72 Hours and Deep Breathing

It has been a brutal last 72 hours.

There comes a moment when everything in me tightens and I can feel my brain spiraling into this panicked state. I start wondering why and what and who and how and when and what if. I start answering those questions for myself based on limited evidence. I make decisions about what is actually happening. I effectively make myself feel completely isolated, unlovable, despicable.

I’m learning to put the brakes on in those moments. I am learning to breathe through it. I am learning not to fight against it or demand it be different. I am learning to breathe.

I am not strong enough to dig deep, trying to get to the foundation of why my pain is so intense. I am not skilled enough to problem-solve my way to a less painful state. I am not capable of changing hearts or minds. I am not able to change the past.

So I breathe.

“You have to love yourself through it. You have to do the brave thing of accepting yourself, good and bad, and continue putting one foot in front of the other,” a friend of mine said recently.

I was so entangled in shame and self-hatred in that moment that I could barely breathe. But I knew she was right. Life is full of crossroads. Choose life or death. Choose. And self-hatred feels a lot like death. All we can do is breathe and love what is, ourselves included.

I love how happy Arlow is when I walk him off-leash.

I love friends who stand by you even when it’s hard.

I love the flicker of candles and the smell of my aromatherapy diffuser.

I love sunny days and flip-flops and starting the morning off with an energy drink.

I love touch. I love when arms or legs are intertwined, when someone reaches over and rubs my back, when I’m able to squeeze someone tight around the shoulders, when someone kisses the top of my head.

I love “dancing” in the car when a good song comes on.

I love feeding the birds in the neighborhood.

I love freshly washed bedding.

I love days spent outside and laughing with friends and impromptu road trips.

And while I can’t add “I love me” to the list, at least not after these last few days, I am working on it. And I do love pieces of me. Bits of who I am that I can hold tight to and say, “That thing about me isn’t a mistake. It isn’t bad or wrong or hard to love.”

I love that I’m a born writer.

I love that I can make people laugh.

I love that I am gentle and nurturing.

There are other things I would’ve added to that list a few days ago. I would’ve said I love that I care for people and that I’m a fighter and that I invest in my relationships. But now I don’t know that any of that is true.

It’s been three days of a battle unlike any I’ve ever known. It’s not a battle against panic or wanting to kill myself, but a battle in which I am trying to stay standing while the wind and rain whip and beat against me. And I feel bruised and bloody, raw and wounded.

It’s hard to see the good in the last few days. It’s hard to see how I can pull myself back up and get back to a place of being able to look myself in the face. But I can choose not to cling tight to the words spoken and fears they brought up.

I can choose to breathe.

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Living Into The Questions

“[The world is] so beautiful and complex and painful that sometimes you just need   to sit down and write about it.”

*

A lady at the dog park made me cry today.

Arlow jumped on her. But in his defense, he didn’t until her dog jumped on her.

“You need to get control of your dog!” she said to me.

And I thought, “Yeah. I need to get control of a lot.”

*

I am trying to embrace the fact that I am a person. I am trying to honor my heart and who God made me to be. I am trying to stand tall and firm in my own body rather than grasping and begging for other people to validate me and fill me up.

My friend, Erika, and I talked today about how I’m an empath. How I basically go through the world without any skin- feeling everything so deeply.

And she talked about how it’s important that I take care of myself, that I put up boundaries so that the world doesn’t overwhelm me.

I never really thought about that before, about being uniquely wired to be sensitive, about needing to take care of that truth about me, to honor this quality rather than shame myself for it, to give room for my heart to tell me what it needs.

*

We also talked about why I can’t hold love; why I am empty of love almost the second someone says, “Yes, I love you.”

She said that’s a foundational problem because all of the world is, at its core, about love.

She said to be aware of that, of my inability to hold love. To try to live into the question, to try to open myself up to finding healing for whatever part of me in wounded in that way.

*

“Is life worth it?” I asked her at one point. “I just need to know that life is worth it.”

In response, she said something then that I’ve heard before: “That’s black or white thinking.”

She said some days life is worth it, some days it’s not.

She said, “Welcome the tension, because if you don’t, you’re fighting a battle you don’t need to fight. Allow pain to find a home in you without trying to make yourself be somewhere else. Be present with it. And then you’ll discover you’re able to move on.”

*

I don’t know how my story is going to end. I don’t know what happens next.

But I know there’s grace for me in this season.

So many people are pouring love into me.

I’m so blessed.

And still, I hurt.

*

“The funny thing about writing is that more often than not, you write your own way into truth.”

In Every Moment

“I just think that there’s meaning in everything,” my client said a couple weeks ago. “I think God is in everything and that our days matter so much more than we could ever understand.”

Sometimes my clients help me.

Sometimes they don’t. Another client of mine has told me two times in a row that I look crazy.

Her insight is unnerving.

*

I cried at the doggy daycare last week.

I was petting this sweet, little dog with the most gentle eyes, and the woman behind the counter said, “You know, she’s up for adoption.”

And everything in me wanted to take her home and be her mommy.

And I looked at her eyes, so filled with hope and delight at having my attention, and I thought about how she doesn’t have a mommy, and it made me tear up.

Because her tail was wagging and her eyes were gentle but no one loves her the way I love Arlow.

*

How do we stay in this fight?

If I was with God, His love would feel like a hug.

If everything here, everything I love and everything I desire, is just a mere reflection of the goodness that awaits me in heaven, why wouldn’t I want to be there?

Because love chooses well. Love chooses not to abandon people, not to give up on this life that’s a gift. I know that. In my head, I know that.

But inside of me, I’m a child lost at the carnival and everyone around me is laughing and talking and eating cotton candy, and I’m standing there, terrified, with no parent’s legs to grab onto.

And does anyone see? Does anyone see how alone and scared I am? Only Him. Only heaven.

*

Some people think you go to hell if you kill yourself, but I think that’s dumb. It’s professing, in essence, that God’s grace is big enough to cover every sin but one.

Plus, God doesn’t fault us for being sick.

Not to mention, that black and white philosophy leaves so much unanswered. Like what about people who die from an accidental drug overdose? Do they immediately go to hell? Even though they weren’t trying to kill themselves? Even though they might believe in Jesus?

I wonder about my clients sometimes, how a loving God could send to hell a person who can’t possibly believe in Him because they hear cupboards speak to them and think Michael Jackson is preparing a palace for them to live in. How could He fault them for not believing? I don’t think He will.

I don’t think He does.

I watched my client die the other day. I went to deliver her meds, and the next thing I knew, EMTs were trying to get her heart started again.

The only coherent thing she said to me before she died? “I have to say a prayer.”

“You have to say a prayer?” I asked.

And then again, she said, “I have to say a prayer.”

*

My face was pressed against the couch this afternoon. Lies and truths swirling about in my head, fighting for a voice.

And then, I felt God’s gentle urging to just let it be.

“Let the lies and truths coexist for now; it’s not as important to piece them apart as it feels. The real issue at hand is: Who are you?

When it’s just you and the couch, when all your relationships could fall away and it would just be you standing alone, apart from who loves you and who doesn’t, apart from where you belong and where you don’t, apart from what someone thinks of you or if they think of you at all, who are you?”

Yours.

I am Yours, I am Yours, I am Yours.

*

Whenever I need a hug, I watch Narnia.

There’s just something about Aslan. The eyes, the laugh, the roar.

They remind me of home.

*

I don’t know how to do this.

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.

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.

Only The Best

Today I read about how Jesus says many will be turned away, thinking that heaven is their fate, but instead He will say, “Away from me. I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:21-23)

That scares the crap out of me. Not as much for myself as for the people I love who I’ve lost touch with- those whose relationship with the Lord is kind of a question mark.

And I wish I could soften the edges of that truth and make it feel less jagged and painful as I hold it in my hand. But sure enough, that portion of scripture seems pretty clear.

And yet, I HAVE to believe in a God that will woo us relentlessly. I have to believe in the earth-shaking power of prayer and that my prayers, even the most poorly worded ones, terrify Satan. I have to believe it isn’t as bleak as that passage of scripture makes it sound.

I believe that because I have to. Otherwise I will be all panic and anxiety and desperately begging people to make changes that only God can really bring about in them. And so I believe that, but I don’t KNOW that.

And that scares me.

But what can I do?

And so I tuck myself under His arm and close my eyes and let Him be God.

*

The baby in the stroller in front of me craned her neck to stare at me as I walked through the parking lot. And I waved. She didn’t wave back or smile, and her mom remained unaware of the conversation taking place between her child and myself, but I smiled and waved anyway.

I smiled and waved almost reflexively. And I realized afterwards, while I continued to smile at the baby, that Jesus would’ve done that too. He would’ve smiled and waved. And that reflex in me is evidence that He is making me to be like Him.

And then I smiled again because how beautiful to see who I am becoming more like Him- sometimes in effortless ways, ways I could almost overlook, and sometimes through extreme, deliberate effort- knees to the ground, tears, prayers, pleading.

*

When someone compliments my ability to write or says I’m smart, there is no part of me that feels proud of that because I didn’t have anything to do with it. It’s how I was made.

Likewise, I have no control over the fact that my hair isn’t thick or that my feet are big or that I can’t sing like Lauren Daigle. As with not taking pride in the things I can do, there doesn’t have to be any shame in what I can’t do, or what I can’t be, because I had nothing to do with it; it’s just how I was made.

Similarly, when I see Him in myself, it doesn’t feel like a thing to be proud of- it feels like confirmation that He is here, working all things together, doing a good thing in me. It is comfort. Promise. Hope. It is all Him in me and growing me and sustaining me.

I can take no credit for the delight I find in the stars or foggy mornings. I can’t be blamed for my love for animals, even when it does border on the slightly ridiculous. I can’t take credit for the fact that I am generally a kind, friendly person. I can’t be blamed because I am unmarried. I cannot take credit for the fact that my hunger for the Lord is as real as fire within me.

Who am I aside from clay- His creation, being shaped and molded?

Additionally, in light of the above, how does it make sense to feel envious of someone else or judge myself as better than them?

So much of it has nothing to do with our own abilities, but His merciful gift-giving and all-knowing, perfect design. We are all His creations. Beautiful and astounding and flawed and fallible and worthy of love, but NOT worthy of a place on a throne or fame or worship, nor deserving of a critical eye or being the subject judgment.

Oh, how twisted this world has gotten it.

In the matter of who we are as people, the playing field is level.

I have control over my decisions. I have control over whether or not I choose to live a godly life. But who I am at my core? That’s all Him. A product of His all-knowing, miracle-orchestrating goodness. A product of my life experiences. A product of genetics. But all of it in His hands.

It’s not to my credit that I am good with children or that my eyes are hazel or that I can write. I don’t know any other way of being. It isn’t something I worked for, it’s just how I was made.

It’s not my fault I am not a brilliant singer.
But I can choose to sing anyway. That I have control over. To hide beneath my inabilities rather than make a joyful noise, that would be a shame. I can embrace who I am–flaws and all–and still choose to live life fully rather than hiding behind “I can’t” and “what will they think of me?”

And it’s not my fault I am terrified of doctors.
But I can choose to go anyway. …Even if I need someone there to hold my hand and drive me because Xanax is required. 😉

There are things we can choose, and there are things we can’t. And how often do we shoulder the weight of things we were never meant to carry- like inferiority or needing to prove ourselves or shame or having to be “better than” someone else?

*

He is all-knowing. The giver of good gifts. This is the life He chose for me. The body. The heart. The personality. There is no other life or personality or appearance that would be better.

And I was thinking about that on my drive to work today, how, essentially, jealously is saying, “God, You made a mistake. I don’t trust You.”

There’s a place for grief and sorrow and laying our dreams down at the foot of the cross, submitting them to Him with tear-filled eyes because we are going to trust Him even if it breaks our hearts. There’s a place for being sad about what we don’t have, but ultimately we have to be able to say that we surrender all to Him, come what may.

We have to live our lives with hearts and hands and minds open to receiving the fulfillment of our prayers, or pleasant and unexpected surprises, or even a “no” in response to our prayers. And when a “no” is the response, we have to be able to hear that and believe that God has better for us, whatever that “better” may be.

And we have to be okay with it not feeling like “better”, and we can grieve that, because what we feel is real and deserves compassion and acknowledgment. But, while our feelings are real, they aren’t reliable at determining what’s true. So we have to be able to cry and grieve and still stubbornly hold firm and unwavering to the belief that He is good and He can be trusted and He never gives us less than the best.

And at the end of the day, whether I’m alone or surrounded by loved ones, I can lay my head down on my pillow and tuck myself there under His arm. And I can close my eyes and breathe in peace and comfort because He is God and I am His. And I trust Him.

Embracing Our Humanness

“What’s that?” I thought, something on my lap catching my attention as I drove to my friend’s house.

A hole.

There was a hole. In my pants. In the crotch-location.

I couldn’t go home. I couldn’t change. I couldn’t even hide it because it was front and center.

My only option? To just show up. Hole and all.

I could’ve panicked or gotten embarrassed, sure. But how would that have changed anything? The hole wouldn’t have been like, “Oh, you’re right! This is embarrassing!” and then stitched itself back together.

Laughing about it? Showing up anyway? Telling my friend about my discovery? Laughing together? Embracing my humanness? OUR humanness? That was really the only option.

Over and over and over again, all throughout the day, I sense God whispering to me, “In what are you trusting?”

When I replay conversations in my head,

When I beat myself up for all the stupid things I have done or said,

When I worry what people think of me,

My trust is in ME. It’s not in God.

And all good things are from Him. They aren’t a product of me.

I can’t bring good things about by being someone “better”- more eloquent or funny or graceful or beautiful. All I can do is keep my eyes on Him and trust Him with the outcome.

When I say or do stupid things, when I worry I’m not very lovable, God is whispering, “I’ve got this. Remember, I created you. And I have called you worthy of love and belonging. Trust me.”

At no point does He slap his forehead with His holy palm and say, “Why did she stutter when she said that word!? What an idiot! How am I going to redeem this!? Probably now everyone’s going to stop loving her!” Honestly, that thought makes me giggle because it’s so RIDICULOUS. And yet, that’s what I tell myself!

Prove yourself, prove yourself, prove yourself! my brain commands me. And so I try to not look awkward or be awkward or say anything awkward. And really, when that is my goal, when my focus is on not being awkward? I’m even more awkward.

However, when my focus is on being His? When I am trusting Him with me and making loving others the goal of each social interaction, I can breathe. Am I still awkward? Yes, sometimes. But I can roll my eyes at myself when I stutter, or say something stupid, or have to pray out loud with people and don’t know what to say… because I am safe. Regardless of what comes out of my mouth, I am safe because I am His and it’s in Him that I find my security, my belonging, my significance.

Oh, what a lie it is when we believe it’s all up to us. It’s not. The pressure is off, guys. We can be authentic and unafraid because He has a plan. And His plan is never thrown off course when we trip over our own feet or lose our train of thought mid-sentence or raise shaking hands towards heaven.

We are safe. We are secure. We are in the middle of His will. And there’s nothing to fear.

He made us, after all. And He doesn’t make mistakes.

He did not, however, make those pants of mine that ripped. I’m looking at you, Aeropostale. 😉

“Love defined you before anything else did.”

“Have faith in the One who is fully trustworthy is enough to do miraculous things. It’s not a faith that says, by my own strength, determination and power this mountain moves, but faith that steps forward with what is already given us as believers and in the provision and ability of a great and mighty God.”

“Shame has a way of keeping us in hiding. But when there is shame, there are also faulty beliefs about who we really are. How God sees us. We tell ourselves to be strong, and believe we must always show worldly strength. We tell ourselves to be over comers, which we are, but we act out a belief that victory comes from how great a job we’ve done, rather than the greatest work already done for us. In the finished and complete work of Jesus at the cross. Every time we choose to put on a front, knowingly or not, we are choosing to trust in the power of man over the power of God.”

“…But then Peter started seeing something else too. The waves. The storm was raging about him, the swell rose and fell with messy anger, ocean spray filled his eyes and lungs, and he began to falter. The waves were so large and he was so small. Fear crept up from the souls of his feet that only moments before felt secure even upon the water but were now starting to slip on the wet surface, unable to catch a foothold. He started to sink. ‘JESUS, SAVE ME…’ He spluttered and hurled his voice at Jesus desperately hoping to be heard above the storm… He still believed Jesus could save him. He believed Jesus was still standing, was still capable to command the oceans and save his life even though they were out to sea with nothing to hang onto but each other… Belief in Jesus was not the problem. He doubted himself. He doubted whether or not he was chosen. Whether or not he was fit to walk the path. He had been rejected before, would he be rejected again? Belief in God is a two-way street. We believe in God, and he believes in us. It’s a divine partnership. God in me, me in God. What can separate me from the love of God? Nothing. This is what Peter doubted.”