Depression During the Winter Months

The Pain of Change

Depression used to be my standard operating system. It existed like an evil best friend I knew was bad for me but who also held together my destructive comfort zone. Strange how we’ll stay in poor habits just because they’re comfortable, isn’t it?

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Gradually, I divorced this evil friend and found freedom from depression. I’ve lived outside of the pit for many years now. Yet, I still find myself occasionally gazing back into its miry depths. More than other times of the year, battling depression during the winter months is especially difficult.

Why Depression Intensifies in Winter

Part of the reason for this occasional visit seems to be that depression impacts so many people. It’s simply impossible to avoid altogether.

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Another part of the reason is that many of the elements leading to depression seem to converge and intensify during the winter months. Here are just a few that make depression in the winter months intensify.

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Then there’s the uniqueness of the holidays. They take us out of our normal routines. They present us with seemingly endless sweet and savory opportunities. We essentially let our guards down, and that’s all the opening depression needs to gain a foothold once again.

Refuse to Let Depression Win

The sooner you can reestablish that guard, the less damage depression can do during the winter months. In fact, you can actually more than just get through them — you can enjoy and celebrate them.

But this is so difficult to do all on your own. I know I simply cannot remain victorious over depression without help from others. A lot of others.

On Struggle to Victory, you’ll find a great deal written about depression. As hard as I’ve tried, I cannot separate myself from it because it played such a large role in shaping the person I am today. My prayer is that my experiences can help you or someone you love find victory too.

You can click on the Depression category along the right side of any page and find many posts related to overcoming depression. Also, I’ve listed several below that you may find especially helpful with depression during the winter months.

Refuse to give up the fight. Refuse to let depression win. The best tip I can give in that effort is to simply not quit. Persevere. Keep putting one foot in front of the other. I pray that the resources I offer here can help you or someone you love continue doing just that, especially when depression during the winter months seems inescapable.

5 Habits for Getting and Staying in Shape

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The New Testament uses a variety of athletic metaphors to describe the life of a Christian. These references were certainly understood by those to whom the letter was written since the Olympic games, along with the Isthmian Games, the Nemean Games and the Pythian Games, had been held for hundreds of years prior to any New Testament events taking place. And these metaphors are understood well still today in a culture where exercise and healthy lifestyles exist on a continuum from obsessiveness to belligerent avoidance.

These athletic metaphors were used in Scripture because many of the same habits for getting and staying in physical shape hold true for getting and staying in spiritual shape as well, not the least of which are similarities regarding the necessary mindset needed for both. Better understanding of these connections can lead us to effectively,

“run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Perseverance. Discipline. Self-control. All essential elements, along with many others, in both physical and spiritual vitality. These elements, all laced within the athletic metaphors used in Scripture, work with other related habits to create a solid training program applicable both spiritually and physically.

athletic-1For me, the following 5 habits for getting and staying in shape are crucial for my continued physical and spiritual health, both continual struggles even within consistent victories.

  1. Accountability. Physically, a gym membership and/or an exercise partner provide accountability, a key component to staying physically active. Likewise, membership in a Bible-believing fellowship along with connection to individuals through deepening relationships establish the essential element of accountability needed for spiritual fitness. Surrounding yourself with others for support and encouragement goes a long way in remaining consistently strong, both physically or spiritually.
  2. Variety. Exercise can become boring very quickly without variety. For this reason, my workouts vary from running and elliptical to biking and boxing to weights and video workouts. Relating this idea to spiritual fitness, avoid limiting yourself to one way of serving or studying God’s Word. Yes, serve in your area of strength (play on the worship team if you have musical ability) and have systematic approaches to reading God’s Word daily, but be willing to go outside of your comfort zone too (work in the nursery even though you normally teach adults or do a key-word study once in a while). Healthy variety not only helps prevent boredom, but it allows space for God to work in weaknesses, which ultimately makes us stronger overall (2 Corinthians 12:10).
  3. Rest. Neglect adequate recovery time between workouts, and injury will eventually occur. Spiritually, this equates to regular quiet time with God as well as getting physical rest since lack of proper rest inhibits the ability to confidently say “Yes!” when asked, “Are You Giving Your Best?” Being tired physically as well as spiritually significantly impacts effectiveness in every area of life.
  4. Stretching. When was the last time you did something for the first time? Are you will to try new activities? Stretching physically means trying new activities as well as regularly stretching muscles to make them better able to handle activity without injury. Spiritual stretching might involve getting to know new people, especially if you’re an introvert like me, doing an in-depth Bible study if you always just do a short devotional, or joining the choir even though you’ve never performed in front of an audience. Be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading for opportunities to stretch physically, mentally and spiritually.
  5. Refueling. Our minds and spirits are like cars with regard to fuel; they need it in order to function. Physically, a healthy diet gives us the energy we need. Mentally, proper fuel (what we eat as well as drink) allows us to think and reason clearly and effectively. Spiritually, our spirits need filled up regularly on the truth of God’s Word. They need constant filling by the Holy Spirit through prayer, praise and submission. Life constantly asks more of us, which continually drains our energy. Refueling properly allows us to give without being drained and to do so on a consistent basis.

Adding to the connection between spiritual and physical fitness is the realization that both involve also ridding our lives of negative influences. Physically, this means avoiding unhealthy habits such as a poor diet, smoking and drugs. Spiritually, this means avoiding those things like that Paul tells us in Colossians 3:5-9 to “put to death.”

Developing positive habits and eliminating negative ones helps strengthen our perseverance, discipline and self-control, all essential elements of getting and staying in shape physically, mentally and spiritually. Development in this way increases our effectiveness and productivity in amazing ways.

“…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

What habits can you adjust to become physically and spiritually stronger?

Consider studying this topic further by meditating on the following Scripture:

  • Philippians 2:16
  • Galatians 2:2
  • Galatians 5:7
  • 2 Timothy 2:5

Stability Amidst Constant Change

Serenity Prayer

Strange Things Are Happening

Wrinkles. Slowing metabolism. Almost constant aches and pains. Physical changes resulting from aging.

Driving. Dating. Independence. Teen boys growing into adults. Life’s seasons usher in change.

Friendships fade. Marriages end. Busyness distracts. Life’s choices result in the rippling impact of change.

“Strange things are happening.” So goes the song in Toy Story to reflect the pain accompanying life’s inevitable changes.

Change brings new excitement along with nostalgic longing to relive moments and feelings. And of course, regret shows up in the process of change too.

My heart aches from change at times. I can’t keep up, and my comfort zone feels tight.

“They say that change is good, but it isn’t.” (Sheldon Cooper, Big Bang Theory)

Out of control weight gain. Families growing apart. Estrangement. No, change is not always good.

But it is inevitable. Sometimes we can shape the change as it comes. Sometimes, we simply have to choose how we let change shape us.

The only constant in life is change. At least, that seems to be truth when the focus lies with how change challenges our comfort and expectations. We must learn to expect the unexpected and deal with change as it comes at us. Right?

Fortunately, we have another option.

Change As A Catalyst For Transformation

My oldest resists change. He’d like the same meal routine week in and week out, and he’d also like to stay well within the realm of the known and expected at all times. Change visibly shakes him, but he eventually accepts and embraces it even if never becoming completely happy about it.

My youngest adapts quickly to change. He even seems to need it and to resist much structure. Change motivates him to activity, much like my morning cup of coffee wakes me up, but he fades quickly until more change comes.

Two extremes, yet neither fully functional. Expected, I suppose, in teenagers. Maturity will hopefully bring balance.

How do you react to change when it happens in your life?

While each of my sons reacts differently to change, both ultimately use it as a catalyst for progress and growth. They don’t stay stuck in their comfort zones.

Stability In The Unchanging

Though my boys respond to change in two very different ways, they both grow and mature through it because they also know stability. They have structure and consistency in their lives as much as two imperfect but being perfected parents can offer.

That stability only exists in our family because God provides it. My husband and I don’t. Our routines don’t. The presence of an unchanging, holy God gives the only real stability and consistency that can exist in a world where all else seems to live in the unexpected even with our desperate attempts at controlling everything.

  • Stability in a God whose character never alters.

“Whatever is good and perfect comes to us from God above, who created all heaven’s lights. Unlike them, He never changes or casts shifting shadows” (James 1:17).

  • Stability from promises that never fade or fail.

“For no word from God will ever fail.” (Luke 1:37)

  • Stability like a rock.

“My God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me, and my place of safety. He is my refuge, my savior, the one who saves me from violence. (2 Samuel 22:3)

  • The only light to guide in the storm of inconsistency and instability that is life this side of Heaven.

“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)

Change is inevitable in this world. So too is God’s unchanging nature. Where do you place your focus?

You Can’t Lie to Yourself

TruthA college professor of mine, intrapersonal communication I think, told us the first day of class, “You can’t lie to yourself.” He explained that when we tell ourselves something long enough, we eventually accept it and then live it as truth.

We do this when we try to show satisfactory reasons or give excuses for doing something. Doing so brings us to the dangerous side of justification.

When we justify, we shape our thinking to avoid having to change our behavior. We create a reality in our minds that allows us to avoid the discomfort of growth, which involves admitting mistakes, preferring others, and being teachable, among other things. And the longer we do this, the more deaf we become to hearing the actual truth because we’ve created our own alternate reality, our own version of the truth, for so long.

The Pharisees did something of this sort when they refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah.

“But when the Pharisees heard about the miracle, they said, ‘No wonder he can cast out demons. He gets his power from Satan, the prince of demons.’” (Matthew 12:24)

Of course, Jesus easily refuted their claims created to justify their unbelief, but they remained stubbornly in their own, self-created realities, ones that would allow them to stay deceptively secure in their comfort zones.

unrealityChange or Justify?

The more I read about the Pharisees, the more I dislike doing so because I’m usually reminded of some way of thinking of my own that’s too much like theirs. And this leads me to either needing to change or add another level of justification to avoid having to change.

When I don’t want to do something, say reach out to someone or admit I’m wrong, I’m very creative about why doing so isn’t necessary and even how it’s possibly detrimental in some way. In reality, these things just make me uncomfortable, so I want to find reasons — I want to justify — why I don’t need to do them. It’s really a control issue at heart, if I’m to be brutally honest with myself.

Unfortunately, this way of thinking also happens often when it comes to deciding about Jesus. Alternate realities are created where he either isn’t seen as who he is, he’s seen as a big disappointment in some way, or we just keep too busy to truly make him Lord of our lives or even think about how we might need to change our thinking.

Jesus actually calls the Pharisees’ words “idle” (Matthew 12:36). In essence, he’s saying that their attempts — and ours — at creating a false reality where we get to stay in control is really “idle” (of no real worth, significance or importance) thinking. And of that thinking, Jesus uses justification in another way.

“The words you say now reflect your fate then, either you will be justified by them or you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:37)

In other words, the reality in which we choose to live either leads to the only authentic justification that exists — the kind that comes only through Jesus — or to eternal destruction. One day, every reality will be based on actual truth, God’s truth, and we’ll have no say in the creation of that reality. In fact, all our false truths will fall away. This motivates me to get my truth, the reality I choose to live by, as much in line with God’s truth as possible before time expires.

DISCUSSION: How have you lived within a false reality? How do we align the truth we live by with God’s truth?

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Muscle Memory

Muscle memory (neuromuscular facilitation)…

“occurs when you have repeated an action enough times to have etched that pattern into your brain. The action becomes automatic, requiring no conscious input on your part.”

memoryGetting dressed, walking and tying your shoes are examples of activities completed by muscle memory. To get a feel of just how comfortable you are in your muscle memory, try changing your routine in any of these activities. Put your clothes on in a different order than usual. Try imitating how someone else walks. Change the way you tie your shoes. You’ll find just how comfortable muscle memory makes you feel and how hard it is to change it.

We also have negative habits established in muscle memory. Clenching your jaw and poor posture are examples. Take that a step further to our thought processes. Do you find yourself saying, “I can’t…” all too easily before even trying something new or changing a routine? These negative habits and thought patterns are examples of muscle memories too.

We need muscle memory to automate tasks that we don’t need to give mental energy toward, which allows us to redirect that energy toward that which requires active thinking and processing on our part. Our lives are filled with muscle memory activities, some of which make our lives easier and some of which present struggles we need to focus on and overcome in order to grow and mature. Muscle memory can both free us for bigger tasks and keep us from attempting them.

Spiritual Muscle Memory

Do you feel stuck spiritually? Consider reprogramming your spiritual muscle memory. If prayers feel aimless and/or worship seems a dry routine, perhaps muscle memory needs changed. And if loving others seems like a forced “should,” then changing spiritual muscle memory might lead to transformation.

The following elements, adapted from what psychologists and athletes alike use when breaking down old muscle memory habits to create new ones, hint at beginning steps for changing spiritual muscle memory:

  1. Repetition. Too often, a positive habit fails to get established in muscle memory because we fail to repeat the process enough times. Only through repetition can we effectively rid ourselves of bad habits and replace them with good ones.
  2. Consistency. Once you find out what works, stick with it. Keep doing what works (repetition) to establish it as a habit.
  3. Comfort. Creating new muscle memories and letting old ones go creates discomfort. Keep comfort zones for times of rest and recuperation that generate energy needed for the discomfort of stretching and growing.
  4. Brokenness. Sometimes, we must break down what is not working in order to create a new habit that will make us stronger. This gets at the idea of rooting out  bad habits holding us back and replacing them with new ones that helps us grow.
  5. Variety. Just like we need comfort in order to work through discomfort, we also need variety in order to not get swallowed up in the repetition of consistency. Establish consistent habits but allow for variety within them.

What can you immediately apply from this list to help you move forward and go deeper in your relationship with God? The principles of breaking down and establishing muscle memory were deliberately discussed generally to allow for more unique individual application. Take some time to consider how you can personally apply these principles, and share your ideas in the comments.

Note: This month’s focus lies with taking aspects of our physical selves and making spiritual connections. Also, this week begins a summer schedule for Struggle to Victory with a scheduled post every Tuesday and periodic posts at other times throughout the month (my attempt at being a bit more spontaneous). I’m open to publishing guest posts as well, so leave any interest in writing one in the comments below.

Virtual Connections

429755_57473506Most of us have some Virtual Influences or at least some aspect of our face-to-face relationships that are virtual. And most of us will admit that while virtual can never replace face-to-face, it is now forever a part of how we operate and think. And I’m thankful for the virtual benefits in my relationships too, benefits reflected in the connections with many individuals I likely would never have met otherwise.

Included in those connections is TC Avey from Wisdom of a Fool. The more TC and I “talk,” the more we find out we have in common in our non-virtual lives. On a deeper, true relationship level, TC challenges me to challenge myself. She did it through her book The Precipice: When Everything We Know Ends, and she did it through her invitation to guest post on her site. For this guest post, The Reality of Superheroes, TC encouraged me to get outside of my comfort zone a bit, and I definitely grew by accepting the challenge.

Another connection, Cycleguy Bill Grandi, brings a unique element to my life by sharing his pastor’s heart on an almost daily basis, giving me a much-needed ministry perspective in my non-virtual life. He also challenged me recently by asking me to share my “second chance” story, which I did in the post “God is a God of Second Chances,” on his blog, a story I’m less comfortable sharing face-to-face. (Note: Link to post will be added when available.) Bill is sharing second chance stories, his own and others, over the next few weeks. Be sure to check them out to be reminded of your own second chance stories and to be inspired by the stories of other people.

This month has been a terrific month of sharing my Virtual Influences with you. I hope you also experience the benefit that virtual relationships – a sort of supplement to the crucial nourishment we get in face-to-face relationships – can bring to your life.

DISCUSSION: Take a minute to talk about your own virtual influences if you have not done so already this month.

Photo courtesy of freeimages.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

dead fishCulture simultaneously challenges us to break free from comfort zones while also providing for their longevity. With the constant offering of pleasures anew, along with the comfort found in instant gratification, we live in a confusing and uncomfortable culture.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

Does it really? This quote by Neale Donald Walsch made me question whether or not I needed to totally discard comfort in order to truly live life. Or maybe, I wonder, does comfort allow for the uncomfortable to flourish?

Perhaps living too much in one or the other – comfort or discomfort – actually stifles real living. Maybe having the structure created by some level of safe, secure and familiar provides much-needed security. Then, that security allows for the regular experience of discomfort in a successful way.

Comfort that Supports Discomfort

An organized, comfortable home gives my kids the security they need to go on adventures and meet new people. It gives them promise of a comfortable sanctuary for rest and recuperation waiting for them when they get at home.

Knowing I can produce a lot of volume pretty quickly as a writer gives me the confidence to venture into the scary and challenging world of book writing. I find comfort knowing that the act of writing (specifically, quantity) comes easily. This inspires me to try new styles and genres that might not come naturally.

Dressing comfortably helps me be more social, which is uncomfortable for my shy and introverted self, I’m just braver mentally when I’m comfortable physically.

The God of Comfort

Being comfortable with God, knowing He goes before me and with me (Deuteronomy 31:8) creates an deep comfort. That comfort makes me want to be brave and to tell others about Him. Having this comfort zone with God compels me to make my life a transparent example of His grace and mercy.

So yes, “life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” But, your comfort zone can also provide a structure for bravely venturing into the uncomfortable areas of life.

How to… Age Gracefully

The word graceful, when sticking purely to the dictionary definition of the word, characterizes a beauty of movement, style, form and execution. Being graceful holds the tendency to be elegant and smooth. Graceful also seems to suggest ease and wealth to some extent. Being graceful also carries with it charm, good taste, kindness and generosity of spirit. To me, the world’s view of being graceful gets at a sort of charisma someone either has or doesn’t have.

While there certainly are many characteristics of being graceful that appeal to me, especially kindness and generosity of spirit, the idea of being what the world considers graceful remains elusive. Honestly, graceful has never been a word used to describe me.

But that doesn’t mean that living gracefully isn’t a huge part of who I am. In fact, the presence of grace in my life determines everything about me. Without grace, my life would be absent of hope.

In Approaching Halftime, I listed four life lessons that are helping me to live in God’s grace. His grace drives my life in a way that allows me to truly age gracefully. Because of His gift of grace, my life can be one of impact and meaning that would otherwise not exist or at least be only temporal.

Knowing the impact of the grace of God in my life, I can dive into life with the freedom that only His grace can bring. To me, that is the essence of living gracefully.

God’s grace in my life equates to his favor (Genesis 6:8) and His forgiving mercy (Romans 11:6). His grace is the source of my salvation (Acts 15:11). His all-abundant (Romans 5:15-20) and all-sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:9) grace is something I can abound in (Romans 5:2), be strong in (2 Timothy 2:1) and grow in (2 Peter 3:18).

So how does all of this translate into aging gracefully? For me, aging gracefully, as in living my life in a way that truly shows the presence of God grace, means deliberately planning my way knowing that His constant guidance directs my every step (Proverbs 16:9). With that, I offer the following “plans” for aging gracefully in the second half of my life.

  1. Embrace aging and use it to inspire & instruct others. (Titus 2)
  2. Get to know God better than ever before. (2 Peter 3:18)
  3. Step outside my comfort zone regularly. (2 Kings 5:1-16 & Matthew 14:22-33)
  4. Share how God’s favor has worked and continues to work in my life. (Genesis 6:8)
  5. Seek to show His power through my weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

I considered setting SMART goals for these “plans,” but that approach didn’t seem quite right. At that point, God used a comment by @tnealtarver from A Curious Band of Others on my post Approaching Halftime to redirect how I approach accomplishing them. In his comment, Tom said, “I just read the opening chapter of Deb MacComber’s “God’s Guest List“yesterday. She said she wrote out a list of 30 people she wanted to meet and she did meet them. Many were major disappointments. Then she felt God prompt her to create another “30 People to Meet” list. This time she would leave the lines blank and allow God to fill them in. I think that might be good advice for goals as well.”

Because God’s grace abounds in my life, it turns out that grace really is a word that can be used to describe me. In fact, when it’s His grace that gets the glory, embracing the idea of aging gracefully becomes not only a way to help me come to terms with inevitable aging, but it also helps keep Him as the focus of all that I am and do.

And as the “how to” accomplish the plans listed above are left blank, a new excitement is brewing in my spirit. Could it be that I’m finally looking forward to the 40s? No, I’m sure it’s not that!

DISCUSSION: Are you aging gracefully? How has God’s grace worked in your life?

Go Against the Flow

Moneyball tells the story of a general manager who decides to build a baseball team based on statistics rather than individual talent. Everyone, except the economist working for him, thought he was making a huge mistake. Everyone was wrong. His counterintuitive decision was right on the money. Billy Beane went against the flow of conventional baseball wisdom, and it changed the game of baseball forever.

Ever had an idea or wanted to make a change that went against what everybody around you was doing? Or, maybe you felt the need to resist going in a direction everyone else was taking. Going against the flow is difficult simply because it sets us apart from everyone else.

4 Principles for Going Against the Flow

Scripture says that while we may plot our course, the Lord directs our steps (Proverbs 16:9). Choosing to follow the steps He indicates often means going against the flow of our culture.

These 4 principles for going against the flow can help you better see the steps he wants you to take.

#1 Acknowledge Limits

Our culture is one of pushing limits. The world of sports is a perfect example. How fast can the mile actually be run? How many touchdowns can one person make in a season? Who can jump the highest or farthest? No matter what records are broken, the new record always becomes the goal. But the truth of the matter is that we do have – and need – limits. Limits allow us to avoid significant negative consequences (think weight control and traffic signs). Intentionally setting limits on desires and pleasures allows us to stay balanced and healthy in body, mind and spirit.  Setting limits is also counter-cultural because we’re told daily we can have what we want when we want it… no limits. Embracing the blessings of limits can protect us from thinking outside of the will of God.

Acknowledging limits goes against the flow of mainstream thinking.

#2 Raise Expectations

There is always someone who isn’t doing as well as you in some way, and it’s easy to get a false sense of superiority. Comparisons are dangerous, yet our culture promotes them like crazy. Comparisons create a false reality, and they can lead to pride in feeling like improvement is unnecessary. When we realize that Jesus is the bull’s-eye, though, we understand the need for progressive improvement. He is the standard by which we should measure our lives. In doing so, our expectations are raised, and we can set goals that don’t pit us constantly against one another.

Forgetting comparisons is certainly not mainstream thinking.

#3 Be Separate

Holiness is a Bible word that many think means perfection. But holiness is not about being perfect; it’s about being separate. When you separate yourself, you avoid conforming to the world. You avoid walking the path of destruction. You become an example of one aiming for the bull’s-eye. Others may consider you odd, but their approval isn’t what matters. The question you must ask is, “Does God approve of my life?” if the answer is yes, then you are living a life of separation and not conformity.

Seeking God’s approval over man’s approval goes against the flow.

#4 Make Relationship a Priority

Limits and rules exist for our safety, but they mean little more than restriction and confinement without relationship. Parents can discipline kids, but kids won’t truly aim for obedience if the relationship is weak. The book of Leviticus is all about establishing rules for the safety of the Israelites. While they focused on God, the rules weren’t a big deal to follow. They followed them because they loved Him. But as soon as they took their eyes off of Him, the rules were broken and rebellion reigned. Relationship makes following the rules a desire rather than a requirement.

Focusing on relationship over self does not support the thinking of our “me first” society.

Directed Steps

As John Carty noted in Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life,

“It’s not easy to overcome the training and traditions of a lifetime.”

Often, though, this is exactly what Christ leads us to do. He sometimes directs us to go against the flow of the training and traditions of our comfort zones.

Are you willing to take the steps He directs?