Struggle

In Your Weakness I am Strong

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When lies take a foothold inside his mind, Josiah knows from years of experience that suicidal thoughts will soon creep in, and he will make plans to destroy himself.  Once, he’d convinced himself that the world would be better off if he wasn’t here and he headed to the train tracks.  He’d fully intended to step in front of the next train, but God had a different idea.

Until now, suffering two to three times a year with depression to the point of making plans to kill himself was not something Josiah Stroh has felt comfortable sharing.  He thought people might doubt him or question why he’s in ministry.

“There is a social stigma associated with any mental illness, of which depression is one, especially from people who have never experienced it before.  It’s not discussed much in the church, but in my house church and community we talk about it a lot.  It’s a very real problem when your brain’s not working right, you know it’s not working right, and there’s no real explanation.  Telling someone with depression to cheer up or pull yourself up by your bootstraps is like telling someone who has cancer to just stop having your cancer.  It’s not an answer!  It doesn’t help.  That’s the problem; it’s not something that you can control.”

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After fifteen years of suffering its symptoms, Josiah feels strongly that depression, or any mental illness, needs to be shared.  He described what depression looks like for him, what techniques he uses to combat his symptoms, and the support he’s constructed to, in his own words, “make sure he doesn’t kill himself.”

“It usually starts with not as much joy or interest in life any more.  A dampening, if you will.  Normally I enjoy things: the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and life is good.  I feel joy until all that emotion gets depressed or squished.”

“When the darkness starts to come, it’s brutal.  I can still function and do my work well, but relationally, I am closed down. I feel like people are simply tolerating my presence.  Lies begin with thoughts like, ‘life really isn’t as good as it should be’ or ‘the world would be better off if I wasn’t here.’ But where do they come from?  Is it a spiritual attack or because I didn’t eat right, or sleep well, or haven’t exercised?  Is it physiological or a chemical imbalance?  Is it one thing, or all things building together?”

When the lies take a foothold inside his mind, he knows from years of experience that suicidal thoughts will soon creep in and he will begin making plans.

During a really dark time in college, he hated himself and figured God felt the same way.  He was convinced he should destroy himself.  He walked to the train tracks near his university intending to step in front of a moving train.  He hurled accusations at God as he went.

“God, you don’t love me!  I’ve got no reason to exist!”

A few paces from the track a man he’d met at a Campus Crusade meeting was pushing his bike along the path.  “He recognized me, which was significant because there were 700 people a week at our Crusade meetings.”

The man asked him, “How are you doing?”

Josiah lied and said, “I’m fine.”

The man looked puzzled. “You’ve just got a really weird aura about you.”

Josiah blew him off and kept walking.  From over his shoulder he heard the man say, “I’ll pray for you.”

“It kinda threw me a little bit.  I said, “God, how dare you send someone.”  I heard Him say in my brain, “That’s not the only one I’ve got praying for you.”  That really ticked me off.  I said, “Why would you do this?”  Then, as clear as if someone had said it aloud, I heard God say, “I would move Heaven and Earth to get to you because I love you.”  I stopped. “Okay. This is good,” I thought.  I turned around and went home.  It was the first time I felt truly loved by anyone.  It blew me away.”

Josiah uses that experience as his first defense when his symptoms begin.  He remembers where he was when God came and got him, “when I wasn’t worth getting, but He still did it. I can hold on to this truth and ride out all the feelings.”

His next step is to contact his quad.  “My brothers.  They know I deal with it and they know it’s not rational. They are quick to remind me: ‘This is what the gospel is, this is who God is, and this is who you are.’  Another level is a handful of people I deal with daily, my co-workers, who can be that check, and help keep me from doing anything stupid.”

“I find when I’m helping people and interacting with others, it helps in a small way to deflate the feelings.  A lot of depression is centered on ‘me, me, me,’ very inward focused.  I quickly try to serve somebody else, get someone a cup of coffee, anything to get the eyes off of me helps quicken the cycle.”

There are points where Josiah has turned to professional counseling.  “If it’s physiological, there’s a chemical problem in your brain and it makes sense to try and get it fixed.  But mostly it’s community, it’s having people who care enough to say ‘I love you, I’m not going to try to rationalize what you're going through because that’s not possible. I’m here with you until this is over, and then we can have fun again.”

He would recommend to anyone battling depression to tell the people who love you what’s going on.  “Until you are willing to be vulnerable, you will go through it alone.  And going through it alone is very, very dangerous.  It’s just you and the voices you are hearing.  Listen to the voices of your friends who you trust and you know aren’t going to steer you wrong.”

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Josiah says it’s freeing to know that he doesn’t have to be strong all the time.  “There are people that God has sent to catch me when I am weak. Praise God, I can be there to catch them when they are weak.  Depression sucks, but there’s that verse about Paul where he talks about the thorn in the flesh, and he asks God to take it away.  And God says, ‘no I have given you this to keep you humble and in your weakness I am strong.’  So when my depression comes I have learned to rely on Christ and the body of Christ.  In my weakness He shows himself strong, not once, but every time.”

 

 

Author: Carrie Kempisty

Photographer: Sarah Maiger

Hustle, Hush

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The hustle returns. My striving is starving me. I have to ask God to nourish my soul and fill me once again. My life with God in the center sounds less like hustle and more like hush.

"You need to be better." The summary of my childhood. I hustled to be better than my three older siblings, to be the perfect daughter. I was terrified of breaking the rules, and made mental notes to do or not do what my siblings were doing in order to please my mom and dad. My parents rarely disciplined me because I would melt if they used that tone of voice or hint that they were disappointed. "You need to be better," rippled into my teen years too, but my desire to be seen as perfect now included the opinion of everybody else. All A's. Student body president. Team captain of the soccer team. Hustle, hustle, hustle.

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My perfectionism was insatiable, eating away at every good thing in my life. While playing soccer as a freshman in high school, I lost over 30 pounds. I wasn’t eating and I was working out all the time, even after soccer practice. Though my parents took me to every professional to help me, and my friends and family tried to nourish me with their love, I kept on starving. I never felt deserving of any love I received.

That year I was stripped of my life. I had to quit soccer. I lost the upcoming student body election. I was empty. But God.

Jesus said "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:13)

That year God filled me up again, not with food, but with himself.  God used a youth pastor to tell me the story of the woman at the well in John 4 who was trying to fill herself with men. I was the woman at the well, just trying to fill myself with other's approval. No amount of hustle could save me. No number on the scale. No grade card. No checkmark on the never-ending list Satan himself was crafting for me. Jesus Christ shredded that list and saved my life. He gave me freedom from myself by giving me himself. He filled me with the spring of water welling up to eternal life. "You need to be better" transformed into Jesus whispering, "You need Me."

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My older cousin reached out to me at this point in my story and mentored me. She shared that she had the same struggle, but that God was using it to pull her to himself. Up until that part of my life, I idolized my cousin. I wanted to be her. But God. He showed me again that no human is perfect. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23.)

God has given me so much joy and freedom in my life since he started to invite me into his story of grace. Zephaniah 3:17 says, "The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love." Psalm 139 says that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  God has overwhelmed me with his love and satisfied my soul. Praise the Lord, I am an imperfect person loved by a perfect God.

What does that look like now, over ten years later? God led me to become a counselor so that I could help others like I was helped. God has given me multiple opportunities to encourage others to the path of freedom, much like my cousin did with me. There have been so many times I've had to ask God to change the inner dialogue I have towards glorifying Him instead of myself, especially in times of transition. Getting married. Having a baby. Starting a house church. Quitting my job to take care of my son.

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If I am not careful, perfectionism can creep its way back into every detail of my life. Some days, I'm pinteresting how to make baby millet cereal or trying to make the most gourmet potluck dish for house church or staring at my post baby stretch marks in the mirror or running mile after mile and I'm left empty. The hustle returns.  On these days,  I pray that God would show me that my striving is starving me. "God, nourish my soul and fill me once again." So my life with God in the center sounds less like hustle and more like hush. This side of heaven this will be my soundtrack. Hustle, hush, hustle, hush.  "I will quiet you with my love."  And he does. Every time.

 

 

Author: Jillian Vincent

Photographer: Linnea Banz

Home Sweet Home

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I trust in the Lord that listens to his children and has an infinite and definitive plan. He has a reason to challenge and cultivate my family in the very place he has called us to be planted, be it permanent or temporary. God has us placed right here for a purpose. Not just in Dayton, or at Apex, but in the very neighborhood and home where he has moved us.

In a military family, being the newcomers to a neighborhood is a common reality, and one I fear I may never get used to.  Dave and I knew we would move to Dayton, Ohio after he completed his PhD. He was assigned to teach at the Air Force Institute of Technology in his field of study. I had never been to Ohio, but before we met, Dave had lived in Dayton while completing his master’s degree at AFIT. In the last nine years I’ve heard many stories of his time spent at Apex, his house church, his accountability partners, and his experiences there that solidified his testimony of salvation.

In early summer 2014 we visited Dayton to find a house. Our two young children, daughter Cameron and son Jack outlined very specific instructions for our house hunting. They wanted indoor plumbing, a black refrigerator, and a freezer filled with ice cream- vanilla and strawberry to be exact.  

As an introvert, I am attracted to homes that offer a hint of privacy and isolation. In Texas our home backed up to a city park; in Japan we were surrounded by rice fields, and in Colorado we were buffeted by forested green space. In turn I let my mental and creative energy develop as my closest companions.

And then we went house hunting in Beavercreek. Clearly isolation would not be an option, neither would a six foot privacy fence in the backyard.

Dave, on the other hand, saw nothing but possibilities in the suburban lifestyle we were destined to embrace. My children were eager to see their new home with open, grass-covered lawns and other families nearby with kids of all ages. My quiet isolation traded for merging property lines and (imagined) neighbors and kids knocking on my back door to come out and play. My windows would face the windows of others, exposed to external view and (perceived) judgment.

We spent a considerable amount of time preparing for the move in prayer. May God increase my dependence on him.  May I embrace the opportunities of frequent and impromptu hospitality. We prayed for our unknown neighbors, our nameless friends, and our future home at Apex.  I prayed for quality friends and playmates for my kids. Through God’s grace during that time I felt my heart begin to soften.

At home, my two-year-old son took it upon himself to leave our back porch to walk across the back yard into the adjoining yard and introduce himself to the family as they prepared their backyard supper.  I had to follow him, what else could I do?  The family welcomed us and invited my kids to stay and play for a while. I left with a local events magazine and a page full of notes for family activities and festivals in the area, as well as, an open invitation for the kids to play.

I gave my phone number to the neighbors on one side of us that have a young baby. Both parents work full time so they employ sitters during the week. After a few days of unpacking boxes my phone rang with a panicked call from the mom at work. She was forced to call in ‘the back up to the back up’ sitter to watch her baby for the day and through her hidden camera at home she could see the baby was terribly unhappy. She asked if I would walk over under the guise of picking up some garden vegetables to investigate the situation. I jumped up and ran to her front door, overwhelmed with gratitude that this new acquaintance trusted me enough to request my help with the care of her child.

The neighbors to the other side had been elusive. I met the husband and wife for a brief moment on moving day, but I hadn’t seen them again during our first week. One afternoon my GPS directed me to the local post office and I followed the crowd of people to the back of the interminable line. The woman standing in front of me was in military uniform and I thought I recognized her. She caught me looking and turned to face me. It was my elusive neighbor. “I’ve never been to this post office in all my years of living here,” she said to me, “but I thought I would try it today.” Oh how the incredible mystery of God’s bigger picture continues to surprise me! I voiced silent thanks that the line wasn’t any shorter.

I don’t believe in a God of coincidence. I trust in the Lord that listens to his children and has an infinite and definitive plan. He has a reason to challenge and cultivate my family in the very place he has called us to be planted, be it permanent or temporary. God has us placed right here for a purpose. Not just in Dayton, or at Apex, but in the very neighborhood and home where he has moved us. I hope and pray that in the days and years to come here in Ohio that my heart will remain soft. Maybe these neighbors are the newest members of a house church in our living room someday. God only knows. For now I ask simply ask that I may become the neighbor, trusted friend, and writer that God has called me to be- with an adequate supply of vanilla and strawberry ice cream available in the freezer, of course.

 

Author: Carrie Kempisty

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