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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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

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.

Lessons From The Road

No one can do it for you.

They can love you and care about you, but they can’t fight your fight for you.

People could talk to me and pray for me, but they couldn’t drive for me. No one could come rescue me and bring me home.

*

You can’t control how you feel, but you are in control of how much you suffer.

You can say, “I can’t…” and “This is not okay…” all day long, and it doesn’t change your circumstances one damn bit. All it does is increase your suffering.

You have to breathe.

Don’t rage against what you feel- let it be.

Trust the process.

*

Bad feelings aren’t necessarily bad things.

Stop labeling things as bad just because they feel bad; a lot of good is born out of things that feel really bad.

*

You don’t have to give sucky emotions power by calling them truth.

Emotions come and go. We have to be careful not to let them determine our truth.

*

Some trips are about fun and some trips are about growth.

*

Sometimes it’s important to stop calling the contents of our hearts “wrong” or “bad.”

When you find yourself aware that not everyone sees the world in the same way as you do, maybe it’s better to draw the “wrongness” of your heart closer to yourself rather than push it away. Maybe what feels wrong is actually a unique wiring.

Maybe the key isn’t in making yourself be different, but learning how to embrace what is within you.

Maybe sometimes what we think are our flaws, the ways we struggle, the ways people don’t understand us, maybe the unique way we see the world is actually a secret God whispered into our hearts, and the trick is to learn how to let that widen us up to living bigger and deeper, rather than letting it make us feel discouraged or close us off to life.

*

On the road, all by yourself, you have no choice but to sit with your pain when it arises. You can’t drink it away or overdose it away or refuse to get out of bed, because you’re not home and you have a dog and someone has to take care of him.

And also, being all by yourself, thousands of miles from home, you suddenly realize how terrified you are that you’ll somehow die before ever getting home. You worry about car accidents, mostly, but also murder a little bit when you’re sleeping in a dark parking lot in your car. You worry about your car breaking down and your finances and what if you never get to go home again?

And you realize there’s a whole, beautiful life waiting for you at home. And it’s not perfect, but its yours, and dear God, how badly you just want to be back home where you get to live your imperfect, beautiful life.

So you sit with your pain. And you promise yourself you’ll do that at home too. You promise yourself that even when you’re back in the land where drinking and overdosing and trying to use other people to save you are options, you won’t do that.

*

You have to take some deep breaths and do the things for yourself that you can do- like not text and drive and stop when you need a break and call and talk to people (without begging them to rescue you) when you need to talk.

And you have to trust God with the rest, like no flat tires or car troubles and getting you back home alive.

If you carry the weight of the things God’s responsible for, it will suck all of the beautiful living out of your day and replace it with fear and worry that you were never meant to carry.

*

Every time Arlow makes eye contact with me, I say, “I love you,” or, “How are you doing, baby?” And I do that not because I’m insecure, but because that’s how I communicate.

And that’s how I communicate in my relationships also.

And so when people don’t do that with me, when they go days without talking to me, it feels like they don’t love me.

But not everyone communicates their love in the same way you do. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you.

 

*

Sometimes you can be royally pissed off and sitting in a park in New Mexico and hating everything about life, and then a woman and her kids will come sit with you and want to pet your dog, and you’ll be even more cranky because you didn’t ask for company or small talk.

But then you’ll notice the woman has a tin can labeled “Please Help. Need Food.” And she won’t address it. She won’t ask for anything. She’ll just set it off to the side and slightly behind herself. And she’ll talk about the weather and her kids and where the nearest CoinStar is while she watches her kids wrestle with a dog twice their size.

And you’ll reach into your wallet. Because MFing New Mexico sucks and it’s hot and dirty and no on drives well, but God clearly led you and your bad attitude to this park where a woman with a genuine need and a smile happened to cross your path.

And what a gift New Mexico turned out to be.

*

If you walk your dog in Texas, people will literally stop their cars to conversationally say to you, “That’s a big dog!”

They will also give you the water out of their car and hold the cup for your dog so he can hydrate.

*

The same part of my brain and heart that were terrified to be so far from home are the same part of my brain and heart that feel four years old.

“I’m so scared,” and, “I want my mom,” came in the same breath.

And maybe that’s how we parent ourselves sometimes. We say, soothingly and with a voice laced with love, “I know.”

But we don’t let that stop us from doing the hard, scary thing.

*

If you sit down in a park in Mississippi and sob into your hands, if you’re too weak to hold your dog’s leash anymore and so he runs wild and free while you cry, no one will even notice.

*

I used to think people who picked their scabs were disgusting.

But then I found myself bored and stuck in traffic with a bunch of week-old mosquito bites.

*

A rainbow feels like a personal promise to me in Utah just as much as it does here at home.

*

You can’t outrun your problems or your pain.

You come home at the end of a long road trip and you’re one part, “Thank God, I made it!” And, “Thank God I am back in the right time zone! And thank Him for my bed and my shower and my plants and cats and clean underwear and closet full of clothes!”

And you’re one part complete, black depression.

The road trip wasn’t a solution, it was a lesson.

And now it’s time to put to practice what you learned on your drive.

Now, in this really hard moment, you get to say to yourself, “No, I CAN do it.”

And in the face of blackness, I get to say to myself, “No, I WANT to live.”

*

“You’ve got a big heart. The way you see the world, it got you this far. You might have some bruises and a few scars, but you know you’re gonna be okay. And even though you’re scared, you’re stronger than you know. If you’re lost out where the lights are blinding, if you face the fear that keeps you frozen, chase the sky into the ocean, that’s when something wild calls you home.”

Living Into The Questions

“[The world is] so beautiful and complex and painful that sometimes you just need   to sit down and write about it.”

*

A lady at the dog park made me cry today.

Arlow jumped on her. But in his defense, he didn’t until her dog jumped on her.

“You need to get control of your dog!” she said to me.

And I thought, “Yeah. I need to get control of a lot.”

*

I am trying to embrace the fact that I am a person. I am trying to honor my heart and who God made me to be. I am trying to stand tall and firm in my own body rather than grasping and begging for other people to validate me and fill me up.

My friend, Erika, and I talked today about how I’m an empath. How I basically go through the world without any skin- feeling everything so deeply.

And she talked about how it’s important that I take care of myself, that I put up boundaries so that the world doesn’t overwhelm me.

I never really thought about that before, about being uniquely wired to be sensitive, about needing to take care of that truth about me, to honor this quality rather than shame myself for it, to give room for my heart to tell me what it needs.

*

We also talked about why I can’t hold love; why I am empty of love almost the second someone says, “Yes, I love you.”

She said that’s a foundational problem because all of the world is, at its core, about love.

She said to be aware of that, of my inability to hold love. To try to live into the question, to try to open myself up to finding healing for whatever part of me in wounded in that way.

*

“Is life worth it?” I asked her at one point. “I just need to know that life is worth it.”

In response, she said something then that I’ve heard before: “That’s black or white thinking.”

She said some days life is worth it, some days it’s not.

She said, “Welcome the tension, because if you don’t, you’re fighting a battle you don’t need to fight. Allow pain to find a home in you without trying to make yourself be somewhere else. Be present with it. And then you’ll discover you’re able to move on.”

*

I don’t know how my story is going to end. I don’t know what happens next.

But I know there’s grace for me in this season.

So many people are pouring love into me.

I’m so blessed.

And still, I hurt.

*

“The funny thing about writing is that more often than not, you write your own way into truth.”

In Every Moment

“I just think that there’s meaning in everything,” my client said a couple weeks ago. “I think God is in everything and that our days matter so much more than we could ever understand.”

Sometimes my clients help me.

Sometimes they don’t. Another client of mine has told me two times in a row that I look crazy.

Her insight is unnerving.

*

I cried at the doggy daycare last week.

I was petting this sweet, little dog with the most gentle eyes, and the woman behind the counter said, “You know, she’s up for adoption.”

And everything in me wanted to take her home and be her mommy.

And I looked at her eyes, so filled with hope and delight at having my attention, and I thought about how she doesn’t have a mommy, and it made me tear up.

Because her tail was wagging and her eyes were gentle but no one loves her the way I love Arlow.

*

How do we stay in this fight?

If I was with God, His love would feel like a hug.

If everything here, everything I love and everything I desire, is just a mere reflection of the goodness that awaits me in heaven, why wouldn’t I want to be there?

Because love chooses well. Love chooses not to abandon people, not to give up on this life that’s a gift. I know that. In my head, I know that.

But inside of me, I’m a child lost at the carnival and everyone around me is laughing and talking and eating cotton candy, and I’m standing there, terrified, with no parent’s legs to grab onto.

And does anyone see? Does anyone see how alone and scared I am? Only Him. Only heaven.

*

Some people think you go to hell if you kill yourself, but I think that’s dumb. It’s professing, in essence, that God’s grace is big enough to cover every sin but one.

Plus, God doesn’t fault us for being sick.

Not to mention, that black and white philosophy leaves so much unanswered. Like what about people who die from an accidental drug overdose? Do they immediately go to hell? Even though they weren’t trying to kill themselves? Even though they might believe in Jesus?

I wonder about my clients sometimes, how a loving God could send to hell a person who can’t possibly believe in Him because they hear cupboards speak to them and think Michael Jackson is preparing a palace for them to live in. How could He fault them for not believing? I don’t think He will.

I don’t think He does.

I watched my client die the other day. I went to deliver her meds, and the next thing I knew, EMTs were trying to get her heart started again.

The only coherent thing she said to me before she died? “I have to say a prayer.”

“You have to say a prayer?” I asked.

And then again, she said, “I have to say a prayer.”

*

My face was pressed against the couch this afternoon. Lies and truths swirling about in my head, fighting for a voice.

And then, I felt God’s gentle urging to just let it be.

“Let the lies and truths coexist for now; it’s not as important to piece them apart as it feels. The real issue at hand is: Who are you?

When it’s just you and the couch, when all your relationships could fall away and it would just be you standing alone, apart from who loves you and who doesn’t, apart from where you belong and where you don’t, apart from what someone thinks of you or if they think of you at all, who are you?”

Yours.

I am Yours, I am Yours, I am Yours.

*

Whenever I need a hug, I watch Narnia.

There’s just something about Aslan. The eyes, the laugh, the roar.

They remind me of home.

*

I don’t know how to do this.

The Battle Continues. And So Does The Laughter.

“Your eyes aren’t smiling today,” my coworker said. Which surprised me because that means my eyes are smiley most days.

*

I keep having to remind myself that life is a gift. Life was God’s idea- the same God I desperately want to be held by. This life is a reflection of Him. It IS Him holding us. We are here, breathing in the stuff of miracles, surrounded by the work of His hands. His fingerprints are everywhere.

The suffering of life wasn’t part of His plan, of course, but the good? The good can reveal to us the heart of our Father, if only we have eyes to see.

*

The dysthymia precedes the panic, every time. Suddenly the world goes dark- black. I try desperately, fiercely to keep my head above water, but I can’t. The current is pulling me down to a place where there is no oxygen or light.

How many nights have ended with me squeezing my eyes closed in bed, my throat tight, my heart racing, repeating: “What I’m feeling right now is a lie. I am alive. I am alive. This life is a gift. I am alive.”

There are moments when suddenly I see and feel about life the way I used to. And those moments are like desperately needed oxygen, loosening the tightness in my chest, lessening the weight on my shoulders, showing me how, even in my best moments, I am weighed down by this fight. And but suddenly these moments of clarity hit me and there’s lightness and relief and something like joy, and I think, “Ah, yes, there you are, Life! I knew it wasn’t supposed to be so hard! I knew you were worth it! I knew you were, at your core, good!”

But the moments are fleeting. Like a blink. And suddenly I’m back in this life where every single decision I make throughout the day is a response to the question: “How can I keep from having a panic attack?”

It’s the panic I can’t do anymore. It is hell. And always, in every moment, I am running as hard as I can away from that, that place that feels like hell, that place that makes me feel certain this is a fight I won’t win.

*

There are moments that make me want to weep with relief because I forget I’m fighting. I’m surrounded by the best kind of chaos, and belonging, and love. And I forget that the sun is setting and that nighttime is hard for me.

God is holding me. He is the breath in my lungs. My throat is tight, but He is my breath. And so I close my eyes and remember I am alive and this life was His idea.

*

And it won’t end. The best parts of this life will continue in heaven.

So when I can’t feel any pleasure in the good of this life, when everything feels empty and meaningless and my heart starts to beat with the wildness I’ve become accustomed to before a panic attack, I can tell myself, without a doubt, that my brain is lying to me. Because even if not all of life is good, some of it is good. And that good has His fingerprints all over it. Life was His idea. And death is an illusion. Those of us to love Him will live forever.

Life is a gift.

*

Here are some things I know:
1. Not everyone feels this way. My brain is sick. Life isn’t this hard for everyone. Which means there’s hope for me. There’s hope that my brain will get healthier. There is hope that the life I knew for 20-something years will return to me.
2. God doesn’t blame me. He knows how I’m fighting. He knows my thoughts and my heart. And there is no condemnation in His eyes. Only love.
3. I am human. I am flawed and weak and sinful, and I vacillate constantly between thoughts and emotions, lies and truths, fears and desires. And that’s okay. It’s okay to be human because God’s grace is bigger than the width and depth of my need and depravity.
4. I am never alone.

*

I don’t know if it’s going to be okay this side of heaven. When I ask myself that question, my response is always, “It HAS to be.” It has to get better or I don’t know if I’ll survive. My desire to fight? It’s huge. But the panic is bigger.

And so I surrender. I embrace not knowing. I accept that this is my fight right now. I breathe. And I say, “I don’t know. I don’t know how or when or why or what’s next. But thank You.”

And I do. I thank God for air, for breath and belonging and moments where life feels real to me and worth it. I thank Him for love and family, laughter and sun, Arlow and the moments before sleep when all feels okay.

I thank Him that He holds me.

And I thank Him that whether my head is above water or below, He is there.