Life-Saving Routines

"Soap" by mimwickett
“Soap” by mimwickett

Living without routines can make life clumsy; but living without purpose can make life seem impossible. In my last post I wrote about how my lack of purpose and routine as a freshman in college brought me to the brink of suicide.

I’m so glad I have a different story now, eleven years later. That story is one of great purpose, and as many routines as life with a one-year-old will allow.

Because my life once lacked purpose, I love to remember my second year of teaching high school English—the year I found purpose, and the year I started observed the most important routine ever. (You can read more about that life-changing year in this post.)

In a nutshell, that year, my morning time with God saved my life. Amidst a backdrop of uncertainty unfolding with my family, I found purpose knowing that God still had a plan for me and for my family members. I couldn’t see the overall plan, but as I surrendered each day to him, I knew that it was enough to do what was in front of me. At that moment, the things within my control were teaching one-hundred high school students and developing my own character through Bible study and prayer. So I focused on excellence and consistency in those things. I had a wonderful school year, and found myself the most happy I had felt for years. And eventually, the stressful home situation resolved itself.

That year was my first memorable spiritual “peak,” and I’ve had many dips and bumps in the five years since. Life is always throwing us new realities, and these challenge our routines and often necessitate change (a new baby being a prime example.) That’s why it’s good to periodically re-examine our routines, assess what is and isn’t helping move us toward our goals, and change accordingly.

But what happens when life challenges routines that, for our best health, should never change?

Here are a few tips that could apply to not only new parents, but anyone in a schedule-upsetting situation.

Don’t Give Up

It’s an understatement to say that a baby complicates daily time with God—which I’ve argued is my life-saver. Same for daily showers. But that doesn’t mean we stop taking showers, right? Realize that showers, God times, and other important things may not be as frequent, long, or luxurious as they used to be. But don’t give up. If you can find five minutes to shower, you can find five minutes to talk to God and read a couple words.

Abbreviate Your Routine

If you have to shorten the time, so be it. Reading one Bible verse is better than reading none. Oftentimes I get more out of meditating on a single verse all day long than I get out of reading five chapters of the Bible in thirty minutes or an hour.

Move Your Routine to Another Time of Day

For months off and on, Sam woke at or before 5 a.m.—this after waking multiple times in the night. You can bet that a 4:30 Bible study wouldn’t result in much holiness. So when we went through those spurts, I moved my worship time to right before my bedtime—and I moved my bedtime earlier, too. If it doesn’t work to meet with God in the morning, find a time that does.

Don’t Confuse Routines with Schedules

Be careful not to confuse a schedule with a routine. Schedules tie activities to exact times and days. Routines have to do with the order in which you do things; but exact times can change if needed. For a mother of young children, a routine is an achievable goal, but a schedule may not be. If you’re in a season where life is predictably unpredictable, forget schedules; they will set you up for disappointment. But do establish some routines.

For the time being, Sam takes a pretty reliable two naps a day: one in the morning, one in the afternoon. The naptimes change based on when he wakes up for the day, so instead of planning to write at 10 a.m., or to prep supper at 2 p.m., I plan to write “during Sam’s morning nap,” and cook “during his afternoon nap.”

I don’t always accomplish what I hope to in a day, but I can relax knowing I made some progress toward my goals. If a daily worship is all I manage to get done, then that’s okay too, because I can honestly tell God I kept first things first. God tells me that if I seek him first, all my other needs (I include writing for my sanity in that list) will be added to me. Sooner or later. Either today’s nap or tomorrow’s, or next Tuesday’s.

Now, as soon as I post this, Sam will probably change his habits again. And I will have to adapt again, too. That’s the life of a mother. Can you tell how counterintuitive this is to me? I don’t like having to adapt all the time, but I didn’t like having to suffer depression and other bad things, either.

One thing I do know about struggles: they make us grow. We do best when we don’t resist being stretched; if we resist, we might break. If we can stretch a little along with our circumstances—adapting our routines as needed to fit our core purpose to glorify God—we recover faster, and can thrive sooner.

What routines have saved your life?

Why People Need Plans

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“Future” by graur razvan ionut

I believe humans thrive on patterns and plans, because we were created for them. When we don’t plan how to spend our time, we open a door for Satan to run amuck in our lives. Like when I went off to college, failed to implement a study schedule, and found myself floundering in all areas of life. (More on that in a minute.)

The Bible says God is not a God of disorder, but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33).

He created a six-day workweek and commanded us to rest on the seventh day (Gen. 2:2, 3; Ex. 20:8-11). Through the example of Jesus, God showed us that it is good to start our day with solitude and prayer (Mark 1:35). Proverbs gives us many principles about using our time wisely, including these:

“Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty”  (14:23, NLT).

[A wife of noble character] “works with eager hands,” “gets up while it is still night,” “provides food for her family,” “sets about her work vigorously,” and “does not eat the bread of idleness” (31:15, NIV).

Indeed, one of the most important lessons we can learn in life, and teach our children, is to use our time wisely.

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12).

Here’s a personal example that shows the dire effects of not having a plan in place.

College Flop

For years before I got to college my home life was falling apart, yet I was able to hold myself together enough to maintain straight A’s and participate in sports, music, and drama. The rhythm of high school and a part-time job and scheduled activities gave me predictability, a pattern to follow. They gave me something to count on when everything else was up in the air.

But when I was loosed on the college scene, with huge chunks of free time gaping at me each day, I fell apart. I needed to set up a study routine, and times to practice my music each day (I was pursuing piano at the time), but instead I found myself sleeping away my afternoons. It didn’t help that I was recently off depression meds.

Before three months of my freshman year had elapsed, I dropped out, suicidal. Now, having routines and schedules may not have fixed my depression, but I think they could have kept me from the drastic actions I took.

The Need for Routines

flylady“Fly Lady” and organizational expert Marla Cilley maintains that routines are lifelines. Before she got super organized, she suffered depression and rock bottom self-esteem.

Now she encourages other women to get up and put on shoes every morning, get dressed, and put makeup on or whatever you do to get ready. Doing these simple actions start your day with intention. Then she gives ideas for routines to houseclean a little every day until it becomes second nature. One of her readers gave a testimonial to this effect (I’m paraphrasing to the best of my memory, as I’ve returned Cilley’s book to my friend):

After my hubby died I wouldn’t have known what to do with myself if I hadn’t had my cleaning routines in place. They gave me something to do. They gave me purpose in my day.

Purpose is key. Setting routines forces us to define a purpose–no matter how lofty or low. It’s possible to have “routines” that don’t buoy us in the long run—TV time, drinking—but those are addictions, not routines, because they control us, we don’t control them.

College Comeback

Flash forward a few years to my third try at college. I was married now, and we lived in married student housing, and my hubby worked nights. I was still covertly battling depression, but the stability of being married to a working man who very much likes his routines finally helped me implement some routines of my own.

My days had structure once again. When I was not in class, I was at work, cashiering or stocking shelves at a nutrition center. In the evenings Buc was gone, so I studied. I had little time for much else. To be sure, I didn’t really have hobbies at that time, and I didn’t really want them. I didn’t enjoy my life then, but I was feeling some stability. And that stability is largely what kept me from self-harm.

This was a better way to live, but still not a good way to live. With those routines during that period, I can truthfully say my purpose was to keep so busy I wouldn’t have time to be actively depressed, or rather, to act on my depression.

The Need for Purpose

Routines with a dismal purpose like this can only last so long. Humans need a better ultimate purpose than “to stay alive because I’m supposed to.” That purpose is to give glory to God.

But it takes time to get there. My journey to this point was slow and painful. It wouldn’t be until two years after completing my college degree that I would actually claim the purpose of glorifying God in my life. And then I would actually take joy in my days. My purpose would become not just to survive the day, but to thrive so that others might see something in me that pointed them to God.

As I wrote my memoir in 2012 and 2013, I had the insight that God gave me stability in my early twenties so I could learn to trust him again. Through the writing of that project, I realized that sometimes it takes having your physical needs met, and perhaps one person you are safe with (for me, my hubby), to free your mind of some temporal concerns so you can seek God.

When we come to that point, or when God enters our lives in a significant way, it’s time to set new routines: routines that are even more life-giving than basic routines that merely keep us moving.

I’ll write more about that in my next post.

Is There Such Thing as Too Honest?

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freedigitalphotos.net

Most people agree that “Honesty is the best policy.” But as a writer and ministry leader who has made honesty her central message and MO, I wonder if it’s possible to sometimes be “too honest.” Not a few times as I’ve posted unflattering, embarrassing, content, I’ve wondered: am I hurting my influence by being so raw and real? After people read this, will they still look up to me?

I’ve found that honesty, at the level I go, can be hard to find in Christian writers, teachers, and leaders. Many I’ve observed in this group like to use honest illustrations and anecdotes…of other people’s struggles. Or, if the stories are first-person, they tend to remain on a safe, surface level. I once read an article by a Christian who used the analogy of scrubbing her floor to illustrate the filthiness in her heart. But she made no mention of what, exactly, was in her heart. “Scrubbing my dirty floor made me think of how God has to scrub my heart clean of sin. I thought, how much better if I kept it clean daily, instead of letting it all pile up?”

Illustrations of the gospel like this one don’t resonate with me. It’s not that they’re bad or untrue, it’s just that they’re so general, so vague so b-o-o-o-o-ring. Worst of all, illustrations like these are generally unhelpful when it comes to making real changes to behavior.

At the risk of assuming other humans think like I do, I would submit that humans long for authenticity. Especially when we’re talking about faith. If our sources of inspiration don’t hit close to home, addressing real issues we battle daily, they will be perceived as impotent, laughable, and even painful (because they minimize our struggles)—and they will be quickly abandoned.

That’s why I chose to be vulnerable in the memoir I wrote about discovering my new life in Christ.

It’s why I choose to be vulnerable almost every time I post on this blog.

I believe people are hungry for other people to relate to them—to say “I’ve been there, too. Look how screwed up I used to be, and how I still struggle sometimes. And yet, look what God was able to do with that mess!” I believe messages like this bring hope.

But what if I’m wrong? What if messages like this do the opposite? What if brutal honesty breeds distrust in God and disaffection for his “honest, messed-up followers?”

When leaders decide to be honest, this is a very real risk we take—the risk of our followers unsubscribing because we are not perfect.

I am willing to take this risk, not only for the reasons I listed above, but because a genuine Christian faith should not hinge on the words and deeds of any human being. (In other words, no one’s faith should hinge on me.) It should hinge on the person and words of Christ.

When Leaders Disappoint

A few years ago I was deeply disappointed when I learned that one of my spiritual heroes, Leo Schreven, committed suicide. Honestly, I felt betrayed and somewhat deceived by this man who previously appeared to “have it all together.” But I was able to weather this bad news by clinging to the truth that God is not, and never will be, totally represented by those claiming to be his followers. When we see good in Christians, that is from God. But when we see bad, that is from the enemy. We can’t lay every quality at Christ’s doorstep, because not every quality is from him.

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I had the privilege of meeting Leo Schreven in 2010 when he conducted a seminar at my church. My husband (left) had met him many years before and introduced me to Leo’s preaching through a set of seminar tapes that made me eager to meet him.

One quality I do believe is of God is the quality of honestly engaging our struggles as we seek His healing. I think I would have still respected my deceased spiritual hero if, in life, he had openly admitted his struggles. Perhaps I would have respected him even more for choosing bravery, rather than bravado—even though his brave sharing would have painted him as a fallible, sinful, wounded human being.

I have to add something here, to be fair. A family member of Leo Schreven’s contacted me after reading my blog post about Leo’s suicide, to tell me that my “hero” had struggled with psychological problems the public knew nothing about. This family member wanted me to have a fair, truthful view of Leo. The truth included mental illness, and as a former sufferer of mental illness, I empathized with that. I understood that I had put Leo on a pedestal. I also understood that his mental state may have precluded him from the type of honesty to which I am calling spiritual leaders.

Given the state of Leo’s mental health, it’s actually amazing that he enjoyed the long and successful career as evangelist and motivational speaker that he did. I have had similar thoughts, of course, about the late Robin Williams. Leo and Robin show us that there are exceptions to the standard of honesty I am putting forth. The exception applies to those who are not able to help themselves, or not able to let God help them, because of mental illness, or a genuine medical problem. Maybe they keep up the façade for the public for awhile, but in the end, we find out they are not the leaders we wished them to be. But then again, no one in whom we place our trust is immune to struggles, and to sin.

The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, so we know every person, Christian or non, ministry leader or not, has a mix of good and bad.

No matter what we know to be true about our leaders, hopefully we can sift the good from the bad, and remember and respect them for their good qualities. Hopefully we can go on learning from them, no matter what their lives reveal. Sometimes we may observe the right course, other times the non-example. As long as we are looking up to human beings, we should expect both. And if we are the ones being looked up to, we must trust Christ to be the one shining example our audiences need; we must be okay with being imperfect representations of him.

That said, I believe that we in positions of trust—ministry leaders, Christian writers, etc.—should do our best to represent Christ, and this includes being honest about how God is working in our lives and transforming our sinful patterns. We should also be honest about “wilderness” times,  times when we struggle with our faith…but we should do it wisely.

Guidelines for Christian Leaders

Here are two guidelines I’ve found helpful in my own writing and ministry that can help Christian leaders determine when, where, and how much to share.

freedigitalphotos.net
freedigitalphotos.net

1) First, we should consider timing. You can read various sins and struggles of mine on this blog that occurred at various stages in my life. I blog about problems long past and problems of last week.

The safer type of post is the one about problems past. These problems are ones I have likely had victory over. They are problems that have yielded personal lessons I can use to teach others. These types of posts, and this type of sharing, should be an absolute “yes” for all ministry leaders. Why wouldn’t we use our stories of redemption as teaching tools? What better examples of the gospel could we present than the ones that have played out in our own lives?

The murky area is problems of the present. How much should Christian leaders share about present problems? Here, we have to be wise about audience.

2) Audience is the second consideration. Consider who will be reading or hearing your message. If you are a preacher and it is your job to inspire hope, then it may not be the best time to insert a struggle that you do not have victory over, or at least cannot yet talk about in a positive way.

Sure, there are times when you are on the upside of a struggle—you can see the end in sight, and you are pressing through for victory. That might be material for an inspiring message, and if you are comfortable exposing that yet-unresolved pain, go ahead.

But other times, pain and sin is too raw to project to a large, or public, audience. That’s when you need a small, confidential audience. I’m talking a few trusted friends or advisors who can help talk and pray you through your problems. When you have worked through those problems, then they may become appropriate large-group material. But don’t rush it. Getting outside voices mixed up in your current personal problems could hurt the healing process, and you need to get healthy first so you can go back to being your motivational self.

One caveat for leaders working through personal problems: if your challenge handicaps your ability to do ministry, whether because the emotions involved take too much energy, or because a sin you are fighting “disqualifies” you to be a role model at the time, then it’s probably the right time to step out of ministry, at least for awhile. In the case of Leo Schreven, I would have much preferred hearing the news that he had stepped out of leadership for awhile to tackle some personal problems to hearing that he had committed suicide. We are ultimately the most helpful to others when we get the help we need, first.

On This Blog, What You See Is What You Get

To apply my guidelines to myself, I routinely post about my current struggles, but many times I have chosen to remain silent until I have prayed over them and exposed them to Scripture and the wisdom and counsel of a few trusted others. By the time I post on an issue, I want it to be, if not totally resolved, at least on the path to resolution. I want others to look up to me, yes, but I am happy to admit that sometimes the best example I can give is: “Look, I’m broken here, but I’m looking to Christ. And if you feel the same way, you need to do the same.”

By posting my struggles, past or present, I risk losing my readers’ respect, but I also keep myself accountable to Christ for resolution. I put a problem out there (such as my sleep-deprived, desperate, witchy state), and I say, “Okay, this is the mess this sinful world, or sinful me, has created today. But now, how am I going to find Christ in the middle of it?” My mission is to find out how Christ will come through for me, and then to share my victory with my readers.

Indeed, if “Superwoman Christian” is the role model you want, look somewhere else. Because on this blog you’ll just encounter a broken girl trying to depend on Christ, and trying to work out her faith, in all things big and little. After all, as so many examples in the Bible show (Kind David and the 51st Psalm come right to mind), a Christian leader worth listening to is not someone who claims to be above sins and struggles, but someone who fully admits their weaknesses; has learned how to let Christ lead in the hard times; and can discern which, of all their life experiences, will be helpful for lifting others up.

My Ugly, Messy Rebirth Story, Part 3

Photo Credit: "Despair" by Lusi
Photo Credit: “Despair” by Lusi

Read Part 1   Read Part 2

After my family broke up and I stopped going to church, I slipped in and out of depression—sometimes of suicidal proportions. I also started looking for love in all the wrong places. This is where those boyfriends I’m not proud of come in. This period escalated to its worst point the fall after my high school graduation, when I found myself unable to cope with the new structures of college–along with the painful breakups that came with those boys–and promptly made a plan to drop out and kill myself.

The Failed Religious Retreat

In a last-ditch effort to stop the self-harming thoughts that were overwhelming me every day, I accepted an invitation from some upper class Christians to attend a non-denominational weekend revival. Willing to try anything at this point, I even did the suggested three-day fast before the retreat.

But instead of uplifting me, the retreat left me more despondent than ever.

Photo Credit: stuffofwonder.com
Photo Credit: “Worship” at stuffofwonder.com

Here I was, sitting suicidal, in a crowd of Christians with upraised hands who were thanking Jesus for all he had done for them. The speakers were claiming some Bible truths about how God sets us free, how he overturns the lies Satan tells us—lies such as I’m no good; God can’t forgive me; my family has always had a history of mental illness, therefore I will suffer mental illness too, etc. But though I identified with many of the “lies,” I could not denounce them in my life, because they had been truths to me for so long. Whereas these people around me seemed to have come out on the other side of their pain and were now thriving, I was still swimming in it, and I didn’t see a way out. Unfortunately, the speakers didn’t provide one, except to say that Jesus had already set me free.

Clearly, they didn’t know my story.

This was a different type of sermon than I’d been used to hearing growing up. It wasn’t all about doctrine or prophecy—the common fodder for sermons in my religion. It swung the other way: Jesus’ saving grace, Jesus’ free gift. All I had to do was “reach out and accept it,” they said.

Yeah, but how?

How could I do that when I had no goals, no plans, no hope—except for the hope of unconsciousness? And how in the world could one evening of singing, crying, and praying, erase a lifetime of negative thoughts, family dysfunction, and impotent church experiences?

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Photo Credit: “Formal Letter Writing” at http://www.goodletterwriting.com

As college students all around me raised their voices in a frenzy of praise songs and hallelujahs, I became angrier and angrier, and more hopeless. The day I returned from the retreat was the day I drafted my suicide note.

Facing the Truth

I wrote that although I had always “called myself a Christian,” maybe I didn’t even know the real meaning of the word. For the first time in my life, I confronted God, cursing him for letting things get so bad, if he even existed. Finally I asked questions I had avoided my entire life: Where was Jesus in my pain? Where had he been when Mom left and Dad turned volcanic? When we’d found ourselves playing church, all the while imploding? When I’d spent so many nights writing and crying to no one but my journal? When I’d spent days hiding the truth about my “clean, Christian family”? And later, after my family dissolved, where was Jesus in my despair? For that matter, where had he been when the men I’d trusted with my heart betrayed me?

Photo Credit: "Cross--Christian Symbol" by Xmonau
Photo Credit: “Cross–Christian Symbol” by Xmonau

Being reminded that Jesus had died on the cross for my sins only seemed to mock the pain I felt at having been sinned against. So what? I wondered. What did Jesus’ death offer me now, in the moments of my suffering, when I couldn’t muster a reason or a will to live?

After witnessing once again how disconnected Jesus seemed from my life in the here and now, I knew what I had to do. Without a Savior for my suffering, I had no hope but to end it all.

In my memoir I describe at length what happened the night I tried to end it, how I failed, and the sorry state I found myself in four months later, during my discharge from the second of two mental hospitals. Here’s a paragraph from my memoir to sum up:

Now that my plans [for suicide]  had failed, I felt lost. Four months removed from the making those fervid plans, the numbness I felt was strangely akin to that which I’d felt while making them—only without the accompanying peace. After battling hopelessness for so long, there was a calm that came with knowing it would all end soon. But now, without that assurance that life was going to end, I didn’t know how to feel, or what to do, except to concentrate on the immediate steps in front of me.

This is the period where I moved into my own apartment, began hiding away from everyone except people I couldn’t avoid (like coworkers), and began my nasty habit of bulimia. There were nights I almost tried to end it again—I certainly thought about it enough—but the thought of hurting my family was usually the reason I mustered for staying around. I just figured I’d have to deal with the depression, or numb it, for the rest of my life. I resolved to live with the pain, doing whatever I had to do (overeat, cut, offer up my body if it meant not being lonely, write death wishes in my journal) to distract myself from it.

Turning Point?

During this time I was introduced to a nice Texas boy named Buc, who lived a whopping 1,000 miles away. And this is when I came back to church by default. Not to say God wasn’t leading, but that I didn’t really go back by choice.

A few months before I met Buc, I found myself occasionally back at church because my mom was attending again. Then, when my best friend, Samantha, introduced me to Buc and he was a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, and I moved to Texas within four months and we married within another two months, I naturally followed suit. (My memoir has the rest of the details of my move and marriage—the point here is my faith journey.)

If not for these “coincidences,” I’m not sure I would have returned to church.

Photo Credit: Billy.com
Photo Credit: Billy.com

So, I moved to Texas when I was twenty, my husband and I married, and I joined his church. No one there knew about me or my past. Within a few months, they knew about as much of me as my old church in Minnesota had known: that I could play the piano and I seemed to be a high achiever who could write. (At this point, my method of coping with depression became keeping myself so busy I couldn’t think. Hey, I figured it was better than putting a gun to my head.)

These new church members, like my former ones, didn’t know of my persistent depressive/bordering on suicidal thoughts, or my bulimia. Again, plastic smiles became my shield at church. But again, the hypocrisy of it all started to bother me. As a self-professed Christian, I knew something wasn’t quite right. I felt my life should be different from how it was somehow.  So I started doing the only things I knew to do:

I began reading my Bible sometimes, and other religious books. My journal turned into a prayer journal. But oh! When I read back over the prayers! How defeated, how negative! I didn’t realize that true conversion, true Christianity, was not just about directing my words to God (whatever they may be) and logging some Bible time each day. Somehow I’d picked up the idea (at church?) that this was all Christianity was: You have to read some Bible every day, and you have to go to church. You have to take church offices. You really should pray, too, but heck if I knew how. Yes, I was looking for a change in my life, but I’m not sure I was looking for a real spiritual rebirth—an inner re-creation, or makeover—because I just didn’t know this kind of thing was possible.

I was in the church trying my best to be a Christian. But while my fellow church members were telling me what a blessing I was, how glad they were to have me, what a good girl I was—they had no idea how bad I really was on the inside. Of course, it wasn’t the “plotting evil” or “planning sin” kind of bad. Rather, my “badness” was the depressed, forlorn, hopeless, heartsick kind. Mine was not a born-again existence. This was survival mode existence. What would it take for me to finally fall on my knees and give God all my pain and hurt and heartsickness? What would it take for me to finally find that “new life,” or that “rebirth,” the Bible promises? The answer begins in part 4.

Read Part 1   Read Part 2

On Teenage Suicide

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I was sitting in Mcdonald’s typing up one of my typically self-centered posts when the news hit: “Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old high school student…[and that victim of gang rape a year and a half ago], was taken off life support on Sunday, three days after she tried to hang herself.”

I tried to go through with my post, my selfish, solipsistic post about the insecurities of this past teenage girl (myself), but I just couldn’t. Not without acknowledging the tragedy.

Suddenly, my “Confessions of a 28-Year-Old Pimple-Face” couldn’t hold a candle to what I was imagining this poor girl had gone through: being gang-raped, then “blamed, shunned, and harassed by everyone,” to the point of death.

What were my puny pimples, compared to this?

And yet, once upon a teenage time, I, too, tried to commit suicide.

Though it seems almost vulgar to compare my story to hers, I’d like to…if only to throw into relief how little it takes for a girl to doubt her worth, to doubt her life, to consider ending it. And so, despite myself, I give you [a modified version of]…

Confessions of a 28-Year-Old Pimple-Face

No matter how much older and wiser I get, it seems I can’t quite move past certain childhood insecurities. These days especially, the fact that I’m a twenty-eight-year-old with recurring acne much disheartens me.

Thankfully, I don’t go through life with this “ugly complex” always on my mind—not like I used to. But as a teenager, I remember living with perpetual horror at the thought that I was un-pretty, and unworthy.

I remember it really starting at age fourteen. Somehow I got the idea that my stomach was just gross—incidentally, that was right around the time I had to start undressing in public. You know what I’m talking about. It’s that age-old trope about the locker room.

Kids historically have feigned all manner of sickness, inventing a bevy of excuses, to escape that locker room reckoning.

But I never wasted my excuses on a mere class period. I saved those for entire days when the insecurity, or the depression got too bad. Plus, I was in sports all school year, so I had to get used to it. I mean, I got used to dressing in the locker room with the other girls. But I never got used to how bad it made me feel about myself.

That year, as a fourteen-year-old eighth grader, I had my mom order a book for me, Karen Amen’s The Crunch. And every night I would close my bedroom door, don a sports bra sans shirt, and do those crunches—in hopes, I guess, of watching my stomach shrink before my very eyes. I even kept a log to track my progress. But I remember being very guarded about it.

No one but my mom knew that I had embarked on this program toward self-improvement. I didn’t let my dad or brother see me doing it, didn’t tell my friends. Only let my mom come into my room sometimes and see me in the sports bra, as I pointed in disgust at my stomach and lamented how freakish I was in comparison to other girls. I remember mom looking at me with sad eyes, just listening. Soon after, Mom left us. And I started taking antidepressants. (But I’m greatly compressing, of course.)

The thing is, adolescence is confusing enough without having to undress in front of others. Without having to contend with a parent’s abandonment. Or without having a boy shame you (much less four). All these things, which partly account for my first suicide attempt, are terrifying to a teen.

But having to go through what Rehtaeh did? Having my pain and my shame and my body and my insecurity swirled onto the World Wide Web for all to see? Unthinkable.

The Mirage of Hollywood

I can’t say for certain that the teenage years are worse for girls than for boys, but I feel I could make a strong case for the former. What do I know, though?

I do know there’s this extreme cultural pressure imposed on girls to be pretty, sexy, skinny. And while being all of this, girls are also supposed to be chaste—to be better sexually behaved than boys. And even though I’ve gained considerable perspective on all the media’s BS about what constitutes true beauty for a woman—and even though I don’t base my self-worth on my looks or my bra size like I used to—sometimes I still get taken in. Sometimes, when surrounded by bikini clad beauties whose clear skin and shapely bodies I will never rival, sometimes, for a little while, I feel like I hate my body, hate my face, hate  myself.

Even well past adolescence, I don’t need anyone else’s voice but my own to tell me I am unworthy, I am ugly, I am disgusting.

Rehtaeh, although a victim of gang rape, was called a whore by her classmates, by her friends, (by the media?).

Fortunately for me, because I have twelve years on Rehtaeh, and the benefit of no viral pictures or videos to condemn me, I can take a step back and re-see the whole picture. I can remember that this isn’t reality—this is a mirage of advertising and Hollywood and Satanic lies about what I have to do and how I have to look and how I have to be—to be worth anything. And as I make this reflective, redeeming remove, I can see clearly again.

But Rehtaeh never will.

A Devilish Game

Ladies, why are we continuously taken in?

Why do some girls get up at the crack of dawn to make themselves up? (One of my high school students proudly flaunted this fact.)

Why do others spend every spare moment in front of the mirror? (This describes many other students I had.)

Why do yet others become bulimic, depressed, and suicidal? (Yep, that was me.)

And why do innocent girls like Rehtaeh so easily become martyrs to rapists, to the media, to the devil?

We may not think we are playing the devil’s game, but all of us—whether we find ourselves fretting over pimples or starring in child porn—are.

It can’t be God’s will for women to worry and strive, to be attacked with lies, and to never feel pretty enough, never feel good enough.

It might be different if we felt it were a matter of choice not to go to all the trouble, not to spend an hour on the makeup, not to log our ridiculous repertoire of crunches, not to go along with any old man or boy, just because he’s offered—or if we just elected to do these things once in awhile. But I know ladies who won’t leave home without an hour’s prepping. I know women who can’t escape abusive relationships no matter what they say. And I know of a teen girl who will never, ever be able to get back her life—because the rumors, the bullying, the façade that life was over, was just too real.

Nearing the age of thirty, it’s funny to me that I’ve overcome, or am near overcoming, so many childhood demons—depression, fear of having children—but what still gets me on a regular basis is that little-girl insecurity about my looks, whether my adult acne; my below average bra size; my frizzy hair; or my thunder thighs.

After today’s news, these insecurities seemed almost too mundane to mention. But they’re not, of course, because they are outward fruits of the same hidden roots, lies, that so many women and teenage girls struggle with. And though it’s not the worst root some of us will contend with, I don’t want to leave it unchecked so that it continues to degrade us, to degrade me—and younger versions of me—forever. It has done destruction enough.

Rest in peace, Rehtaeh.

My Role Model Committed Suicide

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(This photo belongs to Jay Tilston and can be found here.)

She wasn’t exactly my role model, but Mindy Mccready’s suicide yesterday got me thinking about an actual role model of mine who did recently kill himself. I’ve thought about writing about him many times since I heard the news in December, but until now, the pain was too fresh to face.

Mindy’s death came quickly and tragically for me, too; but it’s easier to write about her because I only remember her as a marginal figure in my youth. After her hit “Guys Do It All the Time,” which played on the radio during our school bus route in 1996, she kinda dropped off the radar for me. Aside from admiring her twangy statement against male chauvinism, I never counted her among my personal heroes.

Not like Leo Schreven.

A motivational speaker and evangelist, Leo was much lesser known than Mindy. At least in the secular world. But in both the secular and religious worlds, I’d have to say his impact was far greater than hers. That’s because Leo’s work was not just to entertain, but to inspire, even to save souls by leading them to Christ.

What I Learned from Leo Schreven

In 2009, a complex of factors brought me to my knees in search of divine intervention. Our family was in a state of crisis, I was beginning my second year of teaching, and I knew I couldn’t get through the stress of this time alone. As a result, I was open to God in a way I had never been open before. And He delivered.

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(This photo can be found here.)

Among the many ways God provided for my spiritual growth that year, He placed recordings of one of Leo’s Bible seminars within earshot. It was a twenty-plus-part seminar on Bible prophecy that also touched on how Christians should live in a secular world. The material moved me deeply, to the point that I changed a number of personal habits I’d had for years. Christianity was not about the weekly church visit, I learned that year, it is about the daily walk—and Leo had a huge hand in teaching me that.

In 2010, I was floored to learn that Leo would be coming to my church to present one of his newer seminars, this one called “All Power.” Unlike his previously Bible-based presentations, these were more secular, dealing with self-improvement in five areas of life (religion and spirituality being relegated to one-fifth of the seminar). Even though these presentations weren’t as “godly” as what I formerly remembered, I found this material helpful, too, so much so that I used it to build a series of lessons for my public school seniors the next fall.

Too Good to Be True?

As you can imagine, when I found out that Leo had committed suicide in December of 2012, I felt devastated. I also couldn’t help feeling a little betrayed. What had happened to his promise of finding “all power” in all the major areas of life? I didn’t want to be bitter, but I did feel bitter, especially because I felt Leo had let down not only me, but also my students.

More than feeling sorry for myself, though, I felt sorry for Leo’s wife and daughter. This was sure to sink the ministry, I thought, and it did. All Power Ministries folded just this month, with Leo’s poor widow announcing that it was just too much to maintain. The irony of the situation (motivational speaker commits suicide) was too obvious, or shameful, to receive comment.

As I thought back to Leo’s weekend-long seminar at my church, I remembered watching his energetic gait and mile-a-minute speech and thinking that his success seemed too good to be true…I remember hearing him rave about his vegan diet and how he only needed four hours of sleep per night…how he traveled for over two-thirds of the year to bring these life-giving principles to others…and the pace of his life seemed insupportable.

After his early days of evangelism in the nineties (which produced the audio recordings that partially led me back to God), He told us he, with his wife, had decided to place other priorities above family—just for a few years, so he could build up his ministry and his wealth (which he used for much good, I must say). And that was one of his recommendations in the All Power seminar: that you sacrifice some things now in order to set yourself up for success later. From what I understood, his plan was to build up his career and ministry first, then come back to his family life later.

But he never got the chance.

Leo died with millions of dollars, a thriving ministry, and what must have been thousands of followers (including yours truly). But, as it came out later, his wife had left him prior to the suicide, taking their daughter with them. His personal life was a shambles.

They had tried to work it out, his wife explained, but unbeknownst to the public, he had been suffering with a debilitating mental illness for many years, and finally, it got to be too much to bear. They urged Leo to get help, she said, but he would not.

Making Sense of Tragedy

What do you say when things like this happen? My husband and I mulled it over in shock for days. Leo seemed so happy, so healthy, when we’d last seen him. He seemed so in control and confident. He almost seemed larger than life.

But maybe that was the problem. I hate to speculate, but I can only imagine that the pressure of having to maintain an “all powerful” life must have been crushing. He must have felt the pressure that many Christians feel—although to a much greater extent—when others look to you to fill shoes you were never meant to fill—when you become a “God” figure for others.

I won’t fully understand what happened until I get to ask God in heaven, but in trying to understand my role model’s suicide, I have come to resolution in several ways.

  • Leo’s death reminds me that we should never put anyone in the place of God. We are all only humans—even the “best” of us—and we must remember that no accomplishments come from our own strength.
  • Though immediately I felt bitter that Leo had let me down, I eventually came to feel thankful for how the Lord had used him to bring me back to my true role model, Jesus Christ. Though it’s sad Leo won’t be able to convert any more hearts, I am thankful for the thousands of hearts that he did convert.
  • In the end, I just have to trust God’s wisdom and leading. He knows things we don’t, and although I don’t believe God caused this suicide, or Mindy Mccready’s, or anyone one else’s, I have to trust that He allowed it to happen. Though it won’t make it any easier for the survivors, I know that God works miracles through tragedies. Perhaps Leo’s death will be a call to other public figures, role models, and ministers to remember that only by the grace of God can they be successful, or remain that way.
  • Both Leo’s and Mindy’s deaths should spur the humility in us all. No matter how secure we seem, or even feel, we cannot be too confident in our own abilities. It is because of God that we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) and for no other reason. Once we forget that, becoming too prideful to admit we have problems or to seek the help we need, we are on Satan’s playground—and he will stop at nothing to destroy us (John 10:10).
  • Life is short and fleeting. What is your life? It is but a mist that appears for awhile and then disappears (James 4:14). Leo’s life and death reminds me that no matter how much good I intend to do (even in the name of the Lord), I can’t get so busy that I neglect my health or my family. I’ll take success more slowly if it means I get to keep my life, my health, and my family.
  • God has already used Leo’s death to teach me.

Though there is no easy way to end this post, I would like to close by offering my sincerest condolences to Leo’s family, to Mindy’s family, and to all families of suicide victims. I pray that the “God of all comfort” with become very real to you in these inscrutable times, smoothing over the unanswered questions until that day when He will make all things plain, letting us judge for ourselves the tragedies of this life (1 Cor. 6:3; Rev: 20:12).