All The Painful Things

I am in a season of growth. Which means, ironically, that I am in a season of dying- dying to myself.

I think people hear that, the call to die to ourselves, and think that means growing up. Maturing our hearts. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and accepting that life is hard.

That’s not what it means to me.

Dying to myself is not the same as no longer believing in magic and hope and beauty. To me it means absolutely refusing to give up on those things, but trusting God with the outcomes of my life.

Dying to self means letting yourself be sad about something, without trying to force a solution.

It means lifting your heart up to God, holding firm to the “child-like” belief that life is, at its heart, good, (because HE is good), but letting Him decide what will be. Dying to self is surrender.

And surrender? I think it’s a process of grief. You have to grieve what isn’t, and grieve not having any control over what will be. Surrender is saying, through tears sometimes, “This hurts, but I trust You.”

It hurts.

But I’m reminded there have been many times in my life when I’ve caught myself in a moment and thought, “Nothing right now hurts. Everything, in this moment, is good. And I’m glad to be alive.”

Pain is a liar. It comes blabbing about “forever” and “unbearable” and “pointless”, but none of those words are words God uses when He talks about pain. Rather, He says something along the lines of pain producing endurance, endurance character, and character hope.

Pain, when handled well, causes us to choose surrender. And when we do, we are essentially speaking over our lives that we believe God is good.

And He doesn’t disappoint.

I don’t know how to get from where I am today to where I want to be, but I know that the only way to get there is by choosing to walk this road that God has me on.

I have to choose to engage in this process. Even when it hurts.

Our pain isn’t pointless.

Beauty and Awe

There was a mom and a little girl about three years old, standing amidst some wildflowers during my walk today. I watched the mom hold a flower up for her daughter to examine. “Isn’t it pretty?” she asked.

And I thought about how all good moms do that. They raise their children to be in awe of this world. From flowers to airplanes to puppies to sunsets, kids are being taught: “This world is magic.”

My mom told me when that before I could really talk in earnest, I would gasp, point, and say: “Ooooh, look! Preeeetty!” Did I really think the thing I was pointing at was pretty? I don’t know. Maybe. But mostly I was just mimicking my mom. I knew enough to know that there was beauty to be found in this world, and I wanted her to know I, too, was keen enough to spot it.

Why do we do that? Why do we raise our kids, teaching them to see beauty, if beauty doesn’t exist? If life is deadlines and depression and death?

Why do we read them stories about princesses and adventure, where individual people’s hearts and hair colors and dreams and courage MATTER? Why do we read them stories about hope and laughter and love? Do we do that so that they’ll grow up believing all of that is true to life, only to be crushed by “reality” as adults?

Do ADULTS believe that individual people, their individual stories matter? Do they believe life is rich with love and laughter, and that hope is life’s heartbeat? I think few do. And those that do are called idealistic or naive.

And yet, here we are, feeding our kids awe and wonder and magic. And we’re doing it from a place of deep, deep love.

So why?

I think because, on some level, we know that wonder and beauty and awe and the things of children’s books are true.

We grow up and a flower is just a flower. And sunsets aren’t a big deal anymore because they happen every night and there’s dinner to make and kids to get into bed and who has time to watch the sun go down?

We grow up and our hearts get broken, and dreams don’t always come true, and so we abandon hope.

We hold people loosely, not really trusting them again not to hurt us. And protecting ourselves from hurt? That hurts too. It’s lonely and scary. And yet we still call it love. We redefine love in our minds, believing that’s as good as it gets.

We stop pursuing our dreams, deciding instead that they’re silly and that adults don’t dream, they work and pay bills and that’s the responsible way to be an adult.

We go through life dull to the richness of possibility all around us.

And it hurts. But “that’s just life”. So we look forward to moments that don’t hurt. Barbecues and beer with friends and crawling into bed at the end of the night.

We go through life partially dead inside.

But just partially.

Because something inside of us still knows enough to look a three-year-old in the eye, hold up a flower for her to see, and say, “Isn’t it pretty?”

 

A Little More Wonder

I read recently: “God must be a pretty big fan of today, because you keep waking up to it.”

God’s perspective on today–the day as a whole, and the day that I am individually going to live–is positive.

My perspective is not. Even when I engage in mental gymnastics, trying to will my insides to cooperate, there’s something inside of me that is dead to life. Life doesn’t resonate with me anymore.

*

I was kayaking with my friend today. Good company. Nothing heavy on my heart. Sunny sky. Cool water. All was well. And yet, I looked around me, I took in the lily pads and the cottonwood floating through the air to land on the water around me, and I looked into the face of my friend, and I still could not understand how anyone chooses to live. How is anyone doing it?

And I paddled my kayak and silently willed the dead part of me to come back to life. I reminded myself that GOD HIMSELF CREATED THIS LIFE; there is goodness all around me. There are reasons to live all around me.

The bad doesn’t negate the good. The good is still here. And my inability to commit to living this gift? It isn’t because life isn’t worth it, it’s because something inside of me can no longer register the miracle of simply existing.

I can make a list of bad things and good things about life, but you know what? Neither of those lists carry much weight with me right now. My problem isn’t that life has too much bad or not enough good, my problem is that I can’t feel any desire to be here. I am disconnected from it all.

I need the Lord to teach me how to live. To take me back through a childhood and adolescence and young adulthood. To teach me about wonder and curiosity and awe, about what family and love and security should look like, to create in me a desire to use my life for something that will outlast me.

*

I was watching a medical show tonight, and I found myself wondering if it was fair for the medical team to treat a person’s body if they suspected brain damage. Is it fair to fight for a person’s body to live if their brain is dead? I don’t know. I don’t have the answer for that. But I know what I’d want for myself, or for someone I loved.

Something inside of me is dead. And still, I am daily choosing life.

I am daily facing my giants of depression and dysthymia and panic and screaming aloneness and fear and grief and the desire to sleep forever. Every day I am choosing.

Every day, I show up for the battle, even though I don’t want to anymore. Neither I nor the giants have any desire to be looking each other in the eyes, and yet there I am, back for round two or twenty or two thousand.

But how do I fight for life when something inside of me isn’t even alive anymore?

I don’t know. You just choose, I guess. You choose and just hope you’re able to keep choosing well.

And today I chose to meet my friend to go kayaking. I chose to preach goodness to my soul by engaging in some of the best that life has to offer, even though I can’t feel it right now.

I laughed with my friend and I breathed deeply. I floated on the lake, dragging my hand through the water, and listening to the rustle of nearby trees.

And I prayed, “Lord, teach me how to live.”

All The Living Things

There’s a man sleeping on the sidewalk outside my office window.

Yesterday I watched a woman eat a sandwich, mayonnaise and saliva oozing down her chin.

Five days a week, I look into hollow eyes and watch people take pills and I wonder about life. I wonder about the significance of any of it. I wonder why some people sleep outside and numb their pain with needles and I wonder how they do it, how they keep doing life when it’s cold outside and they have no bed and all their friends are unshowered and swearing. And I wonder why them and why not me. And I wonder what if it was me? What if that became me?

*

Yesterday, under the fading sun, I played lacrosse with him. We laughed and ran through the grass barefoot and I thought, “THIS is why people live. For moments like this.”

I watched my friend play guitar, his pain and heart and perspective on life becoming art. And I marveled at that, at how some people can take this life, the bigness of it, and not be consumed by it, but rather use their voice to encourage and comfort and inspire others, putting truth on display in a way that isn’t scary but that reminds us we’re all in this together.

She looked into my eyes and kissed my head and hugged me and I thought, “I’d choose this moment over any moment with my biological family.” Moments like those? That, too, is why people choose to do life. The people in my life right now, they are the family of my heart. I lost my biological family, sure, but I didn’t really lose anything because, in exchange, God gave me so much more- people who see me and know me and look at me with love and promise they won’t leave.

*

I wonder if they’re catching on to me at work.

The RN was talking about a client the other day, and he said the client is taking more than the recommend amount of Advil. Then he told the team that he advised the client not to do that because “that will kill you.”

Reflexively, I said, “It will?”

A couple days later he was talking about a client with diabetes and how if his blood sugars get down to 40, he could go into a diabetic coma.

“Can anyone have such low blood sugar, or just diabetics?” I asked.

Even though I’m in a better place, my mind automatically goes there.

*

“You’re adorable,” she said to me, this stranger. And I wondered what people see when they see me.

Would I give up on this person I am? I am the only one who will ever have this voice and this heart and this smile. Would I give up on this person that God created with so much love and detail? Would I lay to rest forever these hands that have cuddled babies and lovingly stroked Arlow’s face and typed out words that resonated with others? Would I chose to put a “the end” in the middle of the story God is still scripting?

What if they left me? What if no one loved me or thought I was “adorable”. Would I give up then?

*

“I’m sad,” I told her. “I’m sad because I’m scared and I’m sad because I hurt and I’m sad because life is hard.”

In response, she said the only thing there is to say: “I don’t want you to be sad. I love you.”

And I thought about that. There are worse things to be than sad, I suppose. Like mean. I’d rather be tender-hearted and sad than cold-hearted and mean. Maybe there’s a blessing in the sadness.

*

“I feel like Cinderella,” I told her. “I feel like my carriage is going to turn back into a pumpkin.”

I’m scared.

But maybe the fear is a lesson. Maybe God is teaching me how to let love be what it is, to trust in it even when it feels uncomfortable.

I can’t grab on to people like I hold tight to my blanket. Life doesn’t work like that. Which means, until I learn to be a person apart from other people, and until I learn to trust people when they say they love me, I’m going to spend a lot of time feeling uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable is a gift, though. At least if we use it well. Uncomfortable is always the first step to growth.

You can’t define love. You can’t label it and pin it down and put it in a box or a chart or a graph or something tangible that keeps it permanent and immobilized and for sure. Love is a living thing, not a thing to be controlled. A thing to surrender to, to be swept up in, to let breathe. You can’t control it; you just have to let it be.

 

I

I’m people-watching at a corner table at Starbucks right now.

There’s the group of four older people, taking pictures with their phones of  a woodpecker outside the window beside them.

There’s the employee with the afro, and the woman wiping the counters. And I wonder if they’re happy. I wonder if people love them.

There’s the young couple, he with rubber bracelets on his arm, stacked halfway up to his elbow, and her with the Seahawks t-shirt and long, black ponytail.

There’s the couple at the table to my left, too. Their earphones in, their laptops open before them, papers strewn all over the table.

There’s the four-year-old with the mop of curls atop her head, crying because she spilled her hot chocolate. There’s her parents, drying off her seat and reassuring her there’s still some left in the cup.

And I wonder, if someone was people watching me, what would they see? Would they wonder why I don’t do my hair? Would they wonder why I’m sitting in a public chair with my feet on the seat and my knees up to my chest? Would they see the tears brimming in my eyes? Would they see the child within me reflected in my face?

*

At work the other day, my coworkers were talking about a client with BPD.

“What is that?” one of them asked.

“It means she’s a drama queen,” another one of them responded.

“Oh,” said the first person. “Then I feel less worried about how she’s doing. She’s probably just making it up for attention.”

I wonder if my coworkers see me.

*

I am tired eyes and a tender heart.

I am unruly hair and chipped fingernail polish.

I am “one day at a time” and sobbing myself to sleep.

I’m “throwing my head back laughing” and “aching for someone to hold my hand and never let go”.

I’m “pull the blankets up to my chin” and “kiss Arlow’s face until he pulls away”.

I’m picky about books and doesn’t drink enough water.

I’m “I know you love me” and “Tell me again you’ll never leave me.”

I’m so grateful and so scared.

*

I still sleep with my baby blanket.

I fall asleep every night with its worn fabric clenched in my hand, and wake up every morning with it still there, woven between my fingers. If I lose it during the course of the night, it wakes me up and I search for it, not falling back asleep until it’s been recovered from under my pillow or lost within the mess of other blankets on my bed.

I have never, not since the day of my birth, been without my blanket.

And I don’t know what it says about me that I, a thirty-year-old woman, still needs an fraying piece of yellow cloth, but I do know there’s a parallel between how I feel about my blanket and how I relate to others. There’s a desire to hold on, to grab on tight, to hold them close to my chest, to never let them go.

*

I don’t think any part of me is a mistake.

I don’t think my big eyes and baby-fine hair and innocence are a mistake.

I don’t think it’s a mistake that I sleep with a baby blanket and that I would rather have a mom than a husband.

I don’t think the ache of my heart and the way I love with all of me are mistakes either.

It would be a mistake, however, to minimize who I am. To decide that because I’m different, I’m less than. It would be a mistake to overlook the fact that I have been pieced together by a divine hand.

It would also be a mistake to take the screaming need inside of me and try to fit people into that ache.

It would be a mistake to not appreciate people for exactly who they are. It would me a mistake to try to make them be something to me that they are simply incapable of being.

It would be a mistake to overlook the fact that I’m in this place now, not because my relationships are somehow lacking, but because there’s something inside of me that is lacking.

It would be a mistake to give in to despair, rather than give in to God, letting Him grow me through the discomfort.

*

I’m “sleeps with a baby blanket” and “stops to move a caterpillar off of the sidewalk”.

I’m quick to hug and forever needing to be held.

I’m long walks and green tea lattes.

I’m yellow Converse and depression.

I’m thirty and I’m three.

I’m “It will all be okay” and “Tell me it’s going to be okay.”

I’m “I don’t know how to be a person apart from other people” and “Lord, teach me.”

I’m struggling to live and refusing to give up.

The Stuff Of Hope

I feel like I am watching a forest fire rage. And I am saying, “It’s okay. It’s going to rain. It’s going to be okay.”

And everyone around me is saying I’m wrong. That the forecast doesn’t call for rain. That forest fires happen and that’s just life and that everyone knows that.

And I don’t know that they’re wrong. But I can’t accept that they’re right either.

And I’m scared. Because my life depends on the rain.

*

I text Laura tonight. I said that I have to believe depression is from the enemy. That no matter what season of life we’re in, depression is a lie. Hard times? Inevitable. But depression? I think that God wants more for us than that.

And I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know how to get there, to this place where depression kneels before the Lord.

But I know two things: That there’s freedom and life to be found in surrender, and that God would never ask me to shut my heart down.

How do those things coexist- surrender and having a fully-alive heart? I don’t know. Honestly. Maybe just by trusting that the things of our hearts matter to God? We can trust Him with whatever they contain? We can let go of our grip on our life and still honor our hearts because both things are His and both things (our lives and our hearts) are used by Him to speak to us?

I don’t know.

But I refuse to abandon my heart. Even if it kills me.

I will keep speaking of the rain, praying that my tiny bit of hope will count for something. Praying that my speaking it will make it true.

*

“Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed…” -Rom. 4:18

The Battle Continues. And So Does The Laughter.

“Your eyes aren’t smiling today,” my coworker said. Which surprised me because that means my eyes are smiley most days.

*

I keep having to remind myself that life is a gift. Life was God’s idea- the same God I desperately want to be held by. This life is a reflection of Him. It IS Him holding us. We are here, breathing in the stuff of miracles, surrounded by the work of His hands. His fingerprints are everywhere.

The suffering of life wasn’t part of His plan, of course, but the good? The good can reveal to us the heart of our Father, if only we have eyes to see.

*

The dysthymia precedes the panic, every time. Suddenly the world goes dark- black. I try desperately, fiercely to keep my head above water, but I can’t. The current is pulling me down to a place where there is no oxygen or light.

How many nights have ended with me squeezing my eyes closed in bed, my throat tight, my heart racing, repeating: “What I’m feeling right now is a lie. I am alive. I am alive. This life is a gift. I am alive.”

There are moments when suddenly I see and feel about life the way I used to. And those moments are like desperately needed oxygen, loosening the tightness in my chest, lessening the weight on my shoulders, showing me how, even in my best moments, I am weighed down by this fight. And but suddenly these moments of clarity hit me and there’s lightness and relief and something like joy, and I think, “Ah, yes, there you are, Life! I knew it wasn’t supposed to be so hard! I knew you were worth it! I knew you were, at your core, good!”

But the moments are fleeting. Like a blink. And suddenly I’m back in this life where every single decision I make throughout the day is a response to the question: “How can I keep from having a panic attack?”

It’s the panic I can’t do anymore. It is hell. And always, in every moment, I am running as hard as I can away from that, that place that feels like hell, that place that makes me feel certain this is a fight I won’t win.

*

There are moments that make me want to weep with relief because I forget I’m fighting. I’m surrounded by the best kind of chaos, and belonging, and love. And I forget that the sun is setting and that nighttime is hard for me.

God is holding me. He is the breath in my lungs. My throat is tight, but He is my breath. And so I close my eyes and remember I am alive and this life was His idea.

*

And it won’t end. The best parts of this life will continue in heaven.

So when I can’t feel any pleasure in the good of this life, when everything feels empty and meaningless and my heart starts to beat with the wildness I’ve become accustomed to before a panic attack, I can tell myself, without a doubt, that my brain is lying to me. Because even if not all of life is good, some of it is good. And that good has His fingerprints all over it. Life was His idea. And death is an illusion. Those of us to love Him will live forever.

Life is a gift.

*

Here are some things I know:
1. Not everyone feels this way. My brain is sick. Life isn’t this hard for everyone. Which means there’s hope for me. There’s hope that my brain will get healthier. There is hope that the life I knew for 20-something years will return to me.
2. God doesn’t blame me. He knows how I’m fighting. He knows my thoughts and my heart. And there is no condemnation in His eyes. Only love.
3. I am human. I am flawed and weak and sinful, and I vacillate constantly between thoughts and emotions, lies and truths, fears and desires. And that’s okay. It’s okay to be human because God’s grace is bigger than the width and depth of my need and depravity.
4. I am never alone.

*

I don’t know if it’s going to be okay this side of heaven. When I ask myself that question, my response is always, “It HAS to be.” It has to get better or I don’t know if I’ll survive. My desire to fight? It’s huge. But the panic is bigger.

And so I surrender. I embrace not knowing. I accept that this is my fight right now. I breathe. And I say, “I don’t know. I don’t know how or when or why or what’s next. But thank You.”

And I do. I thank God for air, for breath and belonging and moments where life feels real to me and worth it. I thank Him for love and family, laughter and sun, Arlow and the moments before sleep when all feels okay.

I thank Him that He holds me.

And I thank Him that whether my head is above water or below, He is there.