Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Hidden (and often terrifying) Side of Anxiety/Depression

One of the things that I have learned through my time dealing with anxiety and depression is that there are some out there that do not understand this condition, and therefore do not know how to handle it.  Now, I'm a grown-up... I can handle it if someone does not care for the way I do things, or just does not "get" my often dry sense of humor.  I'm okay with that.  However, one thing that really bothers me is when people find out about my struggle with anxiety, and either do not engage me further, or walk away because they do not know how to handle it.  That is just painful, because this isn't an "illness" that you can just pop a pill for and get over in a few days.  In fact, the struggle is often a lifetime spent learning how to cope with, and reduce the effects of this affliction.

The hidden side of this condition is a personal one, and potentially an intensely painful facet of learning how to cope.  This hidden side is the fear of rejection and failure when people are faced with the reality that you are not all "put together."  Now, as a minister, this fear seems to be amplified.  Why?  Well, we tend to put ourselves under a bit more pressure to try and present ourselves as at least making an effort to have it "together."  Anything that rattles that self-perception is viewed as failure... at least in my mind.  So, I try to play it off, and do my best to present a front to others, while secretly having massive anxiety on the inside.  Sure, I know it's fake...  I don't want to be fake, but I don't want people to feel strange around me, either.

The terrifying part is waged on a spiritual front.  Talk to any follower of Christ who has suffered with anxiety/depression, and they will tell you that Satan uses these insecurities to have a field day playing with your emotions.  Thoughts can range from "Dude, you're the most ineffective __(insert job title here)__ anyone has ever seen." to "Dude, you're such a mess, this world would be better off without you."  Now, understand something here.  Just because a person with a/p tells you that these thoughts have popped into their mind does NOT mean that they are clinically suicidal.  What it means is that you need to delve a bit deeper with them to find out exactly what they're going through.  I am sharing this greatly personal information with you, because I want you to understand the battle that goes on.  There are some nights that these thoughts will come at me like waves on a seashore.  Over and over, in a relentless pounding way.  If not for the absolute power of God, I do not know how anyone could survive such an onslaught.

The power of the Word of God stands above the lies here.  Some nights, I cry out to God in the same way that David does in the Psalms.  It is in these times when I call on His name, that Scripture begins to come to mind.  Scripture that I have read, or know by memory.  Sometimes I must quote the same Scripture every time the lies enter my mind.  Is it exhausting?  Umm... yes.  However, knowing that God's Word and peace are always there can help calm the terror that can be experienced in these times.

Why share this with you?  My hope is that by continuing to openly share about what goes on in the life of someone that is impacted by anxiety/depression, some of you will gain a better understanding about it.  That the Lord will develop compassion in you as you encounter people at work, at church, or in your neighborhood that deal with anxiety and depression.  None of us want you to feel sorry for us.  Rather, we want you to understand, to pray for, and to encourage rather than steer clear of us.  Sure, there will be some tough days in there, but knowing that people are behind you as you move through this life is so important.  Thanks for taking the time to read this!  Hope it helps!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

When GIANTS Fall...

Giants...  What makes a person a giant?  Well, obviously it could be physical stature and size, and there truly are some physical giants in the world.  However, when I think of a Giant, I think of someone who is a HUGE part of my life... a person that I look up to, a person that leads, that does the right thing, even in the face of opposition.  There are a few people in my life out that really have stood tall above all others.  God has used these people to lead me, to teach me about life and ministry, and to be a way finding point when I feel lost and adrift at this sea of life.  These giants include people like my wife Amy, my mom and dad (Larry & Bettye Cloud), my grandparents Alvis & Rozeltha Clark, my youth pastor Carey Vick, Jon Randles, Heath Peloquin, David Smith, Joe Ragen, Nick Watts, Tom Rush, Preston Pearce, Ron Moelleur, Leighton Flowers, and the list continues.  I cannot begin to express my thanks and gratitude for these people in my life.  They have all invested in my life, picked me up when I was in the depths of depression, listened when I needed an ear, and have spoken wisdom into my life in so many ways.  All have been a gift from God, and have helped shape the man that I am today.

The issue that I have been struggling with lately is how to move on when one of these Giants falls.  I know that each of us will pass away someday, but what do we do when the spiritual Giants in our lives begin to leave us?  

My first Giant left when I was in 9th grade.  My grandfather found out he had cancer, and passed away just a few months later.  I saw him nearly every day of my life until that point, and his passing left a HUGE void in my life.  I then became even closer to my grandmother, as she was by herself.  We would have long conversations, sometimes for hours into the night when I would stay with her.  A naturally cheerful person, seeing "Meems" was always a highlight of my week.  She lived until 2007, and I was so thankful that I was one of the pastors of the church where she spent most of her life.  I even got to preach her funeral.  What a blessing it was to honor her life of servanthood to Jesus.

In the past year, 2 of my giants have left this earth to be with the Lord... David Smith and Jon Randles.  Both very important to me in very different ways.  David was my friend... he was my Barnabas, or my encourager.  He had a way of seeing right through any wall I tried to put up, and we became fast friends when we moved to Austin 4 years ago.  Lots of conversations over lunch, sitting by his pool, and an unforgettable trip to Thailand to do ministry work.  David believed in me... and I am so thankful for his influence in my life.  Jon was a mentor to me.  No, we didn't see each other but a few times a year, but we talked on the phone, and he would write letters of encouragement to me that I still have.  His advice, counsel, and corny jokes helped me navigate some often uncertain waters in ministry.  His passion for seeing teenagers know Christ, and learn to be disciple makers is such an inspiration to my own ministry.  Jon left us just a few weeks ago.  Knowing that he is no longer out there driving his truck from ministry engagement to ministry engagement in the middle of the night is still hard to comprehend.  I saw his lifeless shell, attended his funeral, but it is still hard to believe.

I have pondered these things many times over the years since that day my grandfather died in 1989, but I often find myself wondering, "How are we supposed to go on without these Giants?"  We grow used to the sight of them, their voice in our lives, and their leadership.  Without them there, life can get confusing very quickly...  I think that is part of the healing process.  Sure, we felt more secure and happy with them around, but it is vitally important that we learn to live AFTER they are gone.

Each of us then have to take what our Giants have taught us, and let God use that to make us spiritual Giants for others in this world.  It's a grueling process, and often a process full of tears, doubt, and anxiety.  However, we know that the Bible tells in Romans 8:28 us that "that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose."  None of us will ever be perfect, but we can be that Giant that someone needs in order to find their way in life.  The only reason we can be a Giant is because of the life of Jesus Christ living inside each of us.  That is what the Giants in my life continually have taught me... that it's not about me, but about Jesus.  It is not about how many people attend the Bible studies we lead, but it's about how we invested in those that WERE there.  We are to be disciples, teaching others to be disciples of Christ, themselves.  At the end of it all, this is the important thing... teaching others to follow Jesus is what it is all about.

What are you doing with the wisdom that the Giants in your life have given you?  Have you taken up the baton and started running your leg of the race?  If not, I pray that you will!  We need you in the race!