Holding Hands. And Not.

​When I told her I lost my job, I was sobbing in the grass at a park in Mississippi. “Redefine this whole thing,” she said. “Your future isn’t scary, IT’S WIDE FUCKING OPEN.”

And when I was driving for 100 years through South Dakota, when I was certain I’d never get home, she said, “You are strong. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. Breathe.”

And these are the things that I hold on to now. My path isn’t straight. My head and heart are just as tangled. But I grasp at those words and I hold on. I use them to buoy me, to keep my head above water.

I feel like I’m treading water and I’m tired. I am scrambling with my feet and toes, reaching down as deep as I can, trying to find the ocean floor. But I can’t find it. All that’s below me is water. And I’m tired. I don’t know if I can stay afloat.

But those words.

“Redefine.”
“Wide open.”
“Don’t be afraid.”
“Breathe.”

It’s hard to find someone willing to walk a crooked and tangled path with you, especially when they are able to see a path that is straighter and more direct.

It’s hard to find someone to take your hand and say, “This isn’t the path I would’ve chosen, and I’m not sure it’s necessarily even the best or most logical one, but I’m here for you, every step of the way.”

It’s hard to find someone who is willing to set aside their own view of life–their various “should’s”–and make room to respect this path you’ve chosen, (or the path that’s chosen you), even if they don’t understand.

It’s hard to find someone who can simultaneously not understand and still have respect for you, rather than slap a label on you that boils down to “defective” or “wrong.”

And what I’ve found over the last few weeks is that, while there might not be anyone willing to grab tight to my hand and journey with me through the mess and muck, the mystery and the marvel, there are people who pop in along the path, offering words I need to hear, hugs I need to receive, the willingness to continue answering their phone when I call.

And, while I ache for a hand to hold, I’m willing to concede that maybe this is good. Maybe this is just the section of the path I’m walking- a section designed to force me to learn that people can’t save me, that they’ll always let me down, and that my salvation is up God and I alone.

And how do you learn that lesson without growing bitter? How do you realize that there’s no one willing to hold your hand without feeling alone? I don’t know.

It’s lonely, and it hurts, and every single second I have to choose whether to continue to love people, or whether to push them and their negative opinions of me away.

And that’s where my crooked path diverges, over and over again. “Are you going to keep your heart open? Are you going to choose hope and life?” it asks.

And I’m angry, and I feel misunderstood, and everything is so tangled already that it’s hard to figure out what is real, where I rank with the ones I love. What’s safe and secure and stable.

But that’s not the question being posed to me in those moments. The question isn’t: “What’s real?” The question is: “How are you going to choose to posture your heart?”

And always, always I want to choose a heart that’s open to the life before me, and a heart that’s on its knees in surrender to God. Come what may.

My path is crooked.
But my future is wide open.

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Attachment

I’m not sure what it is about nighttime that makes me feel like a four-year-old.

I just want to be held.

And it’s that part of me, (amongst others), that I am trying to extinguish by driving across the country. Driving, driving, driving, driving- trying to learn to be okay being on my own, trying to unlearn this overwhelming desire to be a part of a family. Trying to accept that I may have ruined my life in some really significant ways. Trying to surrender to what is when it’s not something I can control. Trying not to go home until I am ready to do my life and stay safe.

I feel stronger during the day. My heart is far from light, but I smile. I smile, I am better at staying in the present moment, and I cry without letting my sadness and grief become bigger than me.

But at night, I’m four years old and I want a mom.

*

I read (er, listened on tape while I drove) Your Brain On Love, which is a book about the neuroscience behind attachment and relationships.

It has helped me have compassion for the four-year-old part of me.

– As human beings, we are wired for contact. We need to feel tethered to another person.

– We all, even as adults, need that primary attachment figure, (usu. a parent or spouse).

– For a secure attachment to form, we need to feel that we have access to our primary attachment figure, that there is somebody that is available to us 24/7.

– A primary attachment figure is also a “secure base.” A secure base is essentially the ground underneath of you. People who are afraid that their secure base might be crumbling begin to act very strange.

– It’s not true that we can’t love others until we love ourselves. Nor is it true that we have to learn to love ourselves by ourselves.

– It is not uncommon for people wired like myself to struggle with nighttime. Nighttime–going home alone, going to sleep–can feel to these people like the ultimate separation, which can cause a surge of anxiety. Often times people wired this way will try to soothe their anxiety by reaffirming that their relationships are secure, that they’ll still exist in the morning.

– There is no such thing as people who are “bottomless pits.” If someone seems needy, it’s because there’s something happening in that relationship that is serving to maintain their fear that they’re not secure. For instance, the more distant someone becomes (for whatever reason), the more needy and clingy a person is liable to become. Not because they can’t get enough love, but because they don’t feel secure.

*

How much about me needs to be healed, and how much needs to be embraced?

How much is a wound, and how much is normal?

How much is me expecting too much from life and relationships, and how much is what I need as a human being in order to function?

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.”

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.”

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

Things That Keep You Afloat

She looked like an animal. Wild-eyed, teeth bared.

“She’s controlling me with her mind!” she screamed to the cop. “She’s only seventeen! She’s lying! Her name is Heidi Klum and her mom’s name is Michelle Obama!”

Two days prior, I looked at her and talked to her and knew her.

This day, she was a stranger before my eyes.

911 was called. Emergency personnel came.

“You’re not going to quit, are you?” my coworker asked, obviously seeing emotion on my face and being unable to read it.

No, I’m not quitting. I am more convinced than ever that this work I’m doing is important. To look wild-eyed people in the eyes and not look away or run, but to feel tender-hearted compassion for them? That’s important.

My coworker said she saw paramedics laughing at the scene unfolding before them. Laughing. No, there’s nothing funny about this. This is sad. Not pathetic, but tragic. Sad.

I wished I could fix it. I wished my relationship with her could serve as some sort of flotation device, something to help her silence the crazy in her head. I wished she could lock her eyes on mine and know I’m real and I’m not going anywhere. And maybe her head is full of things about FBI agents and having her brain hacked, but I’m real and I care, and I wished in that moment, somehow, that could matter.

At one point, I wanted to throw my hands up in the air and be like, “Actually, just take us both. Let’s just allllll go to the hospital.”

Victory happens in the choosing.

God isn’t holding out on me.

He is not deaf to the cries of my heart.

I will choose surrender.

And He will bring the victory.

Pink Counters and Cold Hands

It’s cold.

I don’t like being cold.

I’ll trade the rainy warmer days for blue-sky colder ones, but I want to be able to go home at the end of the day and close my front door and be warm. But instead, my hands are like ice and my tea cools, well, conveniently fast actually. But still. I’m buried beneath four blankets, and last night I turned the oven on just for the comfort that something else in my house was emitting heat.

I learned recently that some people’s brains are designed to handle cold better than others. Some people have brains that register cold as pain. And my first thought was, “What do you mean? Not everyone feels like being cold is painful?”

I remember going to Leavenworth with friends and waiting for the tree lighting. They were all cold too, but without the element of, “No, you don’t understand, I’m going to DIE if I stay out here another second,” that I was experiencing. So I slipped into a nearby store and said peace-out to the dark silhouette of a tree: “Catch ya on the flip side. Let me know when you’re all lit up and I’ll ooh and ahh through this here window.”

My friends thought I was being a baby, or being overly dramatic. But maybe there’s a lot we don’t know about pain. And maybe two people can live through similar events and have two really different emotional experiences. And maybe all that we don’t know or understand is another call NOT TO JUDGE. And maybe we can’t always draw from our own frame of understanding and experience to try to relate to another person. Because we’re not all the same.

*

I just wanted a night that felt festive. I brought home pizza and ingredients to make the most chocolate-y, peppermint-y hot cocoa ever. I got out my reindeer mug and bought another sippy cup for Olivia so she could drink it on the couch.

I wanted to watch a Christmas movie and sit, all cuddled up in our pajamas under a mountain of blankets.

They wanted to watch The Lorax.

And actually, they mostly wanted to play and ask for the iPad and wipe pizza grease on furniture.

But it was okay. Because we were together.

And after dinner, I went to shower. And I exhaled deeply all the stress of the day, and I exhaled relief that I survived another week. And I exhaled the loudness- Arlow barking because there was a dog on TV that he wanted to play with, and the kids being kids.

And just as I felt some tension melt away, my phone rang. And I peeked out of the shower curtain to catch a glimpse of it vibrating on the counter and saw the caller was work.

And I was on duty overnight.

So, barely showered, barely dried off, and more than barely freezing, I called work back, trying not to think: “I just wanted a few moments of peace…” And I dealt with that situation while Theo shoved his sippy cup at me, asking for more hot cocoa, and Arlow swiped pizza off the high chair.

And I went to the kitchen to write down some phone numbers the person on the other end of the phone was giving me, and then back to the bathroom where Olivia was standing outside the door, her mouth in the shape of an “o”, pointing inside. Theo was in there, drinking from my giant glass of red pop.

“NO,” I mouthed to him, pushing the pop back further on the counter and ushering him back into the living room.

Then I went back to the kitchen to read off a phone number and call my boss to ask a question about medication delivery for a client.

Then back to the bathroom, where I saw Theo reach for the pop again, hit it with his fingertips, and spill the entire thing onto the counter and the floor, effectively staining everything pink.

So I grabbed his arm and pulled him from the bathroom while he wailed, and grabbed my bath towel, trying to soak up the mess, all the while talking to work.

And in the distance, the Christmas tree lights flickered, and The Lorax sang some song about hope, and Madison cuddled a crying Theo, and I thought: “NO. You don’t get to be the one crying.”

Eventually, we put on The Grinch, and the kids sat still for approximately fifteen seconds. Long enough to stroke their baby soft cheeks and kiss the tops of their heads and tell them I love them. Long enough to hear them giggle and feel them wrap their little arms around me, their bodies squirmy and full of energy beside me.

And then Olivia burped in my face, and Theo ran off to climb the cat tree.

And isn’t that life? I’ve used this analogy before, but I feel like I’m dying from thirst and someone’s given me a damp washcloth to suck water from. And that’s all I have. And I’m so grateful for it. But it doesn’t feel like enough.

Life is hard. It’s really, really hard.

And I keep trying to create moments of magic, moments that feel not hard and worth it and beautiful.

But all of my best efforts and intentions usually aren’t enough. Things rarely ever end up looking or feeling the way I’d hoped, and instead I’m just left feeling exhausted and sorry for myself.

But where does that leave me? Do I stop trying? Do I stop believing in and fighting for magic and beauty?

I don’t know.

All I know to do is keep my eyes heavenward and wait on my God.

And God? I’ve asked Him to be straight with me, to tell it like it is, and still He hasn’t told me to stop hoping that magic and beauty exist in this crazy world.

So I’ll keep making hot cocoa to warm the hands and put a smile on the faces of people I love. And when the house falls quiet at night, I’ll think about the people currently asleep under my roof, and how fiercely I love them. And I’ll watch the tree twinkle and I’ll listen to Arlow snore and I’ll thank  God for every single moment where the fight for life doesn’t feel quite so hard.

And my hands, they’re cold.

And my head is frazzled with activity and worry and all the “I don’t know’s!” filling me up inside.

But my heart feels held. The God who made my heart, promises to hold it.

And He is.