The Art Of Staying Alive

I pour myself into the things that matter.

I try not to think too hard. I try not to FEEL too hard.

I try to lay every thought and feeling down at the feet of Christ.

I try not to pick back up anything that is a lie. Or anything that is too heavy for me.

I joke with my clients,

and I celebrate eighth grade graduations,

and I dare to let seemingly meaningless things, like new earrings, matter to me.

I feel the warmth of the sun as I lay out, my legs intertwined at the ankles.

I read a book under a tree, while pine needles periodically fall down around me like snow.

I smile at a little bird who found his way into a coffee shop where I was drinking a chai tea latte.

I am learning that it’s okay to pull people close, to grab their arm and lay my head on their shoulder, and let myself feel close and held and loved,

and I’m learning that even when I’m alone, I am still close and held and loved. I don’t need to hold so tight all the time.

I am saying no to pizza and brownies and yes to Mediterranean paninis and carrot sticks.

I am saying no to sleeping fourteen hours and yes to long walks in the fading sun.

I am laying it all down. The tightness in my throat. My sense of feeling disconnected from being alive. My fears and hopes and dreams. I am laying it down.

And I am grabbing tight of what is:

I am alive. My life matters. God doesn’t make mistakes. I am loved.

Father’s Day

I was minding my own business.

I was sitting during worship, nursing a cup of tea, feeling just fine.

And then I started weeping.

It started with this line: “Then bursting forth in glorious Day…”

I’ve heard it a million times, but there, as I sat completely unsuspecting of what was to come, suddenly something inside of me felt that light- the light of His overcoming death, the light of His being with us, the light of Him calling me His own.

And I wept.

And when I asked myself what was behind the tears, I found this sentence repeating itself in my head: “No one will ever love me like You do.”

And for once, that thought didn’t feel terrifying and lonely; I felt grateful. Held and safe and in awe of the God who promises to never leave me.

I don’t know if I’ve ever cried from a place of wonder at how He loves me. I don’t know if I’ve ever cried with gratitude.

Oh, how it hurts, this life.

Oh, how held I am in the midst of it.

And so, after I prayed over my heart during our first song: “Bless the Lord, O my soul…”,
after I came to Him honest and broken and admitting I don’t love Him the way I should,
after I asked Him to help me love Him,
after I sang about how He rose from the grave,
after I felt the lightness of Him invade my soul and fill me up with a sense of being deeply loved,
after I wondered at the tears pouring down my face…

After all of that, I realized, it’s Father’s Day.

And I’m still Someone’s little girl.

All The Painful Things

I am in a season of growth. Which means, ironically, that I am in a season of dying- dying to myself.

I think people hear that, the call to die to ourselves, and think that means growing up. Maturing our hearts. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and accepting that life is hard.

That’s not what it means to me.

Dying to myself is not the same as no longer believing in magic and hope and beauty. To me it means absolutely refusing to give up on those things, but trusting God with the outcomes of my life.

Dying to self means letting yourself be sad about something, without trying to force a solution.

It means lifting your heart up to God, holding firm to the “child-like” belief that life is, at its heart, good, (because HE is good), but letting Him decide what will be. Dying to self is surrender.

And surrender? I think it’s a process of grief. You have to grieve what isn’t, and grieve not having any control over what will be. Surrender is saying, through tears sometimes, “This hurts, but I trust You.”

It hurts.

But I’m reminded there have been many times in my life when I’ve caught myself in a moment and thought, “Nothing right now hurts. Everything, in this moment, is good. And I’m glad to be alive.”

Pain is a liar. It comes blabbing about “forever” and “unbearable” and “pointless”, but none of those words are words God uses when He talks about pain. Rather, He says something along the lines of pain producing endurance, endurance character, and character hope.

Pain, when handled well, causes us to choose surrender. And when we do, we are essentially speaking over our lives that we believe God is good.

And He doesn’t disappoint.

I don’t know how to get from where I am today to where I want to be, but I know that the only way to get there is by choosing to walk this road that God has me on.

I have to choose to engage in this process. Even when it hurts.

Our pain isn’t pointless.

Beauty and Awe

There was a mom and a little girl about three years old, standing amidst some wildflowers during my walk today. I watched the mom hold a flower up for her daughter to examine. “Isn’t it pretty?” she asked.

And I thought about how all good moms do that. They raise their children to be in awe of this world. From flowers to airplanes to puppies to sunsets, kids are being taught: “This world is magic.”

My mom told me when that before I could really talk in earnest, I would gasp, point, and say: “Ooooh, look! Preeeetty!” Did I really think the thing I was pointing at was pretty? I don’t know. Maybe. But mostly I was just mimicking my mom. I knew enough to know that there was beauty to be found in this world, and I wanted her to know I, too, was keen enough to spot it.

Why do we do that? Why do we raise our kids, teaching them to see beauty, if beauty doesn’t exist? If life is deadlines and depression and death?

Why do we read them stories about princesses and adventure, where individual people’s hearts and hair colors and dreams and courage MATTER? Why do we read them stories about hope and laughter and love? Do we do that so that they’ll grow up believing all of that is true to life, only to be crushed by “reality” as adults?

Do ADULTS believe that individual people, their individual stories matter? Do they believe life is rich with love and laughter, and that hope is life’s heartbeat? I think few do. And those that do are called idealistic or naive.

And yet, here we are, feeding our kids awe and wonder and magic. And we’re doing it from a place of deep, deep love.

So why?

I think because, on some level, we know that wonder and beauty and awe and the things of children’s books are true.

We grow up and a flower is just a flower. And sunsets aren’t a big deal anymore because they happen every night and there’s dinner to make and kids to get into bed and who has time to watch the sun go down?

We grow up and our hearts get broken, and dreams don’t always come true, and so we abandon hope.

We hold people loosely, not really trusting them again not to hurt us. And protecting ourselves from hurt? That hurts too. It’s lonely and scary. And yet we still call it love. We redefine love in our minds, believing that’s as good as it gets.

We stop pursuing our dreams, deciding instead that they’re silly and that adults don’t dream, they work and pay bills and that’s the responsible way to be an adult.

We go through life dull to the richness of possibility all around us.

And it hurts. But “that’s just life”. So we look forward to moments that don’t hurt. Barbecues and beer with friends and crawling into bed at the end of the night.

We go through life partially dead inside.

But just partially.

Because something inside of us still knows enough to look a three-year-old in the eye, hold up a flower for her to see, and say, “Isn’t it pretty?”

 

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.

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.