Geese, Golf Carts, and Unexpected Laughter: A True Story About Depression

For a fair stretch of time a few years ago, I was depressed. I still functioned in the ways that you're expected to function when you're an adult. I worked. I parented. I showed up. But I was a shell of myself.

I'm a positive person by nature, and I have strong faith in the Lord. These factors aren't mutually exclusive from depression. With every bit of resolve and emotional fortitude left in me, I tried to not appear like I was struggling, even to myself.

I still remember the afternoon when I realized how long I had been lurking in the shadows and how dark those shadows had grown. My husband had invited me to ride along in the cart when he went golfing. (If golf were a love language, Joel would speak it fluently.) I accepted the invitation.

I don't recall if he played all 18 holes or just 9, but I do remember that we encountered a flock of geese wandering the course, which apparently is common on a golf course. Flying rats, Joel had called them. Then he steered the golf cart toward the next tee box, cutting through the middle of the gaggle of geese so they parted ways, honking and lifting a few feet off the ground, as we drove through their midst.

Something about the scene, I'm not exactly sure what, struck me as comical. I smiled. It was a genuine smile. Then, inexplicably, the situation morphed from mildly comical in my head into oddly, irrevocably, ridiculously comical. I mean, all those flapping geese wings! The honking! The random way they scattered! My smile brimmed over into a laugh, and the laugh wasn't forced or fake. I couldn't stop my shoulders from shaking and my chest from heaving in laughter simply because Joel had driven our golf cart between some geese.

While Joel walked to the tee box and I wiped tears from my eyes from my weird display of laughter, I noticed the blue of the sky and the green of the grass and the pleasing way the fence edged the side of the golf path. My breathing felt fuller, as if my lungs had been released from constriction. More than I could express in actual words, I felt something in my heart: I'm feeling a real feeling right now, and that feeling feels happy. This feeling had been absent for so long I hadn't known if I was capable of feeling it again. 

That's the moment I realize that I had been depressed. The resurgence of a normal feeling — in this case, happiness — even from such a peculiar source (honking geese, really?), highlighted that I hadn't had normal feelings in quite some time. I had been wrung out, hollow, numb. But here I was, shoulders shaking and tears brimming from laughter.

None of it made sense, but it was something, and something felt better than nothing, which had been my default.  

Since then, life hasn't been all rosy, of course, because life is messy, and people are messy, and circumstances can be hard. But I confidently can say that it's much better — or, more aptly, that I'm much better. I talked with my doctor to address the physical elements of depression. I sought guidance from a trusted counselor. I'm in much closer community with an amazing group of faithful friends than I was then, which has been invaluable. (Good friends love you through your things, and in turn, you love them through their things right back.) 

And God. Oh, the care and goodness of God to handle all my feelings and prayers, all the chaotic emotion and numbness that I flung his way and cast at His feet. What healing he's brought to my heart. Along with the psalmist, I can testify that the Lord is the lifter of my head.

The void of feeling, the numbness, the dearth of happiness — it wasn't permanent. It was temporary. I'll never forget that first glimmer of hope, one that came in the weirdest of ways: geese, a golf cart, and unexpected laughter.


Just Go to the Concert

Have you ever listened to the band NEEDTOBREATHE? Even after over twenty years of incredible music, they're sometimes described as the "biggest band you've never heard of."

I've always wanted to see them in concert. A few months ago I had the chance. My oldest daughter texted me when the band released their upcoming tour dates, asking if I'd be interested in going with her and two college friends to see them. The catch? The concert was scheduled for a Wednesday night in a city three hours away. Even so, I checked my work calendar. It was the worst potential Wednesday of the semester to do such a thing, but after a few minutes, I texted her back:

"Absolutely. Get the tickets."

Was it a long day of work, followed by six hours of round-trip driving? Of course. Was I tired the next day? Undoubtedly. After gushing for a half hour about the concert, did the three teenagers with me fall asleep in the car on the way home, leaving me alone with my own thoughts for the rest of the long drive? Yes, they most certainly did.

Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Even now a few months later, I occasionally reflect upon that night. It's the only Wednesday evening of the entire fall semester I specifically remember. It would have been easy to skip if I based my decision on convenience alone, but really, how could I have passed up the opportunity? 

Of course, I've missed other opportunities, like one night in college when my roommate asked me if I wanted to go Christmas caroling at Joe Paterno's house, which was slightly under a mile from our dorm at Penn State. Of course I wanted to go, but it already was late and I had been studying for a final exam I had at 8 the next morning.

I still remember how my roommate and friends stomped snow off their boots as they entered our dorm two hours later. I hadn't moved from my desk. "How was it?" I asked.

The group was so excited that each person talked over the others:

"It was amazing!'

"We were so nervous to ring their doorbell that we stopped at three other houses to practice."

"Sue Paterno opened the door and she was in her bathrobe. She stepped outside in her slippers to plug in their Christmas lights!"

"Coach Paterno asked where we were from and we all said, 'Penn State' at the exact same time. He laughed and said, 'I gathered that. Where are you girls actually from?'"

"I can't believe it started snowing as we were singing. It was magical!"

This took place over two decades ago, but I still remember particular details, like how Joe draped his arm around Sue's shoulder as they stood in their front doorway, backlit from the warm glow of light in their house, and snow started to fall while my friends sang Silent Night.

For the life of me, the one thing I can't remember is what class I was studying for.

Sometimes you need to choose the less convenient, but better, option. I don't remember the final exam that happened then, and I won't remember run-of-the-mill Wednesday nights that happen now. But I'll always remember this one particular Wednesday night when I traveled to Pittsburgh to watch NEEDTOBREATHE in concert with my nearly nineteen-year-old daughter and her two friends. 

If there's ever another opportunity, I hope I'd do the exact same thing again. Just go to the concert.

Never heard of NEEDTOBREATHE? It's high time to remedy that. They've released too many incredible songs to list even a fraction of them, but you can't go wrong with this sampling of seven. Seriously, pause everything else you need to do today and do this first. Do it. Do it now.

Brother (perhaps their most widely-known song, for good reason)

West Texas Wind (sung poetry that'll make you feel all the feels)

Banks (a love song with a growl at 2:56 that's absolute perfection)

Hard Love (amazing vocals, amazing lyrics)

Carry Me (sounds like a prayer I want to pray daily)

Lay 'Em Down (one of their oldest, but what a wildly satisfying drop at 2:15)

Multiplied (also from the archives, and one of my personal favorites)

Actually, let's make it a sampling of eight songs, with this incredible, stripped-down, ruggedly live version of Survival (featuring Drew and Ellie Holcomb) that, as the kids these days say, absolutely slaps:


Perfect Peace

A few days ago, I watched the opening episodes to season four of The Chosen at our local movie theatre. I heard about the series in passing a year ago, but I only began to watch for myself last fall when three separate people told me how deeply the show was impacting them over the series of three days.

After a few episodes, I understand why its reach is wide and profound. (If you haven't watched, I can't recommend it enough.) In the most recent episodes, we witness a brief exchange between Peter, the disciple, and Gaius, a Roman centurion. As Peter leaves, he offers the customary Jewish departure, "Shalom, shalom."

Gaius asks a question that we, as viewers, might have asked ourselves, "Why do you say it twice?"

Peter responds that "shalom" once is peace, but "shalom, shalom" is perfect peace, complete wholeness.

I've followed Jesus for thirty years, and I'm still in awe of His gift of peace. A few weeks ago, over an Olive Garden lunch of soup, salad, and breadsticks, a friend told me about her husband's recent surgery which removed a malignant tumor. During the whole process — the discovery of the tumor, the leadup to surgery, the waiting for results on the tumor's malignancy, the post-op checkup — both she and her husband had remained in complete peace.

She told me, "I knew it was serious, but somehow I never was upset. Neither was my husband. I wondered whether we should be more worked up about it." As my friend reflected, she only could attribute it to the perfect peace of God, a peace that passes all understanding, a peace that guarded their hearts and minds.

What kindness from the Lord. 

I've had many days when I'm grasping for whisps of peace in the midst of turmoil, confusion, or grief. Many times, my level of peace feels like the "shalom" (not "shalom, shalom") variety: peace-ish, but not quite perfect in its wholeness. 

But peace isn't the absence of struggle, pain, or hardship. It's the presence of God, even in the midst of a storm. I can trust a God who is both powerful and close, both all-knowing and intimate, both unsearchable in His greatness and deeply caring.

Whether or not I see it in my circumstances or feel it in my emotions, God's peace is perfect, complete, and whole. It's deeper than what's happening around me or even within me. It's a peace anchored in the Lord himself, who doesn't shift like shadows, who remains a strong tower and fortress, who understands and comforts those who grieve, who upholds us with his mighty right hand.

Shalom, shalom, indeed.
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