On Depression & Coffee


I heard you. 

In the depths of my grief.

Your voice reached the furrows of my curled heart. 

I heard you

In the coils of my foggy sorrow

I heard your voice, breaking, waiting for me

Please. Don’t stop talking. 

I’ll find my way back. 

– Sidney Hughes 

Today, there seems to be several resources for us to use when defining depression. We now know it is a clinical issue. We know that there are certain levels of chemicals in the brain that need to be in balance for an individual to feel at ease, clear minded, capable, happy. We know that there are medications that need to be prescribed when these chemicals are not in balance. Loads of events – trauma, change, growth, illness, etc – can precipitate imbalances and cause depression. Depression can be long term or temporary. We know that talk therapy is a clinically proven method of helping those with depression. But what does it mean to be depressed? And what are practical solutions to use in every day? 

 Depression is a state of mind and a state of being I struggle with constantly. There are some deep rooted lies I’ve allowed to set in about my depression. Perhaps you’ve heard them too. Depression isn’t real. Depression is a lack of prayer. Depression needs to be kept secret. All of these are sorely untrue. Depression is real, unfortunately but veritably. It’s discussed thoroughly in the Word, we know it’s not a lack of faith or trust. It’s the result of a fallen world, a world where we are struggling against flesh to be in communion with Christ. And, just as with other struggles, it needs to be exposed. 

Depression is not contagious – I’m always worried that it is. I’m afraid that if I open up just a little about my own struggle, it will surge out of me and infect others. That’s a misconception. Others are probably more equipped to help me than I am to help myself. Just as we don’t encourage people to suffer their physical ailments in silence we shouldn’t encourage people to suffer ashamedly with their mental illnesses in solitude. So, this is me sharing and exposing a bit of my own fight with my depression. 

The beast looks different every day, and every hour the same. Its dark tentacles wind up around my chest and pull tight, forcing the air out of my lungs. I gasp and breathe in only icy stillness. My eyes fill with unexpected tears while I try, I try, I try to refocus my thoughts. I’m at work. I’m at home, I’m at the kitchen table having a conversation with my brother-in-law about Spongebob. There’s no need to cry. There’s no need to feel this crushing weight beneath my diaphragm. There’s no need for my feet to be numb, my shoulders heavy, or my appetite gone. But they are. 

My constant companion. The shadow sits beneath my ears. Some mornings it greets me before I open my eyes, sitting on my stomach it prowls, waiting for me to drag a languid, tired body out of bed. Other days it tauntingly waits, under the rug, behind the bathroom door, to pounce all at once, just when I thought today would be light and good and free. 

They have many metaphors for depression – clouds, darkness, shadows, weights, numbness. I don’t think the people in charge of these terms know that depression is all of these bundled up in a messy package deal. And the absolute worst part is that it is, most often, utterly invisible for everyone else. I can feel the fog. I can feel the crushing weight gripping my intestines, slowly turning my insides into stone. I can feel the crumbling ground beneath my feet that will give way to a deathless abyss if I don’t keep running, keep working, keep talking, keep moving. I can feel that desperation racing inside of me to outmaneuver the shadows – but you can’t. And that makes it ever so difficult for people living with depression to explain it. It’s not a hopeless state, it’s not a faithless state – it’s just a state, a reality, a fact. 

In living with depression I’ve discovered a few methods to keep myself afloat. These are all, of course, blessings from the Lord, for without Him I would have no hope, no reason at all to keep moving forward. Yet with Him, I have Hope Eternal, and I trust that this world He has created is beautiful, it is to be explored and enjoyed while we are on it. That’s what I try to do with my days.

I work nights as a nurse. I don’t think working nights is a good idea if you have depression and I also wouldn’t recommend being a nurse. Stressful, long hours dealing with death and depraved humanity do not go hand in hand with healing. Alas, it is what I do for now, and it is where the Lord is teaching me much. 

Whether it’s on a work night or one of my days off I find comfort in routine. It’s vital for me to have some sort of routine to force myself out of bed. My natural bent in life is to live the artist’s lifestyle. I think, in another time, I would have fit in quite well with the Bohemian Revolution referenced in Moulin Rouge. A life whittled away with poems, books, mid afternoon drinks, and a thorough disregard for social norms of work and schedules is tantalizing. So, in order to not spiral into a lackluster drip, I have to find routine. 

My favored habit is making coffee. I know, I know. Caffeine is evil and probably precipitates depression. Well, driving precipitates car accidents but we still have to get places so I’ll take my chances with the cup of joe. I adore making coffee. It’s a coveted process I find comforting, mesmerizing, and gratifying. I fell in love with coffee in high school when I was given my first French press. It was a single serve. I would use our local Kenyan ground coffee, my dorms’ very sketchy water kettle, and make a single thermos of delicious, black gold each morning. It was my reward after a morning run. It steeled my spirit for the brutality of high school classes. It was a ritual, and has been ever since. 

When I’m with my husband he makes coffee in a percolator. Then he goes to work and I pull out the French press. Even though I’ve already downed a serving of espresso, I must make more coffee. I pour the grounds into the glass container, a full sized French Press. My mother gave it to me before I went to university and every time I use it I think of her – thinking of my mother reminds me of the comfort and safety found in my parents, found in home. The beast loosens its grip. 

I boil the water. I always stretch while I listen to the bubbles build. I lay my hands on the floor and remind myself that my body is agile. It works. It breathes. The blood is pumping, the muscles are exchanging ions, salt and water are making the necessary shifts all around to keep every organ in working order. This reminds me I am capable and I am blessed. The beast loosens its grip. 

The kettle dings. Boiled water pounds against the metal canister. I wait for it to settle. With one hand gripping the kettle’s handle I remember other cups of coffee I’ve made. I remember coffee I’ve shared over fires on mountain tops. Coffee I’ve shared with English teachers, mentors, friends. Coffee I’ve shared out of thermos mugs with hand colored pictures – ones to remind me of family. I remember coffee I’ve made as a barista, with careful instructions, a beautiful system designed to curate a tangible experience. Warmth, exotic, taste. As these memories pass swiftly through my mind, each one I had while living with depression, each one a testament that life with depression can be full and creative. The beast loosens its grip. 

I pour the water onto the grounds, watch the beads dance over the swirling water, the oils glisten and settle. Then I wait. Sometimes I’m rushing to work so I hurry to throw on my clothes, dry my hair, pack my bag. Other times I run back to bed and dive back under the covers, hoping their warmth is still inviting. Rest is coveted. I either take it for granted and rest lazily or I flood myself with guilt for having the time and resources to rest. It’s a gift, given by the Lord, to be enjoyed. I’m reminded of the freedom to enjoy this rest while my coffee steeps. The beast loosens its grip. 

By the time my coffee is finished and I’m pouring the deep brown drink into a favorite mug I’ve thought of at least ten things to be thankful for. Intentional gratitude is my most used weapon against depression. Being thankful reminds me that I am alive and there is much to be alive for. Gratitude helps me to keep moving forward, through each overwhelming day. My disproportionate love of coffee gives me a reason to get out of bed, it gives me a reason to stand in the kitchen, but it is gratitude – sheer thankfulness – that gives me a reason to stay awake, to keep moving, to keep living. 

I cannot tell you how to fight your depression. I can’t tell you how to comfort your spouse or sibling who’s struggling. You know them, I don’t. I can only share what has been an immense help to me – routine, a single task to keep me moving, a reminder to give thanks, and close, safe friends. Maybe those will help you, maybe they won’t. But I would encourage you to find your coffee making moments. Find the minute of the day where you are doing the one thing you want to be awake for. The one, maybe small, maybe menial, maybe immense task that loosens the beast’s grip and allows you to be in control once again. 

“The night is dark but I am not forsaken; for by my side, the Savior He will stay. I labor on in weakness and rejoicing; for in my need His power is displayed. To this I hold- my shepherd will defend me; through the deepest valley, He will lead. Oh, the night has been won, and I shall overcome! Yet not I, but through Christ in me.” 

– Yet Not I But Through Christ in Me, Johnny Robinson 

Related Pieces





Grief Misplaced

I thought I could find you again

I thought if I ran fast enough I would break back into time 

I would land, panting, twisting in a sweat soaked bed, tangled in an old mosquito net 

I would wake, ceiling fan still again, roosters crowing, market calling, coal fires burning black ash up to the sky 

I would walk ten steps to school, countless with a dog, I would press my face up to a screen window willing the city electricity to come on – do other children even call it “city electricity”? I think maybe… some places it’s just power 

We would drive, two hours, one hour, three or four, to a ballet class where I was out of rhythm milk in a coffee colored dance  – a grammar mistake, different, again. 

We would sit, oil lanterns lit, eating home flipped tortillas and fajitas with maybe carefully rationed cheese. We would laugh – at our dog, at Harry Potter, at anything kept secret in our family of five, my safety. We would sit, wooden table with white legs, and revel in our little circle, the place where I belonged. 

I thought I could find it again. That corner of the kitchen where the tiles are always cool, where I sat in the dark and waited. I thought if i sat there, I could cry over you, Home, for the last time. 

Instead I cry for spilled pasta, for delayed flights, I cry for burnt pancakes, bumped cars, fast traffic lights, I cry at series’ finales, new songs, and discontinued teas. 

But every time I cry over something new, I’m just trying to grieve again, the very old, the very dear, and the very well remembered home.

On Crying -TCK memory

I cannot cry for countries that are not mine. 

I cannot cry for people who do not remember my name, know where I am, know where I’m going. 

I cannot cry for a life I’ve lived but cannot share – a life so foreign – so many twisted stories and backtracking explanations. 

I cannot cry for a life of love and loss I didn’t choose – for a calling that was not mine. 

I cannot cry for any of that – because they won’t understand. They’ll hand over a tissue and say “but it’s all in the past, why does it bother you now?” 

And I cannot take them into the deep furrows of my heart where heaves of emptiness are tossed back and forth – gaping spaces weighed with memories of a life finished living. 

So, I cry, with this open suitcase and this broken mug, I sob and wail and scream over a $6 factory made porcelain coffee cup –

Because I can’t think of anything else.

I can’t share, can’t explain, what it is I really want to cry about. 

On Cancelled Trains and Unanswered Prayers 

 “Our need to be in control, to orchestrate the perfect scenario for every journey of our lives, breeds anxiety in our hearts.” – Emily Ley

“There’s no train at 12:57.” 

“Yes…. Yes there is. I saw it on your website.” 

“Nope. No train at 12:57. There’s a train at 12:44 to London.” 

“But I don’t need to get to London – I need to get to Huntingdon.” 

“ Well… there’s no train from here that will get you there. At least not before 3 o’clock.” 

“Okay…” Deep breaths. Don’t cry. Just take your ticket and go to the information desk. This was the only advice I could give myself as I stood at the counter, frustrated with Trainline and with myself for wholeheartedly believing a website. 

I made the first train. An overly kind assistant at the information desk made up for the experience at the ticket counter. I stepped off the string of carts to make a connection – only to discover this journey was far from simplified. 

“All trains to Peterborough are cancelled.”

“But I need to get on a train in that direction to get off in Huntingdon.”
“All trains to Peterborough are cancelled, please stand with the other stranded travelers.” Only in England would missing your train from one county to the next qualify you as a “stranded.” I took my place amongst my fellow sojourners and we made quiet inquires. “Oh headed there. Very good. Be sure to call ahead.” 

“At least it’s not raining while we’re waiting.” 

I don’t think anything bad happens in England unless it is raining – because if the weather is dry you can always fall back on the cheerful caveat “Well, it’s not raining.” What a sadly optimistic reality. 

For me, I wouldn’t have cared if it had been storming. No ounce of water would have made me grumpier or more stressed. I had perfectly timed this journey to arrive in Huntingdon with 42 minutes to spare before an interview for a master’s programme. If I had 42 minutes to spare I could grab a coffee, find the office, sit down, use the loo, take a calm breath – I could be in control. But, the Great Northern line had other plans for my afternoon.

 We waited on the curb of the train station and watched busy workers in yellow jackets talk to bus drivers and cabbies. They piled people into taxis, pulled some out, rearranged themselves, crossed stuff off a clip board and threw furtive glances to the growing crowd of strays. Eventually, I was also piled into a private taxi with a slightly disgruntled driver. Apparently the rail system was having a week of melt downs that resulted in a high taxi bill for their travelers. At that moment, I honestly did not care about the railroad woes. I was in the taxi with two other ladies and I knew mine was not the first destination. We still had some time though. I could make it with maybe 15 minutes to spare – if there was no traffic. 

There was traffic. There was a lot of traffic. I didn’t know the Fens had the potential for so much congestion. We trucked along at a miserably slow pace. We dropped the first lady off, she gave me a sympathetic look and trotted off to her bus. We turned back onto the motor way. Maybe we weren’t that far off… maybe my stop was just ten minutes or so beyond this one…. As much credit as I give GPS systems they are frightfully brutal in their delivery of bad news. Once we were on the motor way the driver’s phone robotically told us my stop was 47 minutes away. Gutted. That would put me about 35 minutes late for my interview providing there was no traffic and assuming I knew how to get to the office. Fitting with the afternoon, there was plenty more traffic. 

I was losing it. I was sitting in the back of a strange man’s car inching along on the A1, late for an interview, hungry, thirsty, with my well-timed plans in tatters. If I didn’t have tears crawling down my face I would have been laughing. The absurdity of the situation was so thematic with the rest of my life and still so disappointing. I felt sorry for the driver and the other passenger. It wasn’t their fault some poor girl was falling apart in the back seat. It wasn’t the driver’s fault there was traffic. It wasn’t anyone’s fault the trains failed us. I wish I could have explained to them what I was feeling and why but I think I’ll just be an odd story for them to tell now. 

I was so desperate for control. This was the first event in ages I felt I really had well planned. My husband is looking for PhD funding. We don’t have it yet. I have applied for a nursing license and have waited and waited. I don’t have it yet. Neither of us have a job, neither of us have income, and we’re steadily using our savings. Neither of us know what is about to happen. We could stay in England with a fully funded PhD. We could stay in England with my husband working as an engineer and me as a nurse (eventually). We could move back to the states – to California, to Texas, to Arizona, to Washington D.C. – for my husband to work there. We could be stuck paying off student loans for the rest of our lives. We could be given $100,000 tomorrow. My eczema could flare up or it could go away for years. We could live to we’re ninety-nine and never have a cent more than we do now or we could die tomorrow and be in Glory. There has been so much out of our control. There has been so much uncertainty in our lives recently, all I wanted in that moment was to accomplish something according to plan. I had applied for a masters in family health. I had been accepted for an interview. I looked up times and directions, made plans, picked an outfit, practiced questions. I called my oldest sister for advice on the British education system. I read articles on the issues plaguing families across the country. I was prepared. The trains were not. 

So, I was sitting in the back of a very kind man’s car, crying, thinking about all the events I could not control – all the bits of my life that were floating haphazardly around me – and bitter that this was now going their orbit. Then, quite distinctly, the Lord gave me peace. I am not a particularly charismatic person but I do believe the Spirit is ever-present and has great influence on us. Sitting on that vinyl seat, listening to poorly chosen radio music and smelling an overwhelming amount of car freshener I was reminded of how perfectly fine my life truly is. I don’t have a job, but I have a passion and many dreams. We don’t have an income, but we have been blessed by our savings and we have a faith that extends beyond our human need. We’re not always in perfect health but we know these earthly bodies will pass away. We do not have a plan for the future – I don’t even know where we will be three months from now. That could be a terrifying thought – or it could be an exciting one. Let’s make it exciting. We don’t have any idea what tomorrow might hold but we’re fortunate to have one another and two families who love us dearly. I don’t have a career at the moment but I have a wonderful husband, a safe flat, and a faith that is growing daily. I don’t have any control but I have a constant reminder of Who is in control of my life. I have a choice to either be anxious about my lack of control or to surrender to His will. 

Let me tell you – anxiety tries to win 8 times out of 10. It usually has a good head start. Bad dreams, break outs, ulcers, fatigue, anxiety settles its symptoms right into my life and it could easily take over if I were to let it. The daily battle is against anxiety. The struggle every hour is feeling the sense of powerlessness and desperation grip my shoulders yet being able to shrug it off in confidence of my Savior. Whatever the issues is, He is in control. I know my problems seem small to many people. There are far worse issues than debt, unemployment, and loneliness. Many people face homelessness, persecution, terminal illness, loss of loved ones – in comparison what I’m facing at twenty-three is child’s play. Yet, the lesson is universal. The anxiety, the desperation, the need for control is well-known to all of us, and the call to rest in Him is for all of us.  This earth is but a withering field. These troubles are but specks of sand in the scheme of eternity. A father who cares for the sparrows will care for His children too. Regardless of our struggles, our mismatched plans, our failures, our situations, His love is secure. It does not change. It does not relent. His salvation is sure. If I lose all else in this world I can still cling to that truth – and it will be enough. He has a perfect plan and I choose to rest in that truth – even if the perfect plan means sitting in the back of a taxi for two hours, late, laughing, crying, and enjoying unseen English countryside.

On Words

Political Flashback: Michelle Wolf. Thoughts? White House Correspondents Dinner. Response? Hopefully your reply is somewhere along the lines of “Yeah, a secular event with secular jokes, all went as expected.” But I have a feeling most people don’t share that sentiment. There has been too much slamming of Michelle Wolf as a comedian on social media for me to believe the general populous really understands what her job was. Personally, I was not surprised by Wolf’s jokes. I admit, I found most of them hilarious. She disarmed the audience, she exposed the truth, and she delivered her witticism in with great timing. What more do you want when you hire a comedian for a politically charged event? It has been difficult for me to reconcile with the outrage of many Christians I know. To what standard were you holding her? She has never proclaimed to be a spokesperson for Christ or the Church. She cannot have disappointed you in that regard. Perhaps you were holding her to the high standard of the American President? If so, Wolf could have gone much farther than she did. We, as a people, allowed a man with brutally vile language to take over a public position. We know what his tweets say. We know what he says behind closed doors. We know what he says to the faces of multiple women. Why do we expect anything more from anyone else? For those who are sharing “Protect Sarah Sanders” posts to your timelines, did you also share “Protect Rosie O’Donnell?” No? Hmm. Why not? Why is one member of the White House administration allocated your undivided protection when many women before her were slandered and disrespected? 

Of course, by the time this is public, Michelle Wolf and her ‘terrible’ speech will be old news. While this piece is not about politics, or about the White House correspondent dinner, it is interesting that now we have moved on from slandering Wolf to someone else. Even in our hate we have difficulty concentrating. Why? Are we so slammed with information that requires outrage we cannot pay attention to one event for longer than 24 hours? Or is our hate and anger so rampant that it requires a new target to devour every second? Are our words so incendiary we cannot keep them in our mouths – instead we have to purge them over coffee or during our daily media update – we must make sure we degrade at least ten people by night! That’s what good, upstanding people do! 

How twisted is that? How wrong is it for us to obsess over the flaws of others? Our mouths are teeming with derogatory vocabulary and we see nothing amiss with this habit? Why not? Why is so indoctrinated into our culture that we can say whatever we want, in whatever tone, to whoever is in earshot? When did it become okay for us to share hateful memes as casually as we say our morning prayers? When did it become habitual for us to demean people who think or act differently than we do – as long as they don’t hear us? Or even worse, when did it become commonplace to gossip, slander, or insult directly and expect the other person to ‘cover it with grace’ or to ‘understand because we’re family.’ If the premise of ‘family’ means you care more deeply than wouldn’t you be even more thoughtful and kind with your words? Perhaps not. Perhaps when we are in comfortable environments – our own home, with good friends, behind computer screens – we forget the need to work on our witness. Perhaps when we are in these closed-door situations we believe we have the freedom to act without consequences. We do not. We know this. We know that even that which we do in private affects our hearts, our minds, and our relationships with others. Words spoken and shared are no different. We should be even more aware of our words than anything else – words shape our image, they change our perceptions, and they create others’ impressions of us. Wouldn’t it be wise to treat words with utmost caution? Are we not warned to do just that in the New Testament? How then do we justify the cruel, inflammatory language spread so vehemently through Facebook, phone calls, group chats, or dinner conversations?

 “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” James 3:1-12 ESV

This theme is repeated. It is evident we are meant to be careful with our words. 1 Peter 2:1 “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.” Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Look also at Titus 3:2 and Psalm 34:13. The most convicting for me is always Proverbs 12:18-19 “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.” My words could either heal wounds or pierce someone – why would I ever choose not to heal? 

A few weeks ago I was reminded by an old friend of the weighty power of words. She was writing an account of her own experience – the destruction that words can cause was very evident in that moment. Words are unlike actions in their pervasive and transformational manner. Albus Dumbledore wisely said, through the pen of J.K. Rowling “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” How true that is. Words are heavy, friends. They can either create or they can destroy. Words can either build up or tear down. They can give life to a relationship or they can corrode it. Words can bring healing – yet they can just as easily be the poison that brings death. Words are powerful, and we, for whatever reason, have become too accustomed to wielding power. We have forgotten the strength we possess. We act like children playing ping-pong in a china shop. We know the potential disaster but we’re so used to the crashing plates, the shattering saucers, the ruined cups that one more broken dish doesn’t seem to matter much. One more tasty tidbit of gossip is nothing in a swamp overflowing with it. One more unkind word about that race, that religion, that school, that team is nothing when our world is satiated with hateful slander against groups of people. But, here’s the thing, it really does matter. What you say, what I say, and how we say it really does make a difference. What is the advantage of gossiping about your children, your friends, your siblings and taking the risk of breaking those relationships when instead you could provide direct encouragement to those individuals and make a positive investment? 

I know, it’s an odd notion. Let’s be kind to one another and say nice things – how preschool right? Wrong. How Christlike. How can we justify what we say when we know the words of Christ, Love Incarnate? It is deplorable that Christians cannot set themselves apart from the world by conversation. Yet, we seem to think we don’t need to do this. Too often I have been in a believer’s home and hear them say a terribly hateful thing about democrats, or republicans, or refugees, or their neighbors, or their in-laws, or their co-workers. Too often have I been the one to share my own misguided sentiments without conviction. Too often I find myself feeling entitled to gossip, to slander, to disparage on any one who has irked me – how wrong is that? How warped. Even if I were standing alone in my kitchen it would not be right for me to voice an unkind, hateful word – because even in that moment of solitude I am standing as a representative of Christ’s love. What does it do to our witness, Believer, when we are heard misusing the tongue?

An argument you may have against this is easy to predict. I’ve heard it before – mostly from other Christians. “Oh Iona, how silly and soft you are. This is the real, tough world. Grow a thick skin and move on. People are going to talk about whoever they want however they want and you are wrong to think you can stop them. Just give everyone grace and get over it.” To number the times I’ve heard a variation of this message would be impossible. What is it about us, Christians, that desires to keep our secret vices instead of giving our whole selves to Christ? Is it weakness for me to listen lovingly and diligently to people I do not agree with or understand? Or is it weakness for me to shame those same people on social media – intentionally inciting anger and conflict? Is it weakness for me to know the weight of my words and to be careful with them? Or is it weakness to spout off “You’re stupid and your ideas are stupid” as soon as someone says something I don’t like in my house? I know this is a real and tough world. Most of you readers do not understand how well I know that. Most of you did not grow up hand in hand with impoverished children. Most of you do not remember living without electricity in the 21st century. But it is the coarseness of this world that makes me so grateful we have a tender Father – a Father who drapes us in Loving grace, a Father who does not want us to remain in our sin but wants to see us grow more like Him. How unkind it would be if God never convicted us. Similarly, how unkind we are to one another when we do not recognize sin for what it is and attempt to make a change. I know the hypocrisy of this post all too well. I am a sinner well acquainted with the depths of my sordid actions. I know that for every cruel word I have heard I must have said a thousands others. I know that for every piece of gossip I have heard I must have shared a hundred others. I know that until the day I am taken Home I will struggle to bite my tongue, evaluate my words, and say only that which will edify Christ. But, even as I know this will be a daily battle, I am beyond grateful for the believers I have in my life who hold me to a higher standard. I am thankful for friends who hold me above reproach, friend who call me out when my words are not gentle, not loving, not a reflection of my faith in any way. It is never easy to change our ways – but it is necessary. If Christians are to stand out in this messy, broken world, it must be through our words and actions in every moment. If we are to have any impact for Christ we must be aware of the effect our words can create. We must be attuned to the magic we are wielding – and we must choose to let that magic be good, healing, wholesome. I love you. I am sorry. I forgive you. Powerfully magical words. Transformative words. Words seldom misused or forgotten. Words like those are often replaced with I hate you. I deserve more. You’re not worth this. You’re wrong. You owe me. And countless others…. Friends, we have the capability to create great change within ourselves and within our relationships simply by choosing to be kind with our words, gentle with our tongue, and loving without intentions. For those not convinced, for readers still rolling their eyes and saying “Okay Iona… tell me when the real world hits you. You can’t be a pansy snowflake forever” – I beg to differ. If being a “pansy” in this world means I am sensitive to words, both spoken by me and to me, for the sake of Christ, then I’ll be a whole window box display. Hurting others, hating others, degrading others for the purpose of having the upper hand or the “right” opinion is not worth the cost. How could I, how could we, use our words for ill when they have the potential to do so much good? 

For further reading on this topic please look at these two articles from Desiring God. 



On Breaking Ties and One Sided Good Byes

They say it takes the human mind six weeks to adapt to a new habit. Supposedly, after six weeks of waking up at 5:45 and running two miles, your mind should automatically prepare itself for that seventh week. There should be no more early-morning struggle against your own will. It should be natural, normal, a new part of your daily routine. But if your mind is weak, just once, if your fingers follow nasty habits and hit snooze one morning, and your eyes stay closed until 8, your new routine is devastated. The six weeks have to begin again. You can’t have a remote lingering shadow of your old ways in order to move forward. You can’t live side by side with your past and try to make a future.

Earlier this week I was searching through emails to find information on Angola. In a blur of looking through emails from years ago I stumbled across some from an old boyfriend. Intrigued, and hoping to find something amusing, I opened the most recent exchanges we had shared. I should have known better. I should have reached deep into my memories and pulled out the heart grating emotions these emails had created, then I would have had the sense to close the computer and move on with my present life. But I am not that wise.

His words, typed neatly across the screen so many years ago still stung.

“You’re too emotional.”

“You and I have nothing in common”

“You’re too different.”

Three opinions from one eighteen-year old. Three phrases burned into my mind. Over the years as scar tissue grew over the wounds my mind became calloused. It had accepted those sentences as truth, they had become an integral part of my mind’s being, leaving no room for new thoughts. Funnily enough, I can recall saying these exact words to every man I dated in university.

“I’m too emotional.”

“We have nothing in common”

“I’m too different”

Many of them brushed those words aside and said something along the lines of “I’ll overcome that, don’t worry.” They made it into a chivalrous opportunity, as if they knew those things to be true of me, but they wanted to be the brave man to look past them and succeed. My husband, on the other hand, simply shook his head –

“Yes you’re emotional, your heart for people is what I love most.” “yeah we don’t have a lot in common, but we love the Lord, and we have a desire to serve Him. That’s enough.” “Yes, you’re different from anyone I’ve ever met, and I hope I get to spend the rest of my life learning all your differences.”

These were truths that should have performed that figurative plastic surgery in my mind. His honest, good words should have extracted the hold the lies had in me. And for a few weeks, I thought they had. I thought the surgery had been successful, that recovery was going better than expected, that my mind and heart were healing splendidly – they were already up and loving again! But, alas, no. Lies, past ties, truths that have evolved without us realizing, are toxic. They grip onto cells, they infest the mind and await, dormant, until a flash of words on a screen, or a memory, or a smell, or the finding of an old yearbook, evokes them into action. Then they proliferate, attacking each cell they can sink their virus teeth into, they travel through vessels and make themselves known through tears, sleepless nights, and silent days. They infect and metastasize when you thought they were eradicated.

It takes so much more than an overlay of current truths to eliminate the damage done by the past. It takes so much more than a few stitches and a band aid to fix a botched lobotomy. And until I realized that, I was walking around like a mental Frankenstein. I wish I could have entered this new life in America, taken six weeks to adjust, and been content. But I didn’t. Besides all the set-backs in life that make adjusting nearly impossible, I was my own detriment. I kept slamming on the snooze button, letting all the un-faced memories sneak their way into my warm covers, tie my hands down, and keep me from running my two miles every day. I let them in for a moment, then shoved them under the bed, allowing them to fester until I was a weak, ideal host for their disease once again. I think this happened because I don’t want to untie myself from my entire past, but I do need to find a balance. I need to be able to say good bye to the bad, and remember the good with an honest perspective – it was good. It was all I knew for a time, but it is over, and life moves on.

So I’m writing today to dismantle that figurative snooze button. I’m writing to put down once and for all my good byes to certain haunting thoughts. I know, however, that someday they may find their way back into my life, but I hope, having written this, I will be a little less susceptible to their infection. And again, I do know that not everything I’m saying a figurative good bye to is bad or hurtful, but it is something that does not fit into this life, something that cripples me from running full force into marriage, into nursing, into Jackson, TN and all that may come after this. So, to begin six weeks of a new habit, I am breaking ties, and saying good bye to people and places who let me go many years ago.

Good bye to the concrete safe house, the red dirt and sticky floors. Good bye to power outages and late nights listening to gun shots. Good bye to sipping Coca-Cola on Friday nights, good bye to imprints of the window screen on my face, as I eagerly watch for the city light to come on. Good bye to a faithful watch dog, a morning greeter, and an afternoon sleeper. Good bye to homeschooling alone, listening to my sisters cry from loneliness and wishing I was enough company. Good bye to long aeroport lines and never understanding the stress of a visa, but always knowing I can never lose my passport. Good bye, a childhood Iona, playing safely in Angola.

Good bye to being called weak. Good bye to raising my hand in class, and quickly putting it back down, afraid of being wrong, or worse, of someone disagreeing. Good bye to spending lunches in my dorm room, watching baboons and birds play in the tall tree outside, waiting for the final bell. Good bye to running alone on a hill after field hockey practice, because dinner just has too many people. Good bye to sneaking into counseling on Tuesday mornings, making sure no one sees my flaws. Good bye to being afraid of caring community, because the ones I enjoyed weren’t there, but I had to pretend, because these were the good ones and the house belonged to the dean. Good bye walks to the dukas, lingering freedom in the vegetable market. Good bye to the name calling, the bullying, the terrible confusion. Good bye, to an Iona eating Korean noodles in high school, finding safety in a few friends and a single burnt pot.

Good bye to being afraid of red trucks and empty houses. Good bye to hating Virginia and never wanting to meet another doctor’s son.  Good bye to being the newest one in a new country, to keeping to myself, to not understanding, to hanging out with the wrong people time and time again. Good bye to letting compliments go to my head, and letting insults go to my heart. Good bye to spending summers without my parents, drinking with strangers in several continents, and always going home alone. Good bye to an Iona, writing papers in the library, running through Kroger with once upon a time friends, to an Iona safely making an illusion, just getting through the next four years.

To the friends with whom I didn’t stay in touch, good bye to something that could have been great, but we both know we don’t have the time. To the friends with whom I tried, and tried so hard, good bye. If I was a better person I would keep trying, I would keep writing unopened texts and making unanswered phone calls. But I’m only human, and I’ve reached my capacity for pouring out to people when I’m clearly cut out of their life. I’m sorry for what I may have done, for the choices that led us slowly in different directions, I’m sorry if I wasn’t worth keeping in your life, and I really wish you all the best. Good bye. Good bye to an Iona trying too hard to keep everyone safely happy, when some people will walk out anyway.

Good bye to trying to build a safe world, one where I’ll never be hurt, and hello to facing the real world – one raw and vulnerable and ever changing. Hello to new mornings with my love, hello to new cities on my own, hello to new traditions and memories with ourselves. Hello to living a life free of illusion, one fully dangerous and fully real, a life I really could get used to.

On It Goes

The key scrapes in the lock, turning the metal knob until the door gives way into the living room. We tumble in, suitcases in hand, bringing with us the lingering scent of holiday. Greeting us remains the staleness of an apartment left to its own devices for a week, along with the familiar smell of oldness that comes when a place has not been renovated since the 70s. A pile of wedding presents neatly resides along a bench, leftover food is carefully stored, and the remnants of a remarkable day are found in various lodgings. They seem quite out of place next to the drably stained carpet and the off white dry walls, as if their story is much more remarkable than any that could be told within these rooms.

Of course that might be true. The wedding, with its white dress and smart ties, its gay music and soft flowers, its scrumptious pies and luxurious drinks, is no doubt considered the star of any marriage. It is the culmination of months full of anticipation and planning. It is the visual representation – to all family and friends – that two people love each other desperately enough to commit their lives to one another. Guests eat, drink, and dance in merry celebration of this declaration – but they are not there after the honeymoon.

No, there are no cheers or sparklers when that week of marital confusion is finished. There are no toasts when two newlyweds unlock the door to their shared home, their shared future. The remnants of peoples well wishes lie in torn wrapping paper and opened envelopes. It’s over. The wedding is finished, the vows are said, the music is silent. On the guests go.

Day in and day out we learn to be married, we learn to live up to the purpose of that celebration. For the wedding, with all its wonder, was just a precursory party. It was a preemptive celebration of all the shared joys and trials to be faced. It was young and old, friends and family, joining hands to sing on our behalf. It was people of all sorts telling us – we will celebrate now, today, because we know what a blessing into which you are entering. I do wish however, someone told me how to mourn the hard times ahead. I do wish someone taught me as I was zipping up that white dress, how to combat the insecurities found in a secure marriage. I do wish someone wrote in their congratulatory letter “this is hard, celebrate the difficulties with joy, and mourn the hard times fiercely, because this is real, it is real and painful and true and good.” But we missed that bit. We had honest toasts, and heartfelt prayers, but no one can really convey how resilient you have to prepare to be in marriage. You have to wake up each morning knowing – the wedding is over, it’s up to us to celebrate the marriage now. The family has gone away, and our life goes on. And that is hard.

So for newlyweds wondering – how does this bliss end?? How could the joy of the wedding, the smiles, the laughs – how could all of that NOT propel itself into our future? How could that immense, cheek torturing happiness not erase all the potential discomfort and sadness??

It just doesn’t.

The happiness, those fleeting moments of purest joy, move on, they go. They’re commemorated in delightful photographs, captured in sunlit memories, but life goes on.

Day in and day out, with grocery shopping, meal cooking, carpet cleaning, working, and friend making, life goes on. It goes on without invitations to celebrate, it goes on without RSVPs, it goes on without pies and popcorn, without dresses and bare feet, it goes on without any plans at all (and that’s the most terrifying part).

But, just as the good things go, as they are meant to, the bad things go too. When you’re fighting, screaming, crying, and you think “how could this be the very thing people raised their glasses to, merely weeks ago?” Know that it goes on, the fights pass, calm comes, and love remains.

Arguments are essential for forgiveness, forgiveness necessary for growth, and growth needed for you to move forward – towards a deeper, fuller marriage, one well worth all that preemptive celebration. So yes, the wedding is wonderful, the fights are terrible, and the days are unknown – but amongst it all one thing is certain – on life really does go.

On the 4th

I stepped out in July,

For a run, a short one mind.

As I made the first step I was quick to realize

This was the 4th, and memories flied.


I hear the first bang, the pop and the whizz.

With the whistle behind, it’s not so bad

But then that incessant snapping is,

And my stamina flagged.


Suddenly my thoughts matched my pace

And rhythmic words phrased

Sentences and stanzas carefully raced

And I knew my run would be poetically chased.


You light your fireworks and let off a bang.

You cheer for the sound that’s causing someone pain.

You let the loudness startle the crowd,

And watch the trailing sparkles in awe.


How do we celebrate something we barely remember-

With the sounds someone else will never forget?

We watch floral fires light in the sky,

And we forget for this holiday, something had to die.


Now don’t misunderstand me,

This day is grand, not at all protested,

apple pie and sweet tea are hardly contested.

But we celebrate emancipation with a sound that

Emanates the perpetuation

Of death?


Why raise red cups spilling beer, and making claims of greatness,

When in the next street over, your neighbors can’t make

Monthly payments –

and not because they’re lazy or unmotivated,

Some people can’t get hired because of to whom they’re related.


You cheer for your independence, but you’re not walking free.

No, we’re all walking around chained to our fear.

Convinced bullets are the only way to break out.

Determined that our carry anywhere AR15  permits are the tickets

To safety.


But we don’t seem to see the millions felled, the ones gunmen select

We celebrate people who died over 200 years ago,

For a country of free citizens we cannot protect

Because, senselessly we cling to something we cannot control.


We walk in a world deliberately armed as a militia.

Where we’re more likely to fight for the accessibility of ammunition,

Than the feasibility of a free education.

Because one means we can kill and end up on top,

And the other means we might all be equals, and,

goodness, then where would the progress stop?


So by all means, let us look to the fire tinged red rockets glare

See the melted popsicle stain smear into the night sky

Only if then, we can look at the ground and see the bodies piled there.

And finally admit, freedom might be a lie.


To some this may sound angry,

I swear to God I’m just scared.

I sit with my back to my wall and listen to the fireworks.

Listen to them all.


I hear the people here, crying for their murdered friends.

Begging, pleading with America to make it all end.

I see the Syrian girls, half my age,

The African children, already enslaved.

The soldiers we praise, who’s nights will never be silent,

Who will flinch the rest of their days.


I think of the war and the battles we’ve instigated,

Because of people we’ve envied or hated.

I shudder in horror at this culture we’ve created.

This monster of fire we’ve bred.

It was us, the engineers and the builders, it was us asking for more,

More ways to make more people dead.

It is through our fault the gun was fed.


And we’ve stood here before.

In wars gone by we fell

In tragedies we thought history could never retell.

And again here we stand.

Hand on throat, gun in hand.


Don’t you know, o people, war doesn’t make the world whole?

So if you believe, throw down your guns and pray.

Pray for those people you don’t even believe have a soul.

Pray until your knees are as bloody as the hands of the country you call home.


Please, I don’t say this to be mean.

It’s not hateful, or out of spite.

It’s not for the blue against the red.

It’s just from a being, female and white.

From one who doesn’t give a damn if a gun is my right.


I care if my children grow up safe.

I care if the babies I bear

Have education opportunities to spare.

I care if the home I create, is expected to entertain an arsenal, just to be safe.

I care if the people I vote for, can protect the country we entrust to them,

Without the people of this broken democracy, stopping them.


I care that someone listens to the plea of peace.

I care that my children grow up knowing things can change.

That Harry didn’t die for a fantasy world in vain.

But to teach my generation that things can’t stay the same.


Something’s got to give, and fighting is the age old tale.

It’s never gotten much more than blood and tears.

Let’s spin something else,

Something worth lasting through the years.

Let’s teach ourselves now, the ways of peaceful loving.

So as our children grow, they won’t be left wondering –


Is this world any more than a bullet ridden death toll?

On Purpose

The end is coming. The time for the books to close, the caps to don, the tassels to flip. On the brink of University graduation, I sit in almost crushing silence. I sit, waiting for the answers to come – Where will I go? What will I do? With who? What do I want to do? For most, I have simple answers. I will be here. I will be a nurse. I will marry my fiancé and live with him – and move with him when the time comes. My friends will leave, and new ones will come. But as for the last, the question of desire, or perhaps better, the question of need. What do I need to do to feel purpose? To feel I am living a full life? I don’t need to be a nurse; I don’t need a nurse’s salary. I don’t need to be married. I don’t need to move.

I need to create. And to create well. After a year of working in a coffee shop I have come to express, at last, what I have been trying to tangibly explain for years. The art of process with the value of completion is at the core of being.

As children we learn simple actions of creation – we learn how to pour yellow paint into blue and create vibrant green. We learn how to plant little seeds into empty egg cartons and watch as little sprouts grow. We learn to mix flour with butter to create pastry by watching our mothers. We learn these things as a part of life, the essential aspects that make life, through our young eyes magical and wonderful and exciting. We crave this, we yearn to be the ones mixing the paint, watering the egg cartons and in control of the flour. Yet as we grow up, we grow farther away from this desire to create. We become accustomed to things ready made and simple, we ease ourselves into a luxurious life of immediate satisfaction. We delude ourselves with the corrupt whispers of society saying “this is the life, the fast track is the way, the only way to happiness.” Our professors ask how we will support ourselves, how will we make money, where are we going to work.  They do not ask how we will sustain our soul, how we will seek beauty, how we will create. The focus is shifted. We work for money, we work for status, we work to keep up with the tireless economy around us. We work, following dreams we never had in a world that never sleeps.

And I don’t want to do it anymore.

The coffee shop in which I worked was not a franchise. There was no provided health insurance, no Christmas bonuses or 12 pounds of coffee for free. No, there was only a purpose, a mission, to be a space of community, a space of intentional creation. While I worked there, yes there were days I did not want to sweep the floor – and I only did it out of obligation to my boss, but there were also days when I could not wait for someone to order a cappuccino – so I could serve them, and serve them well. There were days I could not wait to get to work on dusting, or mopping, or wiping syrup off the counters, because these were elements that affected the space – a space I was trying to create – a space of peace, thought, ingenuity, safety.

I find these same habits in myself elsewhere. When I dance, even a rhythmic and steady bit of ballet creates a space, a space of art and time and beauty. And I desire for the space that I fill, in that dance, to be filled well. When I write, I create sentences, I fill a space, on the paper, in someone’s mind, and I want it to be done well. When I run, I run to create a stronger body, a clearer mind. When I clean my room, I create a space for me, a place I know, a place of safety, serenity, unchanging. I do this innately now, and I wish to do it intentionally. To take the time each day to think about my actions, regard them with care, and move forward with good purpose – this would be ideal.

And this is truly what I want to do, to continue doing. For some, it’s their calling. My art major friends will confidently go on creating beautiful sculptures or portraits. The musicians will make music, the scientists will make discoveries, the engineers will make efficient equipment, the financiers will make good businesses. And the rest? What of me? The nurse. The writer. The longing philosopher sitting in a cap and gown that feels more like a straight jacket. The student, almost a grad, with a propelled career path, headed straight to making money. Money to pay off loans. Money to pay for groceries. Money. They ask me how much money will I make? What will you be making? What does that job make? If you measure its making on money, then it makes nothing. It spurns a desire for greed that snuffs out the creativity of man.

No, no I will create. For we are all, in some way, shards of a great Creator. We are all reflective of His will and longing to create. And so I will follow that. I will create. Be it good meals, intentional conversation, written prose, poorly painted watercolours on rainy days, good cups of coffee, bad cups of coffee, gardens, space. I will create, I will open the space for people to be comfortable, vulnerable and raw. I will create community with those like minded and those unalike. I will create a place where beauty can be cultivated, and the Creator glorified in manifest ways.

I have not held a post graduate job yet, but I imagine when I start I will be stressed and anxious and lost, clinging to some lost direction. I hope I do not lose the purpose of why I am there. To create. And to create well.

On Not Being a Straight “A” Student


I’m sure we can all remember the first time we received a less than pleasing mark on a school assignment. If you’re one of those who never fails, then you’re displeasing grade was probably a B, or a B- at worst. Others of us were not so fortunate. It’s almost cruel – how we spend our first year in academics rigorously learning the order of letters and numbers only to have them hauntingly dictate our success later in life. It makes the ABC tune a little sadistic once you pass the third letter…. No one should be quite that happy singing about D’s and F’s.

While I was growing up I was a bright student. There wasn’t anything too difficult about learning how to read, or memorizing certain dates and what happened in battles and who invented what. I did of course cry over rudimentary math sheets – I don’t know who hasn’t shed a few tears over misplaced decimal points and fractions, but it was nothing detrimental to the continuation of my studies. Even when I walked into high school, I was confident in my intelligence. High grades should come easy shouldn’t they?

They did not.

For the first two years I sailed along quite happily. Nothing dreadful happens in Geometry, or Chemistry, and sophomore English was a delight with the amount of creative writing assignments we were allowed. Even my Junior year was fairly smooth, with a few challenges from AP courses but nothing drastic. No, I was abiding by my own expectations of well rehearsed studying, memorization and regurgitation on each test. The results were good –  and then there was Calculus.

I still remember receiving my first test grade during Senior year. I don’t remember taking the test though, perhaps that was a traumatic experience and my memory has kindly destroyed it. When my teacher handed me those stapled papers though, with lots of evil red writing and a large, obvious “D” printed on the front, I was crushed. I had never been a “D” student. Those students didn’t take 3 AP courses in one year. Those students were not on a varsity sports team. Those students were not in school plays each semester. Those students did not receive high marks on dreadful standardized tests. But here I was holding a paper with a letter that made all that evidence void. I WAS a “D” student, maybe not entirely, but I did now have to recognize solidarity with those who were not identified as “stellar students.” And it was difficult.

Tears of frustration fell during multiple studying sessions. I poured over derivatives and integrals. I made myself mad while scribbling out equations, double checking them again and again. I humbled myself by asking friends for help – friends who I had once believed were “less scholarly” than myself. What did that even mean? – I wondered. How could I have believed that good grades in geometry and well written essays could make me invincible to the failing grades dealt out by our teachers’ year after year?

The long hours of work paid off with a simple, honest “B” in Calculus. I thought I would never be so proud of a grade less than an A as I was of that one. Until I started Nursing School that is. I thought the days of difficult, drudging studying was behind me when I turned in my scientific calculator to another poor student. But they were not. The days of being humbled by less than satisfying grades were far from over – and in fact with my university’s five-point grading scale they had only become more brutal. High school had only skimmed the surface at my ego – nursing school excavated its entirety.

I’m not finished with Nursing School yet. In fact, I’m diligently studying for a test that won’t take place for another 3 weeks – because I need to raise my grade in the course. And that is what university has been for me, a consistent need to raise my grade, sometimes for my own satisfaction and sometimes a necessity for continuing.

This grueling labour for school is something I had never associated with myself before now. Even when I was struggling through Calculus as a teenager, strangers would make the assumption that I was smart, intelligent, bright, a “straight A student” for sure. I did not correct them. Perhaps they thought this because I like to read, or can carry on a conversation with people much older than me without much error. Or perhaps they just assumed because I’m well dressed and have intelligent parents that school would come easy to me. It doesn’t – and that is something I have only just learned to admit.

I’m not a student who can look over a power point twice and understand the content. I’m not a student who can read the chapter once and ace the test. No, I’m the late night studier, I’m the note card writer, the scrambler, the one trying to understand the concept and also just trying to pass the test. I’m the one swamped with notes and books in the library, constantly on the verge of tears due to stress, sleep deprivation, or hopelessness. I don’t check my grades until I’m alone, able to handle the disappointment or the joy in peace. And I’m the kind who has had to learn time and time again my worth is not in my grades, nor in my performance at school, but in my faith, my Father.

Although there are days when I am certain my university will send me a later saying “I’m sorry – you are not the academic scholar we expected, please find a rudimentary community college to which you are more suited” – there are an equal number of days when I am proud to work hard for my grades. Though they aren’t the best in my class, there won’t be any “cum laude” certifications for me at graduation, I will have a diploma. I will have learned the material required to pass nursing school. Far beyond that, I will have learned that I am not a straight A student, but I am a hard worker.

I hope this is an encouragement to those who find themselves defeated by the rigorous expectations of today’s culture. We are required to make certain grades, certain scores, be involved in certain programmes, have an on campus presence, and maintain a healthy lifestyle. We know it’s impossible. Professors know it’s impossible. But we push ourselves to the brink of exhaustion just the same. So I plead with you to stop. As I had to learn – we cannot achieve perfection. We cannot ace every test, paper or not, placed in front of us. Some days I think we should all stop and take notice of Moulin Rouge’s famous line “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is to love and be loved in return.” If only that was the philosophy of academia – how to achieve the ability to love at your fullest capacity and accept that love in return. But that is for another post, another time.

For now, my fellow less than perfect students, let’s embrace the opportunity we have been given – to study, to work persistently towards our goals, and to practice the humility of saying “No, I’m not a straight A student, and that’s okay.”