Friday, February 27, 2015

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Rebellion

Today we're focusing on rebellion. This is not a comfortable topic for me. I don't like to admit that I'm ever rebellious. I like others to think of me as a cooperative, helpful, compliant person. I seldom show my rebellious side to my friends and acquaintances, but my family sees it some days. I don't want to clean the bathroom so it goes for way too many days until it really needs it. I get ticked with my hubby about something minor and I give him the cold shoulder for a while until I get over it. I don't feel like doing our taxes so I wait until close to the deadline.

Last week I told you how I was switching to a new med for depression. Well, this week I have felt pretty good as I've been tapering off Lexapro. So good, in fact, that I called my doctor today and asked if I could try just staying on 10 mg of it for a while and see how it goes. The nurse said she would ask her and call me back. When she did, she firmly stated that my doctor wanted me to go on the Cymbalta as we had talked about at my last visit. "But...but..." I stammered. "Couldn't I just try it for a week and then I can start the Cymbalta if I need to?" The nurse repeated my doctor's instructions again and stressed the fact that we had planned this at my last appointment. My doctor noted that my depression was worse on 10 mg of Lexapro and that's why we were changing to a new med. I said okay and hung up, but I was very disappointed. My thoughts have been fighting all afternoon: 

You really need to obey your doctor's instructions and go on the new medicine.

Maybe I could just try it for a week and then talk to her again when I still feel good...then she'll understand that I don't need to switch.

Notice that the good advice is from outside (You...) while the rebellious thoughts just focus on myself (I...). I've heard lots of stories about people who go off their medicines because they feel good and then they get into a worse mess because the depression or other mental health problem comes back worse than ever. In my heart, I know I'm silly to think that I know better than an experienced psychiatrist (they must get so tired of hearing their patients question their instructions!). So, I will obey and go on the new medicine and I'll keep talking to my doctor until we figure out what works best for me.

During devotions yesterday (February 26) I read from "Jesus Calling" and was struck by the reminder that all forms of worry are an act of rebellion: doubting Jesus' promises to care for us. Whenever we worry about something we need to repent and return to Jesus. I've written about this before, but I don't think I've learned this lesson yet. It seems so natural to worry about all sorts of things. It can't be a sin, can it? 

The truth is, God tells us not to worry and promises His peace when we pray and turn our worries over to Him as we thank Him. Thank Him for depression? Thank Him for a disobeying child? Thank Him for a chronic illness? Thank Him for an uncertain future? Thank Him for financial problems? Yes, as hard as it may be, we can choose to thank God for all of those things and anything else we're tempted to worry about. Let's focus on obeying when we feel that spirit of rebellion rising up in us.

"I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you." (Psalm 32:8 NIV)

Do you rebel against good advice sometimes? Would you rather do exactly what you want to do? How can focusing on God and thanking Him instead of worrying bring us more peace?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Change

I went to my doctor today. We talked about how I've been feeling lately. She asked me lots of questions and I tried to answer honestly. Some of them had me a little stumped. "Did you feel this way before the depression, or just after you started taking the medication?" Um, I'm not sure. I answered that way to several questions and felt even more stupid when she asked what I normally do all day and I could hardly answer. I mean, I do stuff, right? But I sat there for several long seconds before I listed a few things off. Our conclusion was that I don't have much energy most of the time and I usually lack focus. (That sure sounds much better than saying I'm lazy and need to work harder.) All I know is I'm not feeling as good as I'd like to feel yet. There are some up days, but there are also some down days where the despair threatens again.

She decided to change my medication to a different antidepressant and see if it works better for me. That means I'll taper off the generic Lexipro I'm on now and then begin taking a low dose of generic Cymbalta in about eight days. I thought that was a good idea in the office, but when I got home I began to worry (especially after the pharmacy called and the recording said it was going to cost $108!). 

I talked with Gary and started to worry aloud in front of him. Does it cost too much? Should I stay on Lexipro? What if the new medicine doesn't work? Do you think she'll want me to stay on it indefinitely? Should I try to get off it after a year or so? He calmed me down and reminded me to take it a day at a time instead of looking so far ahead. "Just see if the new medicine works," he encouraged. "If it helps you feel better it's worth the money. If you're on it for a year or two and want to try going off it, you can decide then. Don't worry about that now." 

He's right (He usually is). I guess I get scared of change way too often. The way things have always been are comfortable, even if they're not working the way I'd like. As I write tonight, I wonder if many of you can relate to that, even if you aren't dealing with depression.

Maybe you're not happy with the way your marriage is going, but you're afraid that making changes in the way you relate will be hard work and it might lead to even more struggles before you get to a better place.

Maybe your relationship with your child is changing as they grow up and you're anxious about the mistakes you've made or the mistakes they may make as they go out on their own.

Maybe you feel like it's time for a job change but that thought scares you. What you're doing now doesn't feel good, but you've done it for a long time and you're good at it. Making a change may put you in new situations that you might succeed at, but you also could fail. 

Maybe your relationship with God feels shallow and comfortable. You go to church, but you don't really think about Him much during the rest of the week. Making a change in this area could lead to uncomfortable feelings and lifestyle changes that may be really difficult. 

Change can be difficult, but change can lead to wonderful new experiences, emotional growth, and spiritual maturing. We have to push aside the "What ifs" and be willing to move ahead in exciting, scary directions.

I will move ahead, hoping that this new med will work better and get me to a happier place as I continue to work on how I'm thinking about life and the situations I'm in. I know that God has great things in store for me, I just need to trust Him and work with my doctor to get there.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

Are you afraid of change? What things might need to change in your life so that you can experience the plans God has for you?

Friday, February 13, 2015

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Real Love

This is an interesting year as far as Valentine's Day goes. Gary and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary on Tuesday by going away overnight and going out for a steak dinner and relaxing in the hotel's pool and hot tub. It was nice to get away from everyday stresses for a day or so and just enjoy being together. I'm so glad God led us together so many years ago and has blessed our marriage.

I've been upset to hear of so many couples we know of who have divorced. Sadly, it seems like many of them are pastors or missionaries. I think it just reminds us that Satan often targets people in ministry and we need to stay strong and fight back when we're tempted to let the stresses and pressures of life drive a wedge between us.

I'm afraid it may have been a bad idea to wait until 11 p.m. to write this blog post. Bear with me while I try to say something that will make sense and hopefully encourage you. As I was saying, this is an interesting year. What I'm mainly referring to is the release of that awful movie, "Fifty Shades of Grey." Even though I don't plan to see it, it seems to have cast a negative shadow on Valentine's Day for me this year. I can hardly believe that so many people are excited about seeing it and that they consider it "romantic" when it deals with such violence in the name of "love." I'll refrain from more opinions and just encourage you to stay away from it so that your mind is not poisoned by the images and ideas it illustrates.

Instead, let's focus on real love. Real love is not violent and overbearing. It is patient and kind and understanding. As broken human beings, we won't ever love the people in our lives perfectly, but we can keep trying to love as Jesus loves. We can apologize when we make mistakes and we can choose to love even when it's hard.

The devotional our family read from today had a quote from the movie "A League of Their Own." Star catcher Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) wants to quit the women's professional baseball team and she tells the manager, Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks).

"It just got too hard," she says.

"It's supposed to be hard," Dugan says. "If it weren't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great."

The hard is what makes it great. Those words have stuck with me. I know I tend to stick to the easy stuff most of the time, but as I look back over my life, this phrase is true.

Practicing for hours on my high school swim team was hard but it was great to win some races and be in shape.

Playing piano and guitar to get ready for a performance is hard work, but it's great to master a song and have an audience enjoy it.

Parenting four children with different temperaments and character traits is hard, but it's great to see the young men and women they are becoming.

Being married to the same person for 25 years is hard at times, but it is so rewarding to reach that milestone and still feel in love with your best friend. The hard is what makes it great.

We can do the hard things. We don't have to take the easy way out when we reach a rough spot in the road. God will show us what to do. We also can't worry about others judging us for the choices we make. Sometimes getting out of a difficult situation is the hard thing that will bring us to something great (I'm thinking things like spouses in abusive situations and my own decision to stop teaching full-time because of the depression it led to). Stay close to God and He will show you the next step in your journey. The thing He will always want you to do is show love.

Have a Happy Valentine's Day as you focus on real love.

"Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another."
                                                                                                   (I John 4:7-11 NIV)

Are you confused about what real love looks like? Can you see how focusing on the love that Jesus shows can help you show real love to your spouse, your children, and everyone God has placed in your life? How can doing the hard thing lead to something great?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Focus Friday: Let's Focus on Hitting the Right Notes

I played the keyboard in church last Sunday. I always get a little nervous when I do that. I have to practice quite a bit before I feel really comfortable with all of the songs.

We were gone all day Saturday (Happy 90th Birthday to Gary's mom!) and came home through lots of snow and bad roads. We made it and I ran through the songs one more time on Saturday evening.

I was glad for the small crowd on Sunday morning because of the weather. I figured it might go better with fewer people to hear me play. Things went quite well until after the offering. I played a hymn during that time and then launched into the introduction to the Doxology. That's the cue in our church for everyone to stand up and get ready to sing. 

Suddenly - disaster! I was playing but something was terribly wrong. It didn't sound anything at all like what I was supposed to be playing. I'm sure the congregation wondered if we were going to sing a different song that morning. Well, after too many measures I finally realized that the previous song had about five flats and the Doxology has one sharp. I had continued playing most of the flats and that just didn't work. When I got to the song I finally had my mind wrapped around "one sharp" and everyone seemed to catch up to the Doxology after the first couple of notes.

It was really no big deal, but it was noticeable. I laughed and asked a couple of people if they liked my intro to the Doxology during fellowship time and they laughed along with me and one of them said she had seen me make a face so they knew that I had figured out that something was wrong. 

That little goof up had me thinking all week long. Now, I tend to think way too much about lots of things and that can be bad for me, but I think this time it was productive thinking. 

I thought about how I went through that time of deep depression some months ago and how negative I was thinking. It was like I was going through life with lots of flats, focusing on the negative and getting anxious about life's pressures and demands. 

I got the help I needed and started to feel hope again, but this time of transition doesn't always "sound" the best. I'm trying to look forward with hope and live a joyful life, but there are days when life is a chaotic, ugly sounding mess because I'm still "playing the flats" when I should be focused on the "sharps."

What we have to remember as we push through and overcome depression is that how we think will make a big difference in getting better. Focusing on the "flats" (I can't do this. Life is too hard. I'll never be happy again.) just keeps us stuck in depression and despair. Choosing to focus on the "sharps" (This is hard, but God will help me do it. Life is hard, but it's worth it. I feel sad sometimes, but I will feel joy again.) will help us feel hope and fulfillment. 

My intro was a mess. (You don't believe me? You can go take a listen at  - the whole service is worth listening to, but you can also just skip to 46:54 and have a good laugh) The thing is, once I figured out that I was playing flats instead of sharps I changed how I was playing. I didn't play the whole Doxology with flats just because that's how I started out. No, I changed to the right notes and it sounded so much better. I'm going to try to keep that in mind in life, too. I don't have to keep repeating negative thoughts just because I've done it for so long. I'm going to try thinking the right way so that my life is beautiful and is full of joy and hope.

"Finally, brothers [and sisters], whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things." (Philippians 4:8 NIV)

Do you spend more time thinking about negative things or positive things? Can you see how focusing on things that are excellent and praiseworthy could help you live a happier, more hopeful life?