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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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.

Reality

Sometimes it’s hard for me to know what’s real.

I don’t mean to say that I am out of touch with reality, (although that too, sometimes ;-)). I have no problem being able to say, “This happened today,” and know that’s true, but the trouble comes in when I, without realizing it, start assigning meaning to the events of the day.

I look at the facts and start answering for myself “why did that happen?” and “what does that mean?” Like an architect examines a structure for stability, I pace back and forth over the events of my life, examining them second by second, inch by inch, asking the questions: “Is this thing solid? Am I secure? Am I safe?”

I don’t feel very safe today.

And that’s why I say I don’t know what’s real. Because nothing bad happened, it’s my own analysis of events, my own answers to the “why’s” and “what’s” that has me feeling like the ground I am standing on is shaky.

And is it? Am I safe? Is it shaky? I DON’T KNOW. I don’t know what’s real and I’m scared because I need to know I’m safe.

Which brings me to another one of those fork-in-the-road moments though, doesn’t it? I can either choose to act out of my fear, or I can choose something better for myself.

I can choose to view my day through the lens of fear and trauma, or I can choose to view it through the lens of: “Where was God?” That doesn’t make it any easier for me to know whether or not I’m safe, but it does help me get back to the basics of what ACTUALLY happened today.

Remove the emotion, get down to the facts: Where was God?

He was in my slow-start morning.
The willingness of Laura to bring by my medication.
Having people to call when I need to be emotional and messy.
The warm day.
Watching Arlow play at the dog park.
Finding a ball at the dog park, after realizing I forgot to bring one of ours.
The woman I met, who I talked with about her divorce and daughters and dogs.
Not hitting traffic on the drive back home.
A good sermon.
Flickers of hope.
The invitation to have dinner and s’mores at a friends’ house tonight.

*

I heard a sermon today about the men who lowered their friend through the roof of a house to get him to Jesus. They would’ve done anything to get their friend to Jesus. They weren’t concerned about being impolite or interrupting or making a hole in someone’s roof. They just wanted Jesus.

And I heard that, and I thought about my theory about love. How loving someone means doing the least selfish thing.

But what those men did? That was pretty selfish. And it might not have even been motivated by love, but by need. And yet, Jesus still responded to it.

People can’t handle desperation. People can’t handle it when you come to them with a “cut a hole into someone’s roof” category of need. But God can.

With Him, I’m safe.

But He’s not here.

He’s in my day, but He’s not here.

And I wonder if it’s more important for me to love Him well in the midst of this life that is too hard for me, or if it’s okay to come to Him desperate and ruled more by need than by love.

Here’s Where You Get To Choose

It’s easy to love people when things are good. It’s easy to love them when you feel secure and comfortable and loved in return. But what about when loving someone starts to feel scary?

What about when it hurts like hell and everything in you wants to demand they fix it?

That’s when you get to decide what love really is.

Do I love people because I want to feel comfortable and secure and loved in return? Because that isn’t love; love isn’t self-seeking. Love wants the best for others, even when it’s uncomfortable for us.

And it’s the hardest thing in the world in that moment, when your emotions are so big, but you have a choice. And when everything in you wants to scream and cry and demand and control, but you choose not to? That’s when love puts on its work boots and becomes genuine.

*

What about when you’re misunderstood, and the core of who you are is threatened by a person’s inability to understand you?

What about when everything in you wants to tell them they’re wrong?

That’s when you get to choose.

It’s a moment, just a split second, and the decision and the person are both before you, and you want to let your emotional reaction have a voice because it hurts to feel misunderstood and they need to know they’re wrong. But that isn’t your only option, it’s just the easier one. And you get to choose.

After all, is it possible that the God who is too big for us to comprehend could have created two people who have different opinions for a reason, and that maybe neither of us is right or wrong?

*

When the walls are closing in on you and nothing feels right or easy and there’s an actual physical pain in your chest and a bottle of pills in the bathroom and you’re so, so tired…

That’s when you get to choose.

Am I going to do the easy thing, or am I going to do the thing that feels impossible?

Am I going to give in to despair or am I going to stand up, even when nothing in me feels it, and say, “I’m not gonna let life steal my hope.”

You get to choose.

*

Over and over and over again we get to decide: “Where am I going to go from here? What am I going to do with my pain?”

But at the core of all of these decisions is this question: “Am I going to trust God with my heart?”

And in that, too, we get to choose.

*

I make the wrong decision so often.

Thank God He can redeem it.

The Stuff Of Hope

I feel like I am watching a forest fire rage. And I am saying, “It’s okay. It’s going to rain. It’s going to be okay.”

And everyone around me is saying I’m wrong. That the forecast doesn’t call for rain. That forest fires happen and that’s just life and that everyone knows that.

And I don’t know that they’re wrong. But I can’t accept that they’re right either.

And I’m scared. Because my life depends on the rain.

*

I text Laura tonight. I said that I have to believe depression is from the enemy. That no matter what season of life we’re in, depression is a lie. Hard times? Inevitable. But depression? I think that God wants more for us than that.

And I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know how to get there, to this place where depression kneels before the Lord.

But I know two things: That there’s freedom and life to be found in surrender, and that God would never ask me to shut my heart down.

How do those things coexist- surrender and having a fully-alive heart? I don’t know. Honestly. Maybe just by trusting that the things of our hearts matter to God? We can trust Him with whatever they contain? We can let go of our grip on our life and still honor our hearts because both things are His and both things (our lives and our hearts) are used by Him to speak to us?

I don’t know.

But I refuse to abandon my heart. Even if it kills me.

I will keep speaking of the rain, praying that my tiny bit of hope will count for something. Praying that my speaking it will make it true.

*

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…” -Rom. 4:18

“Therefore, Jesus Said…”

I was trying to look at Amazon’s website tonight, but I hit a wrong button and ended up at my next (alphabetically) bookmarked site: Bible Gateway.

And suddenly, where I was expecting to find my search results for Dishwasher Detergent, instead I was looking at Bible Gateway’s Verse of the Day.

“Therefore, Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.'” -John 10:7, 9-10 NIV

He won’t let me fall.

It’s All Wrapped Up In Him

You know what insomnia does? It makes your brain even more unreliable than usual.

And when your brain is already a lying-liar-face because you’re stinkin’ depressed, adding insomnia to that is just… well, a recipe for success, folks.

Lately, falling asleep is the hardest thing I do all day. Which is doubly unfortunate because being alive is pretty hard too.

“Forget everything,” I was instructing myself last night. I heard Arlow snoring, and Madison and the kids breathing deeply in the next room, and the clock ticking. “Forget everything about yourself- your job (or lack thereof), your family (or lack thereof), all of the things that you think make you who you are. Forget your responsibilities and fears and hopes and dreams. Just for now, strip it all away. Forget everything but this: You are His.”

And then I focused on breathing. “Breathe, don’t think. Breathe, don’t think. You are His, you are His, you are His.”

I could hear my breathing, feel my heartbeat, the sensation of the air on my exposed feet, and I noticed that my eyelids felt hot from lack of sleep. And I breathed deep, to the core of me, somewhere in my abdomen, where spirit and soul and the Holy Spirit all seem to collide.

I am His. I am His. I am His. Nothing else matters. At least for this moment, nothing else matters.

And still, I couldn’t sleep. But at least my head, my lying brain, had been silenced for the moment. There were no words, just my own steady inhale and exhale. And my heart, on its knees, looking and listening and waiting.

*

The irony of insomnia is that the harder you try to fall asleep, the less likely it is that you’re going to be able to.

And that made me think- how often in my life do I lament, despair and exasperation written on my face: “I’m trying SO HARD!”

And how often is that the opposite of what I should be doing?

Hear me out.

While I am a fan of naps, and while I’m probably not gonna be the spokesperson for A Hard Day’s Work, I’m not advocating laziness.

I’m advocating surrender.

Rest.

Waiting on the only One who has the power to bring about what it is you’re trying to do on your own.

The harder I try, the less likely it is that I will be able to fall asleep.

Similarly, the harder I try to “have more faith!” or “have more hope!”, the less I’m able to focus on what really matters- my relationship with Him, the God who promises to finish the good work He (HE! Not me!) has begun in me.

I mean, sure, it’s a blow to evil if we testify that God is the author of ALL good things, that we are nothing without Him, and that He has a good plan for us… but if we forget to live like that’s true? If we start trying to measure up or be “better”? If we forget that it’s not about us (even in regards to how much faith or hope or love we have!) but about Him? If we forget the best use of our time is spent at His feet? If we forget that it is He who is making us like Jesus, and that it is not something we can accomplish on our own (or take any credit for!)? Well, if we do that, if we get caught in that trap, our religion becomes more about us than about Him, doesn’t it?

I can’t do it. I can’t make myself have more faith or hope. I can’t make myself want to live. I can’t make myself sleep.

But He can.

In every situation, if anxiety is replacing peace, you’re on the wrong track.

And how incredible is that?! That our God would structure life that way, that He loves us so much that He’d say: “If the voice you hear makes you feel anxious, IT’S NOT MINE.”

*

This life isn’t going to cut it.

I look around me at all of this–houses and people and stores and nature and traffic and all the things that make up this life–and IT ISN’T JESUS.

It’s like I’m dying of thirst and someone gave me a damp rag. And I’m trying to somehow not be thirsty anymore by sucking the water out of the rag, but it’s a joke. I’m still dying of thirst.

My thirst for Jesus is not being met in this life I’m living.

There must be more.

I have to believe that.

I have to believe I’m here in this place, not because I’m screwed up (although I am), but because He is using my thirst and discomfort to draw me deeper.

I felt Him saying to me today, as my heart twisted and ached within me and my head spun with lies and truths and variations of both, “This isn’t a mistake. YOU are not a mistake. You are tenderhearted in a way that is rare. And some might call it wrong, but it isn’t wrong. It isn’t a flaw. It is My design. YOU are MY design.”

Oh, but this heart of mine has me so aching for heaven. There just isn’t enough Jesus here.

But I’m here for a reason. I’m alive for a reason.

I’m thirsty for a reason.

And if I stop believing that, if I chalk it up to “heaven is my real home”, I’ll shut down the part of my heart that is screaming for more of Him. I’ll stop waiting on Him and begging Him to be more real to me. I’ll tell myself this is all there is.

I think well-meaning, God-loving people tell themselves that all the time. They seek and it seems futile and they’re thirsty and they get tired of living with the thirst. So they tell themselves what I’ve been tempted to tell myself- the lie that there is no more of God to be found this side of heaven. And so they start working on themselves rather than seeking the face of God.

They trade in passion and romance (this is, after all, a love story) and WILD HOPE, and instead talk about their relationship with God in terms of their faith- learning to be okay with less than they’d hoped for, practicing peace in the midst of suffering. “This life is a war, but God is GOOD!” they say. And that is true. It is. But it’s not the face of God. It’s theology and a desperate grasping and clinging at some way to make this life bearable. It’s a love for our Savior and a reverence and an awe, yes. But it isn’t letting ourselves be held. It isn’t knowing and loving Him more.

What does the Bible mean when it says we will find Him when we seek Him with all our hearts? What does it REALLY mean?

Does it mean we’ll be able to walk through our lives with scripture in our heads so fully that the lies of the enemy cannot penetrate? Does it mean we will be able to talk our hearts off the ledge with Truth when life gets hard? Does it mean we weep with hope and rejoice in the midst of sorrow?

I don’t know. I don’t have answers. I just can’t believe that’s what Jesus was promising when He said we’d find Him. HIM.

And I refuse to fabricate my God. I refuse to sit here and say it’s okay if all there is of Him this side of heaven is trees and mountains and baby smiles and the promise that He is using my pain to make me more like Jesus. Those things are GOOD. But they aren’t Him.

Sunsets and stars and hugs? GOOD. But they aren’t the Jesus my heart is screaming for.

They are a damp rag when I’m dying of thirst.

Lord, I’m grateful. I’m grateful. But it’s not enough.

Is “I am Yours and You are mine” just something we say? Or does it truly mean something? Because that would suggest a relationship. A relationship that goes beyond theology and sunsets and even hard-earned faith.

All of that is good and important, but THERE HAS TO BE MORE.

We are called to walk by faith, yes. But we are also called to seek His face.

And you know what the most infuriating thing is? I can’t”try harder” to know and love Him more.

It’s a process, something He is doing in me.

All I can do is refuse to stop seeking. I will knock until the door opens. I will continue to live eyes open, in holy anticipation of the God who IS HERE.

And I will refuse to let my lying brain tell me scripture didn’t really mean we’d find Him when we seek Him.

And sure, I could convince myself scripture meant we’d learn to see Him in the good of this life- warm blankets and shared laughs and good books and people who speak life and hope and love. I can tell myself that. And it might even be the partial truth.

But either the promises of God are even better than we can ever hope or dream or imagine, or they are nothing at all.

It’s dangerous when we try to decide scripture means less than what it reads.

It’s dangerous when we take the God who is more loving and powerful and present and real and near and good than we can fathom, and decide He is capable of less than amazing, miraculous things.

*

“You can’t force these things. They only come about through my Spirit…” (Zech. 4:6-7)