

Much love,

Jennifer Renee

This post is part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior project- to learn more and join us, click here ! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback!

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Statistics & The Unseen

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By all accounts I should be a sad statistic, a product of a broken home and a broken heart. But when it comes to handing your broken heart and broken life over to God, He blows statistics right out of the water. They sink to the murky bottom with no hope of floating to the surface. They are buried and replaced with a promise…you will be more, not because you are perfect but because you are perfectly loved.

Right now my heart is broken into a million pieces watching a loved one turn to a bottle instead of God.  I can’t fix it and I can’t fixed the jagged, broken places in them and force them to see that life is not supposed to look like the absence of all hope. I know way too much than I care to know about addiction and how it bleeds you dry of all life and joy…and yet I’ve never tried or tasted the things that have tied the hands of the ones I love.

I sit here completely wrecked and helpless to fix the broken places in others, but somehow I know that God will honor the prayers of a little girl who learned to lean, and trust, and wrestle hard against being just another sad statistic.

I am trusting in a God who uses the labeled and broken misfits to do mighty things in His name. 

I am leaning on His understanding instead of my own.

I am praying against the chokehold that the enemy has on our loved ones robbing them of their destiny. 

I’m standing on the truth and believing in a God who is unaffected by statistics and labels, I’m asking Him once again to redeem years carelessly wasted.

I don’t know what you are holding out hope for and I don’t know what is breaking your heart right now, but I do know that God can handle it and give you wisdom right now. Maybe you don’t know how to clean up the mess someone else made and you feel helpless and wrecked inside.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Heb 11:1 NKJV)

Sometimes our faith is wrapped up in all the things we have yet to see with our own eyes and we cling to the invisible. And perhaps faith can swell in our hearts as we wait and pray and seek the face of God for those broken around us. May we trust in a God that continually defies the odds and statistics.

Much love and prayers,

Jennifer