Depression – What helps and hurts

Yesterday was global mental health day. I didn’t know it was until one of my friends posted a favorite quote about depression on social media. Every disease and social issue seems to have an awareness day or even a whole month dedicated to it (who gets to decide these things by the way?).

I think that awareness is very important, but sometimes it just adds to the noise and makes us think we are doing something to change the world around us when we aren’t, we are just sitting in isolation and typing up our opinions. I often see awareness as a young 20 something standing on some kind of makeshift platform with a bullhorn, trying to grab the attention of the people passing by her, all busy with their to do lists and relational priorities. Maybe what she’s saying needs to be heard, but the loudness from the bullhorn and the elevation she’s standing on to help her be seen, are actually the elements that will cause her message to feel distance and unimportant to those she’s trying to reach.


Listening hearts more than ears is what is needed for awareness to be effective, at least in my opinion. And the heart is not as easily engaged in awareness conversations.

I guess I say all that because the loud voices without action and heart engagement drives me nuts. But as someone who likes words and debating, I’m not saying I’m above this sort of passivity.

With that in mind I’m going to share a few of my thoughts on how to help people, who are struggling with depression. Depression is just one of the many mental illnesses people suffer from, but it is the most prevalent. It’s also the mental illness I have been dealing with for most of this past year.

Originally when I thought about writing a post about depression, I thought I would share my story and what I’ve been experiences with some tips for those who have loved ones who are also suffering. But I’m not at the place I can yet write about my story, so I’m just going to share a few thoughts about what was helpful and hurtful to me when I was really in a dark place, with the hopes it helps a few people better interact with their loved ones who are suffering with this illness.

A few qualifiers or items to note before I begin. These thoughts are all based upon my experience, and thus of course they won’t apply to everyone dealing with depression. Secondly, if you’re my friend and you find your actions listed on the “not helpful” list, it’s ok. So many of my actions towards many friends who dealt with depression before I had would also be listed there also. Thirdly, if you’re tired of reading already here’s my one main and plain pointer for helping your friends and loved ones who deal with depression, give them unconditional love! Show up in their lives and love them during the roller coaster of highs and lows.


(All these thoughts were written on my iPhone notes to help me cope and process during the really dark days. These helpful and not helpful actions and words were all things I actually experienced with people.)

What Helps


  1. When you hear me out and ask perceptive and insightful questions about what’s going on in my head and heart, WITHOUT judgement.
  2. When you dig past my generic answers. I want to share more, but I won’t share more because I don’t trust you actually want to hear it. So if you want to know how I really am, you’re going to have to dig a little and listen hard.
  3. When you tell me you understand and literally say “you’re not crazy.”
  4. When you remind me that you love me no matter what.
  5. Empathy without feeling the need to go into all the details of your story and assume what worked for you will work for me.
  6. Bible verses specifically about God’s love for the lowly and that He fights our battles for us.
  7. Telling me to come over to your house. I may not feel like going initially, but I always feel better when I’m there surrounded by people that love me.
  8. Asking me about suicidal thoughts (this was rarely done). I know you’re scared to ask, but you need to. Ask if I’ve thought about it, and if I have, ask if I have a plan.
  9. When you remind me about the good you see in me. I am not just my depression but sometimes I think I am. I feel as though I’ve lost myself or all my good qualities. Remind me that I haven’t. Where do you still see gold in my life?
  10. When you help me find a counselor. Compile a list, sit down with me and help me make the phone calls. Offer to help pay for some of the cost if you can. It’s so incredibly hard to make these phone calls and actually set up appointments.
  11. When you pray for me.

What Doesn’t Help or Hurts me


  1. Generic questions. “How is your relationship with Jesus?” What I hear when you ask this is, “your relationship with Jesus must not be good because you struggling so much. If you were really going to God and allowing him to move in your life He would.”
  2. The statement “You don’t have to be sad or be in depression, it’s a choice, get off the roller coaster.” (Hello, this was/is the hardest season of my life. Why would anyone choose depression?)
  3. “This is what I did and it worked.” – What I hear is, “if you were as motivated as I was you could get passed all this.” I want to hear your story and how you got through, but please first empathize. Tell me about the bad days, tell me how painful and hard it was. Don’t jump so quickly to how you go out of it, it belittles the pain I’m in and the battle I’m fighting. I want to hear truth and about your journey, but I need it from a place of caring and understanding.
  4. “Your emotions follow your thinking.” I largely agree with this, but it’s a long slow slow process. Don’t assume because I’m still struggling with depression that my mind is full of sin and lies.
  5. Lecturing me and reprimanding me when I’m in a bad emotional place. During depression, like all times in life, I’m going to make mistakes, I’m going to cope in the wrong ways. Don’t lecture me about my bad decisions during my bad days. During depression I had/have good days, save the lectures for those days or figure out how to encourage me to make good choices without the lecture. I still need truth on bad days, but the kinds of truth I need right now is the reminder that God loves me and you love me and believe in me.
  6. If you’re going to be there for me then be there for me. Don’t act like you are and then not answer my calls and texts. It’s ok if you can’t be there for me, not everyone can be. But I need people I know I can go to during dark times and they are going to respond. I need safe people. If you don’t have the time or energy don’t pretend to.

A few extra thoughts

Validations empowers. Validation gives me the ability to trust myself and believe I can make good decisions. Validation is necessary to help me stand up straight and begin to try and walk again. Maybe I need to be pruned a little too, but first offer some validation.

Shame does that exact opposite. Shame is fear based and it will only weaken me further.

Look out for the “struggling but” statements. “I’m struggling or life is hard, BUT God is good.” “I’m not doing the best, BUT God’s got me.” These statements are how we cut the tension. It’s a social politeness when talking to people to cut the tension. If we were to really tell you how we are, we know it would feel like a weight or burden, so we typically cut that tension with humor or with but statements (filled with Christianese if you’re a Christian). If you want to really know how we are give us eye contact and caring and insightful questions. Better yet, offer yourself and your time so we can really share our hearts.

If I really trust you you’re going to get the full brunt of my down days. You’re going to get all the negativity without any glimmer of optimism because that’s how I really feel most days. You’re going to hear my exaggerated sentiments about my life and relationships as I express my pain and hurt. The friends who have really helped me have left me vent and told me it didn’t faze them and reinforced after that they love me.

If I offer to show someone my true pain and I’m immediately hit with advice (meant to forge optimism in me) I will shut down and trust is lost.

Sometimes it seems ungodly to not offer optimism when we share our pain and battle with depression. It may seem like we’ve lost our hope in God when we verbalize our struggle without stating we “see God” or “we know he will get us through.” But it absolutely doesn’t mean that when we state our pain without stating anything about God that we don’t hope in him. In fact we probably hope in his strong arm to save more than we ever have. Yes, we may not be completely confident he will pull us through, but still it is our hope. And even if we are 100% confident he will pull us through we also know that is not likely to happen immediately. We know that we still have a long road ahead of us, will you join us on that road? Will you walk with us a bit? Or simply point to the road marker and show us on the map where to go, wish us luck without offering any part of your time and resources?

Cafe Moment

Cafes are one of my favorite places in the world. Take me to any city or small town and I will be happy to spend most of the day in the local cafe. Cafes both calm and inspire me. Maybe I’ll write about my love for cafes in more detail one day, but for now I’m just going to share a short free write/poem I wrote while visiting Tomato Pie Cafe in Lititz one afternoon.


My eyes glance up for a moment of reprieve from my internal discourse

Sitting, surrounded by the familiar, in what’s come to be know as “The Coolest Small Town in America”

My attention is called to the center of the cafe

I’m watching the interaction of father and daughter

He is standing, cradling his daughter, focused

Communicating with his eyes that his affection is solely for her in this moment

Mother is chatting with the waitress at the register

Connections being made, smiles come easily

Kisses abound as he sits back down, his eyes never moving from her face

Mother finishes paying and comes back into the safety of her home

Her arms embrace both daughter and lover

Her heart spilling over as she looks at her most precious ones

The beauty of her face as she looks deeply at the man that she loves is overwhelming

The love he is expressing multiplies the love she feels for him

There is purity here

Nothing to corrupt this love

No ideals of perfection to mar this present

As they embrace each other

Truth is looked at in the eye

Communication is deep, without words, because words are weak

The love portrayed is refreshing as if it was newly grown

But the richness of the picture shows me this love was fought for, it was formed in dark places

A cloud surrounds this picture as they walk out the door

All are aware

But no ones knows

Assumptions can be made

But who really knows

Freedom Calls


Freedom calls
Her voice echoes through the nations
Awakening a generation from slumber and sedation
We have been asleep for far too long
Our silence allowing wickedness to grow strong
Blinded by blended lines of right and wrong
Freedom calls
Rippling like sound waves through time and space
History can’t be erased and it’s daily being retraced
Slavery isn’t over
She’s merely gotten a makeover
Meant to keep her hidden with minimal exposure
Freedom calls
Leaving messages on awareness t-shirts and missing child posters at bus stops
Though these actions are needed, isn’t it time we think outside the box?
Maybe we can’t turn back this blackened clock
But we can ALL be a part of making it STOP
Freedom calls
She’s asking for you
Maybe you don’t know what to do
But your voice is needed and your actions too
It’s time to take your stand and proclaim what is truth
The days are over for duplicity and passivity
You need to pursue truth and justice actively
Freedom calls
I have dream
“That one day a woman won’t be judged by the curves of her hips, and the color of her hair, but the content of her heart”
Freedom calls
She’s not quitting
Though defeat looks presumable and the task insurmountable
Evil will not reign, he must be held accountable
Justice commissioners must do more than mere trading of prisoners
We need truth, righteousness, and love distributors
Freedom calls
This war isn’t happening on battlefields in distant nations
It’s invasions, locations, and implications are without limitation
And it’s time to open up that box of reality and depravity
This war’s casualties begin in our families
Freedom calls
She sounds like your sister, friend, mother and daughters
She needs more than popular trends, ideas, and smooth talkers
She needs intervention, and intention through prevention
She needs abuse detection
She needs literal protection and real affection
But most of all
What she needs is sacrificial love and eternal redemption


“Love looks like something”

Mother Teresa quote

Experiences in life are 4D. They aren’t linear, and there always seems to be four or five different themes going on at the same time. So when people ask me about Brazil, I either give them a few standard lines that I’ve said before, or if I can see they are looking for a more detailed response I usually ask them for a moment and then try and rack my brain for some sort of theme or experience I think might appeal to the person asking me.

For this post, I’m going to speak to one of the most powerful and practical “themes” of my time in Brazil. The title of this post is actually a Heidi Baker quote, “Love looks like something, yet it has no limits.” I can’t remember when I first heard this quote, but it’s the essence of a deep and confoundingly simple revelation I received while at the Iris Global school in Brazil.

I’m sure you probably can already guess where I’m headed with this, but let me ask a needed question. What’s the purpose of missionary work?

To feed the poor? Provide clean drinking water? Set-up a health clinic for a week? Maybe microfinance a small business?

OR maybe the more religious sounding answers, like preaching the gospel. Saving lost souls. And my heroic-sounding favorite, “advancing the kingdom of God.”

These are all awesome things, but maybe just slightly missing the real bull’s eye. I believe the purpose of missions is for people to have love encounters.

I know this sounds like blissfully simplified theology and/or fashionably hipster. But when you get it, like I got in Brazil, it’s compelling, supernatural, and deeply satisfying. Let me share a glimpse of how God revealed this truth to me.

There’s a place in Rio de Janeiro our school visited called Gramacho. Literally it’s a dump. A large landfill where garbage was dumped every day for 34 years until it closed in 2012. Thousands of people live in this place. Children grow-up here, and their parents make their living from the items they retrieve from the garbage. It’s an unimaginable life, for almost any American, and even most Brazilians. It’s a truly devastating situation.

Here’s the part that really got me though, at Gramacho people get “saved” frequently. Sometimes it’s even weekly. Christians come in, hand out some food, and the people “accept Jesus.” But their lives aren’t changed. They still live in the dump and their daily lifestyle isn’t any different than before.

Steph Gramacho

But some amazing heroes of mine are beginning to change that story. They are Brazilian Iris missionaries, who know Jesus, and know that He desires, more than anyone, to see this situation changed. They have built real relationships with the people living in Gramacho. They listen to their stories, they laugh together, pray together, eat together. And often they help meet physical needs as well, like caring for their wounds, giving them food, and taking them places. But their focus isn’t on what they are “doing” for the people of Gramacho. Their focus is truly loving them. And because of their genuine love, people are having supernatural encounters with the living God.

There are many stories of inspiring individuals I could tell you about, like Adriana (seen below) who encountered God supernaturally one day when Stephanie (an Iris missionary, who’s given up her career as a Brazilian model to serve and love these people full-time – shown in picture above) was simply talking and laughing with her. Adriana is now a powerful woman of prayer, she takes care of her seven children and her disabled mother, she runs a small store, she’s a preacher, and God has told her that she will not always be living in the dump. She has become like a spiritual mother to Stephanie and their bond of love for each other is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.



What’s also exciting is that God is providing ways for the people to literally get out of the dump. Land has been purchased, where houses will be built and Iris missionaries and many of the people from Gramacho will live together in these homes.

It’s hard for me to translate my experience in Gramacho through words alone. Because what’s going on there, the interactions between the Iris missionaries and the residents of Gramacho is something so special. It’s so real, that words alone can’t do it justice. It’s real love that’s happening, and it’s changing everything.

1 Corinthians 13 is probably one of the most famous chapters in the Bible. Paul goes through a list of really awesome things; like giving away all you have, and having faith to move mountains, and understanding all mysteries. And then he says, “but if I have not love, I gain nothing.” Why? Because love is the essence of God. Love is who He is, and it’s what He’s given us.

But what really is love? I don’t think I can sum it up much better than John did.

1 John 4:7-12 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”

I used to think love was too simple and weak to really be the gospel. But then I’m reminded that God chooses the foolish and weak things of the world to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:27). I’m reminded that Jesus said that the whole Bible (which was the law and prophets back then) are summed up in two commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. And love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:36-40).

See people are hungry, poor, sick, and living in hopeless situations. But giving them everything they need to become a person of middle class wealth and health will not solve deeper issues. Neither will throwing a few Bible verses at them and saying a quick prayer. People need love, real love. And real love comes from one man, Jesus. Because there is no one else that loves like He does. He loved us and gave His life for us, while we were still His enemies. Love isn’t good feelings and goosebumps. Love is self sacrifice. And we who carry within us Jesus’ Spirit, must walk in that love. Ephesians 5:1-2 “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

(I listened to this 4-track Misty Edwards & David Brymer CD nonstop in Brazil. The songs are like the soundtrack to my time in Brazil. This song really sums up this post.)

Everyday God loves me, He loves me with all of Himself. And everyday He asks me to do the same. He asks me to love Him by loving His children. In John 21, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loved Him. Every time Peter said, “yes Lord, you know that I love you.” And every time Jesus responded then “feed my sheep.”

I don’t live out this revelation of His love. But I want to, more and more each day. Loving the one in front of me. Loving not in word or talk, but in deed and truth (1 John 3:18). This could look like smiling at the cashier at the grocery store, it could look like holding someone close and just listening, it could look like sharing material possessions, or giving that stranger a ride to the bus stop. It could look like verbally sharing truth through the word of God, or moving into the bad part of town to build relationships with single moms and people addicted to drugs. “Love looks like something, but it has no limits.” This revelation on love truly is so simple, that I almost feel silly that I never really “got it” before Brazil and Iris ministries. But I feel like He’s now given me “eyes to see” and with these new eyes He’s giving me the opportunity to love Him more, by loving His precious children. Not loving them with my own affection that is inclined to take and not give, but with His perfect, sacrificial, and steadfast love.

(A small taste of Iris Ministries)