Nothing Is As It Seems

I feel like I ruined my life. I thought things were so hard six months ago. I was wrong.

I am grieving the loss of a lot- people I loved and my job and having a steady income and being able to be a good mom to Arlow by taking him to daycare and who I was before depression came and stole the life right out of me.

When I look around now, everything is uncertain and nothing is secure.

And what needs to align in order to make my future doable seems impossible.

I am scared the best days of my life are behind me, and given that the last three years have been filled with the desire to die, that is a really sobering and terrifying thought.

This has been a week of fears gaining strength. In the insensitive comments of friends who mean well but don’t know better, in the silence of friends who can’t bring themselves to tell me it’s all going to be okay, in my own rapidly beating heart as I try to figure out how to fix everything and realize I can’t.

Lean not on your own understanding…

In so many ways, I can’t fight this. I can’t make myself have a job that will pay me enough to survive. I can’t make people feel differently than they do. I can’t force people to sign off on necessary forms so that I can get my LICSW. I can’t create for myself parents and grandparents and people who will step in and teach me all that I don’t know, who will help me not be alone in this next season of my life. I can’t know that any of it will ever feel okay to my heart again. I worry about Arlow, that I am ruining his life too. And I can’t fix that either.

But I can bathe myself in truth- books and podcasts and scripture. I am reminding myself that nothing, not people or systems or facts, are bigger than my God. I am letting friends speak truth into my life, reminding me of all the times the Bible says not to be afraid, reminding me that life is a gift, and reminding me to be vigilant to the fact that there’s a very real enemy who wants to steal, kill, and destroy.

I remember who I was as a child and teenager and young adult. My future seemed so bright and promising. I feel like I ruined the life of that child who worked so hard for good grades, who fought so hard to be a good person, who tirelessly chased after a future she believed in. And what for? So that depression could grab me around the ankles and pull me to the ground? So that in my fight to stay alive, that’s all I’d be able to accomplish- my heart would keep beating but all the good I’d worked for would come crashing down? So that I could choose to walk in sin just to make the pain temporarily lessen, only to now have my back against a wall? To be buried in debt, to have no family, to see no way out?

I never, in a million years, would’ve thought this is who I’d be at thirty. I wanted so much more for myself. I feel like I ruined my life.

But how I feel doesn’t determine what is true. The truth is, God redeems.

God doesn’t have a plan B. None of this comes as a surprise to Him. The good He has spoken over my life, the promises and plans to prosper me, they are STILL IN PROCESS. Hallelujah.

He sees a way through where I do not. And He is good. And I am going to stake all of my hope, my entire life, every single breath in my lungs, on that. He is good. Because the second I take my eyes off of Him, I will drown.

I am Peter, walking on waves.

And I can’t control the storm, but I can control what I choose to fix my attention on.

Praying for rescue, praying for deliverance, praying for protection, praying for miracles. Choosing trust. One breath at a time.

And in the meantime, I’m keeping my eyes open. Because while I wait for God to answer the big prayers, I don’t want to miss the ways He’s showing up in my daily life. Every single day, He shows me He’s with me.

I don’t know how anything will ever be okay again. But I know I’m not alone.

  • In the ability to rise above the depression enough to get up early this morning and take Arlow to the vet for his annual checkup.
  • In the gift of getting to weigh Arlow at the vet today and finding out my boy is a healthy, lean 108 lbs.
  • In TV shows that make me laugh.
  • In text message reminders from friends who encourage me to keep my eyes on God, even when my thoughts rage and my feelings overwhelm.
  • In Madison’s ability to come over and stay the night tonight when I really needed to not be alone.
  • In the flicker of life I felt tonight, while I made hot chocolate for Madison and the kids and outside the rain poured and lightening flashed.
  • In the way Arlow rests his head on me.

“We are not subject to the same chance and fate of every other human being on earth. We have been transferred from the kingdom of fear, luck, self-effort, and darkness into the kingdom of light.” -Judah Smith

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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.”

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.