By the time I plop myself on the couch with a cup of coffee in the mornings, trying to shake sleep from my head, my husband has already been up working for two hours. Often, he’s working on his real estate business, but recently he’s been developing his passion for photography. While I’m still trying to get Alexa to understand “snooze” through my mushy, morning mouth, he has been watching tutorials from top photographers, learning new techniques and gaining information about new equipment. I love that trait about him. Whatever he does, he gives it his best and he works hard, learning everything he can. This drive, discipline and work ethic has made it possible for him to support our family as self-employed for years. So, it should not have come as a surprise when he pursued this new hobby-turned-business with the same enthusiasm.
What I wasn’t prepared for was him trying his skills out on me as his early-morning model. Coffee mug in one hand, remote in the other, I was trying to muster up the energy to make it to the shower when I noticed that the whirring hum of the lens focusing seemed very near. Just then, half the room was lit with a flash that came from over my shoulder. As he repositioned himself in front of me, I met the lens with a look that said all the things: “Why would you do that now? My hair! My face! My ratty t-shirt! No warning so I can try to hide at least one of my chins?”
His response to my glare of indignation? “I’m just working on depth of field. It’s not about photos of you.” Ouch! It wasn’t about me and all my insecurities that become multiplied when a camera is in my face. It was about him practicing his craft. He needed a real person to see how the light reflects off a face, to see how shadows fall. He could use me for that despite how unpresentable I felt.
Since my early morning debut, I’ve become accustomed to flashes, clicks and tripods aimed at me at any given time. I no longer worry about how I look. I let him practice; I let him learn. I allow myself to be seen in a vulnerable state, frozen in all my glory, for the sake of him getting better at what he loves to do.
This realization led me to think about what other ways I’ve been unwilling to serve others because I was too concerned about how I would look. How many times did I refuse to be real with someone in the interest of preserving my appearance? When have I missed the opportunity for someone to confide in me about their struggles because I was too prideful to admit I shared the same struggle?
God doesn’t care about using our camera-ready selves. We can save our filtered, got-it-all-together selves for social media. He wants to use the parts of us that are real and raw; the parts that have struggled through some messy things in life. These are the parts that He can use to help those that come into our paths. It is in our vunerable moments, when we allow ourselves to be seen as we really are for the sake of someone else, that God’s light reflects off of us in the brightest way.
Do you ever wish our minds worked like an Etch A Sketch? That we could just shake our heads and empty out any thoughts or memories that we’d like to erase. Those negative thoughts that play on a loop in our heads would be gone for good. Whether the words were said to us or we formed the thoughts ourselves, they pick away at our confidence, causing us to compare ourselves to others. When we don’t measure up, the comparison game leaves us in a state of “not enoughness.” Not thin enough, not educated enough, not attractive enough, not wealthy enough, our house is not big enough, our clothes aren’t fashionable enough. We’ll never accomplish that goal because we’re not disciplined enough or talented enough. And yep, we even do it in church: I’m not as good of a Christian as she is or I’ll never be blessed like they are.
Now more than ever, it’s difficult to hit pause on that loop because of the endless feed on social media. Constant reminders of what we don’t have or who we are not are, literally, in our faces all day long. That makes it easy for those thoughts to settle in and take up residence. We may be able to forget them for a while, but, when we encounter that thing, whatever it is we feel like we’re lacking, and it connects to that vulnerable part of us, the regret, envy, shame and grief make it difficult to see anything but the deficit. Like tenants who haven’t been paying the rent, these thoughts are taking up space and not contributing anything positive, but we’ve continued to let them stay. It’s time to give them an eviction notice. But, shaking our heads like an Etch A Sketch isn’t going to make it happen. Our minds will continue down the same path, thinking the same thoughts, until we intentionally make a turn.
Just like any other bad habit, when we resolve to quit it, we need to replace it, or our minds will be tempted to continue down that familiar road. We have to discipline our eyes and our minds to focus on and be thankful for what we do have, who we are, but most importantly whose we are. Careful, though, not to comfort ourselves with thoughts of, “Well, at least my car is nicer than there’s.” Or, “I’m thankful my children aren’t living like hers.” The comparison game is always a lose/lose situation. As long as we are measuring ourselves with the ruler of others, we will never know our true worth. We will never get to experience the unique life and purpose God has for us. It takes effort; it takes going against the norms of the world and renewing our minds on a daily basis. Paul had great advice to the church at Philippi: “ 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. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Phil 4:8-9. Notice that he said, "put it into practice." He didn't say, "Do this once and like magic, your problem is solved." It's a change in our thought processes that will take time. Part of the process may involve eliminating or least limiting exposure to those things that we know trigger these feelings. I have to limit my intake of magazines and HGTV at times because I can find myself deep in house envy. A break from, or limited access to, social media can give us a breather from everyone else's highlight reels. will give you brAnd, if you feel like you need a mental health professional to help you deal with feelings of shame, unworthiness or depression, don't let anyone shame you into not seeking that help. If we can identify our triggers and be prepared Below are some additional verses and quotes that may be helpful to remember when we begin to slip into the comparison game:
“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Phil 4:12-13
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” Teddy Roosevelt
“Delight yourselves in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Eleanor Roosevelt
“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” Isaiah 26:3
It’s March and I'm hoping I'm not the only one who cannot find their guide to the declutter challenge started in January. I feel confident it's on the bed in the spare room. I'm sure it was tossed there along with some junk mail and displaced craft supplies in a flurry of tidying up for guests. I could get to it if I had to. As soon as I moved the boxes that haven't made it to Goodwill and that bag of yarn for that afghan I haven't finished yet. Those rooms that we can close the doors to, make tidying up in a pinch easy; baskets of laundry to the bedroom, clear the tables, clear the counters, no time to find a home for the items? Toss them in a room and threaten my family with death or dismemberment if they open that door. The guests see organized beauty; no clutter, no junk. They go home oblivious to the turmoil awaiting me when it's time to find that bill that was on the counter in that pile of mail.
I started the challenge off strong. The bedroom closet was the first area of attack. Once my rational self, convinced my hopeful self that 25- year-old "baby weight" wasn't likely to come off any time soon, I was able to purge two trash bags full of clothes. I was motivated and energized by the accomplishment of having an organized closet with plenty of room and items easy to find. The bathrooms were easy; after all, most of the items told me if they were trash or not by their expiration dates. (Cold and flu season of 2012 must have been a rough one.)
The kitchen was next on the agenda and a little more difficult. I have a strong affinity for dishes, coffee mugs and water bottles, but I purged on anyway. When I got discouraged, I'd watch an episode of Hoarders or Tidying Up with Marie Kondo and return to fill another box for Goodwill. By the end of cabinet day, I was thrilled that storage containers no longer fell out on my feet and my favorite coffee mugs were in reach.
Then it was time for the drawers. I have seven drawers in my kitchen. How could so much stuff fit in seven drawers? Dealing with the minutia was going to be time consuming, frustrating and boring. Bread ties, birthday candles, take out menus, old refrigerator magnets and baby spoons. What am I to do with the baby spoons that have been in that back section of the silverware organizer for over 20 years? I know, they should be safely tucked away in some beautiful baby box. That box does exist. If I could find exactly where it is in the storage unit, it likely would take a grappling hook and harness to scale past Christmas trees, old year books and sleeping bags to reach it. I thought about skipping the drawers. Their organization wasn’t that important to the functioning of the house. Sure, sometimes I get agitated digging around trying to find something or get really frustrated when a drawer won’t shut because something is hung up in the back. I wanted to just close the drawers and go about my day, forgetting about the hidden mess.
I’ve done that with my mind and my heart. There have been issues that I thought were just too difficult to deal with, things that should remain secret, things I was ashamed of. I kept my living room face on for everyone else and the drawers shut, but I had to live in the overwhelming mess. I kept shoving more in and closing the door, but eventually, my heart’s junk couldn’t be contained and spilled out as anger and depression.
The thing is, we can’t hide those messes from God, nor does He want us to. He doesn’t care about our living room faces, He sees right through them. He wants us to come to Him with our mess. His love is not dependent on how well we can keep it together. His strength shows in our weakness. That’s where He works. In fact, God loves a mess more than Marie Kondo. And just like Marie Kondo can’t teach you how to fold your pants vertically unless you invite her in, God can’t tidy up your heart unless you ask Him into your mess. You don’t have to be embarrassed, He knows about all our messy parts. Pour out your junk drawers, cry out to him about those hurts, behaviors, habits or even people you can’t seem to purge from your life, but know that you should. Let Him stand in that spare room with you. He knows you are overwhelmed and that you don’t know where to start. Just ask Him and He will lovingly and gently take you on a declutter journey of the heart where you will find unbelievable freedom.
I agree with all the adjectives I've read and heard in the recent weeks about late-term abortion. It's horrific, it's sickening, it's sad. But those are the same words that come to my mind about my abortion. I chose to abort my baby at six weeks. Honestly, I wanted to do it sooner. I wanted to get it over with; clean up this mistake and forget about it. I had to wait, though, the clinic told me. I needed to be at least six weeks along, the nice receptionist had told me on the phone. I didn't ask why at the time but years later I found out. At six weeks the parts of the baby's body are big enough to distinguish. All the pieces can be accounted for to ensure the entire baby was removed. A gut wrenching discovery after I had been told by multiple medical professionals, that my baby was nothing more than a blob of tissue. But, sadly, I don't believe that information would have changed my mind at the time. I'm not sure what would have changed my mind at the time. My young, college self used the blob defense to rationalize that it was okay. This seemingly quick solution blinded me to the years of sorrow and shame ahead.
Will women who have a late-term abortion have any more sorrow? Will their pain be multipled by the number of weeks they carry their child? Perhaps. They may be haunted by memories of kicks and floating baby flips in their bellies. They may remember feeling the baby hiccups that kept them awake at night. They may be saddled with memories that those of us who "got it over with" do not contend with. But are they any more wrong? Any more guilty? While it may seem worse, uglier, more barbaric, we have both ended lives. I wish we didn't live in a world where we discussed at what point is acceptable to take a life. I wish every young pregnant girl had a family that looked at her through the lens of grace. I wish that every handicapped baby could be born to parents who were mentally, emotionally and financially able to care for him. I wish we lived in communities where single moms were surrounded by support. Where people would reach and say, "you don't have to do this alone." I also wish that everyone who looked upon women who have had abortions with judgement and hatred knew the truly amazing grace of God. I've read posts declaring that anyone associated with late-term abortions, from politicians to doctors to mothers, will burn in hell. I'm fully aware that there are folks out there that feel the same way about me. Some have told me so. But the same merciful God, who so lovingly forgave me and lifted years of shame from me, can and will do the same for anyone who asks. There is nothing too big for His forgiveness; an abortion at six weeks, an abortion at nine months or a heart of bitterness and unforgiveness.
Wednesday was World Mental Health Day, a day to bring attention to mental illness and fight the social stigma attached to it. Thankfully, our country is becoming more open-minded on the topic. Michael Phelps is disclosing to the world his struggle with anxiety and depression and advertising an online option to traditional therapy. Earlier this year Harper’s Bazaar ran an article, “39 Celebrities Who Have Opened Up About Mental Illness.”
Unfortunately, the stigma is very much alive in many of our churches. Being spotted going into the psychologist’s office can land you on the prayer (gossip) chain quicker than the choir director behind you at the grocery store while you’re trying to buy a bottle of wine.
My depression first reared its head post-partum. I suffered two years knowing something was terribly wrong, but convinced that I could fix it. I was too ashamed to admit I needed help. Too proud to admit that I just couldn’t get myself together. I went to extremes to make sure everyone else only saw the wonderful version of me, even if that meant vacuuming at 4:00 am and never taking my baby to the sitter in her pajamas. When I hit my breaking point and sought help with counseling and medication, I was such a better mom; a better person all around. I was so relieved to know I no longer had to live that way.
A short time later I joined a Bible study group at church. The leader was an older, well-respected, long time member of the church. When the topic of depression came up, her response was, “If you are truly a Christian, you should never be depressed. You have no need for anti-depressants, you have Jesus.” (insert flushed face, wide eyed emoji here) So, I was no longer crying in the formula and screaming at laundry stains, but now Jesus didn’t love me nor my 20mg of sanity. With comments and attitudes like that, is it any wonder we put on our church masks on Sunday mornings. We end up keeping secrets; fearing we will be judged “not good enough” “not a real Christian” or even “demonic”. In addition to a biology lesson, my gray-haired, group leader matriarch of the church, needed to brush up on her theology. Bless her heart. It is our spirit that connects with God, not our brains. Our spirit is what God created to live eternally, not our bodies.
Misconceptions like these from ill-informed people who do not understand that our brains are organs, just like our lungs, hearts and kidneys, help to perpetuate the stigma surrounding mental illness. I fully believe that God can heal our bodies, but sometimes His answers are “no” or “not right now”. When that is the case, we seek treatment and medications. I doubt many of us would encourage our loved ones to stop taking their high blood pressure medication and tell them to “Just snap out of it, you don’t have any reason to have high blood pressure.”
People in our churches should be able to request prayer for depression, anxiety, or bi-polar disorder as easily as if it were a broken leg or a heart attack. It may take some education and a shift in thinking, but when we choose to love and support and not judge and whisper, then we will give others the freedom to take off their masks. The thing about masks is that once someone removes theirs, more start coming off. There is someone out there waiting to say, “Me too. I thought I was the only one.”
Monday is National Sanctity of Human Life Day. Celebrated on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, this day brings out strong emotions on both sides of the issue. This article isn’t about either side, but rather about women out there who, on this day, experience an intense reminder of the shame, regret and grief from an abortion.
Carla Edmisten lives in Ladysmith, VA with her family. She is a social worker, writer and speaker. Invite Carla to speak at your event, get more information here.