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.

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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.

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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.”

The Day Jesus Wore Pink

I got a pedicure the other day. I had to withdraw money from the ATM in advance because I didn’t actually know if I had enough. And cash is safer than debit when you’re in that situation. Because what would I have done if it was time to pay and my card got declined!? I would’ve been like: “Uh… do I have to give you my toes now? Is that how this works? Or… do I work here until I can pay off my debt? Or, hey, how about this, can’t we just call it good if I pinkie promise you I’ll come back when I get paid Friday?”

Sorry. That’s not actually the point of the story. But I still have my toes. And I’m still unemployed. So, hurrah for all the small victories.

Anyway, this is the point:

At the nail salon, I met a woman who was probably in her eighties. She was sitting next to me and smiling down at her bright pink toes as the manicurist (er, pedicurist?) painted them. And we made small talk about traffic and Puyallup and the color pink, this woman and I, but what struck me wasn’t our conversation, but her. She looked so happy. Just… like, deeply okay. She wasn’t giving off an “everything is perfect!” vibe, (because, y’know, traffic and all), but she just seemed so glad to be alive.

She seemed a little like Jesus.

And I have been thinking about her since. Because eighty. Eighty and glad for life. Not bitter or depressed or disillusioned or mean, but smiling and making happy small-talk and painting her toenails bright pink.

And I wanted to ask her, “How did you do it?!”

I also wanted to ask if she was a Christian. Although, I suspect she was because sister had Jesus all over her- especially in those kind, smiley eyes.

I wanted to ask how she did life. “How are you still here? How are you glad to be?” But I just sat silent instead. And after the small talk fizzled out, I leaned my head back in my chair and closed my eyes. And I prayed for her. I prayed that whatever measure of the Holy Spirit is in her, it would grow even more. I prayed she’d feel, every single second, pursued by Love.

And I thanked God for sending her to cross my path. Her, who gently and kindly made me question my outlook on life. Because eighty. And not emotionally worn out, ready for the grave. Just joyfully soaking up every moment of life. At eighty.

When I try to picture myself at eighty, (which is really hard to do right now), I can’t imagine anything but grief and boredom. Because life is hard, so, grief. And by that time I’ll have had eighty years of sunsets and conversation and pizza, so, boredom.

I wonder what she was like at my age. I hope she was a freaking mess. (Rereading that sentence made me laugh. What a horrible thing to hope!) But I’m just gonna go ahead and assume she was, in fact, a Freaking Mess. Because I feel like I need to make her my inspirational “comeback” story. Because if she can do it, maybe I can too.

She was probably not even human, but an angel. 😉 Jesus was probably totally punking me, all up in heaven like: “Lenore? (#madeupname) Tamara is just leaving the ATM. It’s time to get down to the nail salon. Be sure to give off a peaceful, happy vibe, mmmk? Think WWJD.” 😉

Regardless, human or angel, Jesus is probably super proud of “Lenore”. Because peaceful/happy? The gentleness of Jesus? Yeah. She nailed it. (No pun intended.)

It’s funny to me- I don’t even want to be alive at twenty-nine; I can hardly imagine fifty more years of this nonsense. I have no idea what was happening in the world eighty years ago. For real. You could be all: “Holocaust” and “Baby Ruth” and “The Hand Jive” and then throw in “Christopher Columbus” for good measure and I’d be like, “Okay. Sure. Seems legit.” But regardless of her actual past, Lenore certainly also had pain in her life. And somehow she stuck it out. It didn’t ruin her. Maybe, even, it softened her.

And when I close my eyes, when I ask Jesus to speak, when I stop allowing my pain to skew my perception, when I refuse to allow my pain to speak over my Jesus… I hear this: “Don’t give up, child. Give Me a chance to redeem this.”

Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of That Night.

And I thought I’d reach this day and be so proud of myself for the fight, for my life. But instead, I’m looking at everything else I’ve lost over the past year. I’m looking at the ongoing fight. And I feel so, so deeply: “What’s The Point!?”

I don’t want to do it anymore.

But maybe there’s an eighty-year-0ld version of me fifty years in the future, beckoning me to keep fighting. And promising to treat me to a pedicure.

*

(Alternative titles in consideration for this post: “How Many Times Can I Use The Word ‘Eighty’ In One Post?”)

😉

Thirst

The sun was warm on my back and I listened to the rustle of bunnies in the long grass to my right. Arlow saw a bunny and it was game over as far as our walk went. His mind instantly went into hunting mode. But he was on his leash. The bunnies were safe. And watching him pounce at the grass playfully, even though I had to encourage him repeatedly to keep walking, made me smile.
I saw the faces of people I love. I had conversations. Someone reached over and hugged me and my brain interpreted that as love. Oh, how incredibly starved I am for love.
I watch mouths move and I smile and respond and sometimes I’m even kind of witty. But I’m not there, not getting anything from the conversation. “This, faces and conversation, isn’t what I need,” I realize. And it terrifies me. It isn’t the solution.
And I wake up and shower and walk the dog and do the dishes and eat cereal at the kitchen window while I watch Mowgli climbing the tree in the backyard. And I smile because I know he thinks that giant crow a few branches over is within his ability to catch. But the crow is bigger than him. And the crow can fly. Mowgli cannot. “I admire your self-confidence,” I think as I eat. Occasionally I drop a handful of dry cereal on the floor for Arlow, who is looking up at me, carefully watching my food, wavering between patience and wild insistence.
I go through the motions of living life but I feel completely detached. I can’t feel any reason to live. And I know better than to let what I feel determine my truth, but it’s exhausting to fight so hard without any reward.
“This thing matters! This is one reason life is GOOD!” I tell my brain. But I can’t feel it. I am constantly seeking the good, reminding myself that life is worth it. And I can’t feel it. And it’s exhausting.
There’s a metaphorical hole in my metaphorical bucket, so no matter how much water I pour in, it’s still empty. And yet, I keep pouring. Because I can’t fix the hole. I can’t make there be no hole. And I can’t get a new bucket. This is the only one I’ve got. My whole life is dependent on this one, busted bucket. So I just keep collecting water and pouring it in and watching it empty out. And it feels futile and stupid, but what’s the alternative? Giving up. Either I keep collecting water, or I throw the bucket aside.
I’m trying so hard. I am so tired. Exhausted. Sleepy.
By church’s end on Sunday, I was near tears. Because it is TERRIFYING to not want to live, even when eyes are looking at you with love and the sun is shining and your dog wiggles his entire tail-end because he’s so happy to see you when you get home.
It’s like there’s life playing itself out before me, and all I can feel is this haze. Sleepiness. I am so, so tired all the time. And I’m fighting so hard to push my way through this into the life that everyone else seems to know as worth it, even with its ups and downs. But I feel closer to death than I do life. And I’m scared this is how it will always be.
“Are you okay?” Laura asked when I told her I wasn’t going to go to lunch with everyone after church. And I said yes. But immediately, my chin shook with emotion. And why? I don’t know why. I don’t know what is wrong with me.
I got in my car and I sobbed hysterically. Because every day is this battle to live. And there’s no relief or reprieve to be found anywhere. And I am fighting so hard for something I can’t feel, something that is so elusive I don’t even know if it’s real. And yet, people around me are alive. And they don’t have to battle suicidal thinking, even on their worst days. So I know there’s a reason to do this life.
But I look forward to nothing. And time just keeps passing and I have to keep up with it.
And I stay social and active and guard my thoughts with a fierceness that borders on panic. And I’m so tired.
And what’s the solution? Keep going? Give up? They both seem equally impossible.
So I fall to my knees and spread my arms open wide and I come to God as nothing more than His. I can’t promise Him anything. I can’t even promise Him I won’t give up on life. But I come. Empty and weak and heavy all at once, I fall down in desperate surrender and worship, reminding myself He is God and I am not. He is God. He is God.
And I smile and hug the people I love, and I make plans, and I list in my head things that are coming up that I want to be alive for.
And I weep. And no matter how many hours I sleep at night, I am so tired when my alarm goes off in the morning.
But if this, and that, and those things aren’t the solution, if they don’t help me feel firmly planted in this life, with its green grass and opportunities to laugh, what else is there?
He is the only solution. God alone can make this be okay.
So I try to wait. And I thank God for the water He provides, even while my bucket is broken.

Be Strong

When my clients sit across from me, hands folded, eyes narrowed, mouth firmly set, and tell me that no matter what happens to them, they’ll be okay because they’re strong, something inside of me breaks for them.

Not because I disagree that they’re strong, but because they think they’re strong for all the wrong reasons.

Their strength isn’t found in the broken, jaded, cynical, distrusting parts of them. Their strength isn’t the firmness with which they say, “People know better than to cross me.”

Self-protection isn’t strength. Walls don’t make a person strong, they make a person unable to find genuine joy or happiness or fulfillment in life.

Strength is living life fully, knowing that whatever comes, they will have the ability to cope.

Strength is tending to one’s heart. Not denying the importance of one’s heart by saying, “What happened to me is okay because it made me who I am.”

Yes, it made you who you are. And yes, who you are is amazing and beautiful and compassionate and even strong. But that doesn’t make what happened to you okay. And if you are saying it’s okay, YOU’RE not. Saying it’s okay is easy. It eliminates the need to process, grieve, heal.

Sometimes the strongest thing a person can do is cry. Sometimes the strongest thing they can do is say that it’s NOT okay.

Sometimes strength looks more like sorrow.

Sometimes strength feels more like weakness.

My clients deserve better than “strength”. My clients deserve life.

Lord Of Life

8

Why is it so hard to stay in love with life?

I’ve been feeling a little worn out lately. Remember my tissue paper analogy? It’s like I’ve gone from being strong and resistant, like a dish towel or one of those magic squeegee towels, to having the texture and resistance of tissue paper. Please, Lord, don’t ask me to try to dry (or do or withstand) anything. I cannot take it right now.

7

I know there’s no shame in that. There’s no shame in feeling a little subdued. But it’s not fun. It’s not fun to feel… I don’t know, the opposite of vivacious.

But the beauty of being a child of the Lord? My soul rejoices even while it cries. He sees me. He will use this time. Praying in my car? Crying for no reason that my head is aware of, but that my soul seems to feel perfectly validated in? That is where I’m at right now. And it’s okay.

6

Lord, I will accept what You have for me right now. I will use this time to press in to You and seek Your face and love the people You bring into my life.

But I want to fall back in love with life.

2

Help me breathe in my many blessings and breathe out gratitude.

Help me love the fluttering leaves and purple-black sky.

Help me love lighting candles inside while it rains outside.

Help me love small pumpkins and things flavored with nutmeg.

Help me love warm blankets and wool socks and taking walks with a scarf wrapped snugly around my neck.

Help me love people.

Help me love my best friend’s smile.

Help me love sharing a meal with that person who always occupies my heart, but less often occupies the same space as me.

Help me love getting to sit by someone’s side while they cry and unload their heart.

Help me love the first light of day.

5

It’s so hard to carry grief in your heart, to know that you will spend you entire life grieving certain things, and still trust that who you are and where you are in this moment, today, is exactly where you should be.

Help me not get stuck in self-pity, Lord. Help me give my grief to You, over and over and over again.

4

And Lord, the part of me deep down that still holds onto this belief that I am unlovable? Heal it, Lord. My head knows differently. My head knows I am Yours and I am treasured

But my heart is still so sensitive. My heart still feels twisted and young and deprived of love.

And Lord, knowing You are all I need, and all I ultimately could want, it just makes it so hard to have any distance at all between You and me. Help me look forward to heaven and spending eternity with You without feeling completely homesick and dissatisfied with this life You’ve given me.

Help me seek You whole-heartedly.

And overwhelm me, Lord. Overwhelm me with Your presence and love.

And use me. I don’t want to do life selfishly, just wanting You. I also want to make myself available to be used by You.

3

In other news, I recently read Soul Keeping by John Ortberg. I really liked it.

“This is where grace comes in. I cannot replace an idol by turning away from it. I must turn toward something.”

You cannot give up an addictive or unhealthy behavior by willpower alone. You need to replace it with something (or Someone) else.

“The soul without a center finds its identity in externals. My temptation when my soul is not centered in God is to try to control my life. In the Bible this is spoken in terms of the lifting up of one’s soul. The prophet Habakkuk said that the opposite of living in faithful dependence on God is to lift your soul up in pride. The psalmist says that the person who can live in God’s presence is the one who has not lifted their soul up to an idol. When my soul is not centered in God, I define myself by my accomplishments, or my physical appearance, or my title, or my important friends. When I lose those, I lose my identity. A soul without a center is like a house built over a sinkhole. ‘How collapsed you are my soul, and how you sigh over me.’ On the other hand, the soul comes alive when it is centered on God. ‘Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love…for to you I lift up my soul.'”

“Your soul is a needy man, a needy woman. Thomas Aquinas wrote that this neediness of the soul is a pointer to God. We are limited in virtually every way: in our intelligence, our strength, our energy, our mortality. There is only one area where human beings are unlimited. As Kent Dunnington puts it, ‘We are limited in every way but one: we have unlimited desire.’ We always want more: more time, more wisdom, more beauty, more funny YouTube videos. This is the soul crying out. We never have enough. The truth is., the soul’s infinite capacity to desire is the mirror image of God’s infinite capacity to give. What if the real reason we feel like we never have enough is that God is not yet finished giving? The unlimited neediness of the soul matches the unlimited grace of God. Our soul’s problem, however, is not its neediness; it’s our fallenness. Our need was meant to point us to God. Instead, we fasten our minds and bodies and wills on other sources of ultimate devotion, which the bible calls idolatry. Idolatry is the most serious sin in the Old Testament, leading one scholar to conclude that the primary principal of the Old Testament is the refutation of idolatry. Idolatry, accord to author Timothy Keller, is the sin beneath the sin. Anytime I sin, I am allowing some competing desire to have higher priory than God and God’s will for my life…We all commit idolatry every day. It is the sin of the soul meeting its needs with anything that distances it from God.”

1

O Death, Where Is Thy Sting?

“People long for more than earth…We have our moments. The newborn on our breast, the bride on our arm, the sunshine on our back. But even those moments are simply slivers of light breaking through heaven’s window. God flirts with us. He tantalizes us. He romances us. Those moments are appetizers for the dish that is to come.” -Max Lucado

The things about this life that make it worth it? They are reflections of heaven. They are meant to reflect our Lord and His love for us. The good things in life? They are Him. Life on its own is inherently beautiful- our God is.

Lord, with every good day, with every soul-stirring, heart-filling moment, with every laugh and meaningful hug, help me fall more in love with You, not with life. Not with what this world has to offer, but with what my Lord and Savior has to offer.

Help the good in life not strengthen my attachment to life, but to You.

Oh, Abba. How great You are.

Death has no sting.

We Are Safe

Last night, I wrote this:

“Satan has no real power. Yes, life contains tragedy and sorrow, but that’s not because Satan is powerful. Sometimes God allows us to walk through unpleasant things. Satan has no power. He can only do what God permits. The only ‘power’ Satan has is what we give to him. It’s not what happens to us that is powerful but how we let it shape our beliefs and actions. When life causes us to hold firm to the belief that we are unloved, alone, without hope. We must stay in the Word. We must let God’s voice be the biggest one so that we know right away when we’re believing a lie. Satan is powerless when we find our security in the Lord alone. Satan wants us to believe things that will make us want to isolate ourselves from others; keep us from living; paralyze us until we are unable to live a life of reckless abandon, chasing wildly and passionately after our Lord and Savior. Life events don’t have that power over us. We do, when we make agreements with Satan instead of listening to the Voice of Truth. God will fight for us. We will be okay. We just have to trust and hold firm to Truth. God cannot lie. It’s not in His nature. When He says we will be okay, when He says He loves us and will provide and protect for us, He isn’t kidding.”

Then, today I read this:

“The beauty of Paul wasn’t his superhumanity but his unwillingness to let his weaknesses, feelings, and fears override his faith. Like us, the fiercest enemy he had to fight in the fulfillment of his destiny was himself. To Paul, the essence of the crucified life was daily dying to the part of himself that would deny, destroy, or distract from the great work of God in him.”

“One of the most common human claims is that we can’t change the way we feel. That may be true, but we CAN change the way we think, which will change the way we act. And as we change the way we act, the way we feel also begins to change. In the breaking of every habit, someone wills it first and feels it later. Whatever you do, don’t shrug your shoulders and decide the prospect is too hard to do and too much to ask. What could be harder than fighting a lifelong battle with insecurity? Thank God we don’t have to wait until we feel more secure to start acting more secure. That’s the heart of living by faith until we live by sight. We act on the basis of scriptural fact and supernatural power rather than mercurial feelings. If a woman doesn’t have the Spirit of Christ within her enabling her to do what she can’t, the pressure will prove too much and her strength too small.”

“Insecurity is more than a complex emotion. It is a lie about our God-sanctioned condition. While something may cause us to feel sad, confused, angry, or threatened, we have the power to choose whether or not it gets to assault our security. When we decide to be strong willed about what God strongly wills, that, beloved, is the epitome of empowerment.”

“God has promised that His grace will be given according to our need and that not only will we survive by the skin of our teeth, if we trust Him and hang on to Him for dear life–grieving, yes, but as those who have hope–we will also thrive again. We can give ourselves to something greater than painlessness. We can give ourselves to purpose. If we cooperate, good will indeed come to us and others around us, and glory will most assuredly come to God. Otherwise, He would have forbidden the tragedy. Those of us who are in Christ will also spend eternity with the loved ones who have shared our faith, and this life will seem like a vapor in comparison.”

“When you feel that familiar panic begin to rise in your heart like a river coursing its banks and your soul begins to roll with another round of ‘What will i do if…?’ what would happen if you were willing to hear the voice of God whisper these audible words? ‘Child, you are asking the wrong question. Here’s the one that would assuage your fears: What will God do if…?’ Here’s a smattering of answers to that mighty good question. ‘I, the Maker of heaven and earth, will:
Perfect everything that concerns you (Ps. 138:8),
Work all things together for your good (Rom. 8:28),
Fight this battle for you (2 Chronicles 20:15), 
Equip you with divine power (2 Corinthians 10:4),
Be your power in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9),
Do immeasurably more than all you could ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within you (Eph. 3:20).'”