The Art Of Staying Alive

I pour myself into the things that matter.

I try not to think too hard. I try not to FEEL too hard.

I try to lay every thought and feeling down at the feet of Christ.

I try not to pick back up anything that is a lie. Or anything that is too heavy for me.

I joke with my clients,

and I celebrate eighth grade graduations,

and I dare to let seemingly meaningless things, like new earrings, matter to me.

I feel the warmth of the sun as I lay out, my legs intertwined at the ankles.

I read a book under a tree, while pine needles periodically fall down around me like snow.

I smile at a little bird who found his way into a coffee shop where I was drinking a chai tea latte.

I am learning that it’s okay to pull people close, to grab their arm and lay my head on their shoulder, and let myself feel close and held and loved,

and I’m learning that even when I’m alone, I am still close and held and loved. I don’t need to hold so tight all the time.

I am saying no to pizza and brownies and yes to Mediterranean paninis and carrot sticks.

I am saying no to sleeping fourteen hours and yes to long walks in the fading sun.

I am laying it all down. The tightness in my throat. My sense of feeling disconnected from being alive. My fears and hopes and dreams. I am laying it down.

And I am grabbing tight of what is:

I am alive. My life matters. God doesn’t make mistakes. I am loved.

Father’s Day

I was minding my own business.

I was sitting during worship, nursing a cup of tea, feeling just fine.

And then I started weeping.

It started with this line: “Then bursting forth in glorious Day…”

I’ve heard it a million times, but there, as I sat completely unsuspecting of what was to come, suddenly something inside of me felt that light- the light of His overcoming death, the light of His being with us, the light of Him calling me His own.

And I wept.

And when I asked myself what was behind the tears, I found this sentence repeating itself in my head: “No one will ever love me like You do.”

And for once, that thought didn’t feel terrifying and lonely; I felt grateful. Held and safe and in awe of the God who promises to never leave me.

I don’t know if I’ve ever cried from a place of wonder at how He loves me. I don’t know if I’ve ever cried with gratitude.

Oh, how it hurts, this life.

Oh, how held I am in the midst of it.

And so, after I prayed over my heart during our first song: “Bless the Lord, O my soul…”,
after I came to Him honest and broken and admitting I don’t love Him the way I should,
after I asked Him to help me love Him,
after I sang about how He rose from the grave,
after I felt the lightness of Him invade my soul and fill me up with a sense of being deeply loved,
after I wondered at the tears pouring down my face…

After all of that, I realized, it’s Father’s Day.

And I’m still Someone’s little girl.

All The Painful Things

I am in a season of growth. Which means, ironically, that I am in a season of dying- dying to myself.

I think people hear that, the call to die to ourselves, and think that means growing up. Maturing our hearts. Pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and accepting that life is hard.

That’s not what it means to me.

Dying to myself is not the same as no longer believing in magic and hope and beauty. To me it means absolutely refusing to give up on those things, but trusting God with the outcomes of my life.

Dying to self means letting yourself be sad about something, without trying to force a solution.

It means lifting your heart up to God, holding firm to the “child-like” belief that life is, at its heart, good, (because HE is good), but letting Him decide what will be. Dying to self is surrender.

And surrender? I think it’s a process of grief. You have to grieve what isn’t, and grieve not having any control over what will be. Surrender is saying, through tears sometimes, “This hurts, but I trust You.”

It hurts.

But I’m reminded there have been many times in my life when I’ve caught myself in a moment and thought, “Nothing right now hurts. Everything, in this moment, is good. And I’m glad to be alive.”

Pain is a liar. It comes blabbing about “forever” and “unbearable” and “pointless”, but none of those words are words God uses when He talks about pain. Rather, He says something along the lines of pain producing endurance, endurance character, and character hope.

Pain, when handled well, causes us to choose surrender. And when we do, we are essentially speaking over our lives that we believe God is good.

And He doesn’t disappoint.

I don’t know how to get from where I am today to where I want to be, but I know that the only way to get there is by choosing to walk this road that God has me on.

I have to choose to engage in this process. Even when it hurts.

Our pain isn’t pointless.

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.”

A Little More Wonder

I read recently: “God must be a pretty big fan of today, because you keep waking up to it.”

God’s perspective on today–the day as a whole, and the day that I am individually going to live–is positive.

My perspective is not. Even when I engage in mental gymnastics, trying to will my insides to cooperate, there’s something inside of me that is dead to life. Life doesn’t resonate with me anymore.

*

I was kayaking with my friend today. Good company. Nothing heavy on my heart. Sunny sky. Cool water. All was well. And yet, I looked around me, I took in the lily pads and the cottonwood floating through the air to land on the water around me, and I looked into the face of my friend, and I still could not understand how anyone chooses to live. How is anyone doing it?

And I paddled my kayak and silently willed the dead part of me to come back to life. I reminded myself that GOD HIMSELF CREATED THIS LIFE; there is goodness all around me. There are reasons to live all around me.

The bad doesn’t negate the good. The good is still here. And my inability to commit to living this gift? It isn’t because life isn’t worth it, it’s because something inside of me can no longer register the miracle of simply existing.

I can make a list of bad things and good things about life, but you know what? Neither of those lists carry much weight with me right now. My problem isn’t that life has too much bad or not enough good, my problem is that I can’t feel any desire to be here. I am disconnected from it all.

I need the Lord to teach me how to live. To take me back through a childhood and adolescence and young adulthood. To teach me about wonder and curiosity and awe, about what family and love and security should look like, to create in me a desire to use my life for something that will outlast me.

*

I was watching a medical show tonight, and I found myself wondering if it was fair for the medical team to treat a person’s body if they suspected brain damage. Is it fair to fight for a person’s body to live if their brain is dead? I don’t know. I don’t have the answer for that. But I know what I’d want for myself, or for someone I loved.

Something inside of me is dead. And still, I am daily choosing life.

I am daily facing my giants of depression and dysthymia and panic and screaming aloneness and fear and grief and the desire to sleep forever. Every day I am choosing.

Every day, I show up for the battle, even though I don’t want to anymore. Neither I nor the giants have any desire to be looking each other in the eyes, and yet there I am, back for round two or twenty or two thousand.

But how do I fight for life when something inside of me isn’t even alive anymore?

I don’t know. You just choose, I guess. You choose and just hope you’re able to keep choosing well.

And today I chose to meet my friend to go kayaking. I chose to preach goodness to my soul by engaging in some of the best that life has to offer, even though I can’t feel it right now.

I laughed with my friend and I breathed deeply. I floated on the lake, dragging my hand through the water, and listening to the rustle of nearby trees.

And I prayed, “Lord, teach me how to live.”

Choices and Chance

“I don’t know what I want!” I say. My head is spinning and there are options and I don’t know what to do.

And then I’m reminded that my wants should align with His. And my head stops spinning, and my thoughts narrow down, and I know what is right. And there’s peace in no longer vacillating between one decision or another because The Right One is so obvious, but I can’t stop wanting to take the alternate road.

I know there’s no life to be found choosing a path that’s contrary to what He has laid out before me. But sometimes I really just feel like I can’t walk that road anymore.

And I know it’s okay if “I can’t” because He can. But I still have to wake up and be the one to take one step after another. I still have to find it in me to love the hard to love, and take care of myself, and not let the lies (or half-truths) grow so big that my “I can’t” grows right along with them.

And I find comfort in the thought of taking the steering wheel out of God’s hands and crashing myself into a tree. Because then “I can’t” doesn’t matter anymore. Then there’s an ambulance and possibly unconsciousness, and then I’m someone else’s problem.

It’s like tossing a coin. And heads or tails it doesn’t matter because it’s not up to me anymore. The coin is in the air, and so are my hands- surrendering my future to chance. A

But this is where faith comes in. It’s easy to believe when believing only requires faith enough to read the Bible and listen to Christian radio. It’s another thing to believe enough to say, “Because You are who You say you are, I will carry this cross. Even though I’m tired. Even though I don’t want to. Even though I don’t understand. Even though I can’t.”

And this is where love gets put to the test as well. Because true love is bigger than warm, fuzzy feelings and prayers of gratitude for the good He provides. Real love is choosing to do the hard thing.

Lord, grow my faith.

Teach me to love You more.

The Act Of Living

When I was a kid, I used to watch the cartoon version of Narnia, and my favorite scene was when Aslan breathed on the statues and they came back to life. Hopes restored. Lives restores. Dreams restored.

All it takes is His breath.

Dead things come back to life all the time.

*

“Bless the Lord, O, my soul…”

I place my hand firm over my heart and pray that over myself. Oh, Lord. Teach me to live from that place- from a place of worship. Teach me to wonder at and be in awe over the majesty and mystery and miracle of You.

*

I laugh with people I love. We make eye contact and gently touch each other’s arms and we laugh and it is good. It is so, so good.

I sit quiet on the couch, not alone. There is comfortable silence and books and Mumford and Sons.

Arlow goes to his basket, digging through for the perfect toy. He brings it to me, presents it excitedly- an offering.

The sun surrounds us and the air is cold, but the sun is warm and it’s glowing like an embrace.

The kids and I sit, hip to hip, on the couch. Legs entwined. There is comfort. And I hope that when they look in my eyes, they see Jesus loving them through me.

I watch them play, and listen to them talk about their future. It’s all laughter and dreams with kids. They have so much to teach me. I have so much to unlearn.

Lord, teach me again that life is a gift.