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.

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.

Here’s Where You Get To Choose

It’s easy to love people when things are good. It’s easy to love them when you feel secure and comfortable and loved in return. But what about when loving someone starts to feel scary?

What about when it hurts like hell and everything in you wants to demand they fix it?

That’s when you get to decide what love really is.

Do I love people because I want to feel comfortable and secure and loved in return? Because that isn’t love; love isn’t self-seeking. Love wants the best for others, even when it’s uncomfortable for us.

And it’s the hardest thing in the world in that moment, when your emotions are so big, but you have a choice. And when everything in you wants to scream and cry and demand and control, but you choose not to? That’s when love puts on its work boots and becomes genuine.

*

What about when you’re misunderstood, and the core of who you are is threatened by a person’s inability to understand you?

What about when everything in you wants to tell them they’re wrong?

That’s when you get to choose.

It’s a moment, just a split second, and the decision and the person are both before you, and you want to let your emotional reaction have a voice because it hurts to feel misunderstood and they need to know they’re wrong. But that isn’t your only option, it’s just the easier one. And you get to choose.

After all, is it possible that the God who is too big for us to comprehend could have created two people who have different opinions for a reason, and that maybe neither of us is right or wrong?

*

When the walls are closing in on you and nothing feels right or easy and there’s an actual physical pain in your chest and a bottle of pills in the bathroom and you’re so, so tired…

That’s when you get to choose.

Am I going to do the easy thing, or am I going to do the thing that feels impossible?

Am I going to give in to despair or am I going to stand up, even when nothing in me feels it, and say, “I’m not gonna let life steal my hope.”

You get to choose.

*

Over and over and over again we get to decide: “Where am I going to go from here? What am I going to do with my pain?”

But at the core of all of these decisions is this question: “Am I going to trust God with my heart?”

And in that, too, we get to choose.

*

I make the wrong decision so often.

Thank God He can redeem it.

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

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.

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.

“Therefore, Jesus Said…”

I was trying to look at Amazon’s website tonight, but I hit a wrong button and ended up at my next (alphabetically) bookmarked site: Bible Gateway.

And suddenly, where I was expecting to find my search results for Dishwasher Detergent, instead I was looking at Bible Gateway’s Verse of the Day.

“Therefore, Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.'” -John 10:7, 9-10 NIV

He won’t let me fall.