72 Hours and Deep Breathing

It has been a brutal last 72 hours.

There comes a moment when everything in me tightens and I can feel my brain spiraling into this panicked state. I start wondering why and what and who and how and when and what if. I start answering those questions for myself based on limited evidence. I make decisions about what is actually happening. I effectively make myself feel completely isolated, unlovable, despicable.

I’m learning to put the brakes on in those moments. I am learning to breathe through it. I am learning not to fight against it or demand it be different. I am learning to breathe.

I am not strong enough to dig deep, trying to get to the foundation of why my pain is so intense. I am not skilled enough to problem-solve my way to a less painful state. I am not capable of changing hearts or minds. I am not able to change the past.

So I breathe.

“You have to love yourself through it. You have to do the brave thing of accepting yourself, good and bad, and continue putting one foot in front of the other,” a friend of mine said recently.

I was so entangled in shame and self-hatred in that moment that I could barely breathe. But I knew she was right. Life is full of crossroads. Choose life or death. Choose. And self-hatred feels a lot like death. All we can do is breathe and love what is, ourselves included.

I love how happy Arlow is when I walk him off-leash.

I love friends who stand by you even when it’s hard.

I love the flicker of candles and the smell of my aromatherapy diffuser.

I love sunny days and flip-flops and starting the morning off with an energy drink.

I love touch. I love when arms or legs are intertwined, when someone reaches over and rubs my back, when I’m able to squeeze someone tight around the shoulders, when someone kisses the top of my head.

I love “dancing” in the car when a good song comes on.

I love feeding the birds in the neighborhood.

I love freshly washed bedding.

I love days spent outside and laughing with friends and impromptu road trips.

And while I can’t add “I love me” to the list, at least not after these last few days, I am working on it. And I do love pieces of me. Bits of who I am that I can hold tight to and say, “That thing about me isn’t a mistake. It isn’t bad or wrong or hard to love.”

I love that I’m a born writer.

I love that I can make people laugh.

I love that I am gentle and nurturing.

There are other things I would’ve added to that list a few days ago. I would’ve said I love that I care for people and that I’m a fighter and that I invest in my relationships. But now I don’t know that any of that is true.

It’s been three days of a battle unlike any I’ve ever known. It’s not a battle against panic or wanting to kill myself, but a battle in which I am trying to stay standing while the wind and rain whip and beat against me. And I feel bruised and bloody, raw and wounded.

It’s hard to see the good in the last few days. It’s hard to see how I can pull myself back up and get back to a place of being able to look myself in the face. But I can choose not to cling tight to the words spoken and fears they brought up.

I can choose to breathe.

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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.

It’s All Him

I have been asking the Lord to reveal to me how near He is and how much He loves me.

Because what do we need more than that?

What else is more protective against idolatry or hopelessness or fear? What else can take credit for being the backbone to true, unshakable joy?

And what else, other than a deeper revelation of how He loves me, can help me love Him more?

I’ve been wondering how often what I perceive as self-compassion or self-love is actually not me at all. I wonder how much it’s His love for me resounding within me. And I grasp onto it, calling it my own, because I don’t know any differently. He’s in me and I’m in Him and sometimes it’s hard to know where He ends and I begin. And so I feel compassion or love for myself and it surprises me, sure, but it feels so innate and natural that I think I was the original producer of those feelings. But maybe I’m not. Maybe it’s Him.

I’ll be sitting silently, reading or watching TV or talking to a client, and suddenly I feel love for myself¬†rising up within me like a wind. And I’ll pause and turn my ear toward the sound of the tree leaves rustling and the wind blow past. And then it’s silent again. And I’m back at baseline. And I’m there, unchanged, but smiling inwardly.

And so I think, if it’s not me, or not entirely me, then maybe it’s Him. And if it’s Him, then how breath-takingly near He starts to feel. And with that, I can hallelujah my way through the day, confident of His hand wrapped around mine and our hearts interlinked. And I am not alone or unseen or forgotten because it’s all Him- it’s HIM.

It’s Him in the roar of love (for myself or others) rattling within the confines of my rib cage, begging to break free.

It’s Him in easy smiles and effortless gratitude for a new day.

It’s Him in the wind and rain and sun alike.

It’s Him in the compassion for others that comes so easily to me.

It’s Him in the silence and Him in the noise and Him when I’m alone and Him when I’m surrounded by people who love me.

It’s Him in kind eyes and generous hearts and in anyone whose brave enough to live life open and vulnerable and authentic.

It’s Him in the tick of the clock and the stillness of night and the purr of a cat and even my own beating heart.

It’s Him in laughter and tears and a good meal and a warm blanket and an even warmer hug.

It’s Him in hope that exists against all odds, tentative and unsure, but refusing to be squashed.

It’s Him in delight over an infant’s gummy, lopsided smile; or bubbles in the bathtub; or tulip springing from the earth.

And if it’s all Him, if He’s woven through all that we see and feel, if He’s bigger and more present than we can even understand, then I can say to all that’s within me with boldness: “Take Heart.”

Take heart.
Oh, my soul. Be still.
The Lord is on your side.

The Lord is BY your side.

You are loved and held and not ever, not for a single second, alone.

Lord Of Life

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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