Holding Hands. And Not.

​When I told her I lost my job, I was sobbing in the grass at a park in Mississippi. “Redefine this whole thing,” she said. “Your future isn’t scary, IT’S WIDE FUCKING OPEN.”

And when I was driving for 100 years through South Dakota, when I was certain I’d never get home, she said, “You are strong. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. Breathe.”

And these are the things that I hold on to now. My path isn’t straight. My head and heart are just as tangled. But I grasp at those words and I hold on. I use them to buoy me, to keep my head above water.

I feel like I’m treading water and I’m tired. I am scrambling with my feet and toes, reaching down as deep as I can, trying to find the ocean floor. But I can’t find it. All that’s below me is water. And I’m tired. I don’t know if I can stay afloat.

But those words.

“Wide open.”
“Don’t be afraid.”

It’s hard to find someone willing to walk a crooked and tangled path with you, especially when they are able to see a path that is straighter and more direct.

It’s hard to find someone to take your hand and say, “This isn’t the path I would’ve chosen, and I’m not sure it’s necessarily even the best or most logical one, but I’m here for you, every step of the way.”

It’s hard to find someone who is willing to set aside their own view of life–their various “should’s”–and make room to respect this path you’ve chosen, (or the path that’s chosen you), even if they don’t understand.

It’s hard to find someone who can simultaneously not understand and still have respect for you, rather than slap a label on you that boils down to “defective” or “wrong.”

And what I’ve found over the last few weeks is that, while there might not be anyone willing to grab tight to my hand and journey with me through the mess and muck, the mystery and the marvel, there are people who pop in along the path, offering words I need to hear, hugs I need to receive, the willingness to continue answering their phone when I call.

And, while I ache for a hand to hold, I’m willing to concede that maybe this is good. Maybe this is just the section of the path I’m walking- a section designed to force me to learn that people can’t save me, that they’ll always let me down, and that my salvation is up God and I alone.

And how do you learn that lesson without growing bitter? How do you realize that there’s no one willing to hold your hand without feeling alone? I don’t know.

It’s lonely, and it hurts, and every single second I have to choose whether to continue to love people, or whether to push them and their negative opinions of me away.

And that’s where my crooked path diverges, over and over again. “Are you going to keep your heart open? Are you going to choose hope and life?” it asks.

And I’m angry, and I feel misunderstood, and everything is so tangled already that it’s hard to figure out what is real, where I rank with the ones I love. What’s safe and secure and stable.

But that’s not the question being posed to me in those moments. The question isn’t: “What’s real?” The question is: “How are you going to choose to posture your heart?”

And always, always I want to choose a heart that’s open to the life before me, and a heart that’s on its knees in surrender to God. Come what may.

My path is crooked.
But my future is wide open.


Love Wears Work Boots

I stood in the middle of a two-lane road today and screamed at someone.

I was trying to be thoughtful. I was trying not to inconvenience anyone. And it back-fired. (Yes, that is self-pity you hear in my voice.)

I was going for a walk, and I reached the road. I could’ve hit the crosswalk button, but then the cars would’ve had to stop, and I knew I could cross to the center median before the car to my left even came close, and that I could wait there a few seconds until the car to my right passed.

But instead, just as I was stopping at the center median, the car to my right slammed on his brakes and started screaming at me about not hitting the crosswalk button. He was irate and dropping f-bombs… and so what was there to do but defend myself in typical Tamara style? It’s the social worker in me. I can’t keep my ever-loving mouth closed when something feels unfair.

And so I faced him, moving deliberately out in front of his car, and I screamed: “I WAS WAITING FOR YOU!”

More f-bombs on his end, and then his tires squealed and he drove away.

And I resumed my walk.

Only it only took me a few minutes of processing before I burst into shoulder-shaking, hiccuping sobs. And I walked that way, crying, for the next fifteen minutes, making people uncomfortable while I passed.

And, admittedly, the driver was maybe not even wrong for being mad. I’m sure he thought I was going to cross the road in front of him.

But I also know a typical person, even one who was angry with me, wouldn’t have screamed like that and swore repeatedly at me.

I text messaged Laura after that. “I don’t think I’m feeling very ‘love wins’ today,” I said.


I was reading a book description last night.

“…finding strength and courage in the most unimaginable places.”

“Determined to dictate their own fate…”

“…give each other strength and hope as they fight to survive…”

“Brave and defiant…”

“…friendships that will both nourish and challenge her.”

“A beautiful testament to love, family, and the sheer force of will…”

“…a figure of abiding grace.”

If someone were to write a story about my life, I would want it described in that way.

I want to live a beautiful story.


I was talking with Pauline yesterday about fighting for truth, about not letting my emotions dictate my behaviors.

I told her how I felt, and then I said: “But the best thing I can do for [this person] is to set my emotions aside and fight for truth. And I want to do that.”

I do. I want to love well. I don’t want to make my emotions, (which, let’s face it, are often the product of lies and fears), the priority of every situation. I want to choose love. I want to choose them over me.

After I said all that, Pauline reminded me that she’s talked with me for a long time about fighting for truth. Admittedly, I have kind of rolled my eyes at it before, believing my emotions to always be the truest, most important thing.

Then Pauline said, “It strikes me that God knows you through and through. He created you. And He knew that, in order to commit to this fight, He’d have to put you face-to-face with something you really valued.” Then she paused and said, “And He knew you’d fight if it was for [this person].”

It’s so true.

God doesn’t put us in situations that hurt, but He uses them.

Our pain isn’t without meaning.


Love, love that puts the other person first, that shushes our own scream for comfort and security, it’s hard.

It’s a series of deliberate and conscious choices.

Whether it’s space or a hug, a night out or a long conversation, you show up (metaphorically or otherwise) in the name of love.

And, for all the ways you can’t make things better, you lift that person up in prayer. You plea and petition with the Lord to do for that person what you are incapable of doing.

You take a deep breath and you do the right thing. Over and over and over again. You tell your other emotions to sit down, and you call Love to the bat.

And you text a friend. You ask for prayer. Because Lord knows how hard it is to make smart choices, especially when your emotions are involved. You say, “Please pray with me for strength to make the right choices, and for my perspective to be based only on truth, and for my heart to be filled with peace and patience.”

Because we need each other. Loving well takes being loved well.


A few days ago, Pauline asked me how I’d like to be remembered when this life of mine ends.

And, without hesitation, I said: “She loved well.”

A Little More Wonder

I read recently: “God must be a pretty big fan of today, because you keep waking up to it.”

God’s perspective on today–the day as a whole, and the day that I am individually going to live–is positive.

My perspective is not. Even when I engage in mental gymnastics, trying to will my insides to cooperate, there’s something inside of me that is dead to life. Life doesn’t resonate with me anymore.


I was kayaking with my friend today. Good company. Nothing heavy on my heart. Sunny sky. Cool water. All was well. And yet, I looked around me, I took in the lily pads and the cottonwood floating through the air to land on the water around me, and I looked into the face of my friend, and I still could not understand how anyone chooses to live. How is anyone doing it?

And I paddled my kayak and silently willed the dead part of me to come back to life. I reminded myself that GOD HIMSELF CREATED THIS LIFE; there is goodness all around me. There are reasons to live all around me.

The bad doesn’t negate the good. The good is still here. And my inability to commit to living this gift? It isn’t because life isn’t worth it, it’s because something inside of me can no longer register the miracle of simply existing.

I can make a list of bad things and good things about life, but you know what? Neither of those lists carry much weight with me right now. My problem isn’t that life has too much bad or not enough good, my problem is that I can’t feel any desire to be here. I am disconnected from it all.

I need the Lord to teach me how to live. To take me back through a childhood and adolescence and young adulthood. To teach me about wonder and curiosity and awe, about what family and love and security should look like, to create in me a desire to use my life for something that will outlast me.


I was watching a medical show tonight, and I found myself wondering if it was fair for the medical team to treat a person’s body if they suspected brain damage. Is it fair to fight for a person’s body to live if their brain is dead? I don’t know. I don’t have the answer for that. But I know what I’d want for myself, or for someone I loved.

Something inside of me is dead. And still, I am daily choosing life.

I am daily facing my giants of depression and dysthymia and panic and screaming aloneness and fear and grief and the desire to sleep forever. Every day I am choosing.

Every day, I show up for the battle, even though I don’t want to anymore. Neither I nor the giants have any desire to be looking each other in the eyes, and yet there I am, back for round two or twenty or two thousand.

But how do I fight for life when something inside of me isn’t even alive anymore?

I don’t know. You just choose, I guess. You choose and just hope you’re able to keep choosing well.

And today I chose to meet my friend to go kayaking. I chose to preach goodness to my soul by engaging in some of the best that life has to offer, even though I can’t feel it right now.

I laughed with my friend and I breathed deeply. I floated on the lake, dragging my hand through the water, and listening to the rustle of nearby trees.

And I prayed, “Lord, teach me how to live.”

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.

Knees Trembling, I Still Stand

There is SO much power in a “Goodnight. I love you.”

I went to bed last night without crying into my pillow and I woke up this morning with a smile and a prayer and joy swirling about inside of me. Admittedly, the joy thing took some time because holy moly is it hard to get out of bed in the morning! But once I had arrived at work, I was the epitome of “bright eyed and bushy tailed.”

All because someone took the time to think of me and love me.

It’s excruciatingly painful to wake up alone, to eat dinner alone, and to go to bed unseen and un-thought of. And even if I know that I am loved and held and have a place in this world even when I’m by myself, there’s something about living this life of frequent aloneness that can take a toll on a person’s heart.

This is the first time I’ve been in this position. I’ve always had someone, however flawed!, to come home to. And even when I lived in Maine and ended my nights in a dorm room, every single day, multiple times a day, I’d talk on the phone with someone in my family. And often, they called me. I wasn’t always the one having to reach out and call them. I knew I mattered and that I was wanted and that I belonged somewhere.

And yet, while this time in my life is incredibly painful, I can admit (with some reluctance!) that it is important. The lessons I am learning right now and the growth that is happening is significant and valuable.

Because people are important and love is necessary, but… it’s surprisingly easy to exalt our needs to a place where we are tempted to worship them.

Do we have needs? Yes. People need food and shelter and they do need love. But God can sustain us even when we don’t have those things. And when we must choose to believe that, otherwise we are essentially saying that we don’t trust the Jesus who loves us and promises to provide.

And when our hearts aren’t surrendered to Him, we make ourselves vulnerable to worshiping other things.

It’s all such a delicate and tricky balance. And good grief! is it hard to get to a place of complete satisfaction in God.

But there is no true and lasting satisfaction apart from Him either.

And so I continue to pray, even though it scares the crap out of me, and I give God permission to do whatever He has to with my life and circumstances to get me to a place of complete and full satisfaction in Him.

Is that terrifying? Yes.

But desperately I want to love and know Him more.

And I want that (although on some days the best I can manage is to want to want that!) even more than I want someone to say goodnight to me.

So I choose to surrender to Him, to trust Him. Even if that means walking through a season of aloneness and suffering.

And so, yes, that means right now a lot of my nights are spent crying into a pillow. But I don’t cry without hope. I grieve and I weep, but I have joy because the Lord is good, and in His promises I can find comfort.

And then occasionally someone will text me or call me or e-mail me and say, “I love you.” And because every good and perfect thing is a gift from Him, I know He is saying through that person, “I’ve got this, sweetie. Just hang in there.”

I don’t know how, but I am choosing to believe that He is more than enough for me.

So much of faith is a choice, isn’t it?

But He honors and blesses us when we choose Him. When we choose trust.

I’ve been reading a lot about how peace and freedom and life abundant are promised to us, but how the key to those things is submitting to the Lord. Giving Him authority. Keeping Him as Lord of your life. Surrendering.

If I surrender everything, even the things I think I need or cannot live without, even though it’s hard and painful and scary, He promises it will be worth it. Indeed, it’s the only thing that IS worth it.

Maybe that’s why those who hope in the Lord will never be put to shame. There is nothing safe to hope or trust in apart from Him. And there’s no fear in hoping and trusting in Him.

But it hurts to leave everything at the foot of the cross. It’s so painful to grieve what was and what is and what may never be and to look up at the place where Jesus’s love ran red and say, through tears, “I trust You.” Because He DIED for me. How can I not trust Him when He already gave the ultimate sacrifice to prove His love for us?

And, when I look up at the cross, when I let heaven invade my thoughts… how does the song go? Oh, right: the things of this world grow strangely dim.

Oh, Lord, you are so good. Even when I’m hurting, you are so, so good.

And so I choose to trust.

I will trust the Lord with the mess of my heart.

I will trust the Lord even when, from my perspective, things look hopeless.

I will trust the Lord to come through for me even though it’s going to take a miracle.

After all, if it’s going to take a miracle, that tells me whose battle it is!

The need for a miracle is never the need to despair. This is His battle. My job is to stand on the promises and trust Him to be God- the God who IS LOVE and Who comes in power. He will fight for me.

At the foot of the cross, I put my life in His hands.

And even when I don’t feel it, I will stand on the promises.

I will stand.

My knees might be shaking, but the ground beneath me is firm.

When I tremble and quake, He is my solid foundation.

Lord, help me to trust you with my needs. And my pain.

You get no delight from our pain, Jesus, so I know there is a purpose for it. Something good will be born from this season of tears.

Day in and day out, Lord, help me to choose You.

When the world looks dark, You are my light.

When I’m lonely, You are the kiss on my forehead before I go to sleep at night.

When I’m battling panic and struggling to breathe, Your breath fills up my lungs.

Even when I’m crying, I am held.

I will choose to trust You.

After all, Truth is Truth regardless of how I feel.

And so, I stand.


“Your voice called the man out of the grave. Can You breathe new life into this mess I’ve made?”