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End of the Summer Update: Music, Depression, and New Focus

It’s been a while since I last ventured into the blogosphere, over four months in fact. In the world of blogging, a four month absence is often the equivalent of  a four year absence anywhere else and thus a quick recipe for irrelevancy. (Keeping a blog is much like “feeding the beast” as a friend of mine once put it.) But life happens in seasons, and some seasons nurture more fruitful conditions for blogging than others, at least in my life. It just happened that this past life season, which loosely corresponded with summer, was one that demanded me to unplug from social networking. I needed that. If I hadn’t, you would have eventually demanded it, I’m sure!
As the title suggests, it was a painful but grace-filled summer. Music. A clinical depression. Hopes for new focus.

A Musical Renaissance
Almost two years ago, the band I played with during my college years got together for a reunion show, and that deeply satisfying experience reawakened the “playing bug” in me. I sing and play a variety of instruments, but my love for playing the bass and singing in a band took on a whole new life. Eight months after that, I started playing in a rock trio that has played a handful of times.

But then in the late spring of this year, it occurred to me that I have had an unspoken yet desperate need to do more things outside of church life. Any pastor will tell you that ministry can be all-encompassing and smothering unless there are invigorating activities we can enjoy that have nothing whatsoever to do with church. Given  my lifelong passion for music, that translated into playing in a band that could gig out.

So, I sold some things I had to get a better bass amplifier and then began thinking about my bass. I have had a bass guitar I bought from a guy I knew when I first started seriously playing. It’s the equivalent of a Ford Fiesta in the bass world– nothing fancy or special, but a good, reliable instrument. I bought it for next to nothing and made some modifications that made it even better.

But then a neighbor of mine lent me his Fender Jazz bass. I had always heard of the Fender Jazz and knew of many prominent bass players who have sworn lifelong allegiances to them, but I had never tried one. Well let me tell you, after adjusting my neighbor’s Fender Jazz a little bit and putting it through its paces, I fell hopelessly in love with it. I would have thought Leo Fender himself had personally designed the shape, tone, and feel of that bass exclusively for me. I won’t inundate you with all the frilly details because it would bore 95% of you non-bassists, but let me just say, it was like the experience of meeting someone and realizing you’ve found your soul mate. (Blech! Sorry, only a musician would not gag over that last sentence.)
After months of research and playing several models, I discovered the one– a Geddy Lee Fender Jazz. So I talked it over with Blairlee, sold a few more things and went out to get my treasure! With a great amp and a killer bass guitar, it was time to get out there and do some more playing. Through Craigslist and a musician’s website, I advertised myself and contacted prospective bands. To my surprise, I got bombarded by the number of bands looking for a bassist, especially one who can sing.

Stepping into established bands was an entirely different musical experience for me. I had a hand in conceiving every other band I’ve played in. So, conveniently, there was never anything I had to prove. This time, however, I had to step into existing bands and audition. Fewer words will curdle the blood of a musician more than audition. (You’re too loud is a close second.) Indeed, auditioning was a nerve-racking  prospect, but it was good, hard medicine. Being forced to work extra hard in practice and preparation for an audition notched up my professionalism quite a bit. And it more than paid off. Thankfully, every band I auditioned for offered me a job!

As of now, I’m playing in a trio that plays classic and modern rock and in a second band, a foursome, that plays harder modern rock. Once in a while I get calls to step in and play in other projects, too. I have been blessed to find and play alongside band mates who are solid musicians and decent family guys who love music as much as I do.

That itch to get out and play is getting plentifully scratched…

A Clinical Depression
Most of you probably know that on January 26 of this year God gave me the incredible opportunity to donate my left kidney to a woman from my congregation. It’s almost impossible to put into words how powerful an experience this has been for me. But I had also taken for granted how physically and mentally challenging it was, too. From the time I began the tests and evaluations to become a donor until a week after surgery, I lost about 70 lbs. The weight loss combined with the rigors of major surgery, the loss of an organ, and recovery, put my body through taxing, heavy changes.

All of that physical trauma infused into the demanding life of pastoral ministry that requires nothing less than my absolute best, even when I’m fully healthy, created the perfect storm for a personal melt down.
Well, the perfect storm found me. It took the shape of a clinical depression. I have suffered depression only once before during a time in which my personal circumstances were far worse than now. This depression, however, made that one seem like a skip through Candy Land. I went through some very dark weeks. And I’m not yet at a place where I would have the heart to elaborate on them now.

I am just so thankful to have been continually surrounded by such a patiently loving wife, family, and church family who have been more than able to nurse me through the worst of it. They did not give up on me, even when I had gotten to the point of wanting to give up on myself. Through their encouragement, I took the necessary steps of getting diagnosed and receiving medication which I’m still taking today. About two months ago I started getting some therapy, too.

Working through depression has reminded me again how inept we are at understanding and relating to people who struggle with any kind of mental condition, whether it be dementia, ADHD, bipolar disorder, or depression. They are medical conditions that are diagnosed and treated just like any other part of the body. And yet, the rampantly running misunderstandings and ill-formed attitudes people hold about conditions and illnesses of the mind are mind-boggling (no pun intended) given the age of information in which we live and the number of people who struggle with conditions like depression, dementia, and ADHD.

By its very nature depression is isolating enough, let alone the additional barriers of isolation created by fear, shame, and ignorance. But it is what it is. Thankfully, I have had an understanding web of people to support and hold me accountable.

At the same time, I have found depression to be a gift. Far from a being a demon to cast out so that I can “get back to normal”, depression can lead to healing, growth, and clarity through the hurts and difficulties that might have been lingering just below the surface far down enough that I could conveniently ignore them. Depression strips away this veneer. It completely exposes those old open wounds. With its awful, deafening silence in the rawest parts of my soul, depression insists I do the hard work of healing, discernment, growth, and change. That takes time. It also requires firm intention. But I’m getting there, one day at a time with the help of this shadowy gift.

Renewed Focus
As gratifying and agonizing as this summer has been, there are still some budding seeds of hope. I can’t think of too many other things as hopeful as a renewed sense of focus and purpose. Somewhere in the thick of this year’s happenings and in the time leading up to it, I began to lose my focus, my purpose and indeed myself. In order to keep the masses happy and my home at peace, I had fallen headlong into the trap of giving so much away to satisfy the needs and demands of others that my life became enslaved to the tyranny of the phone, the clock, and the constant barrage of “I need you to do _____.”
The phone will always ring. The clock will keep ticking. I’ll always be needed, but now I’m beginning to rediscover a truth I have known but forgotten. That is, God has given me unique gifts, strengths, abilities, and talents, and it is time for me to intentionally operate solely out of these things. That will be my gift to the world around me.

There will always be things I can’t do or don’t do well. There will always be things that despite my best efforts will drive my wife and kids crazy. But I don’t have to be nearly as burdened by all this when I’m living from the fountain of my personal strengths and gifts, realistically aware of my liabilities, yes, but not worrying about that so much. As for growth, why not grow where I’m already strong instead of trying to grow where I know I’m weak only to find myself frustrated time and time again?

Part of the renewed focus means writing, writing, and more writing, discovering and probing in ways that get myself and others to think and grow while laying new paths for more authentic, sincere spirituality through a vital connection with Jesus Christ. The blog will undoubtedly be a part of that and far less neglected than it has been of late.

In the meantime, I want you to know how much I appreciate our exchange of ideas and the ways you enhance my thinking and writing by your comments and conversation. Let’s keep at it together…


Filed under Bodily Health, Grief and Healing, Music, Spiritual Growth and Practice