The Loneliest Star

6306336545_8e81b33c6c_b

Yesterday was the first day of autumn and I can feel the way the earth is moving. Our two hemispheres receive the sun’s rays equally for a spell—night and day stand side-by-side, neither one outreaching the other. We call it the equinox—from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). Only it doesn’t feel equal to me. The morning is slow in coming and evening slips down over the horizon too quickly. The sun is stingy with her light and the days bleed moments before we can wrap them up.

There was a time when people were more in tune with the rhythms of nature, when the sky was their clock and calendar. We see this evidenced in ancient man-made structures such as the Intihuatana Stone at Machu Picchu in Peru. This unassuming stone structure has been shown to precisely date the equinoxes and other celestial events. The word intihuatana means “for tying the sun.” The shadow the stone casts tracks the journey of the sun across the sky throughout the year.

The night sky, too, announces autumn, with certain constellations moving into prominent view. But also, there rises in the southern sky what some call the “Loneliest Star.” This star, also known as the “Autumn Star,” or the “Lonely One” is thus called because it is the only bright star in that part of the sky this time of year. Its formal name is Fomalhaut, which comes from the Arabic Fum al Hut, meaning “mouth of the fish.” Fomalhaut, the Lonely One, is the brightest star in Piscis Austrinus (the Southern Fish).

Last night, I went outside and stood facing south and searched the horizon for the brightest star. Fomalhaut did, indeed, look lonely in the broad expanse of night sky. As I stood under that twinkling canopy, I felt a kinship with the Lonely One. I have spoken before of the longing that autumn evokes. That sweet yearning pulled at my heartstrings urgently as I stood alone among the song of cicadas and crickets. Sometimes this feeling of emptiness can feel big enough to swallow me whole. The urge to fall into that well of darkness is strong at times.

In Romans chapter 13 the apostle Paul says, “The night is nearly over. The day is almost here. Live in the light.” He is telling us we have a choice to make. Spiritually speaking, in this tired world, it’s not yet day, and it’s not quite night: both are right here, within our grasp. Two ways of life. And even though we may have chosen the way of light, the darkness is still very present—clings to our skin like the damp air of night.

I think the ancient people, with their keen awareness of the rhythms of nature, understood the dueling forces of dark and light much better than we. I’m trying to notice the rhythms built into this good earth more. I feel the lightness of each leaf I see fall from my maples in the back yard. I study the way of the honeybee, knee deep in the goldenrod. I watch the birds and butterflies shed a new season as they flock southerly.

But I am earthbound—no winging out of this for me. Still, I make a choice. A choice to see this longing inside of me as something good, something made of light. A longing for life the way our good God intended it to be.

Autumn

on the bright wing
of morning
I touch the hem

of dawn;
soar through stardust
and dew as light

spreads like
spilled milk, slowly
blinding the eyes

of heaven, light
upon light,
trembling like

a bird preparing
for flight. my body
blooms until all

the sky and I are
one diaphanous
blue wing.

When You Love Someone Who has Depression: The Long Journey

IMG_6784

Every evening we sit out back, give to each other the bits and pieces of our day, and listen. The meadow behind our house is lush with new life and, neglected, it has become a forest. Birdsong and spring peepers call to us somewhere from within the thick brush. The silences are full.

The other night, a sudden, pounding spring shower chased us indoors. It left as quickly as it came, as these flash storms do, and we resumed our post, wiping away clinging raindrops with old towels from the rag pile. The air was heavy with moisture and the perfume of the wild, flowering rose haunted us. But the most amazing thing about the washed-clean grasses and leaves was how they were alight with fireflies. Something about the dewy atmosphere must have been invitation to living starlight and it was a gift to watch their shimmer.

How many nights have I missed the fireflies showing off?

For ten weeks we’ve been talking about depression—about loving someone who has depression. I think you know that just because the series has come to an end doesn’t mean this journey is over. Many things have gone unsaid. There will be many more difficult days. And there will be light.

The many ways depression infects a life are insidious, stealthy. When I look back at our beginnings, I sometimes wonder how we ended up here. It is a slow takeover. One that requires attention and deliberation to overcome. Depression is a way of seeing the world, and its many distortions narrow the vision. If there is one thing I pray you leave this journey with it is this: never stop looking for beauty. The kingdom of heaven is in our midst but we lose sight of it every day.

When I was in Nebraska, my friend Michelle and I were talking about this depression journey. “Why is it that negativity seems so much more contagious than the opposite?” I asked her. “Why can’t a positive attitude be more influential?”

“I don’t know,” she replied. “I don’t know.”

We have found the treasure in the field but we’ve forgotten where we buried it. So we must leave no stone unturned to recover what we know is already ours. When life becomes one big treasure hunt, the positive attitude becomes more powerful.

It is not easy. We grow tired. I grow tired. This is why we need each other.

So, to sum up our ten week journey, when you love someone who has depression:

Never stop looking for beauty. Foster a community of support.
Surrender. Make letting go a regular practice.
Celebrate the moments of light. Cultivate opportunities for them to happen.
Nurture your curiosity. Encourage your beloved to explore new opportunities to grow too.
Pray together.
Remember together.
Seek professional help.
Choose love.
Pray scripture.
Talk about it.

Your companionship on this journey is a gift to me. Thank you for sharing your stories, for letting me create a safe place here for heavy hearts. I hope yours is a little lighter for this walking together.

All my love as you continue on.

When You Love Someone Who has Depression: More than Overcomers

5711659711_289be4e50f_z

It’s tempting to have that extra glass of wine. One more piece of chocolate cake. Sleep another hour, stay at the office late. There are different ways of coping, some adaptive, some maladaptive. We tend to find the things that will help us make it through. If I can just get through this day, this season, this year.

Cope. Most place its origin from the Old French couper, meaningto strike.” It’s a derivative of the word coup.

Coup. My dictionary defines it as: 1. a highly successful, unexpected stroke, act, or move; a clever action or accomplishment. Or 2. a brave or reckless deed performed in battle by a single warrior, as touching or striking an enemy warrior without sustaining injury oneself.

It’s battle language.

Depression is a battle, yes. That’s what we’ve been talking about all these weeks long: how best to fight. And yet, the Bible tells us we are more than overcomers. There are times when surrender is necessary. When, rather than cope, we sit down at the table with depression and look it straight in the eye, pour it a cup of coffee. No more hiding, no more dulling the emotions, no more fighting.

Surrender.

It doesn’t mean to give up. It means letting go of the notion that we can control any of this. It means accepting this is a part of the person we love and, hard as it is, we love them anyway. All of them. Scars, pock marks, dark thoughts, wintery ways. All. To surrender means to embrace the whole. Only then will we be able to let go of the disproportionate power depression has over our lives.

Surrender. Embrace. Let go.

Live again. Victoriously.

Practice:

~practice surrendering. When your loved one comes to you with all the broken parts of his or her day, resist the urge to offer solutions. Simply sit with him or her. Hold hands. Let your heart be filled with love and sit in this place of embrace.

~if you can, talk with your loved one about the cognitive distortions depression anchors them with. Don’t speak about it in a “fixing” kind of way, but rather, simply notice how it has changed the way they see events in their life. 

~continue practicing remembering. This will help as you practice surrender. Everything will fall in its proper place.

**This Friday series contains reflections on loving someone who has Depression. If you are in this place, or know someone who is, I hope you’ll join me in this journey. We have one more installment to go. These words cannot replace medical or psychological treatment, but I hope they will be a source of encouragement.

Part I: When You Love Someone Who has Depression
Part II: West Virginia Morning: When You Love Someone with Depression, II
Part III: Good Friday
Part IV: Interview with Dr. Michelle Bengtson
Part V: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Stigma
Part VI: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Pray Together
Part VII: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Grow
Part VIII: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Moments of Light

When You Love Someone Who has Depression: Moments of Light

IMG_7022

There are moments of light. When she sees him once again in his purest self, young and carefree the way he was before the cares of the world burned down on him.

But sometimes, when the light comes, she doesn’t recognize his true self. It’s been too long and she has forgotten. She might offer the bitter; let the light shine right through her. Too bad, Mister. Too little, too late.

Yes, sometimes, she lets time and circumstances make her an amnesiac and she forgets that to love well is to remain awake to beauty. But most of the time? She tries to be ready. She is vigilant.

One time when she was young, she went hunting with a friend. They hid in the trees and watched. Sprung upon their prey unawares from their secret place. But to hunt the light is not like this. It’s more like catching fireflies. Sitting in the open with a watchful eye. Letting the moment light upon your skin. And then softly, oh, so tenderly cupping it in your hands, cradling it close before letting it fly away again, lifting its warm glow into the dark.

When she doesn’t remember how to love, she prays to remember. And light shines softly into the moments of life, revealing truth in a thousand many-faceted ways.

Practice:

~We have talked before about the research from Dr. John Gottman that I share in my book. He is known as “The Love Doctor” and has studied love and marriage for years. He says that by observing a couple for as short as five minutes he can predict with significant accuracy whether their marriage will last. One of the factors he has identified in determining this is how they remember. Sometimes, when I feel like giving up, I close my eyes and remember the beginning. I spend some time reflecting on why I fell in love with my husband, what made my heart resonate with him. Those qualities are still there, only sometimes I forget them under the weight of the days. Spend some time remembering today. Watch home movies, look at your wedding album, read an old journal. Remember.

~How do you respond when the moments of light cascade over the humdrum of every day? Sometimes we can smother out these tiny flickers, dismiss them in the midst of the busy. But when depression lives in your life, these glimpses of light must be celebrated. Reinforce the happy moments by being fully present with them. Let your beloved know how much you delight in his or her delight. Cradle the light close to your heart.

**This Friday series contains reflections on loving someone who has Depression. If you are in this place, or know someone who is, I hope you’ll join me in this journey. We have two more installments to go. These words cannot replace medical or psychological treatment, but I hope they will be a source of encouragement.

Part I: When You Love Someone Who has Depression
Part II: West Virginia Morning: When You Love Someone with Depression, II
Part III: Good Friday
Part IV: Interview with Dr. Michelle Bengtson
Part V: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Stigma
Part VI: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Pray Together
Part VII: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Grow

When You Love Someone Who has Depression: Grow

baby-ducks-010

baby-ducks-013

baby-ducks-012

At night, the moonlight falls through my window, a giant spotlight in the sky, illuminating shining thoughts that will not let me sleep. In the morning, she still hangs heavy in the sky, watchful. I have been thinking about the changing faces of a relationship, about simple ways a life together can change things.

When my husband and I were first married he was a renaissance man, of sorts. The bloom was still fresh on his doctoral degree and his professional life was full and exciting. He was running about 40 miles a week, played guitar with a group of old friends in a blues band, and had just passed an exam to become a nationally recognized homebrew judge. He was busy and happy and in love with life.

Early on, I lost myself in his interests. I became the good helper his wide array of interests required. Only, I wasn’t happy. Good man that he is, he encouraged me to find my bliss, and so, with his blessing I began to journey. I took a painting class. Began a yoga practice. Remembered the joy in putting down the words.

I still helped him bottle up batches of homebrew; I still went running with him on the weekends; I still listened for his footfalls in the hall. But I was on my own journey. We grew into individuals, together.

In my book, I talk about self-expansion theory—that theory of love that says we fall deeper in passionate love over the years only when we continue to grow and learn new things together. Early in relationships, when couples are still learning about the other, passions run high. But as time goes on and we think we know all there is to know about one another, the wild tongues of fire usually settle into slow, steady burning embers.

Depression stunts curiosity, robs us of the continued growth that stokes the embers back into flame. Just as any crisis elicits protective behaviors, when depression enters a relationship, we tend to wrap our arms around the entire system—shut off the rest of the world in an attempt to defend against the pain that is found there. The relationship becomes insulated, shut off, co-dependent. When you tether your happiness to one person the world becomes very small. More than that, God becomes small.

What if, in depression, we opened our arms to the world instead? Instead of I just don’t feel like it today, what if we took that apathy as invitation? A sign that something new needs to enter the doors of our hearts?

Last weekend, when I traveled to the Nebraska plains to worship with over eighty women at the Jumping Tandem Retreat, I was reminded how time invested in my own growth refreshes. I didn’t realize how tired, how lonely, how hungry I was until I landed in the middle of that place. Stepping away from the ordinary moments of my life allowed me to miss them. To miss my husband.

When I returned home, I saw him with new eyes. And I was able to love him better.

Practice:

**What are you doing to continue to grow personally? When was the last time you went away by yourself? How about your Beloved? I have been known to tell my husband, “Go away so I can miss you.” It usually works. Space is a place where grace grows afresh. If an overnight trip is too hard, take a small sojourn alone or with a friend who refreshes your spirit. Go for a walk, to a museum, a garden center, do some window-shopping, take a class, learn something new. Encourage your beloved to do the same. He or she may resist. Fear is a powerful anchor. Continue to gently encourage and model for them by investing in yourself. 

**This Friday series contains reflections on loving someone who has Depression. If you are in this place, or know someone who is, I hope you’ll join me in this journey. These words cannot replace medical or psychological treatment, but I hope they will be a source of encouragement.

Part I: When You Love Someone Who has Depression
Part II: West Virginia Morning: When You Love Someone with Depression, II
Part III: Good Friday
Part IV: Interview with Dr. Michelle Bengtson
Part V: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Stigma
Part VI: When You Love Someone Who Has Depression: Pray Together