Lessons From The Road

No one can do it for you.

They can love you and care about you, but they can’t fight your fight for you.

People could talk to me and pray for me, but they couldn’t drive for me. No one could come rescue me and bring me home.

*

You can’t control how you feel, but you are in control of how much you suffer.

You can say, “I can’t…” and “This is not okay…” all day long, and it doesn’t change your circumstances one damn bit. All it does is increase your suffering.

You have to breathe.

Don’t rage against what you feel- let it be.

Trust the process.

*

Bad feelings aren’t necessarily bad things.

Stop labeling things as bad just because they feel bad; a lot of good is born out of things that feel really bad.

*

You don’t have to give sucky emotions power by calling them truth.

Emotions come and go. We have to be careful not to let them determine our truth.

*

Some trips are about fun and some trips are about growth.

*

Sometimes it’s important to stop calling the contents of our hearts “wrong” or “bad.”

When you find yourself aware that not everyone sees the world in the same way as you do, maybe it’s better to draw the “wrongness” of your heart closer to yourself rather than push it away. Maybe what feels wrong is actually a unique wiring.

Maybe the key isn’t in making yourself be different, but learning how to embrace what is within you.

Maybe sometimes what we think are our flaws, the ways we struggle, the ways people don’t understand us, maybe the unique way we see the world is actually a secret God whispered into our hearts, and the trick is to learn how to let that widen us up to living bigger and deeper, rather than letting it make us feel discouraged or close us off to life.

*

On the road, all by yourself, you have no choice but to sit with your pain when it arises. You can’t drink it away or overdose it away or refuse to get out of bed, because you’re not home and you have a dog and someone has to take care of him.

And also, being all by yourself, thousands of miles from home, you suddenly realize how terrified you are that you’ll somehow die before ever getting home. You worry about car accidents, mostly, but also murder a little bit when you’re sleeping in a dark parking lot in your car. You worry about your car breaking down and your finances and what if you never get to go home again?

And you realize there’s a whole, beautiful life waiting for you at home. And it’s not perfect, but its yours, and dear God, how badly you just want to be back home where you get to live your imperfect, beautiful life.

So you sit with your pain. And you promise yourself you’ll do that at home too. You promise yourself that even when you’re back in the land where drinking and overdosing and trying to use other people to save you are options, you won’t do that.

*

You have to take some deep breaths and do the things for yourself that you can do- like not text and drive and stop when you need a break and call and talk to people (without begging them to rescue you) when you need to talk.

And you have to trust God with the rest, like no flat tires or car troubles and getting you back home alive.

If you carry the weight of the things God’s responsible for, it will suck all of the beautiful living out of your day and replace it with fear and worry that you were never meant to carry.

*

Every time Arlow makes eye contact with me, I say, “I love you,” or, “How are you doing, baby?” And I do that not because I’m insecure, but because that’s how I communicate.

And that’s how I communicate in my relationships also.

And so when people don’t do that with me, when they go days without talking to me, it feels like they don’t love me.

But not everyone communicates their love in the same way you do. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you.

 

*

Sometimes you can be royally pissed off and sitting in a park in New Mexico and hating everything about life, and then a woman and her kids will come sit with you and want to pet your dog, and you’ll be even more cranky because you didn’t ask for company or small talk.

But then you’ll notice the woman has a tin can labeled “Please Help. Need Food.” And she won’t address it. She won’t ask for anything. She’ll just set it off to the side and slightly behind herself. And she’ll talk about the weather and her kids and where the nearest CoinStar is while she watches her kids wrestle with a dog twice their size.

And you’ll reach into your wallet. Because MFing New Mexico sucks and it’s hot and dirty and no on drives well, but God clearly led you and your bad attitude to this park where a woman with a genuine need and a smile happened to cross your path.

And what a gift New Mexico turned out to be.

*

If you walk your dog in Texas, people will literally stop their cars to conversationally say to you, “That’s a big dog!”

They will also give you the water out of their car and hold the cup for your dog so he can hydrate.

*

The same part of my brain and heart that were terrified to be so far from home are the same part of my brain and heart that feel four years old.

“I’m so scared,” and, “I want my mom,” came in the same breath.

And maybe that’s how we parent ourselves sometimes. We say, soothingly and with a voice laced with love, “I know.”

But we don’t let that stop us from doing the hard, scary thing.

*

If you sit down in a park in Mississippi and sob into your hands, if you’re too weak to hold your dog’s leash anymore and so he runs wild and free while you cry, no one will even notice.

*

I used to think people who picked their scabs were disgusting.

But then I found myself bored and stuck in traffic with a bunch of week-old mosquito bites.

*

A rainbow feels like a personal promise to me in Utah just as much as it does here at home.

*

You can’t outrun your problems or your pain.

You come home at the end of a long road trip and you’re one part, “Thank God, I made it!” And, “Thank God I am back in the right time zone! And thank Him for my bed and my shower and my plants and cats and clean underwear and closet full of clothes!”

And you’re one part complete, black depression.

The road trip wasn’t a solution, it was a lesson.

And now it’s time to put to practice what you learned on your drive.

Now, in this really hard moment, you get to say to yourself, “No, I CAN do it.”

And in the face of blackness, I get to say to myself, “No, I WANT to live.”

*

“You’ve got a big heart. The way you see the world, it got you this far. You might have some bruises and a few scars, but you know you’re gonna be okay. And even though you’re scared, you’re stronger than you know. If you’re lost out where the lights are blinding, if you face the fear that keeps you frozen, chase the sky into the ocean, that’s when something wild calls you home.”

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?”

 

Goodness And Pain

Arlow cries when I cry. I learned that tonight. A tear or two and he’ll just lick my face, but audible sobbing and he joins right in.

Sometimes the only way to breathe is to separate yourself from everything–the things you love, the pain that’s sitting heavy on your chest, the swirl of activity in your brain demanding you find a solution for all that hurts–and remember what is True.

Sometimes what hurts us is true too, but there is something Truer.

And that is how I found myself hysterically sobbing in the shower tonight. I scream-cried prayers to the Father who promises to never, ever leave my side. And then I raised my hands and let the shower water hit my face and I said over and over again: “You are good, You are good, You are good.”

Over all that hurts and scares me, I will speak that: “You are good, You are good, You are good.” Because it’s true and it helps me breathe.

*

I called my therapist tonight, sobbing incoherently: “I want my mommmmm.”

“When our bodies are too broken, we might end up in a coma, giving our bodies a chance to recover,” I also said, later on, via text message, where my sobbing wouldn’t distort what I was trying to say. “I wish the same was true with a broken heart.”

*

I want my mom.

God is good.

I don’t know if I’ll ever stop crying. …Coma from dehydration? Is that a thing?

The Chasm

I had a memory come to me early this morning, as the sun was coming up and my head was still swimming from the mistakes of a couple days prior.

When I was a kid, I went through a period of time where my biggest fear was that there would be an earthquake and the ground would split in two, separating me from everyone I loved.

I must’ve seen that on TV–(The Land Before Time?)–but it became a very real fear for me. I couldn’t imagine anything worse than being able to see your loved ones but never touch or talk to them again.

I started altering my day, as much as possible, staying as close to my mom as I could so, should the ground split in two, we’d for sure be on the same side.

And I’d fall asleep at night, my bedroom beneath the living room, listening to my parents up there fighting–the lullaby of my childhood–and I’d feel okay because they were directly above me, and again, should the ground split in two, we’d all be on the same side.

I don’t know that I’ve fully outgrown that.

*

Over and over the last few days I’ve had to tell myself to breathe. To make inhaling and exhaling my task, more than managing the swirling in my brain or the anxiety pumping my heart.

I’d close my eyes and breathe and hear the voice of my God shushing me back to a place of peace. “All you have control over right now is taking care of yourself, resting, letting your body heal,” He soothed. “That is your only task. The rest of it it out of your hands. But that’s okay, because it’s in Mine. Just rest, child. Just let yourself be held.”

Nothing will separate me from Him. Not sin nor fear nor a chasm in the ground.

And He’s doing a good thing in my life. He is building a life for me that won’t crumble. I know; I can see it.

The safest place for things to be is in His hands and out of mine. I suspect I’ll never have to stop learning that lesson.

Mermaid Hair and Forehead Kisses

I took a bath tonight.

If I’m being honest, I probably outgrew baths a long time ago. I always go in there with a book or music, and something to drink, but by the time the tub is full, I’m already bored and ready to get out.

Nevertheless, tonight I bathed for as long as it took the tub to get full.

And I thought about Mom. I closed my eyes and remembered being a child.

I remembered feeling my hair sway through the water, while pretending to be a mermaid.

I remembered how Mom would come in with a towel and wrap me up in it when it was time to get out. How my lips would be turning blue because the water got cold a while ago, but I was having too much fun to notice or care.

I remembered cozy pajamas and Mom brushing my hair and Dad tucking me into bed. I remembered saying prayers and feeling Jesus as close to me as the cat stuffed animal I fell asleep hugging every night, my damp hair smelling faintly like shampoo.

And I remembered that being enough. It was enough to have a home and a bed and people who loved me. It was enough. I could sleep and be at peace and look forward to the coming day because I was loved and someone was going to comb my hair in the morning and tuck me into bed again at night and all was well.

Where did things get so twisted up?

*

At church Wednesday night, someone looked me into the eyes with conviction and tenderness and said, “God isn’t going to let you fall.”

I don’t remember who said it, oddly, but then I think maybe that’s okay because the words weren’t really even theirs, but Jesus’.

*

If you asked me even just two weeks ago, I would’ve adamantly told you that yes, all we need is love.

But today I looked person after person in the eyes and I thought: “I love you… and YOU love ME. And why isn’t that enough?”

I don’t know.

That’s the only time in therapy that I start to weep to the point of being unable to speak- when I talk about the people I love and who love me in return. I am so grateful and so blessed. But also, there’s no denying anymore that my actions affect other people- people who I never, ever would want to hurt. People love me. And in some ways, it was easier back when I thought I was all alone.

Here I am, loved, and still struggling to want to do life. And how is that possible? I thought love would fix it all…

And shouldn’t it? If God IS love, and God is enough, then there has to be some truth to the “love is all we need” philosophy, right?

I don’t know. I don’t know very much anymore. I am more questions than I am anything else.

*

And yet,  what good will it do to rage against what is (or isn’t), or demand answers, or demand something of myself that I just can’t deliver right now?

What good will it do to panic over the uncertainty of this road I’m walking?

All I can do is surrender. There’s no peace or joy or hope to be found in raging against what is.

So I breathe in the God who is in every moment and I pray He give me eyes to see.

And my brain is on fire with the constant battle, but a brain on fire can’t stop my heart from perceiving goodness and truth.

So I smile at the face of a little boy who affectionately kicks my foot during church, and the woman who bends down behind me and hugs me, handing me a latte and piece of gingerbread that she brought me just because.

I breathe in, with immense gratitude, the miracle of every single “I love you too”, and conversation that comes easy and makes me laugh.

I smile about bear hugs and basketball games and sunny days and silly selfies and happy nights with people I love.

I surrender, as best I can, to this unfolding of my life and trust that somehow, all that I don’t understand, the tangle within me, doesn’t really matter when I can lift my eyes to heaven and say over all of it: “You are, You are, You are.”

It isn’t my job to untangle it or make sense of it. It’s my job to rest and wait and trust and try not to give up.

My brain is on fire, and every day is touch-and-go, but all around me people love me, and my God is still on the throne.

And He won’t let me fall.

*

And so tonight, I took a bath. And Mom is gone. And I’m not a kid anymore. And no one’s going to be picking out my pajamas for me or combing my hair. But in some ways, things are still the same.

The pajamas I put on? They weren’t picked out for me by my mom, but they were provided for me by my Father.

And the hair I combed? It, like everything else about me, makes my Father smile.

And no one will tuck me in, but I can pull the covers up to my chin and ask God to bend down and kiss my forehead.

I can listen to Arlow snore and smell my freshly shampooed hair and talk to Him like He’s right here in the room with me. I can close my eyes and know He is near. Because a good Father never passes up the opportunity to hear His child’s heart or kiss her forehead.

And my eyelids will grow heavy. And somehow, peace will come. And I’ll know that I know that I know, I’m still Someone’s child.

Truth And Panic

When my brain gets swirly with all the things I can’t control, and panic floods my chest, and my prayers start sounding like: “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!” and: “It’s not okay!”
…When that happens, I close my eyes.

“Tamara,” I ask myself, “do you believe God is real?”
Yes.

“Do you believe He knows your heart?”
Yes.

“Do you believe He cares about your heart?”
Yes.

“Do you believe He can do ANYTHING?”
Yes.

“Do you believe He is good?”
Yes.

“Do you believe He is, in all His ways, Love?”
Yes.

I do.

*

I talked to my therapist about how, when I was a child, I was cuddly, and needed lots of love, and also easily hurt.

My siblings would tease me and, rather than get mad, my heart would break. I interpreted their teasing as a lack of love because I loved them, and I knew I would never treat them the way they were treating me. So, heartbreak- characterized by screaming and crying. Because I was a child. And children don’t come to this earth just instinctively knowing how to deal with heartbreak.

But my parents didn’t know how to deal with it either, turns out.

Mom would drag me to my room because, she’d say, it didn’t matter what my brother or sister did, all that mattered was that the way I was handling it was inappropriate. My emotional reaction was too big for the situation. (Although, in my defense, any negative emotion in that house was considered inappropriate.)

And I’d be even more hysterical as Mom tried to get me to my room. I’d hold on to the stairwell wall, begging my mom not to put me in timeout. “I want a do-over!” I’d wail. “Let’s start the day over!”

But she’d always win, of course.

And I’d be in my room, and she’d lock the door from the outside so I couldn’t get out. Because she knew I wouldn’t stay in there. I wanted to, HAD to, fix it- and not later, but right that second. I had to make it be okay.

So I’d pound on the door, panicked, screaming: “I’m sor-rrry!” But no one ever came.

And I wonder if God is calling that to my memory, not because it still hurts, but because it helps me be compassionate with my present self. It helps me understand why I feel the way I do. And it helps me see that some of who I am today has been learned, yes, but some of who I am is just the way God designed me.

I have ALWAYS been a sensitive, kind-hearted person.

I’ve always needed lots of love and I’ve always been quick to interpret others’ behavior towards me as proof that they don’t love me.

I’ve always had big emotions.

And when those big emotions came, they have never been seen as “okay”, but something to apologize for. They’ve always been something people have used to withdraw or ignore me until I could “pull it together”.

As a result, I’d feel, not only like I was drowning in my emotion, but like I was doing it all alone. There in my bedroom as a child, or now in my home, whenever I feel anything passionately, I believe two things: 1. My emotions ruin my relationships because no one can love this version of me, and 2. No one cares how I feel.

I learned as a child that people leave you when you feel. And that has been reinforced in my life as I’ve grown up. People leave.

And the underlying message is, of course, “I’m wrong.” Even when I don’t consciously believe it, part of the panic I battle in those “emotionally intense and all alone” moments is, “I am wrong for feeling. I’ve ruined everything. I need to make them love me again.”

I never learned to sit with what I was feeling, but to instead panic about it and and NEED to fix it RIGHT. THIS. SECOND. And when I can’t? When everything good feels gone and I’m powerless to do anything about it? That feeling is… I can’t even describe it.

I am still just that little girl, pounding on her bedroom door, begging someone to answer it and reassure me I’m loved–no matter what–and that it’s going to be okay.

Love has always, always, always felt fragile to me. And I’ve always, always, always felt hard to love.

*

I took Arlow on a walk this evening, and watched him play in a fountain, lit up red and pink and blue.

I watched him try to figure out why the water kept disappearing and then reappearing. He’d get close to sniff the place the water just was, only to run over to me when the water would shoot back up, startling him.

And I laughed, aloud–cackled, really–all by myself, while people watched.

And we walked through red and yellow and salmon colored leaves.

“This moment is a gift,” I told myself. And I was relieved to find that, not only did I know that to be true, but I could feel it as well.

And inside of me is so, so much sorrow. And my instinct is to panic, to wail against it like that child locked in her bedroom.

But I’m trying to let God parent me, to do the parenting that my mom and dad were unable to.

And He says, “You are tender-hearted. This is a good thing. You are kind and thoughtful and you have big emotions. This is by design. It is all part of who I made you to be.”

He tells me that I am not put together wrong. I am not unlovable. I am not wrong for feeling.

And I hear Him, but I am still filled with the panic of my child self, pounding on that bedroom door for someone to come and love her and hold her and tell her it will be okay.

And then He opens His arms up wide.

And I get to choose whether or not to let myself be held by the One who showed up for me, or keep staring at that door.

And He pulls me close, my heart still beating like a rabbit’s, and He asks me all the questions I listed above. Do I know He loves me? Yes. Do I know my heart matters to Him? Deeply. Do I believe He can do anything? I do.

And He doesn’t try to talk me out of my panic, He just speaks love over me.

And as I remind myself who He is, I can breathe again.

The sorrow is still there,
but I can breathe.

The Beauty Of Thirst

It’s beautiful, the stories I read, of people triumphing through pain. It’s beautiful how they talk of their tears and their angry prayers and their eventual surrender. And then their hope. Their hope with roots reaching down deeper than before, sturdy and unwavering.

And I ask God questions about that, about the beauty thread through life and about how he sees my life. And then I tell Him how I see my life. And He says, “Do you think their stories felt beautiful to them in the midst of their desert season?”

And I ask Him why He doesn’t meet with me when I put Him first, when I fall to my knees and scream at heaven for something to fill me up on the inside. And He says, “What if I did? What if every single time you prayed, you felt Me as near as a hug? What would you learn about letting your emotions define your truth? What would you learn about which of us is in control? What would you learn about trusting even when you don’t understand?”

“The sorrow? The grief? It’s too much,” I told my therapist. It felt hard to breathe. I thought I might throw up. And she listened. And she nodded that it makes sense that it’s painful. And she reminded me that we don’t yet know how my story will end, that I can grieve what I’ve lost and what I don’t have, but I can’t know that I’ll NEVER have those things.

And I left my therapy appointment with something like an eye roll because even if she’s right, I also don’t know that it’s ever going to be okay. And that thought? It feels like getting punched in the stomach, the wind knocked out of me. And so I ran, terrified and full of need, to God. “The sorrow? The grief? It’s too much,” I told Him. And He bent down low and looked into my wide-eyes and spoke words to my soul, words of strength and comfort and peace in the midst of the panic: “It’s not too much for Me.”

And how do I let that change me inside? How do I let the bigness and trustworthiness of my God be truer to me than the pain? How do I contain more of Him within me than I contain sorrow? How do I breathe when there’s so much loss and so much screaming ache and so much “what if” and “never” swirling about within me furiously?

I can’t think of one not-desperate time in my life since Mom got sick.

I can’t think of a season of my life where I wasn’t trying to swallow Scripture like a pill, guarding my thoughts with a fierceness bordering on panic, trying to hold my entire world and myself together.

I can’t think of a single season where I wasn’t screaming to heaven for help and having to press on alone. I can’t think of a season where I didn’t make excuses for God, speak trust and faith into the air like an exhale- necessary for my existence.

I can’t think of a time when I wasn’t trying to do everything right. To sustain myself. To be okay. To chase after a life worth living.

And I’m so tired. I am so tired of pressing on and fighting so hard and endlessly collecting sorrow and loss and grief within me. I am so tired of containing so much pain and trying to be okay with hurting like I am. I’m so tired.

I am tired of hoping.

And I’m frustrated because, even as I say that, I can hear the Lord whisper: “Where is your hope?”

It is in feeling okay? In having x, y, or z? Or is it in Him?

“It’s in You!” I scream at the sky. “How could You even ask me that when I’ve told You over and over again how I NEED YOU?!” I ask, desperate ache for Him radiating like fire in my heart.

And He’s calm. Listening. “That hope, does it have an expiration date? Is it dependent on what you see Me doing? Or will you cling to it, regardless of the circumstances around you, simply because of who I am?”

And I weep. Because I am in so much pain. But there’s a surrender in the weeping too. A grieving. And I pray over myself: “Bless the Lord, oh my soul.” And I ask for a miracle- the miracle of enoughness found in Him. The miracle of joy in the sorrow. The miracle of knowing there’s nothing but the best in store for me because I am precious and held.

And if it’s hope that is really rooted in Him, then I will cling even when the waiting feels like forever.

When I’m in the desert and the God who created rain seems to be letting me die of dehydration, I will cling to hope. Because He is good. Even if I’m thirsty, He is good.

And maybe that’s how the roots of hope grow deeper. We come thirsty. We come thirsty and there’s no water to be found, and we are desperate. But maybe the water the Lord is providing is coming from within. And so the roots of hope reach deeper and deeper for a water with a source that isn’t coming from outside, but within- flowing like Spirit instead of liquid.

I will cling to what is true. I will let hope grow roots. And I will allow those roots to grow down deep.

And when I can’t, when I can’t even keep my promise to the Lord to trust and hope and believe, I will press my hands over my heart and I will pray: “Bless the Lord, oh my soul.”

Because I bring nothing to the table.

For every single thing, I’m dependent on Him.