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.

Things Being Loved Teaches You

1. You are lovable. You are not a burden, a charity case, or a waste of anyone’s time. You are chosen. You are wanted. You belong.

2. No one will be able to make you feel secure about your relationship with them until you start to see yourself as lovable.

3. It is safe to exist, just as you are. It’s safe to ask yourself questions like: “How do I feel?” “What do I think?” “What do I want to say?”

4. You don’t have to perform. Love doesn’t require we show up “put together” or “perfect”. Love doesn’t want facades, it just wants you to come exactly as God made you- flaws and all.

5. Your flaws don’t make you “bad” or “wrong” or “less than.”

6. You can speak freely. You don’t have to weigh every single word you say. It’s okay if you’re not always understood, if people don’t always agree, and if what you say isn’t funny, because you’re safe.

7. Not everything social interaction is a test. Love doesn’t demand you keep proving yourself.

8. You don’t have to view your life through the lens of “How do I not measure up? How much about me do people see as ‘wrong’?” You are not inferior. You are exactly who God intended you to be.

9. You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing. You don’t have to try to be like others in order to measure up.

10. Love doesn’t walk out on you.

11. Not everything in life has to feel scary.

Endings and Amen

“Lord, the one you love is sick.” John 11:3

I’m sick.

I can feel it in the way my eyes see the world. The way my heart responds to good things. The way my brain twists everything up so much that nothing feels real anymore.

I can feel it in the panic that hits me out of nowhere, like a freight train, completely leveling me. But, unlike being hit by an actual train, I don’t get an excuse from living life. I don’t get to wave a white flag in surrender. I still have to smile and function and act like I can breathe.

How many times this week have I thought, “I’m going to drive myself to the ER. I need help.”

How many times have I had to force myself to walk away from the vodka at the grocery store?

How many times have I had to cry to heaven: “PLEASE help me choose You! Please, please, please help me remember what I really want!”

Oh, I could write a long, long list of reasons to live. I could write a long list of things I’m grateful for, ways I’m blessed. I’m loved. I’m loved and there’s nothing that matters more on the whole planet. And I love. Oh, how fiercely I love.

But the problem isn’t in the logistics of living. Yes, each day has trouble of its own, but the good outweighs the bad.

“How’s your day been?” I get asked. And always, or almost always, my answer is: “My day itself was good. It’s what I bring to the table that’s hard.”

It’s the panic. The depression. The fact that dying is as unthinkable as continuing to live like this.

My brain is sick.

I called my doctor three times today. I cried. “I’ve done all my coping skills,” I sobbed. “I’ve spent time with loved ones and read and listened to music and worked out. And everything I do makes the panic worse because nothing I do helps me feel connected to life. I can’t break through this inability to feel any good.”

I don’t know what’s worse- thinking someone could save me, or knowing no one can. I felt less panic when I believed there was help outside of me. That illusion has been shattered. No one can fix me. They can only love me. And that should be enough. Love should be enough. I will always preach that love is enough because I believe that right to the core of me. So why isn’t it enough for me right now?

“What if you choose to believe you were safe?” I felt that question linger in my soul this afternoon. What if I stopped fearing lack and scarcity and abandonment and loss and failure? What if I truly saw myself as held, and trusted that God won’t punish me for doing the best I can?

I’m sick.

“Lord, the one you love is sick.”

But if you know scripture, you know the story didn’t end there.

Light and Life

I’ve written and deleted this blog three times. Because I could say so many things, but none of it feels like what I want to say.

And so I sat here and I closed my eyes and breathed deeply and tried to silence my brain, waiting for the truest words to float to the surface of my heart.

And then they did. Breathed somewhere within me: “I trust Him to take care of me.”

And if words were a color, these were a dusty rose. And if words were an emotion, these were relief. And if words were an action, these were rest. And I knew, “Yes. THAT is what I want to say today.”

To all that I don’t understand, to all within me that is screaming its hurt, I don’t have answers or solutions. All I have is this: “He is taking care of me.” And those words gently shush the panic and pain and anxiety within me. All I have is that–“He is taking care of me.”–and that’s enough.

Because it means He knows.

“He hears you, anxiety. He sees you, pain. And He cares. He is for me.”

He is taking care of me. All of me. My panic and my joy, my laughter and my tears, my hopes and struggles, my wounds, my family, and my spiritual growth. He is the holder of my future and my past and my today. He is taking care of me.

And so I will raise my arms to heaven and praise Him for what He’s given, and how He’s tending to my heart, and for who He is.

*

The other day I read something that stood out to me- “God leaves the light on for us.”

Light. Oh, how I love that word.

Back before my family dissolved, I remembered feeling really hurt when I’d get home at night and the porch light wasn’t on. It felt like they didn’t care if I came home or not, like they weren’t waiting for me or looking forward to seeing me.

“I ALWAYS leave the porch light on for you when I’m home!” I told them. I told them it hurt my feelings. But nothing changed. I’d always come home to a light-less porch, fumbling in the dark to get the door unlocked, calling out a “Hi!” because if I didn’t say it, no one else would either.

But He leaves the light on for me.

He wants me. Waits for me. Welcomes me.

He leaves the light on for me. For us.

He also leaves the light on for us in the reliable rising of the sun. The sun, which warms us, and gives life, and tells us it’s a new day and we can begin again. Each new day shouts of fresh hope. It screams the promise that He isn’t through yet- this is not the end; we’re all still being held safe and secure in His holy hands.

He leaves the light on for us in Jesus too- the one who came to shine light in our darkness, to clothe us in truth, to give us life.

And scripture, which helps me arm myself against the lies and attacks of the enemy. Scripture, the living God-breathed Word.

Light guides us and directs us and helps us see and keeps us from stumbling.

In all of those ways, He leaves the light on.

And in all those ways, light fuels life within us. Light and life- the two go hand-in-hand.

And when my cats come running when I get home, or Mr. T cranes his head to watch me walk from one room to the next, or Penny leaps up excitedly when I come to open her cage.
Or in “I love you” text messages.
Or warm embraces.
Or kind smiles.
Through all those things, He is saying, “I care.” Through them, He is leaving the light on for me. Filling me with life.

And the more time I spend soaking up the light, the more I be able to radiate it myself- to go like a flame into this world which so desperately needs to see through the darkness to what’s true.

Hands to the sky, I will praise Him for hope.

Hope even when I don’t feel it.

Because regardless of what I feel from one moment to the next, I know God is love.

And He is taking care of me.

He Who Sustains

There’s this screaming chasm within me. The size of it and volume of it depends on the day, the conversation, the circumstance. But it’s there, as part of me as my lungs or kidneys.

It’s not the day itself that’s hard. I can allow myself to cry and feel sad and find comfort in scripture and then tuck myself into bed. It’s when the day becomes days. It’s when all I see before me is reason to weep and ache for a Father who I can’t really feel.

And maybe that ache is a gift. I pray it is. How could I ever credit myself with a hunger for the Lord? It has to be Him in me, working and moving and taking my hand and leading me deeper.

Helping me to know and love Him more.

Who am I? Beloved, sure. But nothing more than a speck in this world- composed of the breath of God. I am not a mystery to Him, this God who spoke light into existence and calls Himself Love.

This screaming chasm scares me. But it doesn’t scare Him.

In between the screaming is the whisper: “Is it worth it? What’s the point?”

But the Fearless One also whispers.

And I have the power to choose what whisper I listen to. Because there’s the whisper that tries to steal life from me, playing on my emotions and circumstances as if they are the truest thing. But more than what I feel or see, there is a Truth that cannot be argued with. And this voice, the voice of Truth, speaks loving, hope-filled things.

It’s like clinging to a flotation device in the ocean. At night. In a horrible storm. And I’m choking on water and fighting not to let my grasp slip. Where is my rescue boat? Where is land? How long will I be out here? I don’t know. And I feel fear gnawing at me: What if this is forever?

And so I’m holding on, fighting to maintain my grasp on the one thing that’s keeping me afloat. I refuse to give up. I refuse to let go and let fear win. Because my God doesn’t speak fear, so I know it’s not Him.

And I’m looking up- at the stars, the heavens, all held steady by His limitlessly powerful hand.

And I’m struggling to fight for truth, for life. I’m being tossed in this ocean and I don’t know when the storm will end. But above me, heaven is unmoving. The stars look back at me and blink their comforting assurance that I am seen. And I thank God that He gave me something to cling to- a way to keep my head above water.

This chasm within me screams. And only now do I recognize that scream for what it is- it screams for Him.

I don’t know how to take Him and fit Him into the holes within me- packing Him in like cotton in a wound to stop the bleeding.

“You’re more than enough!” I yell at heaven. And I demand the scream within me to accept that and grow quiet. But it doesn’t.

Because I remember.
I remember being someone’s child.
I remember falling asleep at night hearing the gentle breathing of my family, the stillness and puzzle-piece feeling. And I remember thinking, “This is how my days, no matter how bad they are, end. And it is so good.”
I remember waking up in the morning with my mom in my bed, whispering to me about the sunrise or bird songs outside my bedroom window.
I remember belonging to someone.

And so I ask God, with more than just a hint of anger, how He could take all that from me (or let it be taken) and then stand before me big but untouchable, invisible, often seemingly distant, and claim to be more than and better than anything this world could offer.

“All good things are from Me,” He whispers.

And so I look back over my list of what I had that was good that I no longer have. And I ask, where was He in all of that? Have I really lost it all in its entirety? Because if all good things are from Him, and He never changes and cannot be lost, if all good things reflect Him, then the truest essence of what we experience that is good cannot be lost- because it’s Him.

Right?

“Show me,” I pray.

And I know. I know beyond what I saw or experienced, the comfort of being someone’s child was meant to whisper to me how my Father loves me.

Feeling held safe as part of a family? That was Him too- my biological family a representation, a mere a shadow, of the spiritual family to whom I really belong. And where love is, He is. He was there among the slow and steady breathing of my sleeping siblings and parents. He was there, sustaining all of us through our sleeping hours, singing over us, protecting us. And maybe that’s what I really heard and found comfort in as a child- not the breathing of my family, but the breathing of my ever-present, trustworthy God.

And while mine is the only human head that rests on a pillow and surrenders to sleep night after night in my home, He is still there. He is there, loving me fiercely. Sustaining me. Singing over me. Protecting me. Reminding me that it is He who holds not only me, but those on whom I had so long depended. “And indeed,” He whispers as I pull the covers up to my chin at night, “I AM holding you.”

He is the reason for the sunrise, the chirping birds. He is the reason my eyes open in the morning. He was the one gifting me for so many years with waking up and having someone ask me how I slept. But I still have that, right? Not the physical presence or eyes that look at me with love, but the sunrise and birds and a brand new day each morning. And I still have Someone who cares how I slept.

The God who breathed me into life. Who holds hold the oceans in His hands. Who orchestrates the dance of the stars and planets above us.

He’s a big, big God. Way bigger than any ache or emptiness within me.

He IS more than enough.

And I don’t know how to get there- how to grasp on to a God I can’t physically hold. I don’t know how to silence the scream when I can’t bury my face against His chest. I don’t know how to let all within me grow still when it’s just–to my physical eyes–me. And the scream. And no one to hold me.

Oh, for eyes to see what’s REALLY happening and how near He REALLY is.
For faith to find comfort in the truth of His nearness, even when I can’t see it.
Even when I don’t FEEL it.

But He gave me this hunger for Him.

And He’s a good Father.

And He is near.

And I am not a mystery.

Somehow, it’s all going to connect. And when it does, I’ll praise Him for every single decision He made in my life, even when it hurt.

Because He knows what I don’t- these waves I cannot see over, they are carrying me to shore.

How He Came

 

I fell to my knees when I got home from work yesterday afternoon.

I walked inside, set my purse down, pressed my forehead to the ground, and wept.

And I said, “I NEED YOU. I am here, kneeling before You because I NEED You! I need to pee and I’m hungry but I NEED YOU THE MOST!” Because I did. My stomach was growling and my bladder was full but even more than that discomfort, I needed Him. My need for Him hurt more. It was the more pressing issue.

And I cried and cried, the kind of cry that feels like it will never end. I’ve been doing that a lot lately. Multiple times a day. In bathrooms and cars and my shower and bed and on the couch and with my face pressed to the carpet. Forever weeping, emptying my heart out to the Lord in tears because words aren’t always enough.

And yet even while I’m teary and snotty and crying audibly like a child, (it’s all quite dignified and mature), I know He’s there beside me.

I know He was there yesterday afternoon, kneeling at my side, His hand on my back. And He didn’t say anything. He was just there. Present. Letting me wail and weep… and not making me do it alone.

I wonder if He ever feels limited. I wonder if He ever aches to hold us, to be physically present with us, to talk face-to-face.

And so I try to soften my heart to that possibility, to filter my pain through the belief that Jesus is there, at my side whispering, “I’m here, child. I’m right here.”

It helps to keep that in mind because otherwise it all feels like too much to bear – Christmas, grief, longing, embarrassment, the involuntary recap of 2015 as it comes to a close, trauma, shame, fear, sorrow…

There’s a vise-like grip on my insides when I think about what I don’t have and may never have,
and what I’ve only fooled myself into thinking I had,
and what I do have,
and why it isn’t what I DO have enough?,
and why isn’t knowing I have Him enough?,
and what is wrong with me??!,
and maybe I’m destined to live this life of being alone forever because I can’t seem to learn my lesson that God is all I need!

But even as I write that I sense Jesus smiling and saying, “Forever is an awfully long time, child.”

And He’s got a point, that all-knowing Creator of mine. And so I try to smile back. I try to roll my eyes at myself, to hold a place for my sorrow–which is real–but to also acknowledge the melodrama.

Forever IS a long time.

And He isn’t up in heaven letting things down here just sort of work themselves out or burn themselves to the ground or whatever. He doesn’t have a “whatever” attitude about anything. He is intimately involved in everything. Not a single thing escapes His notice.

And it doesn’t take Him “forever” to accomplish good things.

Sometimes it only takes a second.

And I try to believe that, to cling to His goodness and foster a bubbling sort of hope within me as I come face-to-face with a new year.

I try to force myself to be excited about it- to praise Him in advance for the good things this upcoming year will hold.

But I can’t seem to really say that without feeling some trepidation and disbelief. Because I’m tired of looking at hard things and calling them good, or seemingly impossible things and calling them possible, or dark situations and modeling my God with a: “Let there be light!”

I’m scared to believe there is good in store. Because I’ve been there, done that. And it didn’t pan out as I had thought it would or prayed it would.

And that HURTS.

And yet, if I stop speaking light and love into this world, if I stop fighting to bring heaven down to earth, where does that leave me? Would it make me any less alone? Any more secure or safe?

It’s scary to hope.

But it’s scarier not to.

And so I look at my situations that seem hopeless and I look at my broken dreams and broken heart and I say, “No. You don’t get to despair. Lift your head. This isn’t the end. God is doing a good thing. Hope on, tender heart. Hope on. Dreams? Stop calling yourself broken. Situations? Stop calling yourself hopeless. Heart? Have you forgotten how much the Lord loves you? Rise up! Take heart! This is not the end!”

And I don’t feel it. But I say it. Because I know it to be true.

It’s hard not to involuntarily recap 2015. My mind is filling with images and memories and things I felt and thought over the course of the year. And I’m remembering… and it feels unreal and too real all at once. It feels both like it never happened (how could it have happened!?) and ongoing.

And it’s too much. It’s terrible. So, so awful.

I can’t bear it.

And so I keep trying to hand those images and memories over to the God, whose ability to heal and make things whole and redeem and restore knows no limits.

And so I say “NO!” to my brain and the panic that threatens to fill me inside. I refuse to entertain those memories or wonder things or replay things or get caught back up in the trauma of it all. Instead, I lay it all down at His feet and I wait. I wait for Him to speak to my sorrow and trauma and fear; I want for Him to heal; I wait for Him to redeem.

And I’m on my knees, and I’m weeping, and I think I could weep forever. But I can’t. I can’t cry forever. Grieving is important, but there’s a limit to what is healthy and what isn’t. And so I demand my heart rest a moment and lift its eyes to heaven. I instruct all that’s within me to take a break from my grieving and sorrow to seek the Lord- to beg Him for comfort or clarity or peace.

And He shows me a baby in a manger.

Helpless. Innocent. Needy. Fragile.

AND FULLY GOD.

And I’m there, with Mary and Joseph and the animals, beholding the Christ-Child. And there’s no place for weeping or sorrow or grief there. Only awe. Reverence. Worship. It’s quiet and still and holy. And hope and love are ALIVE. They are real. They are living. They are a Person.

And I’m there, looking into the face of Wild Hope and Love Unfailing. I am there, beholding the infant Jesus. And I belong.

And I’m there, with Jesus, and I’m also on my floor, tears streaming down my face, needing to pee and thinking a little bit about lunch.

And that is where I was yesterday when Tucker came over to me and started chewing on my hair.

And I laughed. Wracked with grief, unable to do anything but fall to my knees before God and BEG for help, and suddenly I was laughing.

Tears were falling down my face, and JESUS CAME!, and my cat was chewing my hair, and I was laughing.

And maybe that’s life- the good and bad all rolled up together in one brutiful package.

And so we go forward, heads held high, speaking light into impossibly dark situations.

We go forward with hope.

Because we know this is a battle.

And we know who wins.

Love wins.

Hope wins.

Light win.

Joy wins.

And it’s a miraculous thing, but even in the midst of our most intense grief, our loving Father can surprise us with incredible joy.

And so I rise from my knees. I stand, arms outstretched. I lift my head towards heaven. And I hear His gentle beckoning: “Arise, daughter.”

Oh, carry on, warrior heart. The Lord is on your side.

On My Knees

It has been a long week.

I have, on more than one occasion, fallen to my knees and wept.

Because sometimes there’s nothing left to do.

And maybe that’s the lesson in all of this- it always comes back to falling to my knees before the Lord. And that’s where it should begin as well–on my knees before the One Who Understands–whether joy and gladness are the dominant emotions, or sorrow and grief.

One by one, all the healthy things I relied on to get through the day are being stripped away. Maybe not forever, but for now. And Satan is asking me, “Are you going to do the things you used to do? What about those unhealthy ways you used to cope? Those are still options.”

And so I fall to my knees.

Because they aren’t options anymore. I refuse to let them be options. But I can’t do it on my own. I can’t willpower my way through sorrow. I have to present myself as a broken mess to the God who created me.

I need His love to fall down on me and be More Than Enough. I need His Truth to resonate in my brain and heart and within the walls of my house as I speak it aloud, often through tears, because it’s beautiful and it’s painful and it’s hard an it’s good.

His breath gave me life, and His breath alone will sustain me.

I wonder if eventually the things I’m laying down before Him, surrendering to His will, will stop hurting. If I continue to lay them at the foot of the cross, will I eventually stop picking them up? Will I eventually stop looking over at them to see whether or not God’s breathing life into them? Will my heart eventually stop feeling so broken over the things I am confessing I want and can’t control?

And that’s my prayer- that surrendering my entire life to the Lord, laying it all down to gain Him, will feel, indeed, like GAIN and not like loss.

All of it–my pain, my joy, my hope, my desires–they are safe only in Him. And if I wasn’t forced to depend on Him right now for my every breath and for the continued beating of my heart and for the ability to smile at the rising sun, I’d be chasing after empty things. I’d be looking to find life in things created, when I should be looking to find it in the Creator alone.

He made my heart. He placed me into this life. He watched it fall apart. He knows where I’m wounded, where I’m growing strong, what I need, and how to set me free.

On my knees is the safest place to be.

Hiding in the shadow of His wings.