Thursday, April 18, 2019

Hope in the Dark: Clinging to the Lord in the Midst of Trials

Guest post by Cailin Davis at Purposefully Portioned

When Trials Come

Trials are never enjoyable experiences. We all know that. 
But certain trials are worse than others.

Some trials are simply a source of irritation, such as discovering a flat tire or getting a leak in your roof. While others are a source of great pain, such as divorce, illness, or even death.

Minor trials do have a way of clouding our days and distracting us from our relationship with the Lord. But the major trials sometimes seem to block the out light completely.

It’s in the midst of the dark trials that God often seems absent at best and cruel at worst. And it’s underneath their consuming shadow that we often begin to question and doubt His love and goodness.

Maybe you’ve been there. I certainly have. I’ve questioned the Lord and doubted His love and goodness many times. I’ve labeled Him as cruel and ineffective. In painful darkness, I’ve lost hope in who God is. But through the years, the Lord in His infinite mercy has shown me how wrong I was.

We serve a God worthy of hoping in. And if you’re facing a trial that you just don’t understand today, I want to encourage you to keep hoping in the Lord.

Today, we’re going to take a look at God’s word and learn what it looks like to hope in the Lord and His purpose through the bleakest days and our darkest trials. But first, let’s talk a little bit more about trials and dig into this idea of hope.

Defining Trials

If you’ve been living on this earth for long, I’m sure the term trial is not one that is new or mysterious to you. But just for fun, I’ll go ahead and share a definition with you.
Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary lists several possible definitions of this term. But I’ll share the one that fits best with the topic of this discussion.
  Trial (noun)
  • Definition 4 : a test of faith, patience, or stamina through subjection to suffering or temptation
  • Or, broadly : a source of vexation of annoyance

Biblical Hope

Another term I’m sure you’re familiar with is hope. It’s not an uncommon word by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, it’s one of those words that many of us throw around without much thought.

We say things like, “Man, I sure hope I don’t get sick,” when we find out we’ve been hanging around someone who caught the flu. Or, when the weather forecaster predicts rain, we might say, “I hope it doesn’t storm.”

But that "hope" that we have in the above scenarios isn’t really hope. It’s just a wish–a desire.
That’s not Biblical hope. In fact, it’s not even hope by definition. If you don’t believe me, take a look at this definition provided by Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary.
Hope (noun)
  • Definition 2 : desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment
  • Also : expectation of fulfillment of success

Hoping Through Trials

So, hope is a desire. But it’s a desire that’s hinged on expectation.

If we say that we hope in the Lord, we are proclaiming that we believe in Him and His promises, regardless of our circumstances.

It’s in that last little phrase, “regardless of our circumstances," that many of us lose sight of the Biblical application of hope.

Because true hope doesn’t only exist when life is warm and illuminated by comfort and happiness. It's persevering even when painful trials darken the days.

Now that we've reviewed trials and discussed hope, let’s dive into at God’s word and talk about a man named Joseph.

Joseph's Life Testimony

Genesis is packed with a lot of the “classic” Bible tales about people that many of us learned about as children–Adam and Eve, Abraham, Hagar, Isaac, Jacob, and Esau, etc.

But when I think about a story of “undeserved” trials in the book of Genesis, I think of Joseph.

Joseph experienced several trials that we know of during his lifetime.

In Genesis 37, we read about his brothers selling him into slavery because of petty jealousy. Then two chapters later, in Genesis 39, we learn about Joseph being falsely accused of rape and imprisoned for rightly spurning the advances of Potiphar’s wife.

And as if betrayal, abandonment, and false imprisonment weren’t enough to shatter a person’s hope, in Genesis 40, we find the story about Joseph being forgotten in prison after correctly interpreting the dream of one of his cellmates, the butler, who had promised Joseph that he would help him get out of prison by speaking well of him to Pharaoh.

Application of Hope

In all three of these stories, we can see plainly that Joseph encountered trials that would have caused immense suffering. But he never accused God of being cruel or suspected that He was absent. In fact, there’s no record of him ever complaining or questioning God at all. 

Think about that.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve questioned God over a lot less.

Joseph’s story is a powerful testimony of one who truly hoped in the darkness of life. Not only did he keep patiently believing in the Lord, but he also remained faithful to him in his heart.

At the end of what we know about his story, we find this beautiful statement of Joseph’s faith. It’s a simple sentence that he said to his brothers–the same brothers who had sold into slavery as a boy. He said, “...You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day...”

When Joseph looked back on his life, he didn’t list all the ways he’d been wronged or think bitterly about his days of suffering. Instead, he found how God had worked through his life to bless and help others. He saw the Lord’s purpose for his trials.

Promised Trouble

Joseph understood that God is good, even when people and life weren’t. And for many (myself included) that’s a difficult concept to grasp.

Strangely, many who claim belief or faith in God seem to have this subconscious thought that less-than-pleasant circumstances mean that God isn’t worth serving or that if we just trust and believe in God, all our troubles will melt away and we will be free of struggle forever more.

I have to confess that I’ve thought that way myself. But, my friends, this is just not true.

Jesus does not promise a life without trials. In fact, in John 16:33, He promises the opposite when He says, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

The Lord does promise perfect peace to those whose minds are stayed on Him, as we find in Isaiah 26:3. But that peace is not a result of an absence of trials. Rather, the verse tells us, that peace is the result of trusting–or hoping–in the Lord.

Joseph understood this. He knew that trials would come. But he also had a hope that God was greater than anything that came His way.

Through his life, we can see the truth of Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

He recognized the faithfulness of his good God. And he dedicated his life to serving Him. When he faced injustices and trials, He didn’t question God or wallow in self-pity. Instead, he kept hope and trusted in God’s plan.
What an example for us to follow.
Psalm 42:5
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Is it Okay for Christians to Take Antidepressants?

I am NOT a healthcare professional and this material is NOT to be taken as medical advice. Please consult with your physician about any medications to see if they are right for you.

Years ago, if I was asked, "Is it okay for Christians to take antidepressants?" I would've answered that such medication is a cop-out. I thought, "Why put a substance in your body when you can simply seek God, pray, and take care of your body naturally?"

But God had a plan to knock me off my high horse when it came to my attitude toward medicating depression.

When I Thought Antidepressants Weren't For Christians

I once had a charismatic pastor who was adamantly against any form of anxiety or depression medication. I believe his theory was that demonic spirits were the source of all mental health problems, and the only way to be victorious was through seeking Christ by meditating on Scriptures and prayer.

Fast forward a few years, I’m going through my biblical counseling program at a super small Bible college in Houston (it’s called the College of Biblical Studies, which I always thought was a testament to just how small it is). Several times throughout my program, my biblical counseling professor brought up this point: behavioral therapy is just as effective in treating anxiety and depression, and you get to avoid the negative side effects from the medication.

Between my pastor and my professor, I had it in my mind that taking antidepressants isn’t really effective and it just messes with your body. I’ve also heard many accounts of people being dependent on drugs for life. So even though I was aware I had been battling depression for some time, I was determined never to get on prescription meds.

The Catalyst That Changed My Perspective on Antidepressants

In October of 2018, I lost my unborn son. I went in for my normal 20-week checkup and found out my son didn’t have a heartbeat anymore. The next day I went into the hospital to be induced, and at around 5 the next morning I delivered my stillborn son.

After a few weeks of grieving, I decided to attend the open share group at my church’s Celebrate Recovery. When the group ended and I tried to get away quickly, a wise, godly friend of mine tracked me to check in on me. We then had an open discussion about my grief, but more so about my ongoing issues with depression.

My friend told me that the mind is just like any other organ of the body. If something is wrong with it, you treat it. She relayed her own experiences with anxiety and how medication really helped her manage it, and she was eventually able to wean herself off of the medication. She encouraged me to either talk to my physician about a prescription antidepressant or take natural supplements, such as St. John’s Wort.

After that tough but much-needed conversation, I knew that I needed to take antidepressants to give myself a fighting chance at managing my feelings of depression and loneliness.

The next day I reached out to my midwife (who was phenomenal in supporting me through my son’s death and delivery) and asked for an antidepressant prescription, to which she immediately agreed. 

The Pros & Cons from Taking my Antidepressants

It took several days for my prescription to come in, so in the meantime, I bought myself some St. John’s Wort and Vitamin B, and starting drinking a LOT of green tea (because I once read somewhere at sometime that green tea makes you feel happier). I felt like it was working, but once my medication came in I replaced St. John’s Wort with it. I wanted to take both, but I read several articles saying taking both can have severe negative consequences on one’s body.

When I started taking my antidepressant, I felt like I had a much clearer mind and a desire to actually get out of bed in the morning and live life a little. I started to find joy in taking better care of myself and my home. I also felt like I could actually grieve my son’s death, instead of ignoring my pain.

But I also experienced a few negative sides effects - the two big ones being drowsiness and nausea. I was able to offset the drowsiness by taking my medication at night. It honestly took a couple months for nausea to go away.

I do have friends who experienced little to no side effects when taking antidepressants. And for me personally, the benefits to my mental health outweighed the drag of the side effects.

If you are considering taking medication for anxiety or depression, I encourage you to make yourself aware of the side effects. My midwife told me the only side effect I may encounter would be decreased sex drive. 

I was very aware of the drowsiness and nausea I encountered as soon as I started taking the antidepressant, and when I did a simple internet search, sure enough, both of those were listed as common side effects to my medication. So besides talking to your physician, it would be beneficial to do some quick research yourself. 

Making the Decision to Take Antidepressants

Sometimes you know all the right things to do. You know you need to eat healthier, go outside, memorize uplifting Scriptures. You know if you could just talk a walk or call a friend you’d feel better. You are very aware of the good habits you need to do to get out of a depression mindset, but you just don’t have the strength to actually do them.

This was me on and off for years. After my encounter with my friend, I knew that the only way I would have the strength of mind to start good habits would be to take antidepressants. This was a big step for me because for so long I believed it was futile to take antidepressants.

While I am glad I took that step, I do wish I had tried the natural alternatives first, primarily because I believe they were working. 

I have started an attempt to wean off of the medication and switch over to St. John’s Wort, which has proven to be a bit of an endeavor. The first few days of lowering my dose, I had to combat some dark thoughts and temptations of unhealthy coping techniques. Thankfully, God brings to mind biblical affirmations to speak out loud, so utilizes His Word gives me hope for lowering my dosage. 

There is always the chance that I might have been able to save myself the headache had I just stuck with natural alternatives in the first place. However, I am content with my ultimate decision to use medication to help me with my depression for a time.

3 Pros of Antidepressants

  • Widely endorsed by the medical community as a treatment for depression
  • Often covered by insurance
  • Boost your serotonin levels (the happy chemical in your body), helping you to feel better and more motivated to take on healthy habits

3 Cons of Antidepressants

  • May cause unpleasant side effects
  • Could become dependent on them long-term
  • Can be tempting to use them to feel better, and then not using that newfound energy to start good habits (thus not having a plan to wean off, thus becoming dependent on them long-term)

Biblical Defense for Taking Antidepressants

1 Timothy 5:23
No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.

In this verse, Paul prescribed treatment for Timothy's stomach and ailments. God wants us to treat the physical problems we encounter when our body fails us. Our brains are simply another organ of our body. If our stomach or kidney or liver start to have issues, we don't doubt that we need to take measures to treat those issues. The same goes for our minds.

I believe God's Word supports treating depression. And yes, that treatment can include modern day medicine.

Avoiding Life-Long Dependence on Medication

A healthy diet and exercise decrease (emphasis on "decrease", meaning they don't necessarily eliminate!) one's chances of needing to take medication long-term for some kind of health issue. In the same way, healthy consumption of God's Word and truthful encouragement, as well as exercising awareness of your thoughts can decrease your chances of needing to medicate depression long-term.

One key practice that has drastically helped me in fighting off depression - speaking biblical affirmations out loud. I try to immediately recognize when a thought isn't of God (2 Cor. 10:5), and declare OUT LOUD a bible verse or biblical truth contradicting that thought. This simple action helps retrain my mind to be transformed and renewed (Rom. 12:2).

If you don't know where to start, click the image below to receive a printable list of 5 affirmations worth declaring daily.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Facing Pregnancy Scared

I wrote the post below back in June 2018, shortly after finding out I was pregnant with my third son, Cade Oliver Code. In October of 2018, at 20 weeks, I found out Cade died. I wrote about my experience of grief and hope with his neonatal death months before I got the courage to publish it. Well, here's another post I never had the courage to post until now. I actually wrote this post while I was still pregnant, and I was feeling very depressed and hopeless. I was facing pregnancy scared but trying my hardest to keep my eyes on God.

Below is the original post I wrote during my pregnancy, with just a few minor edits for better flow structure. Anything written [in italics and in brackets like this] is a later edit I wrote commenting on the original post. 

Feeling Scared

One Thursday in June

I started my day off confused about what my role is in my family.

Monday, March 25, 2019

How to Embrace Brokenness to Find Joy

Does Joy Feel Unattainable in the Brokenness?

Brokenness is a fact of life. All of us endure messy, broken seasons at one point or another. Do you ever get discouraged at how some people seem to pull it together while you're stuck fallen by the wayside, unable to put the broken pieces together? Joy seems unattainable. Hope feels false. The storm is never-ending. Is it really possible to embrace brokenness to find joy?

Jeremiah 6:14 (NASB)
They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
But there is no peace.

Job 17:1 (ESV)
My spirit is broken; my days are extinct; 
the graveyard is ready for me. 

I often allow myself to wallow in my failures, thinking things like:

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Don't Overthink Daily Devotions

When I Used to Overthink My Devotions

For the longest time, I struggled with confusion on how to conduct my daily quiet time with God. (Can you relate?)

See, I was born into a family deeply involved in church. From the time I was just a few days old, my parents brought me to service. And when I was in preschool, my dad graduated from seminary.
As a teenager, I started having a desire to go deeper into Bible study. I craved meat instead of milk, and I thought this required large amounts of time daily spent in meditation, memorization, commentary reading, and journaling. I felt if I wasn't doing all of that daily, I was only getting "milk."

When I went to Bible college and took a course on studying the Bible, those feelings were reinforced. I was taught that using Bible study books was relying on other people's interpretations instead of relying on the Holy Spirit to learn from God's Word. So I felt a lot of pressure to do daily devotions a very specific way.

As a result, I've had many seasons of life where