Love Wears Work Boots

I stood in the middle of a two-lane road today and screamed at someone.

I was trying to be thoughtful. I was trying not to inconvenience anyone. And it back-fired. (Yes, that is self-pity you hear in my voice.)

I was going for a walk, and I reached the road. I could’ve hit the crosswalk button, but then the cars would’ve had to stop, and I knew I could cross to the center median before the car to my left even came close, and that I could wait there a few seconds until the car to my right passed.

But instead, just as I was stopping at the center median, the car to my right slammed on his brakes and started screaming at me about not hitting the crosswalk button. He was irate and dropping f-bombs… and so what was there to do but defend myself in typical Tamara style? It’s the social worker in me. I can’t keep my ever-loving mouth closed when something feels unfair.

And so I faced him, moving deliberately out in front of his car, and I screamed: “I WAS WAITING FOR YOU!”

More f-bombs on his end, and then his tires squealed and he drove away.

And I resumed my walk.

Only it only took me a few minutes of processing before I burst into shoulder-shaking, hiccuping sobs. And I walked that way, crying, for the next fifteen minutes, making people uncomfortable while I passed.

And, admittedly, the driver was maybe not even wrong for being mad. I’m sure he thought I was going to cross the road in front of him.

But I also know a typical person, even one who was angry with me, wouldn’t have screamed like that and swore repeatedly at me.

I text messaged Laura after that. “I don’t think I’m feeling very ‘love wins’ today,” I said.

*

I was reading a book description last night.

“…finding strength and courage in the most unimaginable places.”

“Determined to dictate their own fate…”

“…give each other strength and hope as they fight to survive…”

“Brave and defiant…”

“…friendships that will both nourish and challenge her.”

“A beautiful testament to love, family, and the sheer force of will…”

“…a figure of abiding grace.”

If someone were to write a story about my life, I would want it described in that way.

I want to live a beautiful story.

*

I was talking with Pauline yesterday about fighting for truth, about not letting my emotions dictate my behaviors.

I told her how I felt, and then I said: “But the best thing I can do for [this person] is to set my emotions aside and fight for truth. And I want to do that.”

I do. I want to love well. I don’t want to make my emotions, (which, let’s face it, are often the product of lies and fears), the priority of every situation. I want to choose love. I want to choose them over me.

After I said all that, Pauline reminded me that she’s talked with me for a long time about fighting for truth. Admittedly, I have kind of rolled my eyes at it before, believing my emotions to always be the truest, most important thing.

Then Pauline said, “It strikes me that God knows you through and through. He created you. And He knew that, in order to commit to this fight, He’d have to put you face-to-face with something you really valued.” Then she paused and said, “And He knew you’d fight if it was for [this person].”

It’s so true.

God doesn’t put us in situations that hurt, but He uses them.

Our pain isn’t without meaning.

*

Love, love that puts the other person first, that shushes our own scream for comfort and security, it’s hard.

It’s a series of deliberate and conscious choices.

Whether it’s space or a hug, a night out or a long conversation, you show up (metaphorically or otherwise) in the name of love.

And, for all the ways you can’t make things better, you lift that person up in prayer. You plea and petition with the Lord to do for that person what you are incapable of doing.

You take a deep breath and you do the right thing. Over and over and over again. You tell your other emotions to sit down, and you call Love to the bat.

And you text a friend. You ask for prayer. Because Lord knows how hard it is to make smart choices, especially when your emotions are involved. You say, “Please pray with me for strength to make the right choices, and for my perspective to be based only on truth, and for my heart to be filled with peace and patience.”

Because we need each other. Loving well takes being loved well.

*

A few days ago, Pauline asked me how I’d like to be remembered when this life of mine ends.

And, without hesitation, I said: “She loved well.”

Reality

Sometimes it’s hard for me to know what’s real.

I don’t mean to say that I am out of touch with reality, (although that too, sometimes ;-)). I have no problem being able to say, “This happened today,” and know that’s true, but the trouble comes in when I, without realizing it, start assigning meaning to the events of the day.

I look at the facts and start answering for myself “why did that happen?” and “what does that mean?” Like an architect examines a structure for stability, I pace back and forth over the events of my life, examining them second by second, inch by inch, asking the questions: “Is this thing solid? Am I secure? Am I safe?”

I don’t feel very safe today.

And that’s why I say I don’t know what’s real. Because nothing bad happened, it’s my own analysis of events, my own answers to the “why’s” and “what’s” that has me feeling like the ground I am standing on is shaky.

And is it? Am I safe? Is it shaky? I DON’T KNOW. I don’t know what’s real and I’m scared because I need to know I’m safe.

Which brings me to another one of those fork-in-the-road moments though, doesn’t it? I can either choose to act out of my fear, or I can choose something better for myself.

I can choose to view my day through the lens of fear and trauma, or I can choose to view it through the lens of: “Where was God?” That doesn’t make it any easier for me to know whether or not I’m safe, but it does help me get back to the basics of what ACTUALLY happened today.

Remove the emotion, get down to the facts: Where was God?

He was in my slow-start morning.
The willingness of Laura to bring by my medication.
Having people to call when I need to be emotional and messy.
The warm day.
Watching Arlow play at the dog park.
Finding a ball at the dog park, after realizing I forgot to bring one of ours.
The woman I met, who I talked with about her divorce and daughters and dogs.
Not hitting traffic on the drive back home.
A good sermon.
Flickers of hope.
The invitation to have dinner and s’mores at a friends’ house tonight.

*

I heard a sermon today about the men who lowered their friend through the roof of a house to get him to Jesus. They would’ve done anything to get their friend to Jesus. They weren’t concerned about being impolite or interrupting or making a hole in someone’s roof. They just wanted Jesus.

And I heard that, and I thought about my theory about love. How loving someone means doing the least selfish thing.

But what those men did? That was pretty selfish. And it might not have even been motivated by love, but by need. And yet, Jesus still responded to it.

People can’t handle desperation. People can’t handle it when you come to them with a “cut a hole into someone’s roof” category of need. But God can.

With Him, I’m safe.

But He’s not here.

He’s in my day, but He’s not here.

And I wonder if it’s more important for me to love Him well in the midst of this life that is too hard for me, or if it’s okay to come to Him desperate and ruled more by need than by love.

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.

 

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

And Then Six

I could feel my throat closing. The precursor to a panic attack. The tightening of my throat. The seeming widening of my tongue.

“Embrace it,” I whispered to myself. “Accept what you feel. Accept it. Don’t fight it. Don’t fight it.”

“Your throat isn’t actually closing,” I told myself next. “You aren’t in any danger. Your brain is lying to you. But that’s okay, because lies aren’t scary because lies aren’t true. The scary things in your brain right now? The scary way you see life? It’s not true. Accept what you feel. Feelings come and go. This one will go too.”

*

I watched her open presents. Six years old. Every little thing about life still awe-inspiring to her.

“We are meant to still see life with eyes of awe,” I told myself. “We are all still children. We aren’t meant to outgrow our wonder.”

Her grandparents and aunts watched her open her presents. Their eyes shining. Broad smiles on their faces. Phones held up to capture the moment unfolding before them.

And why?

Because life matters.

Turning six matters.

“Life matters.” I breathed in the words. “God says it, the people around you are doing one day after the next because they believe it, and anything you feel to the contrary is a lie. It’s a lie. Lies cannot stand up against the word of God. Life matters.”

*

There are so many people on this planet.

How are they all living? How are all these people doing life?

And do all of their lives have significance?

Certainly in my head I would say an unequivocal and hearty “yes!” …But really? Do I really believe that?

What about the homeless people who sit outside all day bumming cigarettes off passersby? Does their life matter? And why? Because they’re contributing to society? Because someone validates their life by loving them? Because they are trying to better themselves? Or just because they’re people and people matter?

The last one. Obviously. Whole-heartedly I would say their lives matter because they’re people and life is a precious gift.

…So why can’t I believe that my life matters?

There are so many people.

And then there’s me.

What does my life matter?

Is it all meaningless?

What does my life matter?

I’m just one of the many.

There are so many people.

“Life is a gift. I am loved. I am not alone. My life matters. I am loved.”

“God didn’t make a mistake when He created me. And He isn’t making a mistake by giving me this day to live.”

“I am loved. I matter. Just as I am. Not because of what I do or don’t do. And love knows that. Love isn’t fickle or judge-y. It doesn’t ask that we keep proving ourselves. Love is a constant. It doesn’t walk out. I am loved.”

“My life matters.”

*

She talked about happy little things. Bike rides. Movies.

There was a time when I used to list things off like that, all the simple joys of life. I’d mentally list off the good in life and smile because indeed, there’s so many little gifts scattered through our days.

But I can’t do that anymore. Or rather, I can, but the things I list off only increase the throat-closing feeling because I can no longer feel the good inherent in those moments. Which leads to this overwhelming sense of: “What’s the point?”

What do you do when the best things about life stop feeling good? How do you keep going?

You remind yourself your brain is a liar. You remind yourself what God’s word says. You accept the place you’re in. You tell yourself it won’t be forever.

You speak truth over yourself, aloud, until you forget that your throat is narrow and your tongue is too big.

Someday movies and bike rides will matter to me again.

*

I leaned my head over on her shoulder. Just briefly. Just long enough to be reminded there’s someone in this world who will let me rest my head on their shoulder.

*

I am loved.

My life matters.

Life is a gift.

I belong.

I am not alone.

It won’t feel this way forever.

Crises And Smart Choices

I called the crisis line tonight.

I called Laura first. I called her and I cried and she hugged me through the phone as well as anyone possibly can.

But then I hung up and I was alone again. And hysterical. And I realized two things in the midst of this:
1) No matter how much anyone loves you, you can’t take people and shove them into the empty an aching parts of yourself.
2) What’s left empty and aching is meant to be brought to God.

I knew this, even in the midst of my hysteria, but I also knew that the place I was in emotionally was absolutely no good.

So I paced the house, panic heating me up from the inside, tears running hot down my face. I paced and tried to figure out how I was going to fix what I was feeling. Because certainly enduring it wasn’t an option. (I’m saying that last sentence with something like a wink. But also I’m dead serious. If ya feel me.)

And then I grabbed my keys, without knowing where I was heading, kissed Arlow, and left.

The me of the past would’ve done one of two things:
1) Called Laura back and been like, “No, but wait. I’m really not okay. Fix me! Love me! Do you still love me!?” or
2) Vodka.
…Because apparently my status quo is taking a bad situation and making it worse. Praise Jesus for growth, amiright?!

Anyway, I ended up at Starbucks. I had my book and my laptop and was still actively sobbing, but I figured I could go in, take a seat, and let some green tea (and the uncomfortable stares of others) help me pull it together.

But then there was nowhere to park.

Isn’t it funny how something like that can just really throw you over the edge? Because suddenly it isn’t even about the stupid parking spot. Or at least it isn’t entirely about the parking spot. And that’s how you end up bulldozing over every car in the parking lot to “teach them a lesson” or something, (“How dare you get here before me!”), and then the cops come and you’re all, “There was nowhere to park!” And they look back at you like, “Well, you handled that well. Way to go, problem-solver.” But really, that was just the final straw. The whole unfortunate series of events actually began much earlier.

Don’t worry, I didn’t actually bulldoze any cars. That’s not really my style. I’m much more the “park my car in the middle of the aisle so no one can get around me, curl into a ball on the backseat, and cry” kind of girl. Although, really, either way probably ends in cops, so tomato tomahto.

But anyway, back to my story. So, I was sobbing, my brain was on fire with unhelpful thoughts and fears, my insides were all knotted up because “how am I going to survive this night!?”, and then, in a last ditch effort to keep myself afloat amidst the tidal-wave of my emotions, I reached out to Starbucks for a hug and it (metaphorically) slapped my arms away.

Rude.

So I called crisis.

Because sometimes what you need in the moment, the people who love you can’t provide for you. The amount of crazy I was about to bring to the table could only be handled by one person: a stranger.

And you know what he said? A lot of not helpful stuff. But then he said, “You know, a lot of people struggle with being alone, especially at nighttime.”

And my next thought: “Bull. Shit. I am NOT going to be one of those people.”

So I thanked him, hung up the phone, drove my butt home (without getting my green tea, for the record), marched inside, kissed Arlow, looked up at the ceiling and said: “Okay, God. It’s just You and me. Let’s do this.”

And I lit candles, and made tea, and got some nail polish out and decided that I’m done. I’m doing being afraid of being alone. I’m done with the panic. I’m done.

Whatever inside of me is broken, whatever it is that is making panic a recurring theme, I’m not running from it anymore. I’m not running from it, and I’m not going to try to take anything else and fit it into that place inside of me that is broken. Because that isn’t the solution. All it does is keep me spinning in circles, looking to the wrong things to fix my hurt, and completely oblivious to why I’m hurting so much in the first place.

So tonight I hunkered down. I told myself I’d breathe deeply and that any thought I had or activity I did that made me feel even the slightest twinge of panic, I’d stop. I would be gentle with myself.

I told myself I’d give this night to God, letting Him speak to me in the quiet moments- through the things that made me feel fear, the things that brought me peace, the things that made me feel hope. And I would, in that way, find out what it is inside of me that is broken, and also, what is holding me together.

You know what I’ve learned tonight? If you let your brain fill up, and then trust yourself to sort through the thoughts to determine what is true and what isn’t, you’ve already lost. You have to catch the thought on the front-end.

Like a bouncer.

“How does this thought make me feel?” you have to ask as the thought shows up at the door in its party clothes, smacking its gum and twirling its hair. And if the answer is: afraid, panicked, hopeless, defeated, depressed, anxious, etc., then it’s not a thought from the Lord. Send it packing.

You know what else I’ve learned? When you approach uncomfortable emotions with a “how do I fix it!?” mentality, you’re essentially setting yourself up for a panic attack.

At least that’s true if you’re me.

Because most of the time, there’s no immediate solution. And if you’re looking for a solution, and no solution exists, you’re going to feel like a person gasping for air underwater. Enter: panic.

And so, it might feel irrational, but the best way to cope with whatever bullcrap emotion it is that’s causing you so much turmoil isn’t to fix it, but to let it be. You just have to ride it out, breathing deep, and letting the bouncer stand with its hands on its hips at the door of your mind.

And then you can endure without inviting panic in to complicate things.

Your mind is guarded,
you’re breathing deeply,
and your heart is safe because it’s in its Creator’s hands.

There’s nothing to fix.
There is only this moment in which to be present.

Inhale,
exhale.
And when possible, drink some green tea.

Saturday

“Ready, Freddy,” I asked my client.

She turned to look at me. “Freddy? Why do you call me that?”

“Just because it rhymes with ready,” I said, smiling and offering a shrug.

She looked pensive for a moment, and then the conversation changed to something else.

After we got back to her house and she opened the door of my car to get out, I said, “Take care, girly. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

To which she responded: “See you soon, Freddy.”

*

He yelled at me when I got to his house. He was irate, towering over me, his build reminiscent of Shrek.

Usually I let him yell, I figure he’ll eventually wear himself out. But today I didn’t have it in me. “I’m going to go,” I told him while he continued to yell, and then I turned and walked away, while he screamed after me.

I took a deep breath when I got into my car.

And then, thirty minutes later, he called. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just sorry… and yeah, I’m sorry.”

And I smiled.

*

He gave me flowers. Rhododendrons in a Crystal Light container.

“These are for you,” he said, handing them over.

When I got home, I put them on the ledge outside my front door.

*

A month ago, she threatened to kill me. Two weeks ago, she glared at me through greasy bangs.

Today I helped her make some phone calls, and at the end of our time together she hesitated and then said, “Thank you for staying.”

Then she asked me for a hug.

*

These days are the Saturdays- the time between the crucifixion and the resurrection.

*

I cried. She put her hand on my knee, witness to my tears, loving me.

And then I repaid the favor later that day.

*

These are the Saturdays.