Obscurity and my ego.

Last Saturday morning, Erik walked into the house after a morning of intense mountain biking. He put his muddy gear away, poured a glass of water, changed his clothes and sat down on the couch, where Rowan and Scout promptly sat on and around him. He looked at me with a smile and asked, "What do you want to do today?"

I had the itch to get outside and move. "Let's go on a hike. I want to see that lake you hiked to with the kids a few weeks ago, when I was out of town. The one up Brighton."

"Sounds good. Let's pack up!"

We got the backpack filled with snacks for the kids and the inevitable chipmunks, full water bottles, jackets, diapers and the rest. The kids climbed into car seats, we drove into the mountains, made our destination, then began our hike up.

We stopped at looked at a waterfall, we crossed a bridge over a creek, and I walked up behind the kids and Erik and watched my little family adventure up the Utah mountain. Scout was chattering about something incoherent in Erik's ear the whole way up, Rowan wanted to climb every rock along the path, and I never want them to grow up.

It was a normal Saturday. No travel, no requests, no conferences. No emails, no writing, no deadlines. No expectations, no commitments, no big decisions. Just a normal day as a normal family doing normal Utah things. It was a Saturday of smallness, of obscurity.

And as I watched my little family hike up the mountain to our destination, I realized that this is what I'm made for.

I'm not built for platforms or pulpits. I'm not made for celebrity or fame. I'm not made for the demands that come with influence. I'm made for hiking up a mountain with my husband and kids. I'm made for Sunday nights in my home, when our small house church community pours through the doors, settles into our living room, eats our food and drinks our coffee. I'm made for studying the Bible on Wednesday mornings with a dear friend. I'm made for home-cooked meals, neighborhood street fairs, and bottles of wine shared around my kitchen table. I'm made more for car rides with my kids, rather than plane rides with my laptop.

And this is the conundrum that I find myself in.

As requests for speaking begin to pour in, as the demands on my time become greater, as another book writing season settles in, as social media demands my engagement, I'm slowly, painfully learning what it means to say no, to choose smallness, to choose obscurity.

The reality of writing a book is that you're expected to promote, promote, promote. Get your name out there. Push your message. And there is a point where stewarding your message is important, valuable and appropriate. I believe in my little green book, and I believe that the message in its pages is important. So, on some level, I need to be willing to put myself out there, to talk about the book in social media, to speak about the importance of Story in pulpits and on stages. There is good stewardship when it comes to influence. 

However, I'll be honest. It's really easy to get sucked into the vortex of celebrity and get drunk on that same influence. It's really easy to hit the gas pedal on speaking gigs and promotion and travel, with little regard to your family and true community at home.

There's a fine line between stewarding your message and feeding your ego. There's a fine line between Kingdom-building and empire-building. And for me, I always want to be moving with the ways of God's Kingdom, and subverting the empire. It doesn't mean I'm saying no to everything, it just means I'm saying yes to the right things.

And real talk: Saying no to the big platform and lots of influence? Saying no to my ego? That shit is hard.

Affirmation, pats on the back and recognition feels good. It feels amazing, actually. Validation, acceptance and authority is the ultimate temptation for me. It's the fruit on the tree... except it's really low-hanging.

Some people are able to do the travel, do the speaking, and have a ton of influence. They can steward it well and they can handle it without letting it get to them. I'm not one of those people. I know myself well enough to know that I'd get addicted to it and I wouldn't be able to let it go.

So, I say no to a lot of things, in order to say yes to the right things.

And right now, the right things are hiking up a mountain with my family. Sitting down in front of the computer and typing out the words I'm given. Making space in both my heart and home for the people in my community. It means using my message to heal and bridge the divides that happen in my own city, before I go out and try to fix others. It means making lunches, driving to preschool and snuggling in front of Disney movies. It's Bible studies and coffee dates and home-cooked meals.

Sometimes, the right thing is getting on a plane. Sometimes it means answering the phone for an interview. Sometimes, it means getting on a stage and speaking. But, those instances are few and far between.

Platform and influence will always be an anomaly, not the normal.

Because I'm desperate for a life of smallness and obscurity. I'm craving a life of simple faithfulness. That's what I'm truly built for.

 

Thoughts on depression, suicide and being a Christian.

Content warning:  Suicide

My particular method was going to be a deadly concoction of narcotic pain pills. I had about 50 or so of them, all different types, all different shapes, all bright white. Some of them piled up and over each other, some of them stuck to the sweaty skin of my hand, some nestled into the crevices of my cupped palm. But they were all there. I didn't count how many were in my hand, but it was enough. 

I had my back against the side of the bathtub, I could feel the cold tile through the seat of my pajama pants. My newborn son slept soundly in his bassinet on the other side of the bathroom door - he was snuggled in tightly with a new baby blanket. I had bought it not long ago, knowing it would be a bit colder at night next to the glass of the bedroom window. 

I believed all the lies that depression was whispering violently in my ears - it's better this way. I'm a burden on everyone around me. Rowan was better off with a different mother, one who could handle it. Erik wouldn't have to deal with his crazy wife anymore. 

I believed every single one of those things. Because that's what depression does - it corners you at times when you are most vulnerable, it waits until you're alone with nothing but your own thoughts and it is merciless in its attack on you. It locks you up in the dark and makes sure you can't see the light. 

Depression is a clinically-diagnosed mental illness. It's also a relentless and evil sonofabitch. It's not selfish to struggle with depression. It's not a lack of understanding about God and his creation. It's not something to be ashamed of. 

Call it what you want - God's grace, luck, fate - but when I was sitting on the tile in my bathroom almost 5 years ago, I saw just a small sliver of light. Just enough to make me take a breath and look at the pills in my hand. It was enough for me to drop them and watch them scatter all over the cold floor. I still don't know what it was that opened my eyes and mind that night, but it was enough for me to not go through with swallowing them all. 

But, there are so many people, like the brilliant Robin Williams this week, who aren't granted that little sliver of light. The darkness enveloped them so tightly, the only way out was death. The only release was the loss of life altogether. The pain was too much, too unrelenting, too dark. When all you can see is complete and utter despair, there is no choosing. There's only one choice: Make it stop by whatever means necessary. And, like so many have seen, heard, witnessed and testified, when you've been swallowed into the vortex of depression for years and there's never been a relenting, there's never been a letting up of the pain? There's only one option. 

Those who don't struggle with depression, who don't feel the ongoing darkness, or even those who struggle with depression yet still get the occasional bursts of joy or light, they try to understand and make sense of it. Label it as selfish and the easy way out. Call the suicidal "cowards." But that's not the mind of a person in the grips of unrelenting darkness. When depression corners you like that, it makes you believe that suicide is joy. Suicide is relief. And in some instances, it makes you think that suicide is a blessing or a gift to others. It can feel like the brave and noble thing to do. 

Like I said, depression is evil. 

But there's another kind of evil lurking around the halls of the depressed, and it's the belief that those who are stricken with depression (or any mental illness) are suffering because of their lack of faith in Jesus. "If only you'd pray for more joy," people say. "If only you'd ask God to take the pain."  Or, "Is there unresolved sin in your life?" Or how about this one, "If you'd just meditate more on God's Word..." 

Folks, saying someone is depressed or suicidal because they aren't praying enough, are self-absorbed, sinful, or don't have a deep enough faith? It's abusive. And it needs to stop. Now. 

God does heal, absolutely He does. But sometimes, healing happens through good doctors, counselors, practitioners, and yes, medicine. God's grace can look like a sliver of light on the bathroom floor, but it can also look like a life-changing counseling session or the right combination of drugs to regulate your brain chemistry. 

Prayer and a deepening faith have helped many along the road to depression. But it doesn't always work out that way. It didn't for me. And you know what? That's okay. It doesn't make us any less of a Christian believer. It doesn't diminish our value in the eyes of God if we find His grace in our name printed on a pill bottle. 

And finally, as Christians, we should never be pointing our fingers at the hurting and calling them selfish.

Rather, we should be looking at them with our eyes wide open and saying, "I'm here. You're not alone. Let's get help, together."