Whatever Things Are True And Praiseworthy…

The forest floor is covered in leaves and the sun flickers behind the tops of the trees as I walk.

I’m cold and my fears are pressing at my mind and I can feel myself starting to get cranky.

But Arlow is happy.

He is running, tongue hanging out of his mouth, making sure not to stray too far from his mama.

“He’s such a happy dog!” someone tells me. And I take pride in that, in knowing I’m loving him well, that he’s happy.

Her husband throws a stick for Arlow and their own dogs and I watch them play fetch for twenty minutes.

The sun is shining and my boy is happy.

And all, in this moment, is well.

*

I feel gigantic.

None of my clothes fit and it’s hard for me to look in the mirror. Even my face is fat.

But I try to love myself anyway.

I love myself by eating Thai food tonight with my friend.

I love myself by not remembering the clothes that don’t fit me anymore.

I love myself by not wondering how people see me and what they think and whether or not I’ll ever feel good about myself again.

And I love myself by resting my hand on my belly after I eat, willing myself not to be repulsed by this body that I’ve been given.

I thank God for my health, for my life, for what He’s doing.

*

There was a time when my entire world revolved around the need to belong and be loved. My mental health, well-being, and outlook on life were entirely wrapped up in whether or not I felt hugged, secure, wanted.

And there are times still when sorrow grips me. The loss. The questions.

“Who will I spend the holidays with?”
“Who will be there for me in May?”
“What kind of person doesn’t have anyone to put down as an emergency contact?”

But I’m getting better at leaving those questions in God’s hands.

I don’t carry my sorrows around with me anymore, using them as proof that my life isn’t important, that I’m alone and unloved. Using them as reasons to self-destruct.

I don’t even let myself consider anymore whether I’m “alone” or “loved”. Rather, I take my sorrows hand-in-hand with these truths:

She text me a cute picture of her dog.
She invite me to her house and treated me to dinner.
He affectionately punched my arm.
She called, crying, when she needed someone to be there for her.
She text to ask how I was feeling and remind me that she’s praying for me.
He made a point of connecting with me after church.

It doesn’t look the way I wish it would, but I can trust God with that.

And even now, with things exactly as they are, I can acknowledge that I’m wildly blessed.

*

Phil. 4:6-9

“Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.”

 

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Above All

“I think we should bake cookies and watch Halloween movies with the kids tonight!” I said to Madison, excitedly.

I envisioned us all warm and cuddled together on the couch, while outside it poured, and in the oven baked little sugar cookies with pumpkins printed on them.

And that is when I realized that today, I don’t feel depressed.

For the first day in months, I feel like myself.

Yesterday, I wrote this in my journal:

“Sometimes you have to stand right in the middle of the mess of your life–right in the middle of the fear and doubt and depression and grief–and you have to spread your arms open wide and say over all of it, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.'”

Right in the midst of my never-ending mental battle over all that I’m afraid of and sad about, something in my spirit yesterday had enough. Something inside of me was unraveling, breaking loose, and it needed to be allowed the time to properly unfurl. So I opened my mouth and I spoke about God’s holiness until the fuel behind the words lessened, and I found inside of me instead a glowing ember of something like joy.

And I realized yesterday, with a sense of peace that I can take no credit for, that no matter what the future holds, no matter if it’s okay (as defined by me) or not, God will still be God in that moment. He will still be God, He will still be good, and He will still be orchestrating events in my life according to His plan for me. In this moment, I am held. And I will be held in every single moment, good or bad, in which I find myself in the future.

I surrender my fear, I surrender my idea of what my life “has” to look like, and I surrender my rigid belief that almost certainly the me of the future is not going to be okay.

And, of course, I still pray for provision and protection and blessing. But when I say “amen,” I do so, not with this white-knuckled grip on my life, but with a sense of surrender. A sense of peace. The future I am praying for is even more important to God than it is to me. He cares even more than I do. So I can trust Him with it.

Is that why today I didn’t feel depressed, because some deeper-than-my-consciousness part of me yesterday chose worship? I don’t know. Will I still feel like myself when I wake up tomorrow? I don’t know that either. But I do suspect there is a process happening in me that is going to lead me to deeper health and freedom than I’ve known in a long, long time. And I am encouraged.

The Art Of Staying Alive

I pour myself into the things that matter.

I try not to think too hard. I try not to FEEL too hard.

I try to lay every thought and feeling down at the feet of Christ.

I try not to pick back up anything that is a lie. Or anything that is too heavy for me.

I joke with my clients,

and I celebrate eighth grade graduations,

and I dare to let seemingly meaningless things, like new earrings, matter to me.

I feel the warmth of the sun as I lay out, my legs intertwined at the ankles.

I read a book under a tree, while pine needles periodically fall down around me like snow.

I smile at a little bird who found his way into a coffee shop where I was drinking a chai tea latte.

I am learning that it’s okay to pull people close, to grab their arm and lay my head on their shoulder, and let myself feel close and held and loved,

and I’m learning that even when I’m alone, I am still close and held and loved. I don’t need to hold so tight all the time.

I am saying no to pizza and brownies and yes to Mediterranean paninis and carrot sticks.

I am saying no to sleeping fourteen hours and yes to long walks in the fading sun.

I am laying it all down. The tightness in my throat. My sense of feeling disconnected from being alive. My fears and hopes and dreams. I am laying it down.

And I am grabbing tight of what is:

I am alive. My life matters. God doesn’t make mistakes. I am loved.

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.

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

The Battle Continues. And So Does The Laughter.

“Your eyes aren’t smiling today,” my coworker said. Which surprised me because that means my eyes are smiley most days.

*

I keep having to remind myself that life is a gift. Life was God’s idea- the same God I desperately want to be held by. This life is a reflection of Him. It IS Him holding us. We are here, breathing in the stuff of miracles, surrounded by the work of His hands. His fingerprints are everywhere.

The suffering of life wasn’t part of His plan, of course, but the good? The good can reveal to us the heart of our Father, if only we have eyes to see.

*

The dysthymia precedes the panic, every time. Suddenly the world goes dark- black. I try desperately, fiercely to keep my head above water, but I can’t. The current is pulling me down to a place where there is no oxygen or light.

How many nights have ended with me squeezing my eyes closed in bed, my throat tight, my heart racing, repeating: “What I’m feeling right now is a lie. I am alive. I am alive. This life is a gift. I am alive.”

There are moments when suddenly I see and feel about life the way I used to. And those moments are like desperately needed oxygen, loosening the tightness in my chest, lessening the weight on my shoulders, showing me how, even in my best moments, I am weighed down by this fight. And but suddenly these moments of clarity hit me and there’s lightness and relief and something like joy, and I think, “Ah, yes, there you are, Life! I knew it wasn’t supposed to be so hard! I knew you were worth it! I knew you were, at your core, good!”

But the moments are fleeting. Like a blink. And suddenly I’m back in this life where every single decision I make throughout the day is a response to the question: “How can I keep from having a panic attack?”

It’s the panic I can’t do anymore. It is hell. And always, in every moment, I am running as hard as I can away from that, that place that feels like hell, that place that makes me feel certain this is a fight I won’t win.

*

There are moments that make me want to weep with relief because I forget I’m fighting. I’m surrounded by the best kind of chaos, and belonging, and love. And I forget that the sun is setting and that nighttime is hard for me.

God is holding me. He is the breath in my lungs. My throat is tight, but He is my breath. And so I close my eyes and remember I am alive and this life was His idea.

*

And it won’t end. The best parts of this life will continue in heaven.

So when I can’t feel any pleasure in the good of this life, when everything feels empty and meaningless and my heart starts to beat with the wildness I’ve become accustomed to before a panic attack, I can tell myself, without a doubt, that my brain is lying to me. Because even if not all of life is good, some of it is good. And that good has His fingerprints all over it. Life was His idea. And death is an illusion. Those of us to love Him will live forever.

Life is a gift.

*

Here are some things I know:
1. Not everyone feels this way. My brain is sick. Life isn’t this hard for everyone. Which means there’s hope for me. There’s hope that my brain will get healthier. There is hope that the life I knew for 20-something years will return to me.
2. God doesn’t blame me. He knows how I’m fighting. He knows my thoughts and my heart. And there is no condemnation in His eyes. Only love.
3. I am human. I am flawed and weak and sinful, and I vacillate constantly between thoughts and emotions, lies and truths, fears and desires. And that’s okay. It’s okay to be human because God’s grace is bigger than the width and depth of my need and depravity.
4. I am never alone.

*

I don’t know if it’s going to be okay this side of heaven. When I ask myself that question, my response is always, “It HAS to be.” It has to get better or I don’t know if I’ll survive. My desire to fight? It’s huge. But the panic is bigger.

And so I surrender. I embrace not knowing. I accept that this is my fight right now. I breathe. And I say, “I don’t know. I don’t know how or when or why or what’s next. But thank You.”

And I do. I thank God for air, for breath and belonging and moments where life feels real to me and worth it. I thank Him for love and family, laughter and sun, Arlow and the moments before sleep when all feels okay.

I thank Him that He holds me.

And I thank Him that whether my head is above water or below, He is there.

Being Mindful

“Mindfulness is the aware, balanced acceptance of the present experience. It isn’t more complicated than that. It is opening to or receiving the present moment, pleasant or unpleasant, just as it is, without either clinging to it or rejecting it.” -Sylvia Boorstein

What is mindfulness really? I think it’s another word for surrender.

Mindfulness is surrendering our control to the God who is somehow more intricately involved in our lives than we can know.

Mindfulness is choosing not to analyze things to death. It’s choosing to let what is be. It’s choosing to feel the weight of your emotions and, rather than try to change them, to let them exist as they are, knowing they won’t last forever.

You know what the opposite of surrender is? Panic. At least for me.

I can feel the terror rising. I can feel my throat closing.

And under that?
“I can’t do this.”
“This isn’t how life is supposed to feel.”
“I have to make this go away.”

It’s like being under a wool blanket. It’s hot and black and there’s limited oxygen. And I can’t kick my way out from underneath it.

I know there’s a world outside of the blanket. I know there’s light and life and air. I know that exists. But not for me, not right now.

And so I practice radical acceptance. Gratitude. Thought-monitoring.

Mindfulness.

“It’s okay. It’s okay to feel this way.”
“Emotions don’t kill people.”
“Emotions don’t determine truth.”

Am I still under the blanket? Yes. Is it hell? Yes.

But when I surrender, I am inviting God into the hell with me. I am saying, “Here’s where I can’t,” and then trusting Him to meet me in that place.