When You Come Back To Life

Something inside of me is coming back to life.

I say that hesitantly, like when a branch on a plant you thought was long dead takes on a faint hue of green. You hold your breath and you agonize over whether you’re going to squash the life right out of it if you water it too much or not enough, give it too much sunlight or too little.

I told my therapist recently, “People who have labeled me as depressed have no idea what they’re talking about.”

Whatever it is I usually feel, it’s so much bigger and deeper than depression. It’s deadness. Inside, I am dead and nothing feels worth it and nothing feels real, no matter how many eyes I look into or birds I hear chirp, none of it matters AT ALL. Constantly my brain is telling my heart: “This thing MATTERS,” but my heart can’t feel it.

That’s not depression. And I know that because I’m still depressed, but I’m far enough away from that place that I can say, “No, that wasn’t normal. How I felt back then isn’t part of the normal human experience.”

People tell you to try harder, or cope better, or just suck it up and accept that life is hard. No, that is shit advice. You can’t tell a sick person to get well. You can’t belittle them or tell them they are doing something wrong and that’s why they’re sick. I was sick. I was sick. And I’m still recovering.

At least, when I look at that sprout of green, I hope that’s what it means- I hope it means recovery. The process of blooming back to life.

I was driving the other night with Will and Gabe, and the golden glow of the setting sun was coming through the trees, and I thought, “This moment matters to me.” And my heart agreed.

Green.

I’ve laughed with coworkers, and while I still can’t fathom doing life indefinitely, I’ve distinctly been able to label the moment I’m in as “worth the fight.”

Green.

And even in my sorrow, when I choose to endure it and then hand it to God, when I choose to see things from the right perspective rather than through the lens of my pain, when I choose to go to bed and try again tomorrow rather than reach for the alcohol and pills… When I lay my head down at night and everything inside of me hurts, but I’m able to believe that maybe tomorrow will be better?

That, too, is green.

All The Living Things

There’s a man sleeping on the sidewalk outside my office window.

Yesterday I watched a woman eat a sandwich, mayonnaise and saliva oozing down her chin.

Five days a week, I look into hollow eyes and watch people take pills and I wonder about life. I wonder about the significance of any of it. I wonder why some people sleep outside and numb their pain with needles and I wonder how they do it, how they keep doing life when it’s cold outside and they have no bed and all their friends are unshowered and swearing. And I wonder why them and why not me. And I wonder what if it was me? What if that became me?

*

Yesterday, under the fading sun, I played lacrosse with him. We laughed and ran through the grass barefoot and I thought, “THIS is why people live. For moments like this.”

I watched my friend play guitar, his pain and heart and perspective on life becoming art. And I marveled at that, at how some people can take this life, the bigness of it, and not be consumed by it, but rather use their voice to encourage and comfort and inspire others, putting truth on display in a way that isn’t scary but that reminds us we’re all in this together.

She looked into my eyes and kissed my head and hugged me and I thought, “I’d choose this moment over any moment with my biological family.” Moments like those? That, too, is why people choose to do life. The people in my life right now, they are the family of my heart. I lost my biological family, sure, but I didn’t really lose anything because, in exchange, God gave me so much more- people who see me and know me and look at me with love and promise they won’t leave.

*

I wonder if they’re catching on to me at work.

The RN was talking about a client the other day, and he said the client is taking more than the recommend amount of Advil. Then he told the team that he advised the client not to do that because “that will kill you.”

Reflexively, I said, “It will?”

A couple days later he was talking about a client with diabetes and how if his blood sugars get down to 40, he could go into a diabetic coma.

“Can anyone have such low blood sugar, or just diabetics?” I asked.

Even though I’m in a better place, my mind automatically goes there.

*

“You’re adorable,” she said to me, this stranger. And I wondered what people see when they see me.

Would I give up on this person I am? I am the only one who will ever have this voice and this heart and this smile. Would I give up on this person that God created with so much love and detail? Would I lay to rest forever these hands that have cuddled babies and lovingly stroked Arlow’s face and typed out words that resonated with others? Would I chose to put a “the end” in the middle of the story God is still scripting?

What if they left me? What if no one loved me or thought I was “adorable”. Would I give up then?

*

“I’m sad,” I told her. “I’m sad because I’m scared and I’m sad because I hurt and I’m sad because life is hard.”

In response, she said the only thing there is to say: “I don’t want you to be sad. I love you.”

And I thought about that. There are worse things to be than sad, I suppose. Like mean. I’d rather be tender-hearted and sad than cold-hearted and mean. Maybe there’s a blessing in the sadness.

*

“I feel like Cinderella,” I told her. “I feel like my carriage is going to turn back into a pumpkin.”

I’m scared.

But maybe the fear is a lesson. Maybe God is teaching me how to let love be what it is, to trust in it even when it feels uncomfortable.

I can’t grab on to people like I hold tight to my blanket. Life doesn’t work like that. Which means, until I learn to be a person apart from other people, and until I learn to trust people when they say they love me, I’m going to spend a lot of time feeling uncomfortable.

Uncomfortable is a gift, though. At least if we use it well. Uncomfortable is always the first step to growth.

You can’t define love. You can’t label it and pin it down and put it in a box or a chart or a graph or something tangible that keeps it permanent and immobilized and for sure. Love is a living thing, not a thing to be controlled. A thing to surrender to, to be swept up in, to let breathe. You can’t control it; you just have to let it be.

 

Mermaid Hair and Forehead Kisses

I took a bath tonight.

If I’m being honest, I probably outgrew baths a long time ago. I always go in there with a book or music, and something to drink, but by the time the tub is full, I’m already bored and ready to get out.

Nevertheless, tonight I bathed for as long as it took the tub to get full.

And I thought about Mom. I closed my eyes and remembered being a child.

I remembered feeling my hair sway through the water, while pretending to be a mermaid.

I remembered how Mom would come in with a towel and wrap me up in it when it was time to get out. How my lips would be turning blue because the water got cold a while ago, but I was having too much fun to notice or care.

I remembered cozy pajamas and Mom brushing my hair and Dad tucking me into bed. I remembered saying prayers and feeling Jesus as close to me as the cat stuffed animal I fell asleep hugging every night, my damp hair smelling faintly like shampoo.

And I remembered that being enough. It was enough to have a home and a bed and people who loved me. It was enough. I could sleep and be at peace and look forward to the coming day because I was loved and someone was going to comb my hair in the morning and tuck me into bed again at night and all was well.

Where did things get so twisted up?

*

At church Wednesday night, someone looked me into the eyes with conviction and tenderness and said, “God isn’t going to let you fall.”

I don’t remember who said it, oddly, but then I think maybe that’s okay because the words weren’t really even theirs, but Jesus’.

*

If you asked me even just two weeks ago, I would’ve adamantly told you that yes, all we need is love.

But today I looked person after person in the eyes and I thought: “I love you… and YOU love ME. And why isn’t that enough?”

I don’t know.

That’s the only time in therapy that I start to weep to the point of being unable to speak- when I talk about the people I love and who love me in return. I am so grateful and so blessed. But also, there’s no denying anymore that my actions affect other people- people who I never, ever would want to hurt. People love me. And in some ways, it was easier back when I thought I was all alone.

Here I am, loved, and still struggling to want to do life. And how is that possible? I thought love would fix it all…

And shouldn’t it? If God IS love, and God is enough, then there has to be some truth to the “love is all we need” philosophy, right?

I don’t know. I don’t know very much anymore. I am more questions than I am anything else.

*

And yet,  what good will it do to rage against what is (or isn’t), or demand answers, or demand something of myself that I just can’t deliver right now?

What good will it do to panic over the uncertainty of this road I’m walking?

All I can do is surrender. There’s no peace or joy or hope to be found in raging against what is.

So I breathe in the God who is in every moment and I pray He give me eyes to see.

And my brain is on fire with the constant battle, but a brain on fire can’t stop my heart from perceiving goodness and truth.

So I smile at the face of a little boy who affectionately kicks my foot during church, and the woman who bends down behind me and hugs me, handing me a latte and piece of gingerbread that she brought me just because.

I breathe in, with immense gratitude, the miracle of every single “I love you too”, and conversation that comes easy and makes me laugh.

I smile about bear hugs and basketball games and sunny days and silly selfies and happy nights with people I love.

I surrender, as best I can, to this unfolding of my life and trust that somehow, all that I don’t understand, the tangle within me, doesn’t really matter when I can lift my eyes to heaven and say over all of it: “You are, You are, You are.”

It isn’t my job to untangle it or make sense of it. It’s my job to rest and wait and trust and try not to give up.

My brain is on fire, and every day is touch-and-go, but all around me people love me, and my God is still on the throne.

And He won’t let me fall.

*

And so tonight, I took a bath. And Mom is gone. And I’m not a kid anymore. And no one’s going to be picking out my pajamas for me or combing my hair. But in some ways, things are still the same.

The pajamas I put on? They weren’t picked out for me by my mom, but they were provided for me by my Father.

And the hair I combed? It, like everything else about me, makes my Father smile.

And no one will tuck me in, but I can pull the covers up to my chin and ask God to bend down and kiss my forehead.

I can listen to Arlow snore and smell my freshly shampooed hair and talk to Him like He’s right here in the room with me. I can close my eyes and know He is near. Because a good Father never passes up the opportunity to hear His child’s heart or kiss her forehead.

And my eyelids will grow heavy. And somehow, peace will come. And I’ll know that I know that I know, I’m still Someone’s child.

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.

My Heart Will Choose To Say, Blessed Be Your Name

As I was getting home from work the other day, I saw my neighbor outside in his front yard feeding birds. And I kind of watched for a minute while I gathered my stuff and I smiled because I get it. I get how animals can become your family. Even animals who don’t live under your roof.

And then I watched while he got into his truck and backed out of his driveway.

And knocked our other neighbor’s garbage can over.

And kept driving.

And so I went over to pick the garbage can up and move it off the road, and I thought about how isn’t that just the perfect example of the complexity of human beings!? We are such contradictions.

And I found myself wondering, “Did he not care that he knocked their garbage can over? Is he just mean?” But I don’t think so. I think he was embarrassed because he probably suspected I saw it happen. And I get that too.

*

When Will and Gabe stayed with me, they kept pointing out when I was talking to myself or my pets or the TV. And I would roll my eyes and laugh and tell them, “That’s because I’m alone so much!”

And I mostly found it funny, but I also found it curious because I hadn’t realized how much I talk aloud to things that can’t talk back!

Or maybe I did realize it, but I didn’t realize it was weird!

I still do it, though. I’m okay with being weird. 😉

I catch myself when I’m talking aloud to an essentially empty room now, though. And it makes me smile and think of the boys and how I’m not really that alone if someone knows me well enough to tease me about the frequency with which I talk to myself.

And so I’m talking to my cats or the toaster or my own self and there’s just fine print, this gentle whisper, that I’m held. By Him and by others who love me. I exist in their hearts even when I’m alone.

I am loved. I belong. I fit.

There is a place for me in this world. And it is a gift. A soft, comforting thought on which to lay my head as I fall asleep at night.

I matter.

To Him, yes.

But also to those I love.

*

I don’t know how to settle my brain and heart as scenes from my 28th year of life flood through my brain without my consent.

And so I ask Jesus to give me a new script. How does He see my upcoming birthday? How does He want me to feel about turning 29?

Shame?

Like I don’t deserve it?

Embarrassed because what right do I have to celebrate something I didn’t even want?

Afraid?

Of course not. And yet that’s mostly how I feel.

And I miss my mom.

Or maybe I don’t. Because I remember many painful birthdays from when she was still alive, when I went to bed crying and feeling unloved.

Maybe I just miss being delighted in. Being someone’s daughter.

But I still am Someone’s daughter.

And I know that. And it sustains me. But it doesn’t feel like enough. And what is wrong with me that my heart is so full of ache even though I’m trying my hardest to give it wholly to Him?!

…How does He want me to feel about how there are more people in this world who passionately dislike me than who passionately love me?

It is all SO painful. This messy, complicated world, in which I can’t grasp onto anything and call it mine and secure and trust it not to leave.

I can grasp onto Him, of course. But not tangibly.

And so that’s my prayer as of late. “How do I find a home in Your arms when You aren’t here?”

I know that He loves me, but how do I make that really matter to my heart? How do I make it matter enough that I can confidently say that I don’t need anyone else to love me because I have Him?

And what is wrong with me that so much of my insides are screaming for something I can’t exactly name?

And so I lay it all down as best as I can. I give all of it to Him- a sacrifice. Because what else can I do but run to Him over and over and over again with all the things I can’t control and don’t understand?

And I say, “I trust You.”

Because that alone stops the screaming.

I trust You.

And it’s beautiful. When I refuse to think about what was or what I don’t have or my fear about the future, I am able to breathe deeply. Because today? It’s good.

Thank you, Father. Thank You for all You’ve brought me through.

Thank You for how You love me so relentlessly.

Thank You for carrying me through this beautiful, brutal world.

Thank You for helping me to see it–in all its bruty–as a gift.

As Sure As The Sun

Dear God,

Thank You for the comfort of falling asleep on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, while people you love remain awake around you. Thank You for the gift of drifting off to sleep knowing You’re not alone.

Thank You when you wake up and realize you were drooling, but know you don’t have to be embarrassed because You’re safe with these people who love and accept you. And we’re all human. It’s not a competition.

Thank You for legs intertwined and shoulders to rest your head on and arms to interlink and backs to scratch.

Thank You for the quiet of night, and late night drives when you look out the window and watch the bright lights of buildings pass in a blur. And thank You when, in the car, people you love are asleep. And so precious to you. And you’re all there together. And the quiet and the being together and the lights lull you into a sense of All Is Well.

Thank You for laughter. And good stories. And deep conversations.

Thank You for good food and eating without guilt or shame or self-loathing. Thank You for cashews and grapes and dark chocolate.

Thank You for growth and hope and promise.Thank You for being wanted and belonging. And thank You that when something doesn’t make sense, I can entrust that thing to You and just let myself be held.

Thank You when the things I fear happening don’t happen.

Thank You for Dramamine and that I didn’t throw up in the car. And thank You that even the most uncomfortable things, like nausea, eventually pass. And thank You that even had I thrown up, it wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world. Because I’m loved and it isn’t a performance. I’m safe and Yours and it’s all going to be okay.

Thank You for energy drinks and also please don’t let them kill me. 😉

Thank You for the beauty of winter- warm houses and long showers and hot beverages and clothes that feel like a hug. And thank You for the promise of spring.

Thank You for the way the rising sun looks on slightly foggy mornings.

Thank You for headaches that dissipate and don’t turn into migraines.

Thank You for the opportunity to create and read good books and continually open myself up to breathe in the holy beauty of what this world has to offer.

Thank You for the times when I feel out-of-place and judged and I can hold my head high and not feel sad because I know I am not doing life unloved. People carry me in their hearts even when we’re apart. And Thank You that You don’t make mistakes. And You made me.

Thank You for permission to be my authentic self. And thank You for giving me authentic, flawed, beautiful, Jesus-reflecting people to do life with.

Thank You for opportunities to nurture and provide and be someone’s safe place.

Thank You for animals and cuddles and purrs and how pets look at you like you’re everything they need.

Thank You for Indian food, and that the Indian food restaurant isn’t closer to my house than it is, which safeguards me from going very often!

Thank You that nothing unresolved or unhealed or fragmented within me will be that way forever. Thank You for the way hope and patience go hand-in-hand, and that waiting or not understanding aren’t evidence of anything. Thank You that You are reliably, unfailingly trustworthy and good.

Thank You for home–found in places and people and moments–and that even while we await our true home, our home with You, this world doesn’t have to feel lonely or wrong or like anything less than a gift.

Thank You for bathrooms with toilets that flush normally and don’t require any special tricks or maneuvers. And doors that lock in a way that isn’t confusing, making you simultaneously fear that it’s not actually locked, and also that it’s so locked that you won’t be able to get it unlocked and will have to pound on the door for help. …Which is totally a thing that has happened to me before.

Thank You for second chances and fiftieth chances and for always welcoming me back to You with arms wide open.

Thank You that it’s impossible to believe You to be more good or loving or present than You actually are. Thank You that You’re all those things more than we can even fathom.

Thank You for invitations.

Thank You that I can fall on my knees before You and just be Your child- desperate and needy and in love with You. Thank You that even in my deepest pain, when I turn to You, it makes you smile. And thank You that, even in my deepest pain, that thought brings me comfort.

Thank You that my begging You to know and love You more is not a prayer I have to fear going unanswered.

Thank You that I’m still here to celebrate my 29th birthday later this month. Thank You that even when I gave up, You didn’t. Thank You for all that has remained even amidst all the loss and brokenness and mistakes. Oh Abba, thank You.

Thank You for how You love me. Thank You for how You provide. Thank You that I have so much to be thankful for.

In His Hand

Tuck was purring, his warm body curled up at the foot of my bed. I adjusted my leg so that we were touching- my leg wrapped securely around his body. And I felt him sigh and nestle his head against my leg, settling more deeply into sleep.

And I am not alone.

The song in the car that resonated so deeply within me that I had to throw my hand over my heart and pray those words over myself: “Lord, we’re desperate for Your touch… Spirit of the Living God, fall fresh again. Come search our hearts and purify our lives… We cry out for Your love to define us… Come purify our hearts… Come cleanse us like a flood.” And hunger for Him isn’t something I could ever take credit for. And so I prayed those words, I prayed they would saturate my soul more deeply than I could manage through willpower. And I hit repeat after the song ended and I prayed them again.

And He is there- His presence in my car, intermingled with my prayers and the voices of Starfield. And I am not alone.

“Preservative,” I said. And she tried to repeat the word. “Pre-serv-a-tive,” I said again, smiling. And we laughed as she tried again, her tongue tripping up over the syllables and the way the letters fit together. “Your turn,” she said. And she had me repeat after her, words in Spanish. And we laughed as we baked and marveled at how what came so naturally for each of us was so challenging to the other person. “It’s so weird to me to think I never would’ve met you if you hadn’t come here for your exchange year,” I said. And she nodded her agreement. And then, after a moment of thought-filled silence, I smiled. “Preservative,” I said again. And she laughed.

And I am not alone.

They smile when they see me, these kids who I love so dearly. Goofy and wild and so special and sweet. And I laugh and listen to their stories and hug them and kiss the tops of their heads, and I pray that as they get older they still let me hug them, and that they still want me to hear their stories. But I give that to God. For now I’m here with them, our legs and feet intertwined on the couch as we watch something on TV. And it’s comfortable and warms my heart and we’re family.

And I am not alone.

Shaky hands lifted to the ceiling as I praise my God. And my voice and heart cry is joined by the rest of the church’s. And we are there, all His children. And I realize this moment of worship will continue into eternity- all of us together, forever, worshiping the One who joined us together when He called us His. And of all I don’t know, of all I don’t understand, that’s enough- that He looks at me with love and kindness and says not to be afraid. And I have been planted–purposefully, not by accident–in this church I love so fiercely. And we’re all there for the same reason- to draw nearer to the only One who can sustain us and give us life and fill us with indescribable, wild joy.

And I am not alone.

I rolled over just before my alarm went off. Opening my eyes, I saw through the three-inch crack between my blinds and my windowsill, pink. Brilliant pink. And I watched as the pink faded as the sun continued to rise, and I realized had I opened my eyes even thirty seconds later, I would’ve missed the best moment of the show.

And I smiled. And I thanked Him. And I am not alone.