Truth And Panic

When my brain gets swirly with all the things I can’t control, and panic floods my chest, and my prayers start sounding like: “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t!” and: “It’s not okay!”
…When that happens, I close my eyes.

“Tamara,” I ask myself, “do you believe God is real?”
Yes.

“Do you believe He knows your heart?”
Yes.

“Do you believe He cares about your heart?”
Yes.

“Do you believe He can do ANYTHING?”
Yes.

“Do you believe He is good?”
Yes.

“Do you believe He is, in all His ways, Love?”
Yes.

I do.

*

I talked to my therapist about how, when I was a child, I was cuddly, and needed lots of love, and also easily hurt.

My siblings would tease me and, rather than get mad, my heart would break. I interpreted their teasing as a lack of love because I loved them, and I knew I would never treat them the way they were treating me. So, heartbreak- characterized by screaming and crying. Because I was a child. And children don’t come to this earth just instinctively knowing how to deal with heartbreak.

But my parents didn’t know how to deal with it either, turns out.

Mom would drag me to my room because, she’d say, it didn’t matter what my brother or sister did, all that mattered was that the way I was handling it was inappropriate. My emotional reaction was too big for the situation. (Although, in my defense, any negative emotion in that house was considered inappropriate.)

And I’d be even more hysterical as Mom tried to get me to my room. I’d hold on to the stairwell wall, begging my mom not to put me in timeout. “I want a do-over!” I’d wail. “Let’s start the day over!”

But she’d always win, of course.

And I’d be in my room, and she’d lock the door from the outside so I couldn’t get out. Because she knew I wouldn’t stay in there. I wanted to, HAD to, fix it- and not later, but right that second. I had to make it be okay.

So I’d pound on the door, panicked, screaming: “I’m sor-rrry!” But no one ever came.

And I wonder if God is calling that to my memory, not because it still hurts, but because it helps me be compassionate with my present self. It helps me understand why I feel the way I do. And it helps me see that some of who I am today has been learned, yes, but some of who I am is just the way God designed me.

I have ALWAYS been a sensitive, kind-hearted person.

I’ve always needed lots of love and I’ve always been quick to interpret others’ behavior towards me as proof that they don’t love me.

I’ve always had big emotions.

And when those big emotions came, they have never been seen as “okay”, but something to apologize for. They’ve always been something people have used to withdraw or ignore me until I could “pull it together”.

As a result, I’d feel, not only like I was drowning in my emotion, but like I was doing it all alone. There in my bedroom as a child, or now in my home, whenever I feel anything passionately, I believe two things: 1. My emotions ruin my relationships because no one can love this version of me, and 2. No one cares how I feel.

I learned as a child that people leave you when you feel. And that has been reinforced in my life as I’ve grown up. People leave.

And the underlying message is, of course, “I’m wrong.” Even when I don’t consciously believe it, part of the panic I battle in those “emotionally intense and all alone” moments is, “I am wrong for feeling. I’ve ruined everything. I need to make them love me again.”

I never learned to sit with what I was feeling, but to instead panic about it and and NEED to fix it RIGHT. THIS. SECOND. And when I can’t? When everything good feels gone and I’m powerless to do anything about it? That feeling is… I can’t even describe it.

I am still just that little girl, pounding on her bedroom door, begging someone to answer it and reassure me I’m loved–no matter what–and that it’s going to be okay.

Love has always, always, always felt fragile to me. And I’ve always, always, always felt hard to love.

*

I took Arlow on a walk this evening, and watched him play in a fountain, lit up red and pink and blue.

I watched him try to figure out why the water kept disappearing and then reappearing. He’d get close to sniff the place the water just was, only to run over to me when the water would shoot back up, startling him.

And I laughed, aloud–cackled, really–all by myself, while people watched.

And we walked through red and yellow and salmon colored leaves.

“This moment is a gift,” I told myself. And I was relieved to find that, not only did I know that to be true, but I could feel it as well.

And inside of me is so, so much sorrow. And my instinct is to panic, to wail against it like that child locked in her bedroom.

But I’m trying to let God parent me, to do the parenting that my mom and dad were unable to.

And He says, “You are tender-hearted. This is a good thing. You are kind and thoughtful and you have big emotions. This is by design. It is all part of who I made you to be.”

He tells me that I am not put together wrong. I am not unlovable. I am not wrong for feeling.

And I hear Him, but I am still filled with the panic of my child self, pounding on that bedroom door for someone to come and love her and hold her and tell her it will be okay.

And then He opens His arms up wide.

And I get to choose whether or not to let myself be held by the One who showed up for me, or keep staring at that door.

And He pulls me close, my heart still beating like a rabbit’s, and He asks me all the questions I listed above. Do I know He loves me? Yes. Do I know my heart matters to Him? Deeply. Do I believe He can do anything? I do.

And He doesn’t try to talk me out of my panic, He just speaks love over me.

And as I remind myself who He is, I can breathe again.

The sorrow is still there,
but I can breathe.

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The Holder Of Every Second

I was crying in the car after dinner. I tried not to cry. I tried to focus on the raindrops running down my windshield and the way my headlights were bouncing off the license plate in front of me. I focused on the porch light that seemed to be flickering because of the tree branches waving back and forth in front of it. I scanned the bushes for deer.

My head was empty of thoughts, but the tears still came, flowing from some place in the center of me where all my pain is built up as pressure and poison.

*

People ask how I am and it’s always the same thing: I still can’t feel any connection to this life that I know is a gift.

I look at my therapist and say, “I have nothing to say.” Because it’s all been said already. I just keep saying the same thing. And what’s the point? Speaking my pain, my gratitude, my hopes and fears, joys, needs, and the overriding goodness of the God who loves me, none of it changes anything. It all still just hurts.

Sometimes when I’m not with her, I imagine myself going into my therapy session, sitting on her couch, putting my face in my hands, and sobbing the entire hour. That I could do. I have no words, just pain. But when I am actually there, I never have the guts to just devote an entire hour to weeping. And I still have nothing to say. So instead, I spend the hour avoiding looking her in the eyes and I fidgeting uncomfortably.

I still showed up, though. I got in my car and I drove there. I’m a mess and I have nothing to offer, but I’m still alive to sit on a couch and blink back tears. I’m still showing up, the best way I know how, for this life that I can’t seem to make myself want.

But with His eyes full of promise and love, I can hear my Jesus say: “Don’t give up. Keep your eyes on Me. Just wait, child. Just wait and trust.”

And so I’m trying. I can’t make myself want to live, but I can trust that He is doing something, even when I can’t perceive it. He is working things together even when I hurt.

*

I’ve been watching a survival show lately. It’s the voice of God to me over and over again.

There’s the father who crawls across the ground, his back and legs broken, to reach his child who is calling for him. After the rescue, the doctor says it’s impossible that he could’ve done that with the injuries he sustained. And then they interview the father, his eyes moist with tears, who shrugs lightly and says: “Love is stronger than anything. It’s stronger than pain. It’s the strongest force on earth. My baby was calling for me. Nothing was going to stop me from getting to her.”
And the message to me: Love wins. Love is powerful. God is Love. I am His child. He fights for me. He comes when I call. Nothing will stop Him from running to me.

There’s the woman who is quoted as having worried, in the midst of her crisis: “What must they (onlookers) think of this person I am right now?” And then she paused a moment, thoughtfully, and said: “I don’t care what they think. I am SURVIVING here. They are just going to have to deal with it.”
The message? Sometimes it’s enough just to survive. The opinions of others, if harsh, are from a place of ignorance, a lack of understanding what it means to be looking death in the face and saying no.

There’s the woman whose son survived because she had told him his entire life that, no matter what situation he finds himself in, never to panic because “panic kills more people than whatever the incident is.”
The message? Truth. My experience, too, is that it’s the panic that tries to kill me even more than the pain.

There’s the man who pushed past his child to protect her from a bear. He couldn’t see the bear initially, he didn’t know what he was going to see when he stepped around the corner where she was, but he knew “[his] kid was in danger.” Nothing else mattered. He had to protect her.
The message? My God protects me. Life is full of pain, yes, but there’s the pain meant to grow us, and there’s the pain that will destroy us. The latter pain, the bear-like pain, He jumps in front of and tells it to go. He won’t let it touch me.

In every story of survival, the victims rarely did the “right” thing. Their rescue was never the result of their effort or wisdom or even their begging. They were completely powerless to save themselves. All they could do was wait and hope. And make mistakes. And keep breathing. And pray.

And the most incredible thing to me is how everything had to come together perfectly or their rescue never would’ve happened. And there was no way all those things should’ve been able to connect at the precise moments they did. It was impossible. But then again, nothing is impossible where God is at work.

There was no denying God’s hand in each of their stories. And that makes me feel so safe, so completely assured that nothing will happen to me that He doesn’t allow.

He holds every single second.

*

The people in that show who were rescued, they all said they wanted to give up at a point during their suffering, but then they thought of their families. They thought of their parents or spouses or children, the people whose lives were inseparably connected to their own, bound by fierce love, and sometimes blood. That was why they fought- for their families. For love.

“None of it matters unless you have your family by your side,” one survivor said.

And I agree.

And it hurts.

But then I remember the God who IS my family. The God who has blessed me with family, even though it doesn’t look or feel the way I wish it did. The God whose love heals. The God who is jealous for me.

And I remember the God whose ways are beyond our ability to understand. The God whose love is also beyond what we could comprehend.

And I know that somehow, even when it hurts, I’m held. Every single second.

*

God, where are You in this moment? Where are You when it hurts and I can’t script for myself an ending that makes this feel worth it?

Where are You when I can’t feed myself promises of the “better” to come or of a suffering that has an expiration date?

Where are You when there’s no air to breathe? When no one can make it better and the walls are closing in on me because: “Time keeps passing and how do I do this life that is causing me so much grief?!”

Where are You when my chest fills with panic and help cannot be found?

Where are You when I have no idea how to make anything – my life, my relationships, my heart – better?

Where are You when I’m powerless and desperate and screwing up constantly and terrified of things getting worse? Where are You?

And I don’t say that as an accusation, but as a prayer: “Teach me to see You.”

And He knows. He sees my heart. He hears words even when I have none to say. And in response, He offers a gentle smile. And then: “Trust Me, child.”

And it’s not an answer to all of my questions. It’s not a solution with steps that I can follow, outlined and numbered and clear. It’s not an instantaneous healing. Just a reminder to trust.

Trust- not in a plan or method or clearly marked path.
Trust- not in my ability to see how it’s going to be okay.
Trust- not in someone to swoop in with answers or love.
Trust- not in my efforts to fight this battle, or think all the right things, or pray without ceasing.
But trust in Him. In the character and power of the God of hope and promise.

There is nothing to trust in but Him. Everything else has been stripped away. I have nothing to offer and I can’t fix it.

I’ve tried taking my life in my hands and molding it in such a way that it doesn’t hurt. But that doesn’t work. My life just becomes this fragile, teetering thing. And I have moments of happiness, sure, but I’m also exhausting myself constantly, trying to keep what I’ve built from toppling.

I’ve tried to manipulate people and situations so that they’d fit into the broken, screaming places in my heart. But people aren’t meant to be manipulated. And love can’t be forced. And our hearts are much too reflective of Him to be made whole by being patched with only things of this world.

I’ve tried to make it be better. I’ve tried radical acceptance. I’ve tried not wanting anything but God. Nothing I try works. And maybe that’s the realization I’ve been supposed to come to all along: I can’t problem-solve or analyze my way out of this. I don’t have to have a solution. I don’t even have to have anything to offer. Because it isn’t my job to be the solution-seer. That job belongs to the One who whispers: “Trust Me.”

My job isn’t to take and mold and force and beg and decided how this story is going to go; my job is to let it be written. He writes, I trust. He writes, I stay alive.

And He smiles because I’m giving up trying to script and build and sustain and fix, which means that finally things are going to be built right- by capable, all-knowing, infinitely-loving hands.

No more teetering or wobbling. No more desperate pleading and scrambling to keep things from falling apart.

I don’t have a plan. All I have is the kind eyes and tender leading of my Father.

But isn’t that what I’ve been praying for? “I don’t know what I want anymore. I don’t know how to fix it. I just want You. Teach me to see You.” And so now here I am, where everything hurts and I am, every single second, needing to seek His face because it’s the only thing keeping me in this fight.

Oh, for His perspective. How much less would all this hurt if only I could see the beauty woven through all of the pain?

And so, I pray: “Lord, teach me not to base my truth on what I feel or see. Protect me from anything untrue. Help me to guard my heart and mind so that only Your voice, the voice of Truth, will resound within me.”

I pray.

And I go for walks.

I cry in cars.

I read books that stir hope within me.

I want to give up.

But most days, I don’t let myself.

And I watch night fade into day. Over and over and over again.

Open Hands

“Write down the thoughts you have before you start to feel like giving up on life,” she said.

And so I did. I took the pen and I wrote, and I was surprised at how quickly things flowed. They’re all there all the time, these thoughts I’m battling. But these thoughts? They are, at least some of them, true. And how do I handle that? How do you battle truth? You tell it to sit down because God’s truth is bigger. Right?

But does His truth undo other truths? Can I tell my circumstances that they are inferior to hope and the good the Lord has for me? Can I tell my beaten-up heart to trust?

That’s what I’ve been doing. For months. Years.

But what do I do when I’m powering through on the promise that God is good and that He can be trusted, but things don’t get any easier or better? What do I do when the condition of my heart is only getting more and more dire, no matter how much time I spend reading the Bible, and raising my hands in worship in my living room, and falling to my knees in the shower, and leaving my house to socialize with people or walk the dog or go to work and help others?

What do I do when I’m coping and fighting, and every single day everything in me still doesn’t feel any interest in this life, and all I am is sorrow and grief and EFFORT. So. Much. Effort. I am doing everything I can to look at my life and say, “It’s okay because God is good and He has a plan.” But it’s not okay, and God is still good and He still has a plan, but IT’S NOT OKAY. So what then? What now?

“I can’t fix it,” I wrote on my list yesterday. And then: “I want Jesus.”

I can’t fix it.

I can’t feel like this forever. I can’t do life like this. I can’t.

And I can’t fix it.

I am only His child. Only He loves me in the way everything inside of me is screaming to be loved.

And I’m telling myself that’s okay, that He’s enough.

But it’s not true. It’s not okay. He IS enough. But somehow also, He isn’t. And I don’t know how that’s possible, but no matter what my brain knows, my heart keeps shattering into smaller pieces as I try to power through this life on His being enough.

He isn’t here. He isn’t here to hold me. I can’t feel Him or hear His voice.

So it ISN’T enough.

As we talked yesterday, I cried. At first it was one solitary tear, clinging to my eyelashes, which I tried to discreetly wipe away and onto my pant leg without her noticing, but then it was the tears that make your chin quiver and your voice fail you. And I couldn’t stop crying. Our time was over and I was sobbing and I had to leave like that, with her reminding me to stay safe. And I sat in my car and sobbed into my hands and nothing about it was okay. Nothing about this is okay.

And I can’t fix it.

But then there was the kid whose love language is also touch, and he touched my shoulder and the top of my head in his little boy, trying to be annoying way. And there was his brother, who fell asleep in my car, and I reached over to keep his head from tipping and waking him up as I went around corners. And the toddler, his legs entwined with mine on the couch. And the dog who let me cradle his head in the crook of my arm, and who fell asleep, snoring, while I rubbed his belly.

But I woke up this morning, and I called my therapist, and I cried. And I am all tears and grief and there are moments of what I’m screaming for, moments of connection and love and belonging and Jesus, but it’s not enough. It’s not enough.

“I don’t want you to think everyone’s life is so much happier than yours and that you’re the exception,” someone else said to me today.

But that isn’t my fear. My fear is the opposite. My fear is that no one is happy. My fear is that everyone feels like this. Because then what hope do I have? I need to believe this world has people in it who are happy and glad to be alive. I WANT everyone to be happier than me.

*

There was a woman at McDonald’s the other day, sitting at a table, scowling, looking like she hasn’t been hugged or loved in a long, long time. And I thought, “There is SO much better for you than this…”

And how can I say that? How can I feel that for her when that hasn’t been my experience at all?

How do I tell people about the healing, miraculous, all-consuming, powerful love of our God who is nearer than our very breath, when I’ve been telling myself that for months and I’m NOT OKAY?

What is true?

Is this all there is? Is this the More Than Enough, Abundant Life He has for me? Is this it?

I don’t know.

But it’s not okay.

And it’s not enough.

And I can’t fix it.

And so I open my hands. I come empty and broken and scared and with no answers. I have no answers. I just have questions. And even those I offer up to Him. I don’t need answers, I just need help getting through today.

I come to Him screaming for a love that I don’t think I’ll ever have again.

I come to Him wanting to give up and just run to His arms and be done with this pain and suffering and fight.

And I come to Him saying that He is good. You are good, You are good, You are good.

I don’t understand. And I don’t know how to endure this. And I am drowning in a sorrow that I can’t fix. And You are good.