Lessons From The Road

No one can do it for you.

They can love you and care about you, but they can’t fight your fight for you.

People could talk to me and pray for me, but they couldn’t drive for me. No one could come rescue me and bring me home.

*

You can’t control how you feel, but you are in control of how much you suffer.

You can say, “I can’t…” and “This is not okay…” all day long, and it doesn’t change your circumstances one damn bit. All it does is increase your suffering.

You have to breathe.

Don’t rage against what you feel- let it be.

Trust the process.

*

Bad feelings aren’t necessarily bad things.

Stop labeling things as bad just because they feel bad; a lot of good is born out of things that feel really bad.

*

You don’t have to give sucky emotions power by calling them truth.

Emotions come and go. We have to be careful not to let them determine our truth.

*

Some trips are about fun and some trips are about growth.

*

Sometimes it’s important to stop calling the contents of our hearts “wrong” or “bad.”

When you find yourself aware that not everyone sees the world in the same way as you do, maybe it’s better to draw the “wrongness” of your heart closer to yourself rather than push it away. Maybe what feels wrong is actually a unique wiring.

Maybe the key isn’t in making yourself be different, but learning how to embrace what is within you.

Maybe sometimes what we think are our flaws, the ways we struggle, the ways people don’t understand us, maybe the unique way we see the world is actually a secret God whispered into our hearts, and the trick is to learn how to let that widen us up to living bigger and deeper, rather than letting it make us feel discouraged or close us off to life.

*

On the road, all by yourself, you have no choice but to sit with your pain when it arises. You can’t drink it away or overdose it away or refuse to get out of bed, because you’re not home and you have a dog and someone has to take care of him.

And also, being all by yourself, thousands of miles from home, you suddenly realize how terrified you are that you’ll somehow die before ever getting home. You worry about car accidents, mostly, but also murder a little bit when you’re sleeping in a dark parking lot in your car. You worry about your car breaking down and your finances and what if you never get to go home again?

And you realize there’s a whole, beautiful life waiting for you at home. And it’s not perfect, but its yours, and dear God, how badly you just want to be back home where you get to live your imperfect, beautiful life.

So you sit with your pain. And you promise yourself you’ll do that at home too. You promise yourself that even when you’re back in the land where drinking and overdosing and trying to use other people to save you are options, you won’t do that.

*

You have to take some deep breaths and do the things for yourself that you can do- like not text and drive and stop when you need a break and call and talk to people (without begging them to rescue you) when you need to talk.

And you have to trust God with the rest, like no flat tires or car troubles and getting you back home alive.

If you carry the weight of the things God’s responsible for, it will suck all of the beautiful living out of your day and replace it with fear and worry that you were never meant to carry.

*

Every time Arlow makes eye contact with me, I say, “I love you,” or, “How are you doing, baby?” And I do that not because I’m insecure, but because that’s how I communicate.

And that’s how I communicate in my relationships also.

And so when people don’t do that with me, when they go days without talking to me, it feels like they don’t love me.

But not everyone communicates their love in the same way you do. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you.

 

*

Sometimes you can be royally pissed off and sitting in a park in New Mexico and hating everything about life, and then a woman and her kids will come sit with you and want to pet your dog, and you’ll be even more cranky because you didn’t ask for company or small talk.

But then you’ll notice the woman has a tin can labeled “Please Help. Need Food.” And she won’t address it. She won’t ask for anything. She’ll just set it off to the side and slightly behind herself. And she’ll talk about the weather and her kids and where the nearest CoinStar is while she watches her kids wrestle with a dog twice their size.

And you’ll reach into your wallet. Because MFing New Mexico sucks and it’s hot and dirty and no on drives well, but God clearly led you and your bad attitude to this park where a woman with a genuine need and a smile happened to cross your path.

And what a gift New Mexico turned out to be.

*

If you walk your dog in Texas, people will literally stop their cars to conversationally say to you, “That’s a big dog!”

They will also give you the water out of their car and hold the cup for your dog so he can hydrate.

*

The same part of my brain and heart that were terrified to be so far from home are the same part of my brain and heart that feel four years old.

“I’m so scared,” and, “I want my mom,” came in the same breath.

And maybe that’s how we parent ourselves sometimes. We say, soothingly and with a voice laced with love, “I know.”

But we don’t let that stop us from doing the hard, scary thing.

*

If you sit down in a park in Mississippi and sob into your hands, if you’re too weak to hold your dog’s leash anymore and so he runs wild and free while you cry, no one will even notice.

*

I used to think people who picked their scabs were disgusting.

But then I found myself bored and stuck in traffic with a bunch of week-old mosquito bites.

*

A rainbow feels like a personal promise to me in Utah just as much as it does here at home.

*

You can’t outrun your problems or your pain.

You come home at the end of a long road trip and you’re one part, “Thank God, I made it!” And, “Thank God I am back in the right time zone! And thank Him for my bed and my shower and my plants and cats and clean underwear and closet full of clothes!”

And you’re one part complete, black depression.

The road trip wasn’t a solution, it was a lesson.

And now it’s time to put to practice what you learned on your drive.

Now, in this really hard moment, you get to say to yourself, “No, I CAN do it.”

And in the face of blackness, I get to say to myself, “No, I WANT to live.”

*

“You’ve got a big heart. The way you see the world, it got you this far. You might have some bruises and a few scars, but you know you’re gonna be okay. And even though you’re scared, you’re stronger than you know. If you’re lost out where the lights are blinding, if you face the fear that keeps you frozen, chase the sky into the ocean, that’s when something wild calls you home.”

Love Wears Work Boots

I stood in the middle of a two-lane road today and screamed at someone.

I was trying to be thoughtful. I was trying not to inconvenience anyone. And it back-fired. (Yes, that is self-pity you hear in my voice.)

I was going for a walk, and I reached the road. I could’ve hit the crosswalk button, but then the cars would’ve had to stop, and I knew I could cross to the center median before the car to my left even came close, and that I could wait there a few seconds until the car to my right passed.

But instead, just as I was stopping at the center median, the car to my right slammed on his brakes and started screaming at me about not hitting the crosswalk button. He was irate and dropping f-bombs… and so what was there to do but defend myself in typical Tamara style? It’s the social worker in me. I can’t keep my ever-loving mouth closed when something feels unfair.

And so I faced him, moving deliberately out in front of his car, and I screamed: “I WAS WAITING FOR YOU!”

More f-bombs on his end, and then his tires squealed and he drove away.

And I resumed my walk.

Only it only took me a few minutes of processing before I burst into shoulder-shaking, hiccuping sobs. And I walked that way, crying, for the next fifteen minutes, making people uncomfortable while I passed.

And, admittedly, the driver was maybe not even wrong for being mad. I’m sure he thought I was going to cross the road in front of him.

But I also know a typical person, even one who was angry with me, wouldn’t have screamed like that and swore repeatedly at me.

I text messaged Laura after that. “I don’t think I’m feeling very ‘love wins’ today,” I said.

*

I was reading a book description last night.

“…finding strength and courage in the most unimaginable places.”

“Determined to dictate their own fate…”

“…give each other strength and hope as they fight to survive…”

“Brave and defiant…”

“…friendships that will both nourish and challenge her.”

“A beautiful testament to love, family, and the sheer force of will…”

“…a figure of abiding grace.”

If someone were to write a story about my life, I would want it described in that way.

I want to live a beautiful story.

*

I was talking with Pauline yesterday about fighting for truth, about not letting my emotions dictate my behaviors.

I told her how I felt, and then I said: “But the best thing I can do for [this person] is to set my emotions aside and fight for truth. And I want to do that.”

I do. I want to love well. I don’t want to make my emotions, (which, let’s face it, are often the product of lies and fears), the priority of every situation. I want to choose love. I want to choose them over me.

After I said all that, Pauline reminded me that she’s talked with me for a long time about fighting for truth. Admittedly, I have kind of rolled my eyes at it before, believing my emotions to always be the truest, most important thing.

Then Pauline said, “It strikes me that God knows you through and through. He created you. And He knew that, in order to commit to this fight, He’d have to put you face-to-face with something you really valued.” Then she paused and said, “And He knew you’d fight if it was for [this person].”

It’s so true.

God doesn’t put us in situations that hurt, but He uses them.

Our pain isn’t without meaning.

*

Love, love that puts the other person first, that shushes our own scream for comfort and security, it’s hard.

It’s a series of deliberate and conscious choices.

Whether it’s space or a hug, a night out or a long conversation, you show up (metaphorically or otherwise) in the name of love.

And, for all the ways you can’t make things better, you lift that person up in prayer. You plea and petition with the Lord to do for that person what you are incapable of doing.

You take a deep breath and you do the right thing. Over and over and over again. You tell your other emotions to sit down, and you call Love to the bat.

And you text a friend. You ask for prayer. Because Lord knows how hard it is to make smart choices, especially when your emotions are involved. You say, “Please pray with me for strength to make the right choices, and for my perspective to be based only on truth, and for my heart to be filled with peace and patience.”

Because we need each other. Loving well takes being loved well.

*

A few days ago, Pauline asked me how I’d like to be remembered when this life of mine ends.

And, without hesitation, I said: “She loved well.”

Saturday

“Ready, Freddy,” I asked my client.

She turned to look at me. “Freddy? Why do you call me that?”

“Just because it rhymes with ready,” I said, smiling and offering a shrug.

She looked pensive for a moment, and then the conversation changed to something else.

After we got back to her house and she opened the door of my car to get out, I said, “Take care, girly. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

To which she responded: “See you soon, Freddy.”

*

He yelled at me when I got to his house. He was irate, towering over me, his build reminiscent of Shrek.

Usually I let him yell, I figure he’ll eventually wear himself out. But today I didn’t have it in me. “I’m going to go,” I told him while he continued to yell, and then I turned and walked away, while he screamed after me.

I took a deep breath when I got into my car.

And then, thirty minutes later, he called. “I just wanted to say I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just sorry… and yeah, I’m sorry.”

And I smiled.

*

He gave me flowers. Rhododendrons in a Crystal Light container.

“These are for you,” he said, handing them over.

When I got home, I put them on the ledge outside my front door.

*

A month ago, she threatened to kill me. Two weeks ago, she glared at me through greasy bangs.

Today I helped her make some phone calls, and at the end of our time together she hesitated and then said, “Thank you for staying.”

Then she asked me for a hug.

*

These days are the Saturdays- the time between the crucifixion and the resurrection.

*

I cried. She put her hand on my knee, witness to my tears, loving me.

And then I repaid the favor later that day.

*

These are the Saturdays.

Snot And Suffering

There’s dog snot on my pillow, and I have to be up in a couple hours anyway. So, insomnia.

thumbnail_image1(He sleeps with his eyes open when he’s not feeling well, apparently. Isn’t that cute creepy? ;-))

Anyway, the wide awake-ness has me thinking. Or rather, trying not to think, but seeking God on the real issues underlying the stuff on the forefront of my mind.

Such as:

Do I believe God can turn it all around?
Yes.

Do I believe He will?
I don’t know.

Do I believe He always does the best thing for me?
Yes.

…Do I believe the best thing for me might be endless suffering?
I don’t know…

Things That Cling: Lint And Me

Sometimes I feel like my body collects heaviness as I move through my days.

The table of laughter and conversation, which I was not invited to be a part of.
The house I had to go by myself to see about renting.
The rude driver.
The Friday night alone at home.
The $900 spent at the vet.
The dog who still isn’t feeling well.

I feel like black pants moving through a white lint and cat hair filled world. (I excel at analogies. I know.)

And how often is The Thing not even really the issue? How often do the experiences of my day hurt so badly because they reinforce things I fear or believe?
“You’re all alone.”
“You’re no one’s child.”
“You better learn to be okay with doing life by yourself, even when it’s hard and scary and you don’t know what you’re doing because no one ever taught you to be an adult before your mom got sick and died and your dad abandoned you.” (Run-on sentences? They are the things of my brain.)
“You have to fight and beg and claw and scrape at this life if you want anything good.”
“Everyone leaves.”
“There is nothing special or purposed for you.”
“There’s nothing lasting or safe to trust in. Everything is fluid and ending. Everything is loss.”
“You are not enough.”

I am this tender, trying-to-heal heart doing life under the suspicion: “Everything hurts and it always will.”

And although my brain would argue vehemently, does that not hint at a belief that God can’t be trusted?

*

I sobbed into a pillow last night. I cried like my tears were a burning acid in my heart, and the more I could get out, the healthier my heart might be. I cried tears that doubled as prayers.

And then I stood. I stood, arms out in the shape of a ‘t’, and begged God to come and rid me of all that clings to me and threatens to weigh me down. (Everything in me wanted to stick with my earlier Black Pants analogy and say I begged God to be my lint-roller. But I didn’t. Until now. Because at least I have partial self-restraint.) “Here I am, Lord. All of me. These heavy limbs and weary heart. I give it all to You,” I said. “Undo me. Heal me. Take away my pain. Draw me to You.”

And then I reached my arms upward and said over and over again: “You are good, You are good, You are good.” Preaching to my soul. Speaking truth and life over my pain.

I don’t know what I’m doing. In life. As an adult. As this person in this body with this life here in Washington.

I don’t know how to carry this heavy heart with me through my day and through experiences that constantly bump up against the wounds I’m working so hard to heal. Can healing still happen when the wounds keep getting poked at?

I don’t know. I don’t know anything and I hurt.

But God.

But there is this God who holds it all together. Who knows and sees and allows (for my ultimate good) every single thing that happens to me. There’s this God who desires my healing and my life to overflow with joy.

There’s this God who says illogical, irrational, crazy things, like that suffering produces hope.

There’s this God who says not to try to comprehend what is happening through our own limited understanding, because He is greater and bigger than what we can conceive.

There’s this God who says the story He is writing is good, even when my heart and the news and so much of what I see over the course of my day is anything but good.

I’m Black Pants in a white fuzz world. Which is ironic because I refuse to buy black pants for that exact reason- ain’t no one got time for such impractical wardrobe choices; I got things to go that don’t involve picking at lint all day.

God is teaching me something, even now. He is healing my heart, even while it is screaming.

He is restoring me to life.

*

I told my therapist the other day, “The pain in me is screaming.” It’s hollow and gaping and making a sound that is more inhale than exhale.

But when my depression was worse, when life felt not worth it, this pain in me has its own gravity or force, like a black hole. It wanted to suck everything into its scream. But not anymore, hallelujah. Now it exists as its own separate part of me. It isn’t all-consuming.

“The pain in me in screaming,” I said. And then I added, “But so is the joy.”

I am equal parts on-my-knees-weeping-with-sorrow and hands-reaching-towards-heaven-rejoicing.

Because:

The table of laughter and conversation, which I was not invited to be a part of.
But the text message conversation that made me laugh. The “I love you, always.” The learning to trust that love means something; that love doesn’t always walk out.

The house I went to see about renting all by myself.
But the person who sent me a list of questions to ask the landlord while I was there, who said she was sorry she couldn’t be with me. And the person who prayed with me beforehand, that I’d hear God’s voice clearly when I went to see the place.
And the God who smiled at me as I stood there in that tiny home with its brand new kitchen, holding my yellow post-it-notepad with questions scribbled on it, trying to look like I wasn’t feeling scared and sad and out of place. The God who clearly whispered: “This isn’t the one for you.”
And the ability to trust Him enough not to get ahead of Him, afraid nothing else would ever come along and that I better take this not-right-for-me home before I was left with nothing at all.

The rude driver.
But I have a car that’s paid-off and reliable. And the driver was rude, yes, and not being safe, but God protected me.
And He is teaching me that other people’s emotions or thoughts or opinions aren’t reflections of who I am; they aren’t problems for me to solve or things I need to internalize and apologize for.
He’s teaching me to breathe through my natural desire to get hot with anger. He is teaching me to pray for these people who are mean, and not in a pious/removed/too-holy-for-anger way, but as a healthier, more productive way of dealing with the anger than swearing. Because the problem of the mean driver is actually a bigger problem, and that is the problem of his soul.

The Friday night alone at home.
But I have a home I love. And there was the sound of rain outside. And tea.
The eventual receding of the panic and tears. The ability to breathe in trust. How every time I get through intense emotional situations, I come to a place of deeper peace and surrender.
And God is parenting me: “Emotions come and go. Let them. Remember, you were laughing earlier today. You’ll laugh again. You’ll feel hope and peace again.”

The $900 spent at the vet.
But I have pet insurance. And people who love me and Arlow, and who have hit the pause button on their day today to pray for us.

The dog who still isn’t feeling well.
But the friend who called and said she’ll bring me chicken broth for him tomorrow. And the other friend who called and gave me advice on how to keep his vomiting at bay so that we could both get some sleep tonight.
And the gift of loving a pet so deeply. And how that is a small reflection of the way God loves me.

*

Mourning what I don’t have, while wildly grateful for what I do.

Panic that leads to peace.

Suffering that leads to hope.

This God who is so much bigger and so much more good than my broken heart would at times have me believe.

 

Emotional Stability Isn’t My Strong Suit

My [lying, cold-hearted, going to give me a heart attack] boss’ new rules, which require that I sit at a desk for four full days a week, even when there are no patients to be seen, is making my current emotional state a lot worse because I don’t have the option of staying busy. My productivity is plummeting. But at least this way she knows where I am every second of the day, which apparently is the most important thing to her. Arrrrgh. But I digress.

I just went out to my car and called the person I have an appointment with tomorrow. I was grateful she didn’t answer. I didn’t want to talk, I just wanted to be heard.

I told her how I can’t breathe, how everything I eat makes me feel like I’m going to throw up, how my heart physically hurts. I told her how I’m trying so hard to love life, and it’s not working, and what if it never gets better? And I told her I’m sitting at my desk trying to just breathe. “Don’t grab your stuff. Don’t run out,” I remind myself.

But the next sentence that inevitably wants to follow those two, the one I try to shove out of my mind before it takes shape? “There’s nowhere to run.”

I was praying yesterday and talking through surrender and depression with God. I told Him I do choose His plan for my life. I do lay down all that I hope for a dream for in exchange for the “better” He has for me. I do. In my mind, I do. Deliberately and consciously I do. But my body is betraying me and my heart is screaming its pain and even though I trust Him, it’s excruciating. But even still, I’ll choose excruciating over veering away from His plan for my life. I choose excruciating.

And I told Him I know I don’t actually know what I want or need. There’s freedom in that, too. I told Him, “You know what my deepest longings are, Lord, but I don’t even ask for those things anymore. I’m not holding on to them as the solution to how I hurt. I am just telling You I hurt. And I am begging You to fix it. However You see fit.”

*

At the counselor Tuesday, I wanted to just stop talking, stop trying to make her understand, stop hoping she’d say something actually helpful. I wanted to just tip over, curl up on my side, and sleep.

I could’ve too. I felt so disconnected from my body that I could’ve just laid there, eyes closed, and not responded to anything she said or did in response. I could’ve slept through it and not cared at all how insane I looked or how uncomfortable I was making her. I was so tired. I am so tired.

*

When people say things like, “Accept it and move on,” it makes me want to punch them in the nose. Because what do they think I’ve been trying to do!? I am not choosing this! I am begging God for happiness- or at least for joy, a desire to live.

And also I want to punch them because they’re right. What can I do but accept it and move on?

And that thought scares the crap out of me. It makes breathing even harder.

Because I’ve been trying that so hard, for so long, and I am not okay and what if this is forever? What if this constant pain in my chest lands me in the hospital for some sort of medical reason and I die without ever again getting to experience life as a gift?

This can’t be forever. I can’t feel like this–shaky and cold and like all that’s within me could combust and I explode right along with it–forever.

*

I am having such a hard time seeing a reason to push through.

I just know that I have no other choice. The alternatives are worse than what I’m currently experiencing. (Again, that thought, the “no way out” thought, makes it harder to breathe.)

I am enduring. I am enduring and hoping. Because I know God’s giving me this breath for a reason.

And I pray on the other side of this, (because I fiercely pray that there will come a day when I am, in fact, on the other side of this), I’ll be changed.

I’ll be able to stand atop the rubble of my life and not despair.

I’ll be able to suffer alone without losing my desire to live.

And when those I love are not okay, I’ll show up with a movie and dinner and I’ll sit beside them, and I won’t try to fix them or take on their pain, but I will sit there and love them steadily and reliably and unconditionally. And that’s all we need sometimes, I think. Just to know that we’re not alone.

*

And there is good. Amidst it all. It not enough good to make me want to do life, but it still matters. The good is like little reminders sprinkled throughout the day that my Father loves me and sees my pain and is in control.

Sunny days beside the creek, alone except for Arlow.

Sharing my cereal with Theo. One bite for me, one bite for him.

Watching kids blow bubbles.

French braiding Olivia’s hair.

When someone–pet or person–unknowingly moves closer to you in their sleep.

When someone loves you enough to ask, “Have you eaten?”

When you wake up in the morning to let your dog outside, and you’re cranky about not still being asleep, but then you realize the sky is pink, and it’s beautiful, and suddenly you’re so glad you didn’t miss it.

*

All of my days are written in His book. This isn’t a surprise to Him. Nor is it something I’ve chosen. So I will ride it out, believing that it’s all part of the story He’s writing.

*

I’m not in control.

I am not okay and I can’t force myself to be okay and time keeps going and what if I lose my job or my depression gets worse? And remember last summer?

And I’m gripped by horror and trauma and I want to run away from the memories and emotions and I CAN’T run because they’re inside of me.

And I’m terrified. Terrified of not being okay, terrified of needing help, terrified of no one helping or being able to help, terrified of things getting worse, terrified of people blaming me and leaving me because I’m too much work.

I’m scared.

I have no control and I’m scared.

But He’s always gotten me through everything before. I’ve kicked and screamed and made it harder on myself, but He’s still stood by and held my hand and guided me along in this story He’s scripting.

And He’ll get me through this too. This Breakdown Part II. This surfacing of all that’s unresolved, and not better than it was when I first laid it down at the cross in exchange for unfailing hope in the goodness of the Lord.

And I’ll believe that someday I won’t have to “get through” my life. I’ll be able to LIVE it.

And maybe I’ll never get married or have kids. And maybe no one will ever embrace me as daughter or sister. And I don’t know how to be okay with that.

But I do know what God has for me is only the best. He is good and wants good for me, not suffering.

So Lord, help me trust the process.

Help me not fault myself.

And please, help me not be alone. However that looks, Lord. Even if it’s just You and I. Help me go to bed at night feeling safe and held and loved and not alone.

I’ll Remember The Empty Grave

I cried endlessly yesterday. I cried in my office, I cried in my coworkers’ office, I cried in my car, I cried on the phone, I cried on the couch, I cried in bed.

And I didn’t know that I’d ever stop crying. I didn’t want the next breath or the next breath or the next second or the next minute to come.

But Arlow needed to be walked.

So I went to the park and we walked.

And after he got too tired, we sat.

And he napped.

And I laid on my stomach in the wet, muddy grass in my work pants, and I listened to the sound of children playing, and passerbys commenting on “that cute puppy”, and the sound of passing cars.

And I looked up at the trees,
and I looked down at the grass reflecting the sunlight,
and I looked up at the hazy light of the fading day.

“Be still and know.”
“Be still and know.”
“Be still and know.”

*

I’m so hurt and angry. And my head wants to fill with fire-hot thoughts:
“They don’t ___!”
Or “They said ____!”
Or “They’re lying about me and getting away with it and we all know it!”
Or “I’m all alone and I can’t breathe and my chest hurts and HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO ENDURE A LIFE THAT FEELS SO ENDLESSLY HARD!?”

And I have to remind myself how much of this battle is mine, and how much of it is the Lord’s.

My job is to stand firm. My job is to let myself be His.

His job is to fight.

The lies and injustices aren’t mine to battle. I will speak truth. I will not back down. And I will try to keep my mind focused on Him rather than all the craziness. But He is my Defender. He is the Truth-Revealer. This is His battle.

My job is to start looking for another job.

My job is to continue to love even when I feel alone.

My job is to believe in a life that is going to be greater than I could ever have dreamed.

My job is to trust.

He will fight.

*

I am not okay.

But He is God over every season.

And He is whispering to me truths about a life that is more than just suffering,
a life that is more than just something to endure.