Things Being Loved Teaches You

1. You are lovable. You are not a burden, a charity case, or a waste of anyone’s time. You are chosen. You are wanted. You belong.

2. No one will be able to make you feel secure about your relationship with them until you start to see yourself as lovable.

3. It is safe to exist, just as you are. It’s safe to ask yourself questions like: “How do I feel?” “What do I think?” “What do I want to say?”

4. You don’t have to perform. Love doesn’t require we show up “put together” or “perfect”. Love doesn’t want facades, it just wants you to come exactly as God made you- flaws and all.

5. Your flaws don’t make you “bad” or “wrong” or “less than.”

6. You can speak freely. You don’t have to weigh every single word you say. It’s okay if you’re not always understood, if people don’t always agree, and if what you say isn’t funny, because you’re safe.

7. Not everything social interaction is a test. Love doesn’t demand you keep proving yourself.

8. You don’t have to view your life through the lens of “How do I not measure up? How much about me do people see as ‘wrong’?” You are not inferior. You are exactly who God intended you to be.

9. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. You don’t have to try to be like others in order to measure up.

10. Love doesn’t walk out on you.

11. Not everything in life has to feel scary.

The Chasm

I had a memory come to me early this morning, as the sun was coming up and my head was still swimming from the mistakes of a couple days prior.

When I was a kid, I went through a period of time where my biggest fear was that there would be an earthquake and the ground would split in two, separating me from everyone I loved.

I must’ve seen that on TV–(The Land Before Time?)–but it became a very real fear for me. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than being able to see your loved ones but never touch or talk to them again.

I started altering my day, as much as possible, staying as close to my mom as I could so, should the ground split in two, we’d for sure be on the same side.

And I’d fall asleep at night, my bedroom beneath the living room, listening to my parents up there fighting–the lullaby of my childhood–and I’d feel okay because they were directly above me, and again, should the ground split in two, we’d all be on the same side.

I don’t know that I’ve fully outgrown that.

*

Over and over the last few days I’ve had to tell myself to breathe. To make inhaling and exhaling my task, more than managing the swirling in my brain or the anxiety pumping my heart.

I’d close my eyes and breathe and hear the voice of my God shushing me back to a place of peace. “All you have control over right now is taking care of yourself, resting, letting your body heal,” He soothed. “That is your only task. The rest of it it out of your hands. But that’s okay, because it’s in Mine. Just rest, child. Just let yourself be held.”

Nothing will separate me from Him. Not sin nor fear nor a chasm in the ground.

And He’s doing a good thing in my life. He is building a life for me that won’t crumble. I know; I can see it.

The safest place for things to be is in His hands and out of mine. I suspect I’ll never have to stop learning that lesson.

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 Questions We Ask

He whines and tries to push his wet nose between my hands and face when I cry. Which is definitely more endearing when he hasn’t been throwing up all night.

I rolled out of bed and slipped on some Uggs, and my unbrushed hair and pajama-clad self and I went to Albertson’s for some canned pumpkin tonight. Because that’s supposed to help doggy tummies.

And mamas crawl out of bed and go to the store for their babies.

He threw that up the little bit of pumpkin I gave him too, so I wiped his runny nose with my hand and turned out the lights and told him he needed to rest. He’s here at my side now, while we sit in the dark. And I pray for his body, occasionally reaching over and placing my hand on him while I pray.

I pray for his body, and I pray for my heart. He’s throwing up and my eyelids are swollen from crying. It’s been quite the night.

*

Laura spoke at church the other night about serving. And I found myself wondering if God’s call to serve (others and Him) is almost protective. Because when we keep in mind that we’re serving Him, we don’t have to have the answers. We don’t have to understand things or be orchestrating things or hold anything together. That isn’t our role. All we have to know is what the next thing is that God is asking us to do.

It keeps us safe when we go through life remembering He is the one scripting it, and that our job is to surrender and serve.

Surrender and serve, admittedly, are two words that have a traditionally negative connotation. But when I think of them in relation to our God who is Love? All I hear is: “Rest, child. You are held. Be still and know.”

So often my anxiety and fear stems from a desire to control things that aren’t mine to control. I’ll lie in bed all tangled up, analyzing what is or might be, and how I can fix it or undo it, and what that means for my future and life and hope.

And in the midst of all that, God whispers to me: “You’re asking the wrong questions.”

The right questions are more along the lines of: “What are You saying to me in this moment?” “What do I KNOW to be true?”

And it strikes me that, even if God gave me the answers to all of the things I want to know, often times I suspect He’d have to say: “But these things are still in process. The answers I’m giving you might not even be the same tomorrow or the next day or in a month or a year.”

It would be like drawing conclusions about the ending of a book based on paragraph three, chapter six.

So, questions that demand answers aren’t really helpful. Questions that help us feel like we’re able to dig our nails back into our lives in some manner of control? That’s not His goal for us.

He’s protecting us by what He doesn’t reveal.
He’s loving us when He refuses to let us believe we’re in control.
And when He is silent in response to our petitions? Even that is proof of His goodness.

We know we’re asking the right questions when we feel more surrendered and peaceful in the asking. The right questions are those that help us shed the weight of things that were never ours to carry. They leave us with our hearts open to life and possibility, rather than shut down and suspicious.

*

“What are your favorite things about God?” Laura asked that the other night as well.

Mine? He’s always available. He loves to hear what’s on my heart.
He loves me and understands me and delights in me so completely that my heart is always safe with Him.
I never have to be afraid or weigh my words or be scared He’ll yell at me for something I feel.
He always sees me, even when I’m at my worst, through eyes of love.
He is gentle and compassionate and leads me with kindness.
He is invested in me, and He isn’t going anywhere. No matter what.

And as I made that list I thought, “…Isn’t that ironic? All the things about Him that I love the most are the things my heart is so desperate to find in human relationships.”

And I don’t know what that means necessarily. I do believe that those things (although imperfect forms of them) can be found in relationship with others. But I am grateful that in this season, He is teaching me that I can also find what I long for in Him.

*

I spread my arms out wide. “Lord, strip away all that isn’t of You.”

“Teach me, Lord, that it’s enough to go through life as just me.”

“Teach me to live surrendered and at peace. Teach me to live held.”

*

And when I feel out of place and like I don’t belong, I can go lock myself in a bathroom stall and tilt my eyes to heaven.

And because He and I have spent so much time together rehearsing truth, I can meet His eyes and remember that the God of the Universe knows my heart and smiles when He thinks of me. Who I am, just as I am, is enough.

I don’t have to feel in control, even in social situations. I don’t have to be well-spoken or magnetic or present myself “well”. I can let go of that pressure because He’s the one doing the orchestrating, and He knew what He was doing when He placed my silly self there among those people.

And so I can go back out there, just as I am, and know that feeling “out of place” isn’t a reflection of me. And that “not belonging” is a lie because God handpicked me and placed me there for a reason.

I don’t have to stand against a wall, feeling conspicuous and awkward and like there’s a neon sign flashing above my head that reads: “No one wants this girl.”

I don’t have to stand there, palms sweaty, asking: “What is wrong with me?”, “Will I always feel like this?”, “Do they love me even though it doesn’t seem that way right now?”

Because back in the bathroom stall, God reminded me: “Those are the wrong questions, child.”

“Oh. Right.” I am called to serve Him. Which means the right question is: “What do you want me to do right now?”

And He smiles. Because yes, that is the right question. And what He says next almost makes me want to roll my eyes because “what a God thing to say!” 😉

“Go love people.”

Which, oddly enough, is a lot easier to do when you’re not trying to control them. Or yourself. 🙂

Conversations With Jesus

Last night I dreamed I was face-to-face with Satan.

And he was smiling at me and speaking in a low voice and doing what he could to terrify me. And it was working.

I tried to scream Jesus’ name, but I was so scared that my breath got caught in my throat. I couldn’t speak. And so I prayed silently. “Help me, Jesus! I can’t even call for Your help without Your help!”

And then I took a deep breath and tried again. I looked Satan in the eyes while he smirked at me, thinking his victory was imminent, and I said: “I BELONG TO JESUS. You HAVE to GO. You’ve already been defeated.”

And once I said Jesus’ name, I saw a look of terror come into the enemy’s eyes and he began to back away from me. I saw instant proof of the power of Jesus’ name, and I knew then that I wasn’t unarmed or powerless. I didn’t have to be afraid because I had the most powerful weapon- the name of Jesus.

And so I kept saying: “I BELONG TO JESUS. You HAVE to GO. You’ve already been defeated,” until the battle was won. All I had to do was speak truth. Jesus did the rest.

 

*

 

I’ve done a lot of weeping today.

 

And in the midst of it, I sensed Jesus tenderly saying: “Tell me what hurts. I’m here.”

And while I cried my pain out to Him, I found myself struggling to breathe. I found myself with panic heavy in my chest and “I NEED TO FIX THIS” swirling about furiously in my brain.

And then He spoke. “I’m holding it, child. Let the pain out. Don’t hold on to it, trying to fix it and make sense of it. Don’t even try to examine it or redefine it in a way that makes it not hurt anymore. Don’t shut your heart down or despair of this pain that feels like it will never go away. Just let it out. Your pain it safe with Me. Just let it out. Speak it and cry it and know that as you do, I’m collecting it in My hands.”

And so I did. I wept until the pain within me was replaced with something like exhaustion.

And He was with me the entire time, hands outstretched to receive it all, as if pain is as physical and tangible a thing as it feels within me.

And through it all, He just listened. The only time He’d speak was to gently ask: “What is TRUE?”

When my brain would run to believing things that I can’t possibly know, He was there to gently redirect me. “You don’t need to carry and grieve the pain of things that may not even be true, child. Let’s just deal with the things we KNOW to be true.”

 

And when I wept to Him about my fear of losing people I love, He drew me close, wrapping me in His arms. “Oh, beloved,” He said with the love and tenderness only a Father could, “I know. I know how your heart has been so betrayed and broken. It has been cruel and unfair. Your pain matters to me so deeply. Do you believe that?”

And when I said I did, He continued: “Your fears about losing the people you love? They’re just fears, not truths.”

And then He paused again, waiting for me to examine what it is I know and what it is I  just feel. And, when I realized that He’s right, that I’m grieving a fear and not a truth, the always-present Jesus nodded slowly and reached His holy hands out and said, “I will take your fears too. Let’s just take people at their word for now, okay? If they say they love you and aren’t going to leave you, let’s just trust that, regardless of how it feels right now, okay?”

I agreed. And as we looked at my pain together, piecing it apart, deciding what parts of it were true and what were not, the pressure in my chest lessened. And I felt like maybe I could endure it, at least for this moment. I felt like I could breathe again, even while I continued to weep.

“Now,” He said gently, “let’s address the part of your pain that is real. Let’s grieve the way that love doesn’t look the way you wish it would.”

Jesus:
Untangler-Of-My-Emotions,
Purifier-Of-My-Thoughts,
Holder-Of-The-Pain-Like-Fire-Within-Me,
Lover-Of-All-Of-Me, (even the messy parts).

And as the pain within me grew numb or hollow or tired or subdued by the truth of who my Jesus is, I found myself, still sobbing, but saying over and over again: “You are good, You are good, You are good.”

There’s something holy and powerful in that, in being able to say, “Yes, I hurt in a way that makes it hard to want to live. I hurt. But that doesn’t change the truth of who my Jesus is. He is good and He is doing a good thing, regardless of how it feels.”

And I said it because it’s holy and true, and I said it because it keeps the wild within me from spiraling down a path of self-destruction, and also I said it because to be able to say that in the midst of this season feels like I’m giving the finger to the enemy. And oh, how I LOVE the thought of him watching me weep with overwhelming pain and STILL PRAISE JESUS. How that must piss him off. Which makes me smile a little bit. And Jesus smiles too, I think. And I think He looks in the direction of the enemy, who would love very much to watch me fail, and I think He nods like, “Are you seeing this? She’s mine.”

Desperate and broken.

Held and loved.

Joy in the pain.

Grief and hands-raised-to-heaven hallelujahs.

*

 

Good things:

  1. Finding a four-leaf clover. Because I am always scanning grass for four-leaf clovers and the sky for rainbows and trees for bird nests. And God knows that.
  2. Baking.
  3. My wiggly-butt pup, who officially knows “sit” and is learning “wait”.
  4. Painting my nails fall colors.
  5. Flickers of hope.

 

 

 

Believing In Holy Magic

“I feel like my life is one of those meals… those ‘take everything leftover out of the fridge and make it into soup’ meals. And it won’t be good, but it will keep you alive,” I said. I was sobbing.

“I feel like nothing about my life is what God had planned, so now he’s just scraping from the bottom of the barrel to sustain me with things that are ‘good enough’. Just enough to get by. That’s how I feel He is putting my life together. It isn’t magic. None of it feels like His Plan A.”

I sobbed, snotty and swollen-eyed, forcing myself to put words to the sorrow within me.

And then, once I felt emptied of all the misery I could verbalize, I took a deep breath and I said, “But I know, if I asked God’s perspective on this, what He’d say.” And I spoke all the truths and holy, wild love that I felt Him placing on my heart as I sought His face above my sorrow and confusion and anger and grief and fear.

Because God doesn’t have a Plan B. I know that. And He is the giver of gifts that are beyond what we can ask and think and imagine. And I don’t know how, looking at my life, that could possibly be true, but I know that it is. There’s no “piecing ‘good enough’ together” when it comes to God. There’s no “bottom of the barrel” digging. He doesn’t feed us with snakes. Even when I can’t see how he’ll provide fish, somehow He does. With a side of fries. Because #beyondwhatwecanaskandthinkandimagine. 😉

And I thanked Him last night. I thanked Him that He’s all in. Even when I’m not. Even when I want to abandon my own life, even when I want to jump ship and give up on this person in whose body I sometimes feel trapped, He’s all in. Wholly involved. Completely committed to seeing this through.

He is the beat of the heart that I sometimes wish would just stop.

He is the one who whispers, in the midst of my deepest sorrow: “Look at Me. Let your eyes meet Mine. Let Me tell you what is true.”

He is the one who takes my: “Why doesn’t my life feel or look like magic? Shouldn’t it if You’re involved? Not perfect, but redeemed and beautiful and like a story that is going to end well? Where is the magic?”

He takes that and He says, “Look away from what you can see for a minute. Look at Me. Stop trying to see what I’m doing. Stop trying to figure it out. And hear Me, child. Even if you can’t understand how your life is magic, can you trust me when I say that you are? That your existence and tender heart and strengths and weaknesses and the Me you bring into the world, THAT is magic. That is the real miracle of your life. Believe that, dear heart, and trust Me with the rest.”

*

Tell me that not a single moment on my knees is wasted.

Tell me Your voice is the only one that matters.

Tell me that I can come to You with nothing to offer, not even the ability to sustain my own life, and it’s okay. Tell me it’s okay.

I can’t make any promises to You. I’ve tried and failed. Tell me it’s okay.

Tell me I can be all fear and sorrow and questions and the desire to run, and it’s okay.

Tell me that when I want to run but I fall to my knees instead, somehow a victory is won. Tell me that when I stand back up, even if I don’t feel any better, somehow things are different. Because prayer changes things. Even if I can’t perceive it.

Tell me it’s okay if I’m comprised of nothing more than a scream and the knowledge that You are. Because I remember a time of sunlight inside of me, and I don’t know how this can be reversed. How can I stop being empty hands and yelling from the deepest part of me that You are NOT enough, even if I know that’s not true, but it hurts and where are You and none of this makes sense.

Tell me the unceasing scream forces me to hear You above it- that it’s beautiful in that way.

Tell me it’s okay, that You can make sense of it all.

Tell me that even screaming insides can be taught to submit to the authority of heaven.

Tell me someday I’ll look back and be able to see the threads of beautiful you’ve been weaving through my story all along.

I am emptiness and depression and screaming grief.
But You are life.

I have nothing.
But it’s okay because You are all.

You are I am.

Tell me it’s okay.

Tell me it’s going to be okay, and not because of anything about me, but because of You.

I will not die, but live,
and declare the works of the Lord.

I declare that good is coming.

Stream-Of-Consciousness

The sky looks like gold and fluff and the sun is setting over the water. And I watch. And I take out my phone to get a picture. And I plead with my soul or mind or heart or whatever within me might be listening, “Let this matter to you.”

And Arlow thinks, if I’d just let him off the leash, he could for sure catch the motorcycles that drive by us. And he breaks into a run, only to be pulled back by the fraying fabric connecting us, and he bites at it and growls and refuses to move, and I pull him along saying “no” as firmly as I can, but I smile because he is his own little being and I love that he is himself and not just an extension of me. And people stop and tell me how beautiful he is, and sometimes he’s good and sometimes he jumps on them or pees on their shoes, and I say, “I’m sorry, we’re still working on manners.” And at night he curls up beside me and I watch his breath fog up the screen on my phone, and I pray that someday I won’t feel so disconnected from a life worth living. And I thank God for the ways He’s sustaining me, even when it doesn’t feel like enough.

And I read about the woman who lives with depression, and something in me turns to fire and I want to run, but I can’t, because the fire is me. And I beg God, with all the hope I have left, to not let that be my story. I can’t live my entire life wishing I wasn’t alive.

And I watch people do their lives. The barista at Starbucks, the man in the truck beside me, the baseball coach. And I think, “How?” And: “Why?” And: “What do you know that I’ve forgotten?”

And I hold babies and love people fiercely and want for them life and love and laughter and happiness. And I would protect them, if I could, from anything that would try to steal that. And I value life. I value their lives. And so why can’t I feel any sort of connection to my own?

And I’m scared.

And I dream I’m sick. Physically sick. And I’m not scared then, I’m relieved. Because no one will expect me to fix myself. No one will blame me for being sick. No one will say it’s because I’m not strong enough or don’t trust God enough. I can rest. No one will lock me away and take away my rights. They won’t withdraw. They will come near. Because it’s not my fault if I’m sick. It’s not my fault. And there’s more compassion and understanding when a high fever or broken bone are involved than when we can’t make ourselves remember that it’s a gift to be alive.

And I read: “I waffled between becoming an animal in a howl and pulling myself together into a tight numbness.” And I get it.

And the doctor calls out of duty to check on me. And no one can fix it.

And I can’t understand this God who supposedly leaves the flock of sheep for the one. And I need Him to do that for me.

And so I pray and worship and beg and sit silent under the fading sun and call everything Him. I let it all be a hug from Him. And I’m tired. I’m so tired. Because it isn’t like actually being hugged. It’s not rest or peace for my soul. It’s effort. It’s grasping and clawing and fighting tooth and nail to do this life and believe it to be beautiful and Him to  be near.

And my therapist and I discuss my life, and I can’t remember a time in the last eight years where I felt at rest. Taken care of. I’m always powering through on my own strength. Alone. Except for the God who feels no nearer than my deceased mom. And it’s not enough. It’s not. enough. But I fight not to let myself believe that. Because our God is a God of abundance and not depravity, right? And so I’m always trying to be okay and call life beautiful and tell myself that what my insides are screaming for is safe in the hands of the God who promises to provide for us.

And the medication and sleep and going through the motions and asking for prayer? I’m sure they help. But it doesn’t feel like provision. It feels like effort. Just another way I’m emptying myself out in the fight for life.

And I don’t see a solution.

And I’m so scared of being left. I’m scared of them leaving, of being unlovable. And I’m scared of leaving myself, of becoming a hollow shell of a person just waiting for God to do what He’s promised to do. And they’ll blame me. Because He doesn’t fail us.

And I wonder if I’ve been believing God to be good, while simultaneously believing He is mean. Because what might be good eternally can feel really mean to us today, right? At least that’s how I’m making sense of where I am and this life I’ve been given. He is good, even when He feels mean.

And that is terrifying. Because what hope do I have then? What hope do I have of a life that is full and rich if I believe the gifts He gives might feel like pain? What hope do I have of a life that, through tears and laughter, I can feel connected to and can say, “I choose you. I choose you through it all. Because this is the life I’ve been given and it’s a gift and God is near and I’m so, so blessed. And the hard? It can’t steal the beautiful. And, my God, is this life beautiful.”

And I want to be able to look hopeless people in the eyes, and hold their face between my hands, and I want to tell them not to listen to the people who want to make sure they don’t forget that life is hard. And I want to say, “You’re not weak for struggling. And yes, life is hard. But nothing you ever face will be as hard as where you are right now. This is as bad as it gets. And there’s better for you up ahead. I promise. I know because I’ve lived this same story- the story of hopelessness and a brain that is trying to kill you. I know how tired you are.”

And then I’ll take my hand and place it over their heart, and I will speak these words over them, and pray them at the same time: “It WILL be okay. Our God is good. He is GOOD. And He loves you fiercely. And this fight you’re enduring right now? He and I are so proud of you. You are not alone, and this won’t be forever.”

And then I’ll whisper to them, as God has done to me many times through another’s words or embrace or the fluffy baby ducks on the water: “Hear me, child. There. Is. Hope.”