Journal through the deep

In my office at home, I have a giant storage bin full of colourful journals. The journals themselves tell a superficial story, painting a picture of the ages and stages of my life over the years. Hardcover floral prints and patterns popular in the 90s characterize my youth, energy and sense of whimsy. Foolscap in discarded folders was all my meagre budget could afford for a time. Gifts from friends and family over the years are varied in colour and pattern, and in more recent years, a slightly larger format, lined Moleskin fits the bill. 

Looking at the stack gives you a glimpse into the girl who’s scrawled a life’s worth of stories, reflections and prayers into those pages in messy, slanted script. 

Twenty-three years and counting.

I thought they were important, those journals. I’ve kept them tucked away thinking that maybe, at some point, they’ll provide the impetus or starting point for a memoir. That my story might end up being something that God uses to help and encourage others going through something similar. That He had given me a story and someday I would write it. 

And though I’ve revisited that stack of journals on occasion over the years, my story remains mostly tucked within those pages. 

Twenty-three years ago, my story was that of a young woman who had been rejected by her husband, a mother to two young daughters suddenly facing a divorce. It was not a story I would have chosen for myself. It was not a story I wanted. But isn’t that the way with God? We don’t get to choose the story he writes for us. 

What we do know is this: we do get to choose what we do with the story we’re given. We get to choose how we walk the road we find ourselves on. In short, whatever story he gives us is always an invitation to dive deeper into relationship with him as he walks us through it. 

When faced with the rejection and betrayal of the man who had promised to love me ‘til death do us part’ just six years earlier, God picked me up and put a pen in my hand and saved my life word by word, page after page, prayer upon prayer. 

Journaling became the avenue by which I learned to process life, talk to God and listen to Him.

Taking in the information and events swirling around me and reflecting on them, turning them over and around in my head and then laying them down on the page. Journaling became a kind of offering: the pouring out of a million thoughts and emotions at the feet of the Father who promised to be my husband in the absence of my husband. (Isaiah 54:5) 

I have to be honest though, when I read those early journals now, I physically cringe. Rather than inspiring me to recount those times autobiographically, everything in me wants to burn the pages. And I’d like to slap the silly girl who spent the majority of the early months and years lamenting—in a tone that is nothing short of simpering—for the loss of her marriage. Bemoaning her sad, rejected, broken heart and feeling infinitely sorry for herself. Pleading desperately for God to answer her prayers in the way she had determined would be best. 

Which, of course, He didn’t.

The divorce papers eventually came anyways. 

In her memoir, ‘Hourglass: time, memory, marriage’, author Dani Shapiro pens a similar—comforting—sentiment about her journals. 

The journals—I understood at once—were dangerous. If I read further, I might never write the memoir. I had no sympathy for the girl I once was. She was boy-crazy, insipid, ridiculous. I was certain she didn’t deserve a book. I didn’t want to capture her voice. I packed the whole lot of them back in the box, taped it shut, hauled it down to my car. I pushed her as far away from me as possible.” (p.100) 

I didn’t haul my storage bin to my car, but I certainly put the lid on tight and ignored it for many years. Lifting the top just enough at one corner to shove the next completed journal in, but never enough to allow any memories out. 

Going deeper

What has occurred to me in recent years, as I’ve made stutter steps on my memoir—starting and stopping and stumbling over the words—is that perhaps God didn’t bring me to journaling in order to provide me with content. 

Maybe he brought me to journaling in order to provide me with Him: to simply remind me of His presence and His provision at a time when that was what I needed most in life.

Maybe instead of me writing the story of my rejection, separation and subsequent divorce—as I initially thought it would be—perhaps God was writing the story of my salvation through the gift of simply writing down the words. 

More than being a daily diary entry, I realize now that my journals are a love letter from God to me. If I can manage to wade beyond all the day-to-day drivel of that frantic and desperate 27-year-old girl, I can actually see the way God wooed me deeper into relationship with Him at a time when I had lost the only relationship I thought mattered. 

It occurs to me now, all these years later, that maybe the point all along was never about the words. Maybe it was always about the process.

The Spiritual Discipline of Journalling

In the twenty-three years since I began journaling, it has become a spiritual discipline for me—a bodily habit that engages my heart and mind with God. For me, it is my first-thing-in-the morning meeting with God to set the tone for my day and check my spiritual pulse. It’s interactive: I bring to him the things on my heart and in my mind. And I spend time in the Word, listening to what he has to say to me in return.

These days, my journals are less a play-by-play of my life’s events—although there is still a bit of that; kind of a highlights reel, mostly to help me remember people and situations, both of which tend to move through our lives in different seasons. Primarily though, my journals contain heartfelt prayers: both the cry of my heart and intercession for others. Their pages are peppered with scripture and occasionally the writings of other people that strike me as profound or relevant and speak to me. 

My journals are still the means by which I process the things swirling around me. Turning them over and around in my head and laying them down on the page, an offering to the loving God who promises to never leave or forsake us, no matter what we’re facing. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Because, let’s face it, life happens. 

My separation and subsequent divorce was certainly a major event and story theme in my life, but it is by no means the beginning and end of what God has done in and for me since then. God continues to weave the tapestry of my life with surprising threads, colours and fabrics. Story after story, chapter by chapter; He knows it all. 

You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.” ~Psalm 139:16

And throughout every up and down and twist and turn of the road He has me on, the spiritual discipline of journaling has helped to keep me grounded when life threatens to open up and swallow me whole. 

Cries from the heart.

For me, there is no better example of this discipline than the Psalms. Though many of the psalms were written as hymns, they effectively capture the innermost thoughts and prayers of King David and their other writers. Many of which still resonate with seekers today.

I can just imagine David with his quill and parchment, trying to make sense of the events of his life. Pouring out his heart to God on the page: wrestling with deepest sorrow, restless anxiety, fear for his very life. Posing the hard questions about suffering and injustice, crying out to God or shouting joy before Him. The psalms offer no magical formulas to make troubles go away, but they always circle back around to the faithfulness and character of God. 

When David was penning the psalms, I’m sure he wasn’t considering the spiritual disciplines of putting his heart to the page. But it is clearly evident that God met him on that page and time and time again. And he’ll meet you there too.

Here are three suggestions to help get you started on your own journaling journey. 

You don’t need to be a writer to keep a journal. Journaling requires no expensive classes or lessons. All you need is a notebook and a pen and the willingness to dedicate some daily, consistent time to it. Whatever time of day suits you best. However much time you have to give.

1. Start with God’s words. 

Scripture is a great place to start. I especially love the psalms because they beautifully echo the sentiments of the human condition. You can choose randomly or start with Psalm 1 and work your way through the book. Ask God to speak to you through His Word as you write out the chapter (or specific verses of a long chapter). Re-read what you’ve written and spend some time penning a reflection. 

One of my favourites passages is found in Psalm 5.

Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my sighing. Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray. In the morning O LORD, you hear my voice. In the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation.”

2. Start with someone else’s words.

There is no shortage of ministries with websites and apps that offer daily encouragement and reflections on scripture, usually—though not exclusively—for free. Pick one or two and subscribe to receive them directly to your inbox. If you can visit your inbox without getting sucked into the rest of your email, it can be a great way to turn your mind toward God for a time first thing in the morning. 

If a message resonates with me, I’ll often jot down the scriptures provided and a few notes and quotes along with a paragraph or two explaining why. Believe it or not, someday down the road, you won’t remember what you were thinking or feeling or struggling with at that time in your life and you’ll need some context

Suggestions for women: www.proverbs31.org; www.incourage.me
Suggestions for everyone: www.faithgateway.com; www.jesuscalling.com Apps: First5; Pocket Fuel Daily Devotionals (small membership fee applies)

3. Start with your own words. 

Staring at a blank page, pen in hand, can be daunting. We put so much pressure on ourselves to come up with the right words and weave them into beautiful sentences. Consider this your invitation to take the pressure off. Your words don’t have to be articulate and poetic. Your handwriting doesn’t need to be perfectly slanted and evenly spaced. Scripture tells us that when we don’t know what to pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans mere words cannot express (Romans 8:26-27). 

Your journal is just that. Yours. Just start writing. Don’t worry if it doesn’t read like a bestseller. That isn’t the point. The point is that you’re creating an opportunity to go deeper with God. Jeremiah 29:13 says, “If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” Maybe He’s closer than you think? 

Janine Dilger is a Canadian writer who loves Jesus, her family, and a steaming mug of coffee in a quiet kitchen before the day begins. God wired her with an eye for beauty: nature, art, photography, design and words—these things whisper refreshment into her soul. She is as broken as they come and has way more questions than answers. But after a life’s worth of hard lessons, she is realizing the trick is to just keep her feet moving. To that end, she’s doing her best at navigating the twists and turns of this life with faith, hope and humour. You can Janine blogging about her journey at janinedilger.com
iola magazine even in the deep

For when the Winter is long.

It’s still dark when she gets up. Laura feels it like a heavy blanket. The weight of it is oppressive. She’s methodical in her tasks: she finishes her coffee, gets the kids breakfast, makes lunches, and sends them out the door to the bus.

She knows there are e-mails to respond to, phone calls to return. She knows that if she gets dinner into the crockpot early, it will make life that much easier when the kids are home from school. But she goes back to bed instead. She thinks perhaps another hour of sleep is what she needs to get back on track.

Xan griffin

Later, a friend invites her for coffee and she politely declines. The thought of doing her hair and makeup to go out is overwhelming. She dreads the prospect of putting on a smile and making small talk for an hour.

By the time the kids arrive home, shortly after 4 p.m., the sky is already dusky. Lights in the house blaze as dark falls by dinnertime. Her husband notices her lack of energy, her subdued responses; a silly child may elicit a smile, but not much more.

He asks about her day. She gives him a monotone, “Fine.” They are all the same.

Day after day, the story is the same.

Does Laura’s story sound familiar?

It’s easy to ignore the warning signs of depression. Symptoms identified in isolation are easy to justify away. We tell ourselves, “It’s just PMS.” or “I had a bad night.” “It will get better.” “I just need to snap out of it.”

And while it’s very possible that low energy or a bad day is a one-time occurrence, sometimes it’s more pervasive than that. Seasonal Affective Disorder—also known as SAD or winter depression—if left unchecked, can have a devastating toll on individuals and families.

Regardless whether your low mood is circumstantial or something deeper, it’s important to know that you are not alone. In the UK alone, experts estimate one in 15 individuals are affected by SAD between the months of September and April, with women twice as likely to experience symptoms of depression than men.1

Despite much discussion about mental health in public spheres, many women simply don’t feel empowered to speak openly about their depression. There is a tendency to withdraw from relationships because we don’t want to be a burden, we think we can figure it out on our own, or it’s embarrassing to admit that we don’t have it all together.

And because of that, many aren’t finding the support they need, both in the community and in the church. Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission, writes, “There’s an assumption among many people that if they were honest about what they experienced, it would be rejected or they would be shamed.”

This rings true in light of a 2011 study on prescription usage in the US which revealed that one in four women in the US take some sort of prescribed medication to treat mental illness—that’s 12 million women. And yet, a large percentage of those are still not talking about their issues.2

An enlightening 2015 Christianity Today article titled, Depression: The Church’s Best Kept Secret, shines a spotlight on the lack of support that generally exists in the church regarding mental health. In the article, Dr. Archibald Hart, a licensed psychologist and senior professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, recalls asking a room full of women attending a seminar on depression, “How many of you are on an antidepressant but have not told your husband?” At least half of them stood up, he says.3

Clearly, the church has a long road ahead toward dispelling the stigma of mental illness but that doesn’t mean there isn’t help and support available right now. If you think you may be suffering from SAD, an important first step is to reach out to a trusted friend or family member. Knowing that there is one person who sees you and knows what you’re going through can be a literal lifesaver.

Scripture reveals that depression has actually been part of the human experience for a long time. But it can be easy for well-versed believers to gloss over the passages because they make us uncomfortable or, on the surface, they seem irrelevant.

Hannah was “reduced to tears and would not even eat. . . . [She] was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord.” (1 Samuel 1:7, 10)

Elijah asked God to take his life. (1 Kings 19:4)

Job described his life as ebbing away. “Depression haunts my days,” he said. “At night my bones are filled with pain, which gnaws at me relentlessly” (Job 30:16–17).

The human condition is not a surprise to God. There are real physiological changes that occur in the brain when depression begins to take hold. If a loved one had a broken leg, you wouldn’t hesitate to seek medical help. By the same token, depression should not be minimized as something that will pass.

What exactly is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is a specifier—or subtype—of major depression. People with this type of disorder commonly experience symptoms during the fall and winter months. During the lighter and warmer spring and summer months, the depression often goes into remission.

Though researchers haven’t pinpointed the specific cause of SAD, we do know that several factors may come into play:

The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and circadian rhythms, leading to feelings of depression.

Reduced sunlight may cause a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, which may trigger depression.

The change in season can also disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

SAD appears to be more common among people who live far north or far south of the equator. This may be due to decreased sunlight during the winter or, conversely, unnaturally long days during the summer, which impacts the internal body clock.

If you are suffering from SAD, there are a number of things you can do to change the trajectory of your mental health. First of all, talk to your doctor, he or she can help rule out any other possible causes for your symptoms, such as thyroid problems.

What are some of the symptoms?

Not everyone will experience all the symptoms listed, but if more than one of these resonate with you, you might want to consider looking into some treatment options.

  • * Sleep problems – usually oversleeping and difficulty staying awake but in some cases disturbed sleep and early morning waking
  • * Lethargy – lacking in energy and unable to carry out normal routine due to fatigue. Heaviness in the arms and legs
  • * Overeating – craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods, which usually leads to weight gain
  • * Depression – feeling sad, low and weepy, a failure, sometimes hopeless and despairing
  • * Apathy – loss of motivation and ability to concentrate
  • * Social problems – irritability and withdrawal from social situations, not wanting to see friends
  • * Anxiety – feeling tense and unable to cope with stress
  • * Loss of interest in normally pleasurable activities
  • * Loss of libido – decreased interest in sex and physical contact
  • * Weakened immune system – vulnerability to catching winter colds and flu
  • * Mood changes – for some people bursts of over-activity and cheerfulness (known as hypo-mania) in spring and autumn.

Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder

Common treatments for SAD include:

Light therapy.

Daily exposure a special light for roughly 30 minutes has proven very effective. The light mimics natural sunlight and can effect brain chemicals that improve mood and relieve symptoms. Sixty to 80 per cent of people with SAD find significant relief from light therapy. Make sure you talk to a medical professional about obtaining the right type of lamp.

Medication.

If symptoms are particularly intense, medication might be the best course of treatment. Different kinds of medications work in different ways, so it’s important to discuss with your doctor which is the right type for you.

Counselling (or Talk Therapy).

Working with a counsellor can be very effective in identifying possible triggers for depression, as well as teaching skills to help break negative patterns associated with depression. Altering thoughts, attitudes and actions that perpetuate negative patterns is instrumental in bringing about change. Counselling has proven to be beneficial alongside other treatments and medication.

Self-care.

Low energy and mood often means that there are only so many resources to go around. And, for many women, these are often spent on kids and family, which leaves very little left for self-care.

The Catch 22 is that regular exercise, a healthy diet, good sleep habits, managing stress and staying connected to others are all an important part of navigating SAD in one piece. A good church community can also come alongside if they recognize the wisdom in encouraging these things along with meditation, prayer, and Scripture contemplation.

According to Dr. Hart, “there’s a healthy and healing synchronization that occurs when we realize that our bodies, emotions, and beliefs aren’t separate entities but all play an integrated role in shaping who we are. While the condition of our faith may not play a role in the onset of depression, it is certainly vital in treating it.”4

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20364651

  1. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/s/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad
  2. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/women-and- prescription-drug-use_n_1098023
  3. https://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2015/september/depression-churchs-best-kept-secret.html
  4. https://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2015/september/depression-churchs-best-kept-secret.html

What does the bible say about hope?

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT)

“You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light.” (2 Samuel 22:29)

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

“I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.” (Psalm 40:1-3)

“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)

“He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)

Janine Dilger is a Canadian writer who loves Jesus, her family, and a steaming mug of coffee in a quiet kitchen before the day begins. God wired her with an eye for beauty: nature, art, photography, design and words—these things whisper refreshment into her soul. She is as broken as they come and has way more questions than answers. But after a life’s worth of hard lessons, she is realizing the trick is to just keep her feet moving. To that end, she’s doing her best at navigating the twists and turns of this life with faith, hope and humour. You can Janine blogging about her journey at janinedilger.com

when the winter is long - could it be SAD? Mental wellbeing article for iola magazine