Nothing Is As It Seems

I feel like I ruined my life. I thought things were so hard six months ago. I was wrong.

I am grieving the loss of a lot- people I loved and my job and having a steady income and being able to be a good mom to Arlow by taking him to daycare and who I was before depression came and stole the life right out of me.

When I look around now, everything is uncertain and nothing is secure.

And what needs to align in order to make my future doable seems impossible.

I am scared the best days of my life are behind me, and given that the last three years have been filled with the desire to die, that is a really sobering and terrifying thought.

This has been a week of fears gaining strength. In the insensitive comments of friends who mean well but don’t know better, in the silence of friends who can’t bring themselves to tell me it’s all going to be okay, in my own rapidly beating heart as I try to figure out how to fix everything and realize I can’t.

Lean not on your own understanding…

In so many ways, I can’t fight this. I can’t make myself have a job that will pay me enough to survive. I can’t make people feel differently than they do. I can’t force people to sign off on necessary forms so that I can get my LICSW. I can’t create for myself parents and grandparents and people who will step in and teach me all that I don’t know, who will help me not be alone in this next season of my life. I can’t know that any of it will ever feel okay to my heart again. I worry about Arlow, that I am ruining his life too. And I can’t fix that either.

But I can bathe myself in truth- books and podcasts and scripture. I am reminding myself that nothing, not people or systems or facts, are bigger than my God. I am letting friends speak truth into my life, reminding me of all the times the Bible says not to be afraid, reminding me that life is a gift, and reminding me to be vigilant to the fact that there’s a very real enemy who wants to steal, kill, and destroy.

I remember who I was as a child and teenager and young adult. My future seemed so bright and promising. I feel like I ruined the life of that child who worked so hard for good grades, who fought so hard to be a good person, who tirelessly chased after a future she believed in. And what for? So that depression could grab me around the ankles and pull me to the ground? So that in my fight to stay alive, that’s all I’d be able to accomplish- my heart would keep beating but all the good I’d worked for would come crashing down? So that I could choose to walk in sin just to make the pain temporarily lessen, only to now have my back against a wall? To be buried in debt, to have no family, to see no way out?

I never, in a million years, would’ve thought this is who I’d be at thirty. I wanted so much more for myself. I feel like I ruined my life.

But how I feel doesn’t determine what is true. The truth is, God redeems.

God doesn’t have a plan B. None of this comes as a surprise to Him. The good He has spoken over my life, the promises and plans to prosper me, they are STILL IN PROCESS. Hallelujah.

He sees a way through where I do not. And He is good. And I am going to stake all of my hope, my entire life, every single breath in my lungs, on that. He is good. Because the second I take my eyes off of Him, I will drown.

I am Peter, walking on waves.

And I can’t control the storm, but I can control what I choose to fix my attention on.

Praying for rescue, praying for deliverance, praying for protection, praying for miracles. Choosing trust. One breath at a time.

And in the meantime, I’m keeping my eyes open. Because while I wait for God to answer the big prayers, I don’t want to miss the ways He’s showing up in my daily life. Every single day, He shows me He’s with me.

I don’t know how anything will ever be okay again. But I know I’m not alone.

  • In the ability to rise above the depression enough to get up early this morning and take Arlow to the vet for his annual checkup.
  • In the gift of getting to weigh Arlow at the vet today and finding out my boy is a healthy, lean 108 lbs.
  • In TV shows that make me laugh.
  • In text message reminders from friends who encourage me to keep my eyes on God, even when my thoughts rage and my feelings overwhelm.
  • In Madison’s ability to come over and stay the night tonight when I really needed to not be alone.
  • In the flicker of life I felt tonight, while I made hot chocolate for Madison and the kids and outside the rain poured and lightening flashed.
  • In the way Arlow rests his head on me.

“We are not subject to the same chance and fate of every other human being on earth. We have been transferred from the kingdom of fear, luck, self-effort, and darkness into the kingdom of light.” -Judah Smith

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Family

“For a lot of people, family is everything…” she says. And I gulp. Because it’s true. Family is everything, and where does that leave me?

*

“Black and white thinking…” she says.

“People expect you to trust in unconditional love, but you’ve never experienced that…” she says.

“You have an intense fear of abandonment…” she says. And then: “Boundaries are not synonymous with abandonment.”

*

I am in so much pain. Gulping, gasping pain.

Acceptance really is the antidote to suffering, though. It doesn’t eliminate the pain, but it lessens the suffering.

I can’t force myself to be anyone’s family.

I have to accept that.

*

“Do you think you romanticize family?” she asked.

No. I know families fight and feel misunderstood by each other and that they don’t always love each other well.

But in my moments being part of a family, the belonging somewhere, the being wanted, it’s like a hug. Even if things are uncomfortable otherwise.

Knowing you belong to someone, that your life isn’t just important to them in a detached, removed, peripheral sort of way, but that your life is intricately intertwined with theirs? It’s got a protective quality.

I am doing my life alone. Not unloved, but alone.

My life isn’t intertwined with any others.

I wake up in the morning alone and I go to bed at night alone.

Family is everything, and I don’t have that.

I want to scream that I can’t live this life, that it’s too hard. I want to beg for someone to love me like family. I want to scream about how it’s not fair and I’m not strong enough. I want to hurt myself for being unlovable and difficult to be in relationship with. I want to hurt myself for not being the kind of person people want.

But if I give in to those emotions, where does that leave me? Caught in this panicked spiral, unable to breathe, and dangerous to myself.

I have to accept it.

*

This life is too hard. It didn’t used to be. I used to love life. Back when I had a family. Back when I belonged somewhere. Back when there was someone to say goodnight to.

My family was dysfunctional and I don’t miss them in hindsight, but before I realized how unhealthy they were, I was so much happier. And now I’m alone.

They said they’d be my family.

But I’m alone.

And I have to accept it. Or else this will kill me.

The Things That Save Us

When I was younger, even as recently as my mom’s death, I believed I could get through anything as long as I had people who loved me.

I no longer believe that. At least not in the same way.

Because I’m realizing that, come nightfall, no matter how many people have loved me during the day, it’s just me. It’s me and my twisted up heart and my knotted up stomach and my spinning brain. And the “I love you’s” and hugs and all the holy, beautiful reassurances that I’m loved and not alone, they buoy me, but the pain is still there, giving me one of two options: endure it, ride the wave, trust the process… or fight against it, panic, suffer. And it’s my decision alone to make.

And so here I sit tonight, with loved ones a phone call away, and other loved ones sleeping in the next room. I am not alone. And yet.

So I do the only thing left to do: I turn my shame-filled eyes toward the One who can help. And I raise up a string of prayers- desperate, afraid, pleading. And in the same breath, the acknowledgement that I have no right. I have no right to turn to Him now, relying on my status as His child, when I haven’t been living like His child lately. How bold of me to go to the Creator of all things, who I’ve essentially rolled my eyes at and shushed for the last month, and ask Him for provision, protection, peace?

But that isn’t how our God operates. He doesn’t turn us away. He doesn’t make us beg and plead and suffer to earn back our right to call Him Abba. He is merciful and full of grace and ever-present.

And I can see the holy in all of this, the progression of my life. It’s good and it’s healthy to realize the love of humans has limits. It makes life worth living, but it cannot save you.

It’s good for me to not try to squeeze Jesus out of people, but to still live with eyes open to flickers of Him that occur naturally in them.

It’s good for me to know that at the end of the day, it’s Jesus. People can pray for me, but they can’t answer my prayers. They can’t be my solution. Only Jesus can do that.

And so I come to Him and I sit and I ask Him for things I have no business asking Him for. And He lets me talk. And then a shhh that I pay attention to, and He holds my head in His hands and His eyes aren’t filled with accusations or anger, but with love. And the shame? The fear that I don’t belong to Him anymore? It melts away.

Words and Unrelated Quotes

“We are all such wrecks down here. Strangers in a strange land, falling time and time again. Trying to find a way to live right and love each other without losing our minds. Pretending and doing the best we can. Spinning our wheels and holding on. But there’s something truly beautiful about wrecked people standing together and singing about grace and ways to make it through. Hoping still, even as the light fades and good dreams die, even when the way seems lost, even as kingdoms fall, even through the long, dark night of quiet skies. Here we are on this blue speck floating through the endless night, spiraling across a measureless cosmos of chaos and majesty, searching, reaching, longing for something higher than ourselves. Here we together, separate, united, alone. Our worst so rotten and our best so good. Struggling, trying, falling, failing. Rising from the dust and returning again. Believing for something better–something more. Here we are, God, the wrecked of your hands, fashioned from dirt and breath, blood and water, spirit and flesh, beauty and chaos. Strangers unaware, hoping for something beyond the endless night. The hope that an infinite Creator rose up through this same dust and walked our planet as a man, tempted and tried, falling and rising again–the hope that someday we will rise up and never fall again–that’s what holds us all together. Searching for the weight, the counterbalance, the antidote to this one strange tiny life. Searching for ways to hold on and keep hope alive. As long as there is hope.”

*

“Do you feel like your relationship with God has been negatively impacted?” she asked me. And all I could say was, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean…, I don’t know.” Which, obviously, means yes.

It means I’ve shut off the part of my heart that cares about making God first. It means I can’t sit through sermons anymore that exhort us to live godly lives because I’m not doing that right now.

Eventually, after muttering and mumbling nonsensically, I paused. “If I do feel like He’s distant, it’s just because of where my heart’s at, right? Not because He’s left me?”

“Yes,” she said softly. “He won’t ever leave you.”

*

I walked through the woods today, hot anger flooding my body. I was inexplicably cranky. And cranky about being cranky.

I came to the end of the trail and looped back around again. I walked and walked because I didn’t know what else to do with myself.

I wondered about my night, about what I’d do. A puzzle? Bake? Draw? Write? Watch a movie? I didn’t want to do any of that. And that, too, made me angry. I felt trapped in a life with long stretches of time to fill, and a complete lack of desire to do anything. What was I going to do? How was I going to get through it? Did I even want to?

And then, a whisper: “This is what it looks like to take care of yourself.”

Sometimes taking care of yourself is choosing to feel what you feel and not letting it become bigger than what it is. Don’t attach words like ‘forever’ and ‘always’ and ‘never’ to emotions. Don’t let what you feel determine your truth. Just breathe. Just breathe and let it be. Emotions always pass. None of them last forever.

On my way home, my phone rang and my friend asked if she could stay the night tonight.

Instantly, my bad mood lifted. Because I wouldn’t be alone. Someone wanted to spend time with me. I had plans for the evening, and I realized in that moment that there are still things I want to do.

*

I’ve been focusing on all the ways God’s still taking care of me, even while I choose to walk down a path I know grieves His heart.

My friend asking to come over on a day when I really needed her? That sure felt like God taking care of me.

The other day I had to get all new tires on my car. I found out the same morning I learned my checking account was -$54. But I had a credit card for my car repairs. And my brakes waited to go out until I’d gotten back from my road trip. And my friend met me for dinner while I waited for my car to get fixed. And he paid for my food. That sure felt like God too.

Kittens and “I love you’s” and waking up rested.
God-given little brothers and big sisters and moms.
Book recommendations and people who pray for you and therapists who believe they can help you.
Strangers who smile at you and friends who see good in you and when the pen you’re using happens to match your fingernail polish.
When your dog is home alone for eight hours and he doesn’t chew anything up.
When your cat licks your face.
Freshly laundered bedding and back massages and the way the sun looks coming through the trees.
Twitchy, dreaming dog paws.
A dwindling to-do list and the energy to plug away at it, one thing at a time.
Hope.

God is still taking care of me. I don’t deserve it, but He hasn’t left.

*

“Shakespeare described love as an ‘ever-fixed mark.’ In a healthy family, you know how love is defined: It’s clear, has boundaries, and is attainable. Unfortunately, in a shame-bound family, love is a moving target; on day it’s this and one day it’s that, and just when you’re sure you’ve got it figured out, you discover you don’t.” -Brennan Manning

Moments

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I’m grateful for the moments that don’t hurt.

Thank the good Lord for moments when you think, “Yes. THIS is how life is supposed to be. Hard? Sure. But not lonely. Not without hope.”

When you reach your hand out and someone grabs hold? Thank God for moments like that.

I locked myself in a bathroom stall, put my head in my hands, and proceeded to cry all my makeup off during church today.

About ten minutes after I left the privacy of the bathroom stall, Cendy came up to me to talk to me about helping with kids’ church, but she paused mid-sentence. “Are you okay?” she asked. Then, “How can I pray for you?”

And a little later, Laura caught a glimpse of me across the room and sent a text: “I see you. And I love you.”

Thank God for moments like that.

I went for a walk today, without Arlow. I walked a tree-lined trail to a rocky beach, where I sat, opened a book, watched some crabs scurry, listened to the waves lapping at my feet, and sipped a Diet Dr. Pepper. I breathed in the smell of the ocean and the warmth of the sun on my skin.

Thank God for moments like that.

Songs that resonate with you heart? (This one is killing me–in a good way–right now.) Mid-day naps on the couch? Long walks and good conversation with someone you love?

Thank God for moments like that.

72 Hours and Deep Breathing

It has been a brutal last 72 hours.

There comes a moment when everything in me tightens and I can feel my brain spiraling into this panicked state. I start wondering why and what and who and how and when and what if. I start answering those questions for myself based on limited evidence. I make decisions about what is actually happening. I effectively make myself feel completely isolated, unlovable, despicable.

I’m learning to put the brakes on in those moments. I am learning to breathe through it. I am learning not to fight against it or demand it be different. I am learning to breathe.

I am not strong enough to dig deep, trying to get to the foundation of why my pain is so intense. I am not skilled enough to problem-solve my way to a less painful state. I am not capable of changing hearts or minds. I am not able to change the past.

So I breathe.

“You have to love yourself through it. You have to do the brave thing of accepting yourself, good and bad, and continue putting one foot in front of the other,” a friend of mine said recently.

I was so entangled in shame and self-hatred in that moment that I could barely breathe. But I knew she was right. Life is full of crossroads. Choose life or death. Choose. And self-hatred feels a lot like death. All we can do is breathe and love what is, ourselves included.

I love how happy Arlow is when I walk him off-leash.

I love friends who stand by you even when it’s hard.

I love the flicker of candles and the smell of my aromatherapy diffuser.

I love sunny days and flip-flops and starting the morning off with an energy drink.

I love touch. I love when arms or legs are intertwined, when someone reaches over and rubs my back, when I’m able to squeeze someone tight around the shoulders, when someone kisses the top of my head.

I love “dancing” in the car when a good song comes on.

I love feeding the birds in the neighborhood.

I love freshly washed bedding.

I love days spent outside and laughing with friends and impromptu road trips.

And while I can’t add “I love me” to the list, at least not after these last few days, I am working on it. And I do love pieces of me. Bits of who I am that I can hold tight to and say, “That thing about me isn’t a mistake. It isn’t bad or wrong or hard to love.”

I love that I’m a born writer.

I love that I can make people laugh.

I love that I am gentle and nurturing.

There are other things I would’ve added to that list a few days ago. I would’ve said I love that I care for people and that I’m a fighter and that I invest in my relationships. But now I don’t know that any of that is true.

It’s been three days of a battle unlike any I’ve ever known. It’s not a battle against panic or wanting to kill myself, but a battle in which I am trying to stay standing while the wind and rain whip and beat against me. And I feel bruised and bloody, raw and wounded.

It’s hard to see the good in the last few days. It’s hard to see how I can pull myself back up and get back to a place of being able to look myself in the face. But I can choose not to cling tight to the words spoken and fears they brought up.

I can choose to breathe.

Love, Attachment, and ER Visits

​”Attachment theory teaches us that our assumption that we can and should control our emotional needs and soothe ourselves in the face of stress is simply wrong. Research findings support the exact opposite.

*

My arm was stretched across his abdomen. There were no words, just the gentle inhale and exhale and the sense of being safe.

She told me she loved me. She told me I don’t repel people. She told me not to give too much power to one person’s negative opinion of me, that not everyone sees me that way, that she doesn’t see me that way.

We laughed and drove to the coast. Comfort and freedom. Silliness and honest conversation. Singing ‘Carry On My Wayward Son’ over chips and salsa.

He said my smile is unreal. He said he can’t get enough. He said he likes my eyes and my freckles. He took me in and found something special there.

She said I’m brave.

She thanked me for my honesty. She said I could tell her anything.

We watched our dogs play. We laughed and talked and there was no judgment, just being present with one another.

She asked me what my plans are for Labor Day weekend. She wants to see me. She wants to spend time with me.

He offered to come over and spend time with me. My heart hurt and he offered to come over so that I wasn’t alone.

She text messaged me a quote. Encouragement in words. A reminder that I have support in this process I’m going through.

Her kids draw me pictures. She calls me when she’s sad. I call her too. We are family.

But I sat outside the ER alone, barefoot and barely clothed, so sick I couldn’t even tell the taxi driver how to get to my house.

I don’t think that’s okay. I will never, ever think that’s okay.

Love walks through fire.

Love is a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.

Love shows up.

*

“As adults we don’t play with toys anymore, but we do have to go out into the world and deal with novel situations and difficult challenges. We want to be highly functional at work, at ease and inspired in our hobbies, and compassionate enough to care for our children and partners. If we feel secure, the world is at our feet. We can take risks, be creative, and pursue our dreams. And if we lack that sense of security? If we are unsure whether the person closest to us truly believes in us and supports us and will be there for us in times of need, we’ll find it much harder to maintain focus and engage in life. When our important attachments are thoroughly dependable and make us feel safe, and especially if they know how to reassure us during the hard times, we can turn our attention to all the other aspects of life that make our existence meaningful.