Monday, October 24, 2016

Black Sheep are His Sheep

I’ve been feeling “off” lately (my word for depressed or, as my husband likes to say, lacking the joy). I was searching Facebook today for something that would sum up my feelings, and I came cross this quote from the page:  “I like weird people…The black sheep, the odd ducks, the rejects, the eccentrics, the loners, the lost and forgotten.  More often than not, these people have the most beautiful souls.” Bingo! I saw myself in that list 100%. People often misunderstand me; they mistake my introverted personality for being mad or aloof. Many times, I cannot go to a social gathering without feeling awkward, weird, and out of place.  All my life I have been a loner, the odd man out. In high school, I would gravitate towards the misfits, the outcasts, the ones the popular kids made fun of and avoided.  And now, when I find myself having to attend some social function, I gravitate towards children, elderly people, or pets, people I feel safe with, people I feel most comfortable with. They don’t judge me, form bad first impressions of me or make me feel like I’m weird. They just accept me as I am. 

Because I have always felt like the black sheep, in my family and society, I was always looking for an explanation for why I was the way I was.  I also suffered from depression for many years (and still do occasionally) and I wanted answers to that too. So when I decided to go to college in my 30’s, I choose psychology for my B.A., and then got my master’s degree in counseling (MFT). While I didn’t get a career in that field (that’s another story), I did gain a wealth of knowledge from all those years of studying personalities, mental illnesses, cause and effect, nature vs. nurture, (you get the idea). I did a lot of painful introspection during those years (and still do, because once a therapist, always a therapist). And I realized that it was my childhood experiences that shaped my personality, along with some heredity thrown in.  My parents divorced when I was young, so that had a big impact. Children need both parents in the home, and for girls especially, if they don’t have a positive male role model in their lives, many will start looking for love and attention in all the wrong places, which is what happened to me. In middle school, I was betrayed by my supposed best friends, when they told the whole school my father was Black. From then on, I was bullied and called horrible and ugly racist names. I think that is when my social anxiety began. That is when I started to hate being around groups of people, because I felt like a freak, never knowing when the next slur would be hurled at me.  I became rebellious, started getting involved in things that I shouldn’t have; I ran away from home when I was 13, staying in a car in Nevada and Arizona for a week.  Now that I am a mother, I can’t believe what I put my mother through, and how scared she must have been, not knowing where I was or if I was still alive.  Middle school turned to high school, and the feelings of weirdness and depression intensified, to the point of me wanting to commit suicide.  I remember walking home from school many times, feeling hopeless and worthless, and wanting to run into oncoming traffic to end it all. No one understood me at this time, with the exception of my wonderful grandmother, who tried to intervene when my mother threw her hands up.  The pain of loneliness and rejection is what led to me getting pregnant with my son when I was 16.   I thought that I would finally have someone who would love me for me.  I think my son saved my life in way, because as depressed and messed up mentally and emotionally I was at that time, I don’t think I would have lasted much longer.

Having my son did help me, but I still wasn’t right emotionally or mentally. I had 2 more children by the time I was 23, but I still had emotional baggage. I still felt like I was “different”. I made a lot of bad decisions, still struggled with depression, and when I was in my 30’s suffered my first panic attack. I remember it clearly.  I was at work, and the most intensifying feeling fear overcame me and I had to call a friend to come get me. The depression continued, and I tried antidepressants and alcohol to make it go away.  It wasn’t until I found the Lord, that things started to get better for me.  I didn’t get healing overnight. In fact, I suffered an intense panic attack about 3 months after I got married, which kind of  threw my husband for a loop, and it was right before he was to leave for a men’s retreat no less (the first introduction to “for better or for worse”). I still get periods where I am feeling down, or feel that panic may set in, but the difference now is that I know the Lord. No, let me rephrase that because I did know the Lord when I had some of my most low or fearful episodes; it was when I learned to TRUST the Lord, and go to Him first when I start feeling this way, and not to some self-help book or worldly wisdom. I have been blessed to have some sisters in my life that knew exactly what I was going through, and they helped teach me what I needed to know to get through these episodes.  They directed me to the Word of God, and from there I found the wisdom and comfort that I needed.  And I started to trust and feel God’s presence when I would cry out Him, and I felt His comforting touch. One of my favorite scriptures is Psalm 91:4: “He will cover you with His feathers. He will shelter you with His wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.”  When I am feeling down or scared, I read this scripture and I picture God holding me and protecting me, shielding me until the wave of panic and sadness leaves.  As I continue in my walk with the Lord, I find comfort in finding other examples in the bible of people who suffered depression, rejection and anxiety.  Elijah is a big one. He was a bold and courageous prophet; he challenged evil king Ahab, had a showdown with the false prophets of Baal, and was used by God to provide food miraculously to a widow and her son during a famine (1 Kings 17-18). In spite of his bold actions and faith in God, he too, suffered from depression. When he heard that Jezebel was out to kill him, he became depressed, sat under a broom tree and prayed that he might die. Jeremiah is another one. Known as the weeping prophet, he was rejected by the people he cared for and tried to witness to.  God had forbid him to marry and have children, so he must have been especially lonely and depressed, which you can see when he said “cursed is the day I was born” and “why did I ever come out of the womb to see sorrow and shame?” (Jeremiah 20:14-18). Other examples are David, who many times wrote of his anguish, Jonah, who asked God to take away his life, and of course Job, who we all know of the horrible sufferings he endured.

But no one felt more alone and rejected than our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Isaiah 53:3 prophesied about Him saying “He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised and we did not esteem Him”.  How awesome to know that our Lord and Savior can sympathize with us and feel our pain, our hurts, our sorrows. He knows what it feels like to be rejected, to feel different and out of place.  He knows everything I have felt. He knows that I am different, I am weird, and I am unique, but He loves me, insecurities and idiosyncrasies and all. I may suffer from time to time with feelings of rejection, depression or fear, but not like I used to. It no longer has power over me, because Jesus set me free.  Just like the men and women in the bible who turned to the Lord for comfort, protection and release from these feelings. And we have that same confidence.  I’m sure there are many of us who feel like they belong on that list I mentioned in the beginning. But that’s who Jesus came to save. Turn to Jesus, and He will bring you comfort and healing, and you will never feel rejected or alone again.

Monday, October 10, 2016


As I continue to grow in my walk with the Lord, I am realizing that being transparent is vital for growth and maturity. It is also crucial for developing strong, close relationships with fellow believers.  What does being transparent mean? According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, it means: a) free from pretense or deceit (frank); b) easily detected or seen through (obvious); or c) readily understood.

I recently attended a women’s retreat where many women shared their stories of struggles, pains, and joys, and I felt more connected and blessed because of their openness.  I think being transparent helps us in many ways, and is helpful for both the person sharing and the person hearing.  Even though we may have never endured what the other person is going through, we have compassion for and an understanding of that person, and more importantly, this moves us to pray for that person.  Another reason is that we may see a little of ourselves in that person, and it helps us to realize that we are not the only one who has ever struggled with or experienced a particular issue.  This is especially true for me. At times, I have felt like no one could understand or relate to particular issues I have battled with, things that are very personal, and at times painful or shameful to discuss. It was when someone shared their deepest troubles, their past experiences, things that I could relate to, that I was able to open my heart and grow and let go of these feelings of shame or inadequacy that has kept me down for so long.

Early in my walk with the Lord, it was hard for me to feel connected to other believers. I felt like I didn’t have any one that I could relate to.  It seemed like people kept discussions at the surface level, and it appeared that they had their life together and were super Christians.   It seemed that everyone had been Christians all their lives, were married, happy, and being blessed financially. I was the total opposite: a new Christian wet behind the ears, a single parent struggling with depression, and broke.  As a result, I felt I was an inadequate Christian, and that I must be doing something wrong because my life wasn’t perfect. Looking back, part of the reason may have been because of the type of churches I was attending; prosperity was the focus.  I didn’t want that brand new BMW, I just wanted to be loved and accepted as I was, and to feel released from the burden of shame and guilt.  It wasn’t until I started attending churches where transparency was evident, and hearing personal testimonies from the pastors and people at church, that I began to feel connected.  I can’t explain it, but there is this sort of bonding that happens when people share their stories, unabashed and unashamed. We open our hearts and cry with them, or we silently cheer for them at what they have overcome with the help of Jesus, and we marvel at what the Lord can do with anyone and any circumstance. 

At the retreat I recently attended, many women shared their personal battles that they had endured or continue to struggle with.  Some things were very heartbreaking to hear and very painful for them to share. But it was because of their willingness to share with us, to be transparent, that all of the women were blessed.  I think it made us feel united in Christ and encouraged us to keep fighting the fight, whatever each of us may be personally be going through. I also believe that because of the environment of safety and love and encouragement that was present, it made it easier for the women to share.  And they bravely did so because they have been set free by the love of Jesus, where there is no condemnation, only restoration.   I know this has had a big impact on me. It has always been hard for me to open up to people for various reasons. It can be scary to share your personal struggles with others.  It feels risky. I often thought, “Will they judge me?” “Will they look at me differently?”  Of course we should use discernment and be discreet when it comes to being transparent, because not every environment may be safe to do so. I have been very blessed to find sisters where I can do so safely. I have realized that I have also found freedom when I have shared my experiences.  I am not sure why that is. Maybe it’s because I feel like burdens have been released.  The scriptures say that we are to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2), so perhaps when we share with our brothers and sisters in Christ, we are no longer hanging onto our pains and sorrows, but are releasing them, and in turn being prayed for and encouraged by our Christian family.  It is like a weight has been lifted off our shoulders.  The problems may still be there, but we are not alone.

When we are transparent, others see what we have been through and see how faithful we are to the Lord in spite of how difficult life may be. They see how He has pulled us through whatever trial we’ve been through. They see how He has transformed us from the old person we used to be, to a new creation in Him. Being transparent encourages others and gives them hope that they too, can overcome or can endure.   One of the most important things I have learned from other’s testimonies and frankness is the forgiveness and grace of God.  When I heard women sharing stories similar to mine, and I saw how they have experienced the forgiveness of God, it gave me hope and peace that I also can be forgiven and set free from that bondage of guilt and shame.

There are many examples of transparency in the bible.  David and Paul are the first ones that comes to mind.  Paul often talked openly about his weakness, failures and past mistakes, and I have been encouraged time after time when I read his words.  How many times did David cry out to the Lord about his weaknesses, fears and failures? The Psalms of David are the most loved and most quoted scriptures in the bible because they are so encouraging; we have a real man, a powerful man, being real before God and real before people, faults and all. Above all though, we learn from King David that being transparent before the Lord is the most important thing.  Yes, God may already know what’s in our heart and every little detail about us (Psalm 139), but by openly crying out to Him our innermost pains, desires, sorrows, and joys, draws us closer to Him, and strengthens our relationship with Him. The more we open our hearts to him, the closer He gets to us, and our relationship continues to grow deeper and we experience freedom in knowing He forgives us and accepts us, no matter where we came from, or what we’ve done.