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.

“Redefine.”
“Wide open.”
“Don’t be afraid.”
“Breathe.”

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.

Lessons From The Road

No one can do it for you.

They can love you and care about you, but they can’t fight your fight for you.

People could talk to me and pray for me, but they couldn’t drive for me. No one could come rescue me and bring me home.

*

You can’t control how you feel, but you are in control of how much you suffer.

You can say, “I can’t…” and “This is not okay…” all day long, and it doesn’t change your circumstances one damn bit. All it does is increase your suffering.

You have to breathe.

Don’t rage against what you feel- let it be.

Trust the process.

*

Bad feelings aren’t necessarily bad things.

Stop labeling things as bad just because they feel bad; a lot of good is born out of things that feel really bad.

*

You don’t have to give sucky emotions power by calling them truth.

Emotions come and go. We have to be careful not to let them determine our truth.

*

Some trips are about fun and some trips are about growth.

*

Sometimes it’s important to stop calling the contents of our hearts “wrong” or “bad.”

When you find yourself aware that not everyone sees the world in the same way as you do, maybe it’s better to draw the “wrongness” of your heart closer to yourself rather than push it away. Maybe what feels wrong is actually a unique wiring.

Maybe the key isn’t in making yourself be different, but learning how to embrace what is within you.

Maybe sometimes what we think are our flaws, the ways we struggle, the ways people don’t understand us, maybe the unique way we see the world is actually a secret God whispered into our hearts, and the trick is to learn how to let that widen us up to living bigger and deeper, rather than letting it make us feel discouraged or close us off to life.

*

On the road, all by yourself, you have no choice but to sit with your pain when it arises. You can’t drink it away or overdose it away or refuse to get out of bed, because you’re not home and you have a dog and someone has to take care of him.

And also, being all by yourself, thousands of miles from home, you suddenly realize how terrified you are that you’ll somehow die before ever getting home. You worry about car accidents, mostly, but also murder a little bit when you’re sleeping in a dark parking lot in your car. You worry about your car breaking down and your finances and what if you never get to go home again?

And you realize there’s a whole, beautiful life waiting for you at home. And it’s not perfect, but its yours, and dear God, how badly you just want to be back home where you get to live your imperfect, beautiful life.

So you sit with your pain. And you promise yourself you’ll do that at home too. You promise yourself that even when you’re back in the land where drinking and overdosing and trying to use other people to save you are options, you won’t do that.

*

You have to take some deep breaths and do the things for yourself that you can do- like not text and drive and stop when you need a break and call and talk to people (without begging them to rescue you) when you need to talk.

And you have to trust God with the rest, like no flat tires or car troubles and getting you back home alive.

If you carry the weight of the things God’s responsible for, it will suck all of the beautiful living out of your day and replace it with fear and worry that you were never meant to carry.

*

Every time Arlow makes eye contact with me, I say, “I love you,” or, “How are you doing, baby?” And I do that not because I’m insecure, but because that’s how I communicate.

And that’s how I communicate in my relationships also.

And so when people don’t do that with me, when they go days without talking to me, it feels like they don’t love me.

But not everyone communicates their love in the same way you do. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you.

 

*

Sometimes you can be royally pissed off and sitting in a park in New Mexico and hating everything about life, and then a woman and her kids will come sit with you and want to pet your dog, and you’ll be even more cranky because you didn’t ask for company or small talk.

But then you’ll notice the woman has a tin can labeled “Please Help. Need Food.” And she won’t address it. She won’t ask for anything. She’ll just set it off to the side and slightly behind herself. And she’ll talk about the weather and her kids and where the nearest CoinStar is while she watches her kids wrestle with a dog twice their size.

And you’ll reach into your wallet. Because MFing New Mexico sucks and it’s hot and dirty and no on drives well, but God clearly led you and your bad attitude to this park where a woman with a genuine need and a smile happened to cross your path.

And what a gift New Mexico turned out to be.

*

If you walk your dog in Texas, people will literally stop their cars to conversationally say to you, “That’s a big dog!”

They will also give you the water out of their car and hold the cup for your dog so he can hydrate.

*

The same part of my brain and heart that were terrified to be so far from home are the same part of my brain and heart that feel four years old.

“I’m so scared,” and, “I want my mom,” came in the same breath.

And maybe that’s how we parent ourselves sometimes. We say, soothingly and with a voice laced with love, “I know.”

But we don’t let that stop us from doing the hard, scary thing.

*

If you sit down in a park in Mississippi and sob into your hands, if you’re too weak to hold your dog’s leash anymore and so he runs wild and free while you cry, no one will even notice.

*

I used to think people who picked their scabs were disgusting.

But then I found myself bored and stuck in traffic with a bunch of week-old mosquito bites.

*

A rainbow feels like a personal promise to me in Utah just as much as it does here at home.

*

You can’t outrun your problems or your pain.

You come home at the end of a long road trip and you’re one part, “Thank God, I made it!” And, “Thank God I am back in the right time zone! And thank Him for my bed and my shower and my plants and cats and clean underwear and closet full of clothes!”

And you’re one part complete, black depression.

The road trip wasn’t a solution, it was a lesson.

And now it’s time to put to practice what you learned on your drive.

Now, in this really hard moment, you get to say to yourself, “No, I CAN do it.”

And in the face of blackness, I get to say to myself, “No, I WANT to live.”

*

“You’ve got a big heart. The way you see the world, it got you this far. You might have some bruises and a few scars, but you know you’re gonna be okay. And even though you’re scared, you’re stronger than you know. If you’re lost out where the lights are blinding, if you face the fear that keeps you frozen, chase the sky into the ocean, that’s when something wild calls you home.”

Tough Love

I took a taxi barefoot, in a nightgown.

I paid $17 to go home.

“You can’t come get me?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “I’m sorry it’s come to this.”

I get it. I’m sure they’d say, “It’s tough love.”

But tough love doesn’t work for all of us. And tough love doesn’t work for all situations.

Because, while I sat outside the ER, bra-less, so sick I couldn’t see straight or stand, all I felt was even more split between this world and the next.

I feel like part of me is already dead. Even if only the part of me that exists in the hearts and minds of others.

Jesus would’ve picked me up.

Books And The Like

REALLY important question:

If the library didn’t want me to request fifty books at a time, they’d put a limit on the number of books a person can request, right?

The day I go pick all those books up will be the real walk of shame. Or walks of shame, since I’ll probably have to make more than one trip out to my car.

*

Reasons To Stay Alive:

  • Watching tree leaves turn red and orange and yellow.
  • Watching flowers bloom.
  • People who look at you with love in their eyes.
  • Conversations with coworkers that make you laugh.
  • When the weather forecast predicts snow.
  • Online orders arriving.
  • Handwritten letters.
  • Long hugs.
  • “Just thinking of you” text messages.
  • Good hair days.
  • Library books.

 

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.

When You Come Back To Life

Something inside of me is coming back to life.

I say that hesitantly, like when a branch on a plant you thought was long dead takes on a faint hue of green. You hold your breath and you agonize over whether you’re going to squash the life right out of it if you water it too much or not enough, give it too much sunlight or too little.

I told my therapist recently, “People who have labeled me as depressed have no idea what they’re talking about.”

Whatever it is I usually feel, it’s so much bigger and deeper than depression. It’s deadness. Inside, I am dead and nothing feels worth it and nothing feels real, no matter how many eyes I look into or birds I hear chirp, none of it matters AT ALL. Constantly my brain is telling my heart: “This thing MATTERS,” but my heart can’t feel it.

That’s not depression. And I know that because I’m still depressed, but I’m far enough away from that place that I can say, “No, that wasn’t normal. How I felt back then isn’t part of the normal human experience.”

People tell you to try harder, or cope better, or just suck it up and accept that life is hard. No, that is shit advice. You can’t tell a sick person to get well. You can’t belittle them or tell them they are doing something wrong and that’s why they’re sick. I was sick. I was sick. And I’m still recovering.

At least, when I look at that sprout of green, I hope that’s what it means- I hope it means recovery. The process of blooming back to life.

I was driving the other night with Will and Gabe, and the golden glow of the setting sun was coming through the trees, and I thought, “This moment matters to me.” And my heart agreed.

Green.

I’ve laughed with coworkers, and while I still can’t fathom doing life indefinitely, I’ve distinctly been able to label the moment I’m in as “worth the fight.”

Green.

And even in my sorrow, when I choose to endure it and then hand it to God, when I choose to see things from the right perspective rather than through the lens of my pain, when I choose to go to bed and try again tomorrow rather than reach for the alcohol and pills… When I lay my head down at night and everything inside of me hurts, but I’m able to believe that maybe tomorrow will be better?

That, too, is green.

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.”