The Heart Of Life

They say “life is hard.”

I think that means something different to me at this season of my life than it used to. When I hear that now, the oxygen gets sucked out of the room. In those words, I hear: “Life is ONLY hard.”

When I tell myself to just accept that life is only hard, the small joys stop mattering to me. Because what the crap does it matter that bees buzz and lilac smells good and beautiful, complicated people walk this planet if life is only hard? I refuse to be placated by nuggets of good if really, at its core, life is just something to get through.

But I don’t believe that. I don’t believe life is just hard. I don’t believe that we’re all just waking up each day in a cloud of depression and drinking ourselves stupid each night just to keep on getting through this unfortunate curse that is being alive.

I believe in magic and hope and laughter and light. I believe in goodness and joy and love. And I believe that all of those things prevail.

I lived most of my thirty years loving life. Truly, delighting in being alive. Back then, the thought that “life is hard” seemed like a given. The thought didn’t cripple me because my desire to be alive was a constant. I could handle the hard because my core belief was that life was worth it.

I still believe that now. I just can’t feel it. I can’t feel that life is worth it.

“Tell me it’s going to be okay,” I said to someone recently. And then, tonight, I said the same thing to my therapist. “I don’t need life to be easy, I just need to be okay. I just need to know that I’m going to be okay and that things will get better. I need to know I won’t always feel this way. Tell me it’s going to be okay.”

I refuse to surrender to the “life is hard” mentality. I refuse to let that become the mantra of my mind, the thing to keep my feet on the ground and my heart subdued when life disappoints or fails to reflect the goodness I believe is inherent in it. Because I think if I just accept that, if I keep telling myself to suck it up and expect life to be hard, then I’ll stop expecting God to show up.

And I refuse to stop expecting God to show up.

I refuse to believe the enemy has more power here than God does.

Today my client and I were driving in silence, and out of nowhere he said: “You’ve just got to endure. Because life is really wonderful.”

“Do you really believe that?” I asked. “Do you feel like life is wonderful?”

“Yes,” he said. “I do.”

I do too.



“Ready, Freddy,” I asked my client.

She turned to look at me. “Freddy? Why do you call me that?”

“Just because it rhymes with ready,” I said, smiling and offering a shrug.

She looked pensive for a moment, and then the conversation changed to something else.

After we got back to her house and she opened the door of my car to get out, I said, “Take care, girly. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

To which she responded: “See you soon, Freddy.”


He yelled at me when I got to his house. He was irate, towering over me, his build reminiscent of Shrek.

Usually I let him yell, I figure he’ll eventually wear himself out. But today I didn’t have it in me. “I’m going to go,” I told him while he continued to yell, and then I turned and walked away, while he screamed after me.

I took a deep breath when I got into my car.

And then, thirty minutes later, he called. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just sorry… and yeah, I’m sorry.”

And I smiled.


He gave me flowers. Rhododendrons in a Crystal Light container.

“These are for you,” he said, handing them over.

When I got home, I put them on the ledge outside my front door.


A month ago, she threatened to kill me. Two weeks ago, she glared at me through greasy bangs.

Today I helped her make some phone calls, and at the end of our time together she hesitated and then said, “Thank you for staying.”

Then she asked me for a hug.


These days are the Saturdays- the time between the crucifixion and the resurrection.


I cried. She put her hand on my knee, witness to my tears, loving me.

And then I repaid the favor later that day.


These are the Saturdays.


“Do you have family around here?” my coworker asks.

“In theory,” I tell her, and then elaborate just enough for her to understand.

“So, you’re all alone?” she asks.

“Well, aside from my dog,” I say. “And my church.”

She looks thoughtful for a minute. “Well, you have a new family now.”


“He killed his mom,” I’m told after leaving a client’s house.


“Stabbed her to death,” my coworker tells me. “Not to scare you or anything. But you should know.”

“I’m not scared,” I say. And I mean it.


I took my client grocery shopping this afternoon. I trailed behind her and smiled as she got three cartons of eggnog. She grabbed grape jelly, orange juice, and eggs as well, but put them back when we got to the register and she realized she was over budget. The eggnog, however, was a non-negotiable item.

“So!” I said as we climbed back into my car and headed toward her home. “Now that you have all this yummy food, what’s on the menu for dinner!?”

She smiled, not looking at me. “Meatloaf,” she said.

When we got back to her house, I helped her carry her groceries inside. “Here,” I said to her as I set stuff down on the counter. “Why don’t you stay inside and put these away, and I’ll run back out to the car to bring the rest of the groceries in?”

She accepts that and I head back into the rain. And I wonder how often she has people do kind things for her.


“He had a great day!” they tell me when I pick Arlow up from daycare this evening. “He played all day long with a Husky.”

I smile and tell them how in the morning before we leave home, he knows where we’re headed, and he gets so excited that he grabs a hold of my purse with his teeth and tries to pull me towards the front door.

“It makes me feel good,” I say, “to know he’s spending his day so happy.”

When he sees me, I caution him against jumping up in his excitement. He tries to control himself, but it’s a work in process. I smile again at the woman behind the counter. “He’s crazy,” I say, “but I love him.”

And I wonder as we head out to the car, if I so passionately desire happiness for Arlow, how much more does God desire that for me? How much more does He desire that I excitedly grab His hand at the start of a new day and pull Him towards the door?

And how much more does He love me, exactly as I am?

I don’t have to try to love Arlow. I don’t have to talk myself into loving him. Nothing he does, even when it’s naughty, makes me love him less. I don’t wish he was different. I love him just as he is because he’s mine. His place in my heart is permanent.

And through that, that effortless, unconditional, present, selfless, “walk through fire” love, I know God is speaking to me of how He loves me.


I finally get home after driving through off-and-on rain, in stop-and-go traffic.

My car was too hot, but if I turned the heat off, the windows would fog. So I drove with the heat on and the window down, the rain pelting my face.

As I drove, I saw an ambulance and, like a reflex, I found myself wondering when the next time would be that I’d be in the back of one. I can’t decide if I hope that day never comes, or if I don’t care.

I make my way inside and set my purse on the coffee table. I can’t wait to shower and climb into bed.

When I go into the bathroom, I see bird feathers all over my bathroom. The cats have had a busy day.

With more than a little trepidation, I scan the whole house, hoping I don’t find a dead bird anywhere. I don’t.


The smell of shampoo fills the air and I close my eyes and let the warm water soothe me.

“I don’t know how I’m going to work forty hours a week for the rest of my life,” I pray.

And like the shower water, the words fall all around me: “Let’s not worry about that right now. Let’s take it a day at a time.”

Faded Photos

I spend a lot of time during my workday fighting the question away: “What if this is my future?”

I visit clients in inpatient units, or living in one-room apartments with a shared bathroom and living space. And I wonder, “How are we different? How can I draw some clear distinction between you and me so that I can assure myself we’re not the same and that I won’t ever end up like this?”

What if the worst happens? What if I can’t make myself be okay and everything spirals out of control? What if I become my clients? What if I end up being deemed “unable to live independently”? What if I lose my dog and my car and my home? What if everyone I love leaves me for the third time in my life?

I don’t have parents who will let me live with them. I would end up in that linoleum floor bedroom, living in a house with people who hear voices and have been in Western State and have tried to kill their parents because they heard God tell them to.

I’m so scared.

And also, I look into my client’s bright green eyes- the only thing about him that isn’t dirty, and before I leave I hear him say, “Drive safe. And make sure to buckle up. And don’t talk on your phone while you’re driving.”

And there’s the client who was so excited about getting to pass out Halloween candy that he was already sitting in a chair by the door when we came to see him at three o’clock this afternoon.

And, dear God, they’re PEOPLE. People with hearts and minds and desires and joys and fears and a need to be loved. People created in the image of God.

And there’s the client who plopped his twenty-year-old family album on my lap and had me flip through it. “That’s my family,” he said. And he pointed them all out, naming them off.

He carries this album with him from hospital to transitional housing to hospital again because it reassures him he belongs somewhere. It helps him believe he is part of something that matters.

And yet, while I smile at the faces of his family members and thank him for sharing this with me, secretly my heart aches for him. Because the faded pictures from twenty years ago are all he has of his family, really. They rarely come see him. They never call.

And I also feel like I can relate to that in a sense. How often am I falling to sleep at night, metaphorically clutching a photo album to my chest and telling myself, “I’m loved. I matter. I belong.”?

It’s a poor substitution for the real thing. And yet, what else do we have, he and I? If we let go of that, we’ll be gulping pain like a drowning person gulps water.

So we cling to what we have. We take what we can get and we try to stretch it over us and make it be enough, like a blanket that’s too small to cover both my shoulders and my toes at the same time.

And so here I am tonight, tears streaming down my face. It hurts.

But there are good things.

How excited Arlow is to go to daycare in the morning.
How I think I’m going to like my job.
Clients who say funny things.
Coworkers who are kind.
A good book.
Coming home at the end of the day to discover someone (my neighbor?) left a box of dog biscuits and toys on my porch.

And yet, I would give anything to be eight years old again, even if just for tonight. I’d give anything to have someone tuck me in and kiss my head and rub my back and ask me about my day.

And yes, I will close my eyes like I do every night and imagine God bending low to do that. I will imagine Him kissing my head and loving me better than any earthly parent ever could. And I will tell Him about my day.

But it’s still a faded photo album. A too-short blanket.

And I’m so scared my ability to tell myself, “This is enough,” isn’t going to last.

And then what?

The Language Of Hugs

As a therapist, I’m not supposed to hug my clients.

However, often they hug me.

And that brings tears to my eyes.

Because even though I feel like I have nothing to offer the world right now,

I’m obviously doing something right if my clients want to hug me.

All I can do right now is show up. I show up and I care. That’s all I have to offer.

But maybe that’s enough. Because where I go, the Holy Spirit within me also goes.

Pain And The Power Of A Hug

On Friday, a client called me crying. It wasn’t the first time a client has called me in tears, of course, but this time I really wasn’t expecting it. She had been doing so well just a few days prior.

Fortunately, I was able to drop what I was doing and head her way. When I got there, she was standing at the door, waiting for me, tears pooling in her red-rimmed eyes.

And seeing her there, just waiting for my car, no hope in the world beyond my arrival, the compassion in me grew to something mammoth-sized. I didn’t have a plan for her problem, I didn’t have a solution, all I had to offer was my presence. I got out of my car, and I walked over to her, and I hugged her.

We aren’t supposed to hug our clients, but in that moment, her title as Fellow Human Being loomed much larger than her title of Client. Hugging my client in that moment felt like one of the most important things I’ve done for anyone thus far in my career.

I wrapped my arms around her and I rubbed her shoulder, and we stood like that in the doorway for a long time.

I think we like to believe there’s a solution for everything. An answer to every problem. And usually there are things we can do to improve our situation, steps we can take or changes we can make or people we can ask for help, but not always. And often, those things cannot be implemented immediately. Often, at least for the moment, we have no other option but to sit and feel our pain.

After all, how many times when I’m crying is God’s response just to sit down beside me and hold me? Yes, He is always acting in my best interest, but my tears don’t often illicit immediate change. Often, He just lets me cry.

There must be a reason for that. My own tears usually feel annoyingly unproductive and pointless to me. But God must know something I don’t about allowing one’s self to cry.

He sees every tear that falls.

Our earthly parents delight in our existence- our long toes or crooked smile or the random freckle on our earlobe, it all matters to them. They keep baby teeth and locks of hair from our first haircuts. And how much more does the Father love us?! After all, He is our Creator! It was He who chose to give us that freckle; it was He who custom-designed our smile. Everything from our long toes to the hair growing from our heads matters to Him, and our tears are no exception.

The beauty of knowing that I matter to God? It’s overwhelming. Even if that’s all I have, I am blessed.

He loves me, my heart matters to Him, He sees every tear that falls- my pain, our pain, isn’t for naught. If He’s allowing it, and He is Love, then there’s a reason.

If I didn’t have my faith, however, which is where a lot of my clients are, what would I have? I cannot imagine how hard life would be if I didn’t know Jesus.

Even with my faith, I don’t know what we’re supposed to do in those moments when the world flips off its light and everything fades to black, and all you’re left with is sorrow and anger and your heartbeat loud and echo-y in your ears.

And when the world does go black, and all we’re left with is our own heartbeat and tears? The worse part about that, to me, is being unseen. We can see no positive future for ourselves, no hope… and no one can see us. I think that, faster than anything else, can suck the air out of a room.

And yet, God uses that too. “Breathe,” He whispers. And so you do. You inhale and exhale and just take it one breath at a time, and you realize that even when you’re alone and completely incapable of seeing what next steps to take in your life, and you don’t even know how you’ll ever gather the willpower to get yourself up off the ground, you’re not really alone. And you realize that, if you were never alone with your suffering, you might not appreciate the Lord in quite the same way. When you have nothing, you still have Him. And that’s a lot.

Sometimes the only thing to do is cry. Sit and feel our pain and wait and cry. And pray. Even if the prayer is only “Abba” repeated over and over again.

The perspective of a night or a day or a week or a month in a black-as-night world? I think it has made me a better therapist. Especially knowing that, as hard as those times were for me, it’s infinitely harder for my clients who don’t know the Lord. Truly, they have nothing.

As I drove away from my client’s house on Friday, my own eyes burned with tears, but not tears of sorrow, tears of gratitude. How fortunate I am to be able to step in to so many lives when things have gone dark. And how lucky I am to know God, to have Him model for me the best way to love the precious people He brings into my life.

Sometimes it’s just us and our tears. But if we’re lucky, sometimes someone, or Someone, will sit down next to us in the dark and wrap us in their arms.

Be Strong

When my clients sit across from me, hands folded, eyes narrowed, mouth firmly set, and tell me that no matter what happens to them, they’ll be okay because they’re strong, something inside of me breaks for them.

Not because I disagree that they’re strong, but because they think they’re strong for all the wrong reasons.

Their strength isn’t found in the broken, jaded, cynical, distrusting parts of them. Their strength isn’t the firmness with which they say, “People know better than to cross me.”

Self-protection isn’t strength. Walls don’t make a person strong, they make a person unable to find genuine joy or happiness or fulfillment in life.

Strength is living life fully, knowing that whatever comes, they will have the ability to cope.

Strength is tending to one’s heart. Not denying the importance of one’s heart by saying, “What happened to me is okay because it made me who I am.”

Yes, it made you who you are. And yes, who you are is amazing and beautiful and compassionate and even strong. But that doesn’t make what happened to you okay. And if you are saying it’s okay, YOU’RE not. Saying it’s okay is easy. It eliminates the need to process, grieve, heal.

Sometimes the strongest thing a person can do is cry. Sometimes the strongest thing they can do is say that it’s NOT okay.

Sometimes strength looks more like sorrow.

Sometimes strength feels more like weakness.

My clients deserve better than “strength”. My clients deserve life.