Truth And Panic

When my brain gets swirly with all the things I can’t control, and panic floods my chest, and my prayers start sounding like: “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!” and: “It’s not okay!”
…When that happens, I close my eyes.

“Tamara,” I ask myself, “do you believe God is real?”
Yes.

“Do you believe He knows your heart?”
Yes.

“Do you believe He cares about your heart?”
Yes.

“Do you believe He can do ANYTHING?”
Yes.

“Do you believe He is good?”
Yes.

“Do you believe He is, in all His ways, Love?”
Yes.

I do.

*

I talked to my therapist about how, when I was a child, I was cuddly, and needed lots of love, and also easily hurt.

My siblings would tease me and, rather than get mad, my heart would break. I interpreted their teasing as a lack of love because I loved them, and I knew I would never treat them the way they were treating me. So, heartbreak- characterized by screaming and crying. Because I was a child. And children don’t come to this earth just instinctively knowing how to deal with heartbreak.

But my parents didn’t know how to deal with it either, turns out.

Mom would drag me to my room because, she’d say, it didn’t matter what my brother or sister did, all that mattered was that the way I was handling it was inappropriate. My emotional reaction was too big for the situation. (Although, in my defense, any negative emotion in that house was considered inappropriate.)

And I’d be even more hysterical as Mom tried to get me to my room. I’d hold on to the stairwell wall, begging my mom not to put me in timeout. “I want a do-over!” I’d wail. “Let’s start the day over!”

But she’d always win, of course.

And I’d be in my room, and she’d lock the door from the outside so I couldn’t get out. Because she knew I wouldn’t stay in there. I wanted to, HAD to, fix it- and not later, but right that second. I had to make it be okay.

So I’d pound on the door, panicked, screaming: “I’m sor-rrry!” But no one ever came.

And I wonder if God is calling that to my memory, not because it still hurts, but because it helps me be compassionate with my present self. It helps me understand why I feel the way I do. And it helps me see that some of who I am today has been learned, yes, but some of who I am is just the way God designed me.

I have ALWAYS been a sensitive, kind-hearted person.

I’ve always needed lots of love and I’ve always been quick to interpret others’ behavior towards me as proof that they don’t love me.

I’ve always had big emotions.

And when those big emotions came, they have never been seen as “okay”, but something to apologize for. They’ve always been something people have used to withdraw or ignore me until I could “pull it together”.

As a result, I’d feel, not only like I was drowning in my emotion, but like I was doing it all alone. There in my bedroom as a child, or now in my home, whenever I feel anything passionately, I believe two things: 1. My emotions ruin my relationships because no one can love this version of me, and 2. No one cares how I feel.

I learned as a child that people leave you when you feel. And that has been reinforced in my life as I’ve grown up. People leave.

And the underlying message is, of course, “I’m wrong.” Even when I don’t consciously believe it, part of the panic I battle in those “emotionally intense and all alone” moments is, “I am wrong for feeling. I’ve ruined everything. I need to make them love me again.”

I never learned to sit with what I was feeling, but to instead panic about it and and NEED to fix it RIGHT. THIS. SECOND. And when I can’t? When everything good feels gone and I’m powerless to do anything about it? That feeling is… I can’t even describe it.

I am still just that little girl, pounding on her bedroom door, begging someone to answer it and reassure me I’m loved–no matter what–and that it’s going to be okay.

Love has always, always, always felt fragile to me. And I’ve always, always, always felt hard to love.

*

I took Arlow on a walk this evening, and watched him play in a fountain, lit up red and pink and blue.

I watched him try to figure out why the water kept disappearing and then reappearing. He’d get close to sniff the place the water just was, only to run over to me when the water would shoot back up, startling him.

And I laughed, aloud–cackled, really–all by myself, while people watched.

And we walked through red and yellow and salmon colored leaves.

“This moment is a gift,” I told myself. And I was relieved to find that, not only did I know that to be true, but I could feel it as well.

And inside of me is so, so much sorrow. And my instinct is to panic, to wail against it like that child locked in her bedroom.

But I’m trying to let God parent me, to do the parenting that my mom and dad were unable to.

And He says, “You are tender-hearted. This is a good thing. You are kind and thoughtful and you have big emotions. This is by design. It is all part of who I made you to be.”

He tells me that I am not put together wrong. I am not unlovable. I am not wrong for feeling.

And I hear Him, but I am still filled with the panic of my child self, pounding on that bedroom door for someone to come and love her and hold her and tell her it will be okay.

And then He opens His arms up wide.

And I get to choose whether or not to let myself be held by the One who showed up for me, or keep staring at that door.

And He pulls me close, my heart still beating like a rabbit’s, and He asks me all the questions I listed above. Do I know He loves me? Yes. Do I know my heart matters to Him? Deeply. Do I believe He can do anything? I do.

And He doesn’t try to talk me out of my panic, He just speaks love over me.

And as I remind myself who He is, I can breathe again.

The sorrow is still there,
but I can breathe.

The Ultimate Gift-Giver

Sometimes I want to weep with the heavy truth that this world doesn’t have to be nice to me.

No one has to return my smile, no one has to match my tender heart with a tender heart of their own, no one has to love me through all things.

This will be the first Christmas I wake up in an empty house. No presents will be under the tree. No stockings hung. No one to make breakfast for.

And that makes me feel really, really sad. Like, “lump of coal in the pit of my stomach” sad. (I know typically people say “rock in the pit of my stomach”, but ’tis the season for coal, right? …Even my sorrow wants to get into the Christmas spirit. 😉 ).

But then, as I nurse that sorrow, I remember the last two years.

I hadn’t been physically alone on Christmas morning, but I had still found myself weeping from the shattered hope that the Christmas I was trying so hard to make special would end up feeling like love. I was trying to look facts in the face and still assert that there was love present in the room- that it wasn’t just me and my hopeful heart, and the lights on the tree adding a soft glow to the room, and the smell of a breakfast I had excitedly made that no one even wanted to eat.

And I think about how every Christmas has been heartbreak and tears since Mom died.

And I think about how the last Christmas she was with us, just a little over a month before she died, she knelt on the floor and made blankets for my sister and I. Tired and in pain, she knelt. She metaphorically washed our feet.

And I think about how, tired as she was, she refused to go to bed. “Stay up with me,” she whispered. And so I did. She didn’t want to say goodnight.

She didn’t want to say goodbye.

And shortly after that, Mom didn’t get out of bed again.

And so I, desperate and shattered inside, knelt. She had bought fabric to make herself a blanket, but hadn’t had the energy to actually make it, so I made it for her.  And as a token of love, I crept into her room–where she now slept in a hospital bed as opposed to her own bed–and I wrapped it around her shoulders.

“Look, Mama,” I said gently. And slowly, she opened her eyes. “I made it for you!”

And she smiled and as she was closing her eyes again, she whispered, “You’re a good daughter.”

And my eyes stung with tears. That’s the only time she ever said that to me. Always, the opposite had seemed to resonate as truer to her.

And so I wonder, how often are there gifts in the suffering?

Is it a gift–to her and to me–that Mom got her blanket before she died- that my token of love was there, wrapped around her shoulders, every single moment until she passed? And that, in response, she was able to gift me with the words that I am a good daughter?

How about the year after Mom’s death, when I poured out the little money I had to create a special Christmas for my father, and I stood there Christmas morning, excited for him to see the surprise I had packed under the tree for him, and he hadn’t even cared? Is that a gift?

Perhaps.

Because in giving to him I got to understand what Jesus did on the cross- pouring himself out for a people who might never appreciate it.

Is it a gift to grasp all the magic of Christmas between my hands and force it into the Decembers since Mom died?

Is there a gift to be found in feeling like I’m alone in my efforts- the only one with a heart beating the slow and steady and tentative beat of hope?

Is it a gift to wake up on Christmas morning looking for evidence that, contrary to what the other ordinary, busier days of the year might suggest, there is magic to be found in this life?

And is it a gift to instead be met with half-hearted, obligatory presents, forced smiles, and a lovingly-made breakfast going unwanted and getting cold?

Maybe.

Maybe the gift is having to run to Jesus and bury my face in His chest and let Him hold me while I weep. Maybe the gift is looking in His eyes alone for hope. Maybe the gift was the shedding of the Hold It All Together role I had taken on. Maybe the gift was the grieving of what no longer was. Maybe the gift was the heart-breaking and beautiful acceptance that His arms were the only ones that would hold me while I cried.

And waking up alone on Christmas morning?

Maybe that’s a gift, too.

Maybe, even in the sorrow and broken-heartedness, He is gifting me with a response to my prayer: “Let me know You as More Than Enough.”

And so I will wake up Christmas morning and look at the no presents, and the no smiling faces, and the empty house that feels like it does any other day, and say, “It’s okay. Because He came. He came. And He has never left.”

It’s an excruciating process, I think, to come to know God as More Than Enough.

But is there any other way to get to that place but to have Him standing there, tender and loving and present, in the middle of your nothing else?

Maybe not having anything to open on Christmas is actually a gift.

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Neediness and Owls

I was thinking today about neediness and what characteristics make someone refer to someone else as needy. And then it occurred to me that “needy” isn’t a word that God uses to describe anyone. We cannot need Him too much.

Maybe needy people are only those who try to make others their God. Maybe it is dependence and hope misplaced. We are meant to depend on God and hope in God alone, and when we put that on others, it’s unfair to them, and it’s unfair to us. No one but God can live up to our expectations.

The Lord never tires of me.

That truth is sort of amazing to me, honestly. I have constant access to Him, and never does He roll His eyes or plug His ears or hit ‘ignore’ when He sees my name show up on His metaphorical cell phone.

And when I’m needy, when half of my prayers fall somewhere along the lines of: “Tell me some more about how You love me?” Even then, He doesn’t tire of me.

Rather, He invites me to crawl up onto His lap. He invites me to sit with Him for a while and be held.

He looks at me with love and tenderness. He calls me beautiful. He knows my heart. He knows what makes me laugh and what makes me cry. He knows where I’m broken and where I’m blessed. He knows by memory the curve of my nose and the color of my eyes and smiles with love and affection about all the things about my appearance that make me roll my eyes with frustration. My unruly hair? He loves my unruly hair. In His eyes, fly-away hair isn’t a problem to be solved, but just another aspect of the beauty that is His precious child. He calls me special. He sees me. I matter.

God knows that love has to be engrained in us. I think that’s where it all has to begin- any good thing, any peace or joy or good we hope to do has to begin with the firm, unshakeable assurance that Jesus loves us. When that isn’t the source of what fuels us, we run dry. We cannot sustain a loving, godly lifestyle if we are relying on ourselves- our own willpower and abilities. Rather, they have to flow from the part of us that God is transforming, the part of us that cannot help but love others because God’s love is overflowing within us.

A child who knows themselves to be loved can do mighty things. Loving things. Holy, helpful, beautiful things in Jesus’ name.

One of the things I struggle most with is wanting people to love me. Sometimes gaining love and acceptance and approval is my primary focus. But, as I’ve learned the hard way, you cannot go through life wanting people to fill you up- to provide the love you’re so longing for. Desiring love in itself isn’t wrong—we are meant to love each other and do life together—but when you go through life expecting people to step in and fill gaps and mend hurts, that’s when you are liable to cross the line into the territory of neediness.

We are wired to need love and to only be able to find the fulfillment of that need in God. It’s a holy and good thing that we’re unable to be satisfied with the things of the world; it keeps our eyes where they should be- on our Creator.

Lord, help me rely and depend on You alone for all the things I need that only You can satisfy. Help me not get confused and make other people or things my God.

When I let go of expectations–the expectation of love to be reciprocated, or the expectation of someone’s love to swoop in and break down the walls I’ve unintentionally built–I can love freely and without fear because I no longer have anything to lose. I love others because God’s love within me makes it impossible not to love others.

And the walls I referred to? The more I step out and love people, the more I love just for the sake of loving and not for the hope of being loved in return, the less I feel myself needing to self-protect. And as God’s love for me becomes the reality in which I live and breathe, I realize I am safe. I am loved and lovable already- I don’t need to earn it and it isn’t something that can be taken from me.

We do need each other as well, though. We need a community and network of people in our corner. And He knows that. And so, rather than trying to force those people into my life, I try to be the kind of person that other people need- the support and help and safe place for them to go. I don’t try to will and coerce people to love me back, I just love them and trust God with the rest.

We aren’t meant to go it alone. We need family.

Sometimes I feel pouty and I tell God, “You don’t understand! I need love and I need it now!”

And His response, always gentle and loving, is, “You’re right, you do need love. But I don’t want you to get confused. I don’t want you to think you need the love of others more than My love. So come here. Crawl up onto My lap. Stay a while. Let Me call you baby. Beloved. Child. Run to Me. Let Me be the source of the love your soul craves. And trust Me. Trust My timing and My ability to meet your needs. You are lovely and lovable and all that you seek can be found in Me, My child. I’ve got it all under control. It makes Me smile so brightly when I think about all that is to come in your life. It is going to be such a beautiful story. You are going to be just fine. I promise.”

The other night, Brittany came into my room and sat down on my bed just as I was falling asleep. “Do you hear that?” she asked. I didn’t hear anything and told her so.

“Owls,” she said. “Listen.”

And then I heard them. We sat there for a long time, just listening to them.

“Mom would’ve loved this,” Brittany said softly.

“She always used to wake me up for things like this- thunderstorm or the birds singing at dawn or beautiful sunrises or especially powerful dreams that woke her and left her needing to talk about them. She loved moments like these, middle of the night moments in bed with me, talking or listening. She loved them so much,” I replied.

I thought I lost that. I thought I lost the only person who ever made my life feel magical. I thought I lost the only person in my life who cared to share special moments with me.

Our relationship was far from perfect, but Mom brought magic with her wherever she went. Maybe all mothers do. Maybe perceived magic on the part of the child is just a characteristic of the mother/child relationship. The child always wants to know what their mom is thinking or going to do next or what they have planned or what they are hoping for. Magic and mothers just go hand-in-hand.

The other night, though, in bed with Brittany, it occurred to me that I hadn’t lost that at all. And no, I am not referring to my sister as my replacement for magic. Again, that would be an expectation she could never fulfill. I only had one mom, and my mom is gone. I cannot expect anyone else to step in and fill that hole.

At least, I cannot expect anyone other than God to step in and fill that hole.

I didn’t lose the magic. I didn’t lose the only person in my life who wanted to share special moments with me and confide the secrets of their heart to me in the middle of the night. God loves me like that. All that I’ve lost I can find in Jesus.

It is such an incredible gift.

That night, Brittany researched why two owls might spend so much time hooting back and forth to each other, and one of the reasons she found made my heart swoony: sometimes owls hoot back and forth to signify the permanent bond they hold.

Magic.

That owls would love each other with something permanent and powerful enough to cause them to need to express it? That is something only a beautiful, magical God could think up. He created them like that that on purpose. He designed all living things, with all their intricacies, and in them I see Him reflected. God knows knows all about permanent bonds and love that makes you sing. He sings over us, after all. Praise Him.

After Brittany left my room that night, I laid in bed a while longer and listened to the owls. “Sleep well, beloved. Let the owl cry lullaby you,” I felt God whisper to some empty, hollow place within my soul.

There is so much detail in this world in which we live, so much affirmation that He exists and that He loves us fiercely. The owls in my backyard the other night weren’t an accident. They were God’s voice to me- His call to me, reminding me that it is safe to believe in magic and a love that endures.

God will give me a family someday. I know He will. But until then, He is giving me owls. And my cats. And clients who call me crying, and tell me about the things in their lives that make them happy, and send me proud pictures of their pink-faced, doll-lipped, clenched-fist newborns. And I have my church. Thank You, Jesus, for my church.

This time in my life isn’t just a waiting period. It isn’t empty and devoid of meaning. Lord, help me get from today what You have for me. Help me learn to make You my primary family, above anyone else. Be Lord of my heart, no matter what my life looks like. No matter how blessed or how seemingly empty my life is, help me rejoice in knowing that You are mine. Forever.

It’s enough, Lord. You are enough. I proclaim that in faith. Thank You that I have all that I need in You.