Words and Unrelated Quotes

“We are all such wrecks down here. Strangers in a strange land, falling time and time again. Trying to find a way to live right and love each other without losing our minds. Pretending and doing the best we can. Spinning our wheels and holding on. But there’s something truly beautiful about wrecked people standing together and singing about grace and ways to make it through. Hoping still, even as the light fades and good dreams die, even when the way seems lost, even as kingdoms fall, even through the long, dark night of quiet skies. Here we are on this blue speck floating through the endless night, spiraling across a measureless cosmos of chaos and majesty, searching, reaching, longing for something higher than ourselves. Here we together, separate, united, alone. Our worst so rotten and our best so good. Struggling, trying, falling, failing. Rising from the dust and returning again. Believing for something better–something more. Here we are, God, the wrecked of your hands, fashioned from dirt and breath, blood and water, spirit and flesh, beauty and chaos. Strangers unaware, hoping for something beyond the endless night. The hope that an infinite Creator rose up through this same dust and walked our planet as a man, tempted and tried, falling and rising again–the hope that someday we will rise up and never fall again–that’s what holds us all together. Searching for the weight, the counterbalance, the antidote to this one strange tiny life. Searching for ways to hold on and keep hope alive. As long as there is hope.”

*

“Do you feel like your relationship with God has been negatively impacted?” she asked me. And all I could say was, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean…, I don’t know.” Which, obviously, means yes.

It means I’ve shut off the part of my heart that cares about making God first. It means I can’t sit through sermons anymore that exhort us to live godly lives because I’m not doing that right now.

Eventually, after muttering and mumbling nonsensically, I paused. “If I do feel like He’s distant, it’s just because of where my heart’s at, right? Not because He’s left me?”

“Yes,” she said softly. “He won’t ever leave you.”

*

I walked through the woods today, hot anger flooding my body. I was inexplicably cranky. And cranky about being cranky.

I came to the end of the trail and looped back around again. I walked and walked because I didn’t know what else to do with myself.

I wondered about my night, about what I’d do. A puzzle? Bake? Draw? Write? Watch a movie? I didn’t want to do any of that. And that, too, made me angry. I felt trapped in a life with long stretches of time to fill, and a complete lack of desire to do anything. What was I going to do? How was I going to get through it? Did I even want to?

And then, a whisper: “This is what it looks like to take care of yourself.”

Sometimes taking care of yourself is choosing to feel what you feel and not letting it become bigger than what it is. Don’t attach words like ‘forever’ and ‘always’ and ‘never’ to emotions. Don’t let what you feel determine your truth. Just breathe. Just breathe and let it be. Emotions always pass. None of them last forever.

On my way home, my phone rang and my friend asked if she could stay the night tonight.

Instantly, my bad mood lifted. Because I wouldn’t be alone. Someone wanted to spend time with me. I had plans for the evening, and I realized in that moment that there are still things I want to do.

*

I’ve been focusing on all the ways God’s still taking care of me, even while I choose to walk down a path I know grieves His heart.

My friend asking to come over on a day when I really needed her? That sure felt like God taking care of me.

The other day I had to get all new tires on my car. I found out the same morning I learned my checking account was -$54. But I had a credit card for my car repairs. And my brakes waited to go out until I’d gotten back from my road trip. And my friend met me for dinner while I waited for my car to get fixed. And he paid for my food. That sure felt like God too.

Kittens and “I love you’s” and waking up rested.
God-given little brothers and big sisters and moms.
Book recommendations and people who pray for you and therapists who believe they can help you.
Strangers who smile at you and friends who see good in you and when the pen you’re using happens to match your fingernail polish.
When your dog is home alone for eight hours and he doesn’t chew anything up.
When your cat licks your face.
Freshly laundered bedding and back massages and the way the sun looks coming through the trees.
Twitchy, dreaming dog paws.
A dwindling to-do list and the energy to plug away at it, one thing at a time.
Hope.

God is still taking care of me. I don’t deserve it, but He hasn’t left.

*

“Shakespeare described love as an ‘ever-fixed mark.’ In a healthy family, you know how love is defined: It’s clear, has boundaries, and is attainable. Unfortunately, in a shame-bound family, love is a moving target; on day it’s this and one day it’s that, and just when you’re sure you’ve got it figured out, you discover you don’t.” -Brennan Manning

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Moments

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I’m grateful for the moments that don’t hurt.

Thank the good Lord for moments when you think, “Yes. THIS is how life is supposed to be. Hard? Sure. But not lonely. Not without hope.”

When you reach your hand out and someone grabs hold? Thank God for moments like that.

I locked myself in a bathroom stall, put my head in my hands, and proceeded to cry all my makeup off during church today.

About ten minutes after I left the privacy of the bathroom stall, Cendy came up to me to talk to me about helping with kids’ church, but she paused mid-sentence. “Are you okay?” she asked. Then, “How can I pray for you?”

And a little later, Laura caught a glimpse of me across the room and sent a text: “I see you. And I love you.”

Thank God for moments like that.

I went for a walk today, without Arlow. I walked a tree-lined trail to a rocky beach, where I sat, opened a book, watched some crabs scurry, listened to the waves lapping at my feet, and sipped a Diet Dr. Pepper. I breathed in the smell of the ocean and the warmth of the sun on my skin.

Thank God for moments like that.

Songs that resonate with you heart? (This one is killing me–in a good way–right now.) Mid-day naps on the couch? Long walks and good conversation with someone you love?

Thank God for moments like that.

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.

Love, Attachment, and ER Visits

​”Attachment theory teaches us that our assumption that we can and should control our emotional needs and soothe ourselves in the face of stress is simply wrong. Research findings support the exact opposite.

*

My arm was stretched across his abdomen. There were no words, just the gentle inhale and exhale and the sense of being safe.

She told me she loved me. She told me I don’t repel people. She told me not to give too much power to one person’s negative opinion of me, that not everyone sees me that way, that she doesn’t see me that way.

We laughed and drove to the coast. Comfort and freedom. Silliness and honest conversation. Singing ‘Carry On My Wayward Son’ over chips and salsa.

He said my smile is unreal. He said he can’t get enough. He said he likes my eyes and my freckles. He took me in and found something special there.

She said I’m brave.

She thanked me for my honesty. She said I could tell her anything.

We watched our dogs play. We laughed and talked and there was no judgment, just being present with one another.

She asked me what my plans are for Labor Day weekend. She wants to see me. She wants to spend time with me.

He offered to come over and spend time with me. My heart hurt and he offered to come over so that I wasn’t alone.

She text messaged me a quote. Encouragement in words. A reminder that I have support in this process I’m going through.

Her kids draw me pictures. She calls me when she’s sad. I call her too. We are family.

But I sat outside the ER alone, barefoot and barely clothed, so sick I couldn’t even tell the taxi driver how to get to my house.

I don’t think that’s okay. I will never, ever think that’s okay.

Love walks through fire.

Love is a cold and it’s a broken hallelujah.

Love shows up.

*

“As adults we don’t play with toys anymore, but we do have to go out into the world and deal with novel situations and difficult challenges. We want to be highly functional at work, at ease and inspired in our hobbies, and compassionate enough to care for our children and partners. If we feel secure, the world is at our feet. We can take risks, be creative, and pursue our dreams. And if we lack that sense of security? If we are unsure whether the person closest to us truly believes in us and supports us and will be there for us in times of need, we’ll find it much harder to maintain focus and engage in life. When our important attachments are thoroughly dependable and make us feel safe, and especially if they know how to reassure us during the hard times, we can turn our attention to all the other aspects of life that make our existence meaningful.

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.