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.”

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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.

He Who Sustains

There’s this screaming chasm within me. The size of it and volume of it depends on the day, the conversation, the circumstance. But it’s there, as part of me as my lungs or kidneys.

It’s not the day itself that’s hard. I can allow myself to cry and feel sad and find comfort in scripture and then tuck myself into bed. It’s when the day becomes days. It’s when all I see before me is reason to weep and ache for a Father who I can’t really feel.

And maybe that ache is a gift. I pray it is. How could I ever credit myself with a hunger for the Lord? It has to be Him in me, working and moving and taking my hand and leading me deeper.

Helping me to know and love Him more.

Who am I? Beloved, sure. But nothing more than a speck in this world- composed of the breath of God. I am not a mystery to Him, this God who spoke light into existence and calls Himself Love.

This screaming chasm scares me. But it doesn’t scare Him.

In between the screaming is the whisper: “Is it worth it? What’s the point?”

But the Fearless One also whispers.

And I have the power to choose what whisper I listen to. Because there’s the whisper that tries to steal life from me, playing on my emotions and circumstances as if they are the truest thing. But more than what I feel or see, there is a Truth that cannot be argued with. And this voice, the voice of Truth, speaks loving, hope-filled things.

It’s like clinging to a flotation device in the ocean. At night. In a horrible storm. And I’m choking on water and fighting not to let my grasp slip. Where is my rescue boat? Where is land? How long will I be out here? I don’t know. And I feel fear gnawing at me: What if this is forever?

And so I’m holding on, fighting to maintain my grasp on the one thing that’s keeping me afloat. I refuse to give up. I refuse to let go and let fear win. Because my God doesn’t speak fear, so I know it’s not Him.

And I’m looking up- at the stars, the heavens, all held steady by His limitlessly powerful hand.

And I’m struggling to fight for truth, for life. I’m being tossed in this ocean and I don’t know when the storm will end. But above me, heaven is unmoving. The stars look back at me and blink their comforting assurance that I am seen. And I thank God that He gave me something to cling to- a way to keep my head above water.

This chasm within me screams. And only now do I recognize that scream for what it is- it screams for Him.

I don’t know how to take Him and fit Him into the holes within me- packing Him in like cotton in a wound to stop the bleeding.

“You’re more than enough!” I yell at heaven. And I demand the scream within me to accept that and grow quiet. But it doesn’t.

Because I remember.
I remember being someone’s child.
I remember falling asleep at night hearing the gentle breathing of my family, the stillness and puzzle-piece feeling. And I remember thinking, “This is how my days, no matter how bad they are, end. And it is so good.”
I remember waking up in the morning with my mom in my bed, whispering to me about the sunrise or bird songs outside my bedroom window.
I remember belonging to someone.

And so I ask God, with more than just a hint of anger, how He could take all that from me (or let it be taken) and then stand before me big but untouchable, invisible, often seemingly distant, and claim to be more than and better than anything this world could offer.

“All good things are from Me,” He whispers.

And so I look back over my list of what I had that was good that I no longer have. And I ask, where was He in all of that? Have I really lost it all in its entirety? Because if all good things are from Him, and He never changes and cannot be lost, if all good things reflect Him, then the truest essence of what we experience that is good cannot be lost- because it’s Him.

Right?

“Show me,” I pray.

And I know. I know beyond what I saw or experienced, the comfort of being someone’s child was meant to whisper to me how my Father loves me.

Feeling held safe as part of a family? That was Him too- my biological family a representation, a mere a shadow, of the spiritual family to whom I really belong. And where love is, He is. He was there among the slow and steady breathing of my sleeping siblings and parents. He was there, sustaining all of us through our sleeping hours, singing over us, protecting us. And maybe that’s what I really heard and found comfort in as a child- not the breathing of my family, but the breathing of my ever-present, trustworthy God.

And while mine is the only human head that rests on a pillow and surrenders to sleep night after night in my home, He is still there. He is there, loving me fiercely. Sustaining me. Singing over me. Protecting me. Reminding me that it is He who holds not only me, but those on whom I had so long depended. “And indeed,” He whispers as I pull the covers up to my chin at night, “I AM holding you.”

He is the reason for the sunrise, the chirping birds. He is the reason my eyes open in the morning. He was the one gifting me for so many years with waking up and having someone ask me how I slept. But I still have that, right? Not the physical presence or eyes that look at me with love, but the sunrise and birds and a brand new day each morning. And I still have Someone who cares how I slept.

The God who breathed me into life. Who holds hold the oceans in His hands. Who orchestrates the dance of the stars and planets above us.

He’s a big, big God. Way bigger than any ache or emptiness within me.

He IS more than enough.

And I don’t know how to get there- how to grasp on to a God I can’t physically hold. I don’t know how to silence the scream when I can’t bury my face against His chest. I don’t know how to let all within me grow still when it’s just–to my physical eyes–me. And the scream. And no one to hold me.

Oh, for eyes to see what’s REALLY happening and how near He REALLY is.
For faith to find comfort in the truth of His nearness, even when I can’t see it.
Even when I don’t FEEL it.

But He gave me this hunger for Him.

And He’s a good Father.

And He is near.

And I am not a mystery.

Somehow, it’s all going to connect. And when it does, I’ll praise Him for every single decision He made in my life, even when it hurt.

Because He knows what I don’t- these waves I cannot see over, they are carrying me to shore.

The Ultimate Gift-Giver

Sometimes I want to weep with the heavy truth that this world doesn’t have to be nice to me.

No one has to return my smile, no one has to match my tender heart with a tender heart of their own, no one has to love me through all things.

This will be the first Christmas I wake up in an empty house. No presents will be under the tree. No stockings hung. No one to make breakfast for.

And that makes me feel really, really sad. Like, “lump of coal in the pit of my stomach” sad. (I know typically people say “rock in the pit of my stomach”, but ’tis the season for coal, right? …Even my sorrow wants to get into the Christmas spirit. 😉 ).

But then, as I nurse that sorrow, I remember the last two years.

I hadn’t been physically alone on Christmas morning, but I had still found myself weeping from the shattered hope that the Christmas I was trying so hard to make special would end up feeling like love. I was trying to look facts in the face and still assert that there was love present in the room- that it wasn’t just me and my hopeful heart, and the lights on the tree adding a soft glow to the room, and the smell of a breakfast I had excitedly made that no one even wanted to eat.

And I think about how every Christmas has been heartbreak and tears since Mom died.

And I think about how the last Christmas she was with us, just a little over a month before she died, she knelt on the floor and made blankets for my sister and I. Tired and in pain, she knelt. She metaphorically washed our feet.

And I think about how, tired as she was, she refused to go to bed. “Stay up with me,” she whispered. And so I did. She didn’t want to say goodnight.

She didn’t want to say goodbye.

And shortly after that, Mom didn’t get out of bed again.

And so I, desperate and shattered inside, knelt. She had bought fabric to make herself a blanket, but hadn’t had the energy to actually make it, so I made it for her.  And as a token of love, I crept into her room–where she now slept in a hospital bed as opposed to her own bed–and I wrapped it around her shoulders.

“Look, Mama,” I said gently. And slowly, she opened her eyes. “I made it for you!”

And she smiled and as she was closing her eyes again, she whispered, “You’re a good daughter.”

And my eyes stung with tears. That’s the only time she ever said that to me. Always, the opposite had seemed to resonate as truer to her.

And so I wonder, how often are there gifts in the suffering?

Is it a gift–to her and to me–that Mom got her blanket before she died- that my token of love was there, wrapped around her shoulders, every single moment until she passed? And that, in response, she was able to gift me with the words that I am a good daughter?

How about the year after Mom’s death, when I poured out the little money I had to create a special Christmas for my father, and I stood there Christmas morning, excited for him to see the surprise I had packed under the tree for him, and he hadn’t even cared? Is that a gift?

Perhaps.

Because in giving to him I got to understand what Jesus did on the cross- pouring himself out for a people who might never appreciate it.

Is it a gift to grasp all the magic of Christmas between my hands and force it into the Decembers since Mom died?

Is there a gift to be found in feeling like I’m alone in my efforts- the only one with a heart beating the slow and steady and tentative beat of hope?

Is it a gift to wake up on Christmas morning looking for evidence that, contrary to what the other ordinary, busier days of the year might suggest, there is magic to be found in this life?

And is it a gift to instead be met with half-hearted, obligatory presents, forced smiles, and a lovingly-made breakfast going unwanted and getting cold?

Maybe.

Maybe the gift is having to run to Jesus and bury my face in His chest and let Him hold me while I weep. Maybe the gift is looking in His eyes alone for hope. Maybe the gift was the shedding of the Hold It All Together role I had taken on. Maybe the gift was the grieving of what no longer was. Maybe the gift was the heart-breaking and beautiful acceptance that His arms were the only ones that would hold me while I cried.

And waking up alone on Christmas morning?

Maybe that’s a gift, too.

Maybe, even in the sorrow and broken-heartedness, He is gifting me with a response to my prayer: “Let me know You as More Than Enough.”

And so I will wake up Christmas morning and look at the no presents, and the no smiling faces, and the empty house that feels like it does any other day, and say, “It’s okay. Because He came. He came. And He has never left.”

It’s an excruciating process, I think, to come to know God as More Than Enough.

But is there any other way to get to that place but to have Him standing there, tender and loving and present, in the middle of your nothing else?

Maybe not having anything to open on Christmas is actually a gift.

Receiving The Gift

Most days, I have been diligently watering my plants. For me, this is huge. I am great at keeping my house clean, but when it comes to outside chores? I’ve never really had much of an interest. I kind of feel the same way about nature as I do my hair- “Let it be wild!”

When I was watering the other day, I discovered that my darling cat had killed a bird. I don’t do well with animal death. I handle episodes of 20/20 better than the animated Tarzan movie. Seriously. And while I am used to my cat killing things, this bird still had its whole face and head unmarred, and that was different to me. It was different than his usual faceless, unidentifiable victims. I saw the bird’s little beak and his closed eyes, and even now my eyes are filling with tears because it’s so sad and it’s so unfair- and it’s so just the way life is.

And so I looked at him for a moment, the bird, and I mentally said sorry to him for his painful and scary and early death.

And I told God how heavy that made my heart.

And then I turned around- just as a hummingbird whizzed past my head and began eating from the hummingbird feeder inches from my face.

And I stood there for probably three minutes watching it. It felt like a gift. It felt like a hug from my God.

And I don’t know the point of this story, aside from the fact that it has stuck with me for about a week, and I feel like it was a moment in my day that God was very much a part of and orchestrating.

I think lately my life has been a series of disappointments and challenges and letting go of expectations or things I had hoped for, and yet God is always there to hold me and hug me and provide for me. It’s like the hummingbird came into my life to remind me to keep my eyes open and appreciate what IS rather than spend all my time mourning what is NOT.

The hummingbird teamed up with God to remind me that life is hard, but it’s also really beautiful.

I am so glad He has a plan. I am so grateful that the pain of this life will eventually make sense. I am so glad that He is bigger and more beautiful than anything this life throws at us. I am so grateful that no hurt is too big for Him to heal.

I am so glad that He is all I need.

But still, I really hope all dogs (and cats and birds and pigs and donkeys…) go to heaven.

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