Brian Hoyer’s ACL and abrupt chapter endings

brian-hoyer

As I drove to the gym two Thursdays ago, I heard the the introduction to the Browns-Bills game. At the start of the season, no one, outside of Buffalo or Cleveland would have even cared about the match-up. But as it so happens, the Browns had won 2 in a row and were on the verge of being over 500.

But something else hit me as I tuned into the pre-game broadcast. Brian Hoyer, who started the season as the third string QB, had been inserted into the line-up a few games prior and was set to have a chance to win a third straight. Three game winning streaks for the Browns are not common (for the record the Bucs did have a four game winning streak last year).

Yet the story didn’t end with a third string QB coming in to save the day. Hoyer grew up less than 20 minutes from where the Browns play. He’s an underdog, and a hometown kid, whose dream was probably to play for his home town team. And it happened. And he won.

And then he slid, very poorly on a run for a first down. A defender hit him, and he tore his ACL. And just like that, the story was over. Well the Browns won the game, and may still win. Such a franchise has a special place in my heart: Bucs fans are partial to losing organizations.

The story seemed like such a good fit. It shouldn’t end so soon, and with a simple slide? Who knows what could have been? We don’t. We won’t.

It’s just football, but probably all of us can think of how we would have written another’s story differently. Or our own?

If I had written my story, it wouldn’t have included depression, or back surgery at 25. It wouldn’t have included purchasing a house at the worst possible time in US History. It wouldn’t have been to head to West Virginia. It wouldn’t have been a number of things. Yet all of those things things God has weaved together into a story that is a part of His bigger story of undoing the curse of sin down in these parts. He’s used all of the above in our ministry here. For the record, the West Va time was enjoyable from the get-go, but it certainly wasn’t what this salt-water enthusiast had planned on doing!

Of course there are other things that have happened that I’ll never know why. And surely you will too.

Perhaps Connar’s memory verse for today at school is apropos:

And in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. -Romans 8:28

Some stories, or at least chapters in the stories end abruptly. They really do. And we should grieve. We really should. How can we not?

But there is a Story that has already been written. It is beautiful in a way that sometimes we won’t fully appreciate this side of heaven. I think we need to come to grips with that too.

I once heard that a high school class in South Carolina read Animal Farm but didn’t explain to the kids that it was an allegory. It wasn’t just an animal story. It would have been meaningless if not properly understand as an allegory regarding the “equality” inherent in communism.

Sometimes I think I might often misread what happens in my life in the same way.

Or you may have read a book that you didn’t appreciate when younger, but now you see the beauty, and style of the author as you get older. You learn there is much more to story-writing than piecing together details. Some stories are only appreciated when you get older.

Sometimes life may be the opposite of a Harry Potter story, which is easy to read and appreciated despite the level of maturity of the “reader.”

The more we recognize that God has written us into His story for redeeming and reconciling the world, the easier it will become for us when chapters end differently than we would have hoped.

Until that day when we will see the full beauty of the story, even to those who have had great injustices done to them, we have the words of the martyrs in Revelation to encourage us:

“Great and marvelous are your deeds,
Lord God Almighty.
Just and true are your ways,
King of the nations.[a]
Who will not fear you, Lord,
and bring glory to your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship before you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”- Rev 15:3-4

Such is the ending of the Christian.

Advertisements

Some thoughts on processing depression, medicine, and the gospel

Saturday I received the terrible news on my twitter feed that Rick Warren’s beloved 27 year-old son took his own life. Hopefully most of us will never know that the feels like; hopefully we can only empathize from a distance and speculate. Yet such tragedies happen to children who may truly believe the gospel and to parents who may truly believe the gospel. Tony Dungy, I would imagine, has probably tried to reach out to Warren, since he knows exactly what it is like to lose a son to suicide.

There will probably be a plethora of thoughts and blogs coming out today. So I’ll just consider this my contribution, as someone who has battled with depression.

State vs. Trait Depression/Anxiety

Warren’s own words are that his own son struggled with depression almost from birth. Sometimes there are easily observable situations which can trigger such depression. Sometimes these aren’t so easily observable, but nevertheless are there. This is “state”depression/anxiety. Something, some event, person, crises, or series of events/crises/persons have led to such depression. It seems from Warren’s opinion, that this was more of “trait” depression/anxiety. For such folks, no true joyous event or circumstance shakes you out of it. There is nothing which triggers it. It is just there.

Power of the Gospel?

I believe the gospel has power to deliver us from the punishment of sin, enslaving power of sin, and one day the total presence of sin. There are undoubtedly folks who end up experiencing bi-polar depression who through faith experience very few debilitating affects. But I feel it is dangerous to assume this to always be normative. There are many others who will battle with debilitating depression their entire lives. Some may succumb to ending their lives. Some may go seriously insane. 

One well known hymn writer William Cowper went insane while trying to compile a hymn collection with his friend John Newton.

Did he not believe the very words in his own hymns which have offered Christians today such comfort? Why should we sing them if he didn’t?

Was there something wrong with the gospel or his faith? Obviously, in a black and white world, those are the only two conclusions. But obviously we don’t live in a black and white world. We live in a world stained with sin, which only makes things more complicated. Sin muddies the water. And even though we (us today) didn’t start the fire technically, we live in a world still ablaze with the curse of sin. 

Folks do die of hunger. Christians do. Proverbs is not life’s little promise book, that guarantees if you have faith, then _______ will happen. Even training up your child…. Folks commit suicide even though when they believe the gospel. Do they believe it fully? No, but thank God he doesn’t require perfect faith (Mark 9:24). Mental illness is real, and Christians are not immune to it. We live in the fallen world as well, even as we experience redemption living under the Kingdom and reign of God.

Ed Stetzer used to live in a black/white world until his first pastorate. He writes

The first time I dealt with mental illness in church was with a man named Jim. I was young and idealistic – a new pastor serving in upstate New York. Jim was a godsend to us. He wanted to help, and his energy was immeasurable. He’d visit with me, sing spontaneously, pray regularly and was always ready to help.

Until he was gone.

For days and sometimes weeks at a time, he would struggle with darkness and depression. During this time, he would withdraw from societal interaction and do practically nothing but read Psalms and pray for hours on end. I later learned that this behavior is symptomatic of what is often called bipolar disorder or, in years before, manic depression.

I prayed with Jim. We talked often about the need for him to take his medicine, but he kept asking God to fix him. Eventually, at his lowest point and filled with despair, he took his own life.

Medicine isn’t necessarily evil

Just because people have been over-prescribed drugs to numb pain doesn’t mean that all medication is bad. Sometimes it may be helpful for a season of life. Sometimes it be helpful and needed one’s entire life. Because the church (and this is a good thing) is willing to reject the world’s first solution for all pain, it can sometimes throw the baby out with the bathwater. In every season, turn, turn, turn, I think there is a time where medicine can be helpful. It has helped me. Not as a first resort but as a last resort, I believe there may be a season. Turn, turn, turn….

Medicine isn’t THE cure

Medicine isn’t THE cure. In fact it may not even be A cure. I would imagine Rick’s son was on medication. But medicine can help some of the chemical issues, at least for a season, SO THAT one can focus on the liberating truths of the gospel and comfort it provides. The world views medicine as THE solution. If it doesn’t work, go find another medicine. But I think a more responsible form of action is the option of potentially supplementing the real hard work of gospel dynamics (believing/applying the gospel to your specific situation) with medicine. Supplementing and not replacing. Medicine cannot replace regular repentance and belief but must serve to aid it.

Counseling

There are thought patterns that many folks often develop which are simply unhealthy. But you might not recognize these thought patterns by simply reading your bible and hearing good sermons. Trained Christian counselors/psychiatrists/psychologists can sometimes bring these things to light. And in turn, folks can see real change.

For instance, from a very young age, I always assumed the worst would happen, and then hope to be surprised by a better outcome. If not, could the question then turned to, “Well, can I deal with it?” That is why I was sick before every track meet even though I was virtually guaranteed of winning my almost every 800 meter race my senior year in high school. But this coping mechanism doesn’t work with things more important than track meets. Can one deal with Hell? Nope. That type of thinking needed to be jettisoned. That type of thinking cannot be jettisoned overnight but it takes community, and sometimes professional community.

Link betwixt depression and creativity

There seems to be a connection with creative brains and depression. I don’t have stats to prove this, but simply examples of people I know. Very creative comedians like Robin Williams deal with mental illness, and in fact, such ” manic states” can often be times when their best “material” comes to them. In additions, numbers of artists I’ve interacted with have also been folks one could recognize as “depressive.” Think about or check here to read about the aforementioned William Cowper.  It’s by no means a one-to-one, but it seems to me there is probably some connection betwixt the two.

Don’t wast your depression/anxiety
I’ve alluded from the pulpit, on my blog, and in one-to-one settings (that’s how the Aussies’ speak instead of saying “one-on-one”) to struggling with depression. You’d be surprised how many people have gone through the same thing but aren’t willing, confident, or just won’t  come forward until you take the first step. Not only that, but if you struggle in this area, you have wisdom that others who haven’t struggled in this area, frankly, will never have. That doesn’t mean they have nothing to offer, but you have more. They may possess a “normative” perspective on depression (what they may gather by searching the scriptures and studies). They may have possess a “situational” perspective of depression (what they can see and observe in the world). But they lack the “existential” perspective (how one experiences depression). You have much to offer.

Jesus experienced a despair of which depression is only a foretaste

All Christians have a Savior who has experienced the ultimate gut wrenching sense of the world crashing down upon Him. It might be that most people don’t know the trouble you’ve seen, but Jesus does.

What we can learn from Brandon Marshall

After Junior Seau’s suicide two weeks ago, many folks have begun pondering what to do about it. How should we think about it? Is the primary problem the concussions or is that but a piece of the puzzle?
Troubled Bear’s receiver Brandon Marshall (formerly Bronco’s, Dolphins, and UCF) wrote a thoughtful piece for the Chicago Sun Times about mental health and the stigma. He thinks there is something to learn from brain study but recognizes the best treatment is to “start to treat the living.” Marshall offers some helpful insights into the whole question of suicides after football, though this is helpful for all people whether going through the darkness of depression or not. The whole article is brief and worth the read.
There are many people out there who are suffering and have nowhere to turn for help or are afraid because of the stigmas placed on mental health.
Even though so many folks are on medication for depression, that doesn’t mean there is still no stigma for those struggling in this area. As an athlete, Marshall feels and has felt that pressure. Real men shouldn’t feel depressed, right? Real pastors shouldn’t feel depressed either. But I have, and have felt shame over the stigma. Fortunately the gospel began to deal with not only my depression (and still does), but with the fear, stigma, condemnation that comes with treatment and even medication. Believing Romans 8:1, that there really is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus, is tough but completely applicable here. I still feel some stigma here and there, but now I can, somewhat, boast of my weakness (II Cor 12:8-10). Because of it, I’ve actually had more contentment, not to mention opportunities to minister to those struggling with depression.
 
As I began to meditate more on Junior’s death, I began to think about this vicious cycle our world is in. The word ‘‘validate’’ started to run through my mind.
The cycle starts when we are young boys and girls. Let me illustrate it for you:
Li’l Johnny is outside playing and falls. His dad tells him to get up and be strong, to stop crying because men don’t cry.
So even from the age of 2, our belief system begins to form this picture. We are teaching our boys not to show weakness or share any feelings or emotions, other than to be strong and tough.
Is that ‘‘validating’’?
 What do we do when Li’l Susie falls? We say: ‘‘It’s OK. I’m here. Let me pick you up.’’
That’s very validating, and it’s teaching our girls that expressing emotions is OK.
I don’t think depression is a-physiological. Medicine can help. But working out or doing P90X, and taking medication will not completely deal with it. Sounds like Marshall is on the same page here. You can blame things on concussions and brain damage, which probably play a part in it all. However it’s only a part of the puzzle. 

While he doesn’t go back to the gospel (though he does admit prayer is a part of it), he does recognize there is more going on. Women can cry. Men are told not to do so. I tell my son there is no crying in baseball when you get out, but it is OK to cry when you get hurt. But try not to do that either. I’m beginning to think that telling him not to cry is more for my good than for his. And if he can only be “tough,” and never show emotion, weakness, is that a man I want him to become? Is that a man who believes the gospel, that there is no condemnation before God and others? Nope. This certainly gave me something to think about.
Here’s one last snippet where Marshall gets to the root of the problem. Sounds like Tim Keller could have written it!
As athletes, we go through life getting praised and worshipped and making a lot of money. Our worlds and everything in them — spouses, kids, family, religion and friends — revolve around us. We create a world where our sport is our life and makes us who we are.
When the game is taken away from us or when we stop playing, the shock of not hearing the praise or receiving the big bucks often turns out to be devastating.
Sounds like a fantastic description of an idol to me. You go to something for life, affirmation, purpose, and when that something is taken away, so is your life and reason for living.  Nailed it Brandon. Keep up the good work.