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.

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Breath

Arlow is laying on the floor by my feet right now.

He played all day at daycare and is probably tired, but I keep studying his face. Is he okay? Is he bored? Depressed? Am I being a good mom? Does he know I love him?

This is my brain always.

Does he know I love him? Does she?

And also: Am I enough? Am I lovable?

Followed by: Yes, they know you love them. And they love you, they love you, they love you.

*

Not everything is fragile.

Love isn’t supposed to be a fragile, fleeting thing. It’s a commitment. A thing that just is and that cannot be lost. Because love doesn’t forsake us.

I am alive because I love.

And I am alive because they love me too.

That, love, (and Love), is the solid ground beneath my feet when all the world grows hazy and unreal to me. When my brain is flooded with a silent scream, and my chest is tight from trying to keep breathing, love keeps me committed to this fight.

*

I remember when things used to matter to me, not just consciously, but in a life-affirming, deep-in-my-soul sort of way.

How the dishwasher exhales steam when you open it, breathing wet, warm air onto your face.

The calming way the sunlight comes through the window in the early morning if you leave the lights off.

I remember who I used to be. I remember when life held magic and possibility and felt like a hug from the Lord, even when it was hard. I remember how just the simple act of existing felt like a gift.

The entire man-made world is designed to make life better. iPhones; and boats; and vacations; and TV shows; and recipes for something homemade and warm and delicious. And God gives us love. Love and sunshine and the smell of freshly cut grass and bananas and hugs and Himself. The entire world is infused with good, reasons to laugh and enjoy, and I can’t feel ANYTHING.

I read good books, and drink warm tea, and let myself be loved, and bend low to kiss Arlow’s wet nose. I laugh at jokes my coworkers tell, and hold doors open for people, and plan to go see movies with those whose company makes my life better.

I’m doing everything I can to try to make myself, the me I really am, return. The me who can feel joy in budding flowers and the smell of a freshly cut cucumber. I am desperate to stop floating somewhere above this world, unable to feel or touch anything, like it’s all a dream. I am begging myself to come back.

But the harder I try, the more panicked I feel. Because it isn’t working. Trying harder isn’t always the solution. But this? This version of living? This isn’t going to work for me either.

*

I text my therapist tonight. “I need to know if anything–grief or experiences or lies I’m believing–is contributing to this depression and panic,” I said. “I need to fix it. I need to not feel powerless. I need to be me again.”

Someday I’ll look back on this season and I won’t see it as wasted time.

God hasn’t brought me (or kept me) here to suffer.

And even now, I can see His hand in all of it.

I am currently here with two of my favorite kids, in a house that feels as much like home to me as my own. And I have a place here. I belong here.

And regularly people text me and tell me they’re thinking of me and love me, or that something funny or good happened in their day, or that they need prayer or to talk to someone who understands. My life matters to people. I know that to be true.

And I have a job that I love. It’s hard, brutally hard at times, but rewarding. I have lots of time to myself, and I regularly get home early, and my clients are so lovable. It’s the perfect job for me in so many ways.

And Arlow. My whole heart loves him.

All of that is God.

And the way I feel Sundays, surrounded by my church family, watching the band play and candles on stage flicker, and knowing we’ve all come together with our brokenness and joy to worship the Lord? Oh, it’s so undeniably God. His hand in my life. An unmistakable gift.

*

Maybe I don’t need to try so hard.

Sometimes “trying harder” just breeds panic, especially when you’re already doing the best you can.

So I’ll look down at Arlow, and rather than worrying that I’m failing him, I’ll say, “He is loved. And he knows it. He is resting because he feels safe and secure and relaxed. He is resting. He is not depressed.”

And I’ll look at myself and offer myself the same gift of speaking truth. “I am okay. I am still breathing, in the midst of the crazy I still have the breath of God in my lungs, and that is not a mistake. I am going to be okay. I am held. I am loved. I am His precious child. And I am not going to be gone from myself forever.”

Sometimes you have to stand firm and wield your weapons and fight.

And sometimes you have to be still and know.

And that’s a kind of fighting too.

The Saving Power Of Subtle Love

Sometimes love wins in subtle ways.

You’ve got the pills and you’ve got the vodka,

but there’s an eleven-year-old boy who says all he wants on the day of his birthday is for you to come over.

And there’s a dog who thinks of you as mom. And he’s crazy and wild and it takes a special soul to love him, but he’s yours and you’re his, and at the end of the day you are each other’s home.

And there’s a friend who believes in you. Who sees good in you, even when you’re weak and fragile. A friend who speaks hope over your future and life to your heart.

And there’s another friend who thanks you for loving her children.

And giving up on life no longer feels like comfort. Because life and love are intertwined, and how can you give up on love?

And you call your therapist and you’re angry because it’s not fair. It’s not fair that you’re filled with so much love, and so little desire for life. And you wish no one loved you so that you could give up.

But people do love you. And you do love them.

And that’s how love wins.

Love doesn’t always rush in as power and boldness and the booming voice of God.

Sometimes Love is an eleven-year-old boy who just wants to celebrate his birthday with you.

And so you pour the vodka down the drain, not for the first time, but hopefully for the last. And you flush the pills. And you call your therapist and you sob into the phone, asking him to please, please, please tell you you’re going to be okay, that this battle will be worth it.

But in the meantime, even while Life is elusive, Love is standing tall and strong. Subtle, but impossible to ignore.

And part of you wishes you still had the pills.

But a bigger part of you would rather have the love.

Mermaid Hair and Forehead Kisses

I took a bath tonight.

If I’m being honest, I probably outgrew baths a long time ago. I always go in there with a book or music, and something to drink, but by the time the tub is full, I’m already bored and ready to get out.

Nevertheless, tonight I bathed for as long as it took the tub to get full.

And I thought about Mom. I closed my eyes and remembered being a child.

I remembered feeling my hair sway through the water, while pretending to be a mermaid.

I remembered how Mom would come in with a towel and wrap me up in it when it was time to get out. How my lips would be turning blue because the water got cold a while ago, but I was having too much fun to notice or care.

I remembered cozy pajamas and Mom brushing my hair and Dad tucking me into bed. I remembered saying prayers and feeling Jesus as close to me as the cat stuffed animal I fell asleep hugging every night, my damp hair smelling faintly like shampoo.

And I remembered that being enough. It was enough to have a home and a bed and people who loved me. It was enough. I could sleep and be at peace and look forward to the coming day because I was loved and someone was going to comb my hair in the morning and tuck me into bed again at night and all was well.

Where did things get so twisted up?

*

At church Wednesday night, someone looked me into the eyes with conviction and tenderness and said, “God isn’t going to let you fall.”

I don’t remember who said it, oddly, but then I think maybe that’s okay because the words weren’t really even theirs, but Jesus’.

*

If you asked me even just two weeks ago, I would’ve adamantly told you that yes, all we need is love.

But today I looked person after person in the eyes and I thought: “I love you… and YOU love ME. And why isn’t that enough?”

I don’t know.

That’s the only time in therapy that I start to weep to the point of being unable to speak- when I talk about the people I love and who love me in return. I am so grateful and so blessed. But also, there’s no denying anymore that my actions affect other people- people who I never, ever would want to hurt. People love me. And in some ways, it was easier back when I thought I was all alone.

Here I am, loved, and still struggling to want to do life. And how is that possible? I thought love would fix it all…

And shouldn’t it? If God IS love, and God is enough, then there has to be some truth to the “love is all we need” philosophy, right?

I don’t know. I don’t know very much anymore. I am more questions than I am anything else.

*

And yet,  what good will it do to rage against what is (or isn’t), or demand answers, or demand something of myself that I just can’t deliver right now?

What good will it do to panic over the uncertainty of this road I’m walking?

All I can do is surrender. There’s no peace or joy or hope to be found in raging against what is.

So I breathe in the God who is in every moment and I pray He give me eyes to see.

And my brain is on fire with the constant battle, but a brain on fire can’t stop my heart from perceiving goodness and truth.

So I smile at the face of a little boy who affectionately kicks my foot during church, and the woman who bends down behind me and hugs me, handing me a latte and piece of gingerbread that she brought me just because.

I breathe in, with immense gratitude, the miracle of every single “I love you too”, and conversation that comes easy and makes me laugh.

I smile about bear hugs and basketball games and sunny days and silly selfies and happy nights with people I love.

I surrender, as best I can, to this unfolding of my life and trust that somehow, all that I don’t understand, the tangle within me, doesn’t really matter when I can lift my eyes to heaven and say over all of it: “You are, You are, You are.”

It isn’t my job to untangle it or make sense of it. It’s my job to rest and wait and trust and try not to give up.

My brain is on fire, and every day is touch-and-go, but all around me people love me, and my God is still on the throne.

And He won’t let me fall.

*

And so tonight, I took a bath. And Mom is gone. And I’m not a kid anymore. And no one’s going to be picking out my pajamas for me or combing my hair. But in some ways, things are still the same.

The pajamas I put on? They weren’t picked out for me by my mom, but they were provided for me by my Father.

And the hair I combed? It, like everything else about me, makes my Father smile.

And no one will tuck me in, but I can pull the covers up to my chin and ask God to bend down and kiss my forehead.

I can listen to Arlow snore and smell my freshly shampooed hair and talk to Him like He’s right here in the room with me. I can close my eyes and know He is near. Because a good Father never passes up the opportunity to hear His child’s heart or kiss her forehead.

And my eyelids will grow heavy. And somehow, peace will come. And I’ll know that I know that I know, I’m still Someone’s child.

Open Hands

“Write down the thoughts you have before you start to feel like giving up on life,” she said.

And so I did. I took the pen and I wrote, and I was surprised at how quickly things flowed. They’re all there all the time, these thoughts I’m battling. But these thoughts? They are, at least some of them, true. And how do I handle that? How do you battle truth? You tell it to sit down because God’s truth is bigger. Right?

But does His truth undo other truths? Can I tell my circumstances that they are inferior to hope and the good the Lord has for me? Can I tell my beaten-up heart to trust?

That’s what I’ve been doing. For months. Years.

But what do I do when I’m powering through on the promise that God is good and that He can be trusted, but things don’t get any easier or better? What do I do when the condition of my heart is only getting more and more dire, no matter how much time I spend reading the Bible, and raising my hands in worship in my living room, and falling to my knees in the shower, and leaving my house to socialize with people or walk the dog or go to work and help others?

What do I do when I’m coping and fighting, and every single day everything in me still doesn’t feel any interest in this life, and all I am is sorrow and grief and EFFORT. So. Much. Effort. I am doing everything I can to look at my life and say, “It’s okay because God is good and He has a plan.” But it’s not okay, and God is still good and He still has a plan, but IT’S NOT OKAY. So what then? What now?

“I can’t fix it,” I wrote on my list yesterday. And then: “I want Jesus.”

I can’t fix it.

I can’t feel like this forever. I can’t do life like this. I can’t.

And I can’t fix it.

I am only His child. Only He loves me in the way everything inside of me is screaming to be loved.

And I’m telling myself that’s okay, that He’s enough.

But it’s not true. It’s not okay. He IS enough. But somehow also, He isn’t. And I don’t know how that’s possible, but no matter what my brain knows, my heart keeps shattering into smaller pieces as I try to power through this life on His being enough.

He isn’t here. He isn’t here to hold me. I can’t feel Him or hear His voice.

So it ISN’T enough.

As we talked yesterday, I cried. At first it was one solitary tear, clinging to my eyelashes, which I tried to discreetly wipe away and onto my pant leg without her noticing, but then it was the tears that make your chin quiver and your voice fail you. And I couldn’t stop crying. Our time was over and I was sobbing and I had to leave like that, with her reminding me to stay safe. And I sat in my car and sobbed into my hands and nothing about it was okay. Nothing about this is okay.

And I can’t fix it.

But then there was the kid whose love language is also touch, and he touched my shoulder and the top of my head in his little boy, trying to be annoying way. And there was his brother, who fell asleep in my car, and I reached over to keep his head from tipping and waking him up as I went around corners. And the toddler, his legs entwined with mine on the couch. And the dog who let me cradle his head in the crook of my arm, and who fell asleep, snoring, while I rubbed his belly.

But I woke up this morning, and I called my therapist, and I cried. And I am all tears and grief and there are moments of what I’m screaming for, moments of connection and love and belonging and Jesus, but it’s not enough. It’s not enough.

“I don’t want you to think everyone’s life is so much happier than yours and that you’re the exception,” someone else said to me today.

But that isn’t my fear. My fear is the opposite. My fear is that no one is happy. My fear is that everyone feels like this. Because then what hope do I have? I need to believe this world has people in it who are happy and glad to be alive. I WANT everyone to be happier than me.

*

There was a woman at McDonald’s the other day, sitting at a table, scowling, looking like she hasn’t been hugged or loved in a long, long time. And I thought, “There is SO much better for you than this…”

And how can I say that? How can I feel that for her when that hasn’t been my experience at all?

How do I tell people about the healing, miraculous, all-consuming, powerful love of our God who is nearer than our very breath, when I’ve been telling myself that for months and I’m NOT OKAY?

What is true?

Is this all there is? Is this the More Than Enough, Abundant Life He has for me? Is this it?

I don’t know.

But it’s not okay.

And it’s not enough.

And I can’t fix it.

And so I open my hands. I come empty and broken and scared and with no answers. I have no answers. I just have questions. And even those I offer up to Him. I don’t need answers, I just need help getting through today.

I come to Him screaming for a love that I don’t think I’ll ever have again.

I come to Him wanting to give up and just run to His arms and be done with this pain and suffering and fight.

And I come to Him saying that He is good. You are good, You are good, You are good.

I don’t understand. And I don’t know how to endure this. And I am drowning in a sorrow that I can’t fix. And You are good.

My Heart Will Choose To Say, Blessed Be Your Name

As I was getting home from work the other day, I saw my neighbor outside in his front yard feeding birds. And I kind of watched for a minute while I gathered my stuff and I smiled because I get it. I get how animals can become your family. Even animals who don’t live under your roof.

And then I watched while he got into his truck and backed out of his driveway.

And knocked our other neighbor’s garbage can over.

And kept driving.

And so I went over to pick the garbage can up and move it off the road, and I thought about how isn’t that just the perfect example of the complexity of human beings!? We are such contradictions.

And I found myself wondering, “Did he not care that he knocked their garbage can over? Is he just mean?” But I don’t think so. I think he was embarrassed because he probably suspected I saw it happen. And I get that too.

*

When Will and Gabe stayed with me, they kept pointing out when I was talking to myself or my pets or the TV. And I would roll my eyes and laugh and tell them, “That’s because I’m alone so much!”

And I mostly found it funny, but I also found it curious because I hadn’t realized how much I talk aloud to things that can’t talk back!

Or maybe I did realize it, but I didn’t realize it was weird!

I still do it, though. I’m okay with being weird. 😉

I catch myself when I’m talking aloud to an essentially empty room now, though. And it makes me smile and think of the boys and how I’m not really that alone if someone knows me well enough to tease me about the frequency with which I talk to myself.

And so I’m talking to my cats or the toaster or my own self and there’s just fine print, this gentle whisper, that I’m held. By Him and by others who love me. I exist in their hearts even when I’m alone.

I am loved. I belong. I fit.

There is a place for me in this world. And it is a gift. A soft, comforting thought on which to lay my head as I fall asleep at night.

I matter.

To Him, yes.

But also to those I love.

*

I don’t know how to settle my brain and heart as scenes from my 28th year of life flood through my brain without my consent.

And so I ask Jesus to give me a new script. How does He see my upcoming birthday? How does He want me to feel about turning 29?

Shame?

Like I don’t deserve it?

Embarrassed because what right do I have to celebrate something I didn’t even want?

Afraid?

Of course not. And yet that’s mostly how I feel.

And I miss my mom.

Or maybe I don’t. Because I remember many painful birthdays from when she was still alive, when I went to bed crying and feeling unloved.

Maybe I just miss being delighted in. Being someone’s daughter.

But I still am Someone’s daughter.

And I know that. And it sustains me. But it doesn’t feel like enough. And what is wrong with me that my heart is so full of ache even though I’m trying my hardest to give it wholly to Him?!

…How does He want me to feel about how there are more people in this world who passionately dislike me than who passionately love me?

It is all SO painful. This messy, complicated world, in which I can’t grasp onto anything and call it mine and secure and trust it not to leave.

I can grasp onto Him, of course. But not tangibly.

And so that’s my prayer as of late. “How do I find a home in Your arms when You aren’t here?”

I know that He loves me, but how do I make that really matter to my heart? How do I make it matter enough that I can confidently say that I don’t need anyone else to love me because I have Him?

And what is wrong with me that so much of my insides are screaming for something I can’t exactly name?

And so I lay it all down as best as I can. I give all of it to Him- a sacrifice. Because what else can I do but run to Him over and over and over again with all the things I can’t control and don’t understand?

And I say, “I trust You.”

Because that alone stops the screaming.

I trust You.

And it’s beautiful. When I refuse to think about what was or what I don’t have or my fear about the future, I am able to breathe deeply. Because today? It’s good.

Thank you, Father. Thank You for all You’ve brought me through.

Thank You for how You love me so relentlessly.

Thank You for carrying me through this beautiful, brutal world.

Thank You for helping me to see it–in all its bruty–as a gift.

As Sure As The Sun

Dear God,

Thank You for the comfort of falling asleep on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, while people you love remain awake around you. Thank You for the gift of drifting off to sleep knowing You’re not alone.

Thank You when you wake up and realize you were drooling, but know you don’t have to be embarrassed because You’re safe with these people who love and accept you. And we’re all human. It’s not a competition.

Thank You for legs intertwined and shoulders to rest your head on and arms to interlink and backs to scratch.

Thank You for the quiet of night, and late night drives when you look out the window and watch the bright lights of buildings pass in a blur. And thank You when, in the car, people you love are asleep. And so precious to you. And you’re all there together. And the quiet and the being together and the lights lull you into a sense of All Is Well.

Thank You for laughter. And good stories. And deep conversations.

Thank You for good food and eating without guilt or shame or self-loathing. Thank You for cashews and grapes and dark chocolate.

Thank You for growth and hope and promise.Thank You for being wanted and belonging. And thank You that when something doesn’t make sense, I can entrust that thing to You and just let myself be held.

Thank You when the things I fear happening don’t happen.

Thank You for Dramamine and that I didn’t throw up in the car. And thank You that even the most uncomfortable things, like nausea, eventually pass. And thank You that even had I thrown up, it wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world. Because I’m loved and it isn’t a performance. I’m safe and Yours and it’s all going to be okay.

Thank You for energy drinks and also please don’t let them kill me. 😉

Thank You for the beauty of winter- warm houses and long showers and hot beverages and clothes that feel like a hug. And thank You for the promise of spring.

Thank You for the way the rising sun looks on slightly foggy mornings.

Thank You for headaches that dissipate and don’t turn into migraines.

Thank You for the opportunity to create and read good books and continually open myself up to breathe in the holy beauty of what this world has to offer.

Thank You for the times when I feel out-of-place and judged and I can hold my head high and not feel sad because I know I am not doing life unloved. People carry me in their hearts even when we’re apart. And Thank You that You don’t make mistakes. And You made me.

Thank You for permission to be my authentic self. And thank You for giving me authentic, flawed, beautiful, Jesus-reflecting people to do life with.

Thank You for opportunities to nurture and provide and be someone’s safe place.

Thank You for animals and cuddles and purrs and how pets look at you like you’re everything they need.

Thank You for Indian food, and that the Indian food restaurant isn’t closer to my house than it is, which safeguards me from going very often!

Thank You that nothing unresolved or unhealed or fragmented within me will be that way forever. Thank You for the way hope and patience go hand-in-hand, and that waiting or not understanding aren’t evidence of anything. Thank You that You are reliably, unfailingly trustworthy and good.

Thank You for home–found in places and people and moments–and that even while we await our true home, our home with You, this world doesn’t have to feel lonely or wrong or like anything less than a gift.

Thank You for bathrooms with toilets that flush normally and don’t require any special tricks or maneuvers. And doors that lock in a way that isn’t confusing, making you simultaneously fear that it’s not actually locked, and also that it’s so locked that you won’t be able to get it unlocked and will have to pound on the door for help. …Which is totally a thing that has happened to me before.

Thank You for second chances and fiftieth chances and for always welcoming me back to You with arms wide open.

Thank You that it’s impossible to believe You to be more good or loving or present than You actually are. Thank You that You’re all those things more than we can even fathom.

Thank You for invitations.

Thank You that I can fall on my knees before You and just be Your child- desperate and needy and in love with You. Thank You that even in my deepest pain, when I turn to You, it makes you smile. And thank You that, even in my deepest pain, that thought brings me comfort.

Thank You that my begging You to know and love You more is not a prayer I have to fear going unanswered.

Thank You that I’m still here to celebrate my 29th birthday later this month. Thank You that even when I gave up, You didn’t. Thank You for all that has remained even amidst all the loss and brokenness and mistakes. Oh Abba, thank You.

Thank You for how You love me. Thank You for how You provide. Thank You that I have so much to be thankful for.