Living Into The Questions

“[The world is] so beautiful and complex and painful that sometimes you just need   to sit down and write about it.”

*

A lady at the dog park made me cry today.

Arlow jumped on her. But in his defense, he didn’t until her dog jumped on her.

“You need to get control of your dog!” she said to me.

And I thought, “Yeah. I need to get control of a lot.”

*

I am trying to embrace the fact that I am a person. I am trying to honor my heart and who God made me to be. I am trying to stand tall and firm in my own body rather than grasping and begging for other people to validate me and fill me up.

My friend, Erika, and I talked today about how I’m an empath. How I basically go through the world without any skin- feeling everything so deeply.

And she talked about how it’s important that I take care of myself, that I put up boundaries so that the world doesn’t overwhelm me.

I never really thought about that before, about being uniquely wired to be sensitive, about needing to take care of that truth about me, to honor this quality rather than shame myself for it, to give room for my heart to tell me what it needs.

*

We also talked about why I can’t hold love; why I am empty of love almost the second someone says, “Yes, I love you.”

She said that’s a foundational problem because all of the world is, at its core, about love.

She said to be aware of that, of my inability to hold love. To try to live into the question, to try to open myself up to finding healing for whatever part of me in wounded in that way.

*

“Is life worth it?” I asked her at one point. “I just need to know that life is worth it.”

In response, she said something then that I’ve heard before: “That’s black or white thinking.”

She said some days life is worth it, some days it’s not.

She said, “Welcome the tension, because if you don’t, you’re fighting a battle you don’t need to fight. Allow pain to find a home in you without trying to make yourself be somewhere else. Be present with it. And then you’ll discover you’re able to move on.”

*

I don’t know how my story is going to end. I don’t know what happens next.

But I know there’s grace for me in this season.

So many people are pouring love into me.

I’m so blessed.

And still, I hurt.

*

“The funny thing about writing is that more often than not, you write your own way into truth.”

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When It Rains

After work today, Arlow walked in, went to the pantry, grabbed a dog bone, went to the living room to eat it, and then fell asleep on the couch where he is currently periodically farting.

Replace the dog bone with a beer and my dog is a 55-year-old man.

*

I told a couple people today that I feel like a flashlight in which the batteries are dying. I still put off light, but not enough to illuminate anything.

When I told my therapist that tonight, she paused a moment and then said, “Do you write this stuff down? Because sometimes I hear a book in you.”

I hope so.

#reasonstostayalive.

*

Midday today I found myself driving in the rain, surrounded by gray. And, for the first time in my life, I was not only annoyed with the rain, but I was actually pissed off at it. Like, angry enough to want to raise my fist to the sky and yell: “I am sick and tired of your sh**. Pull it together!”

Thankfully, I’m crazy, but not so crazy that I believe the rain can hear me, so I just silently fumed rather than actually giving the rain an earful.

Still, every time I got out of my car I felt angry with the cold and wet and lack of sunshine. I was raging against it, refusing to surrender to what was, and it was making me miserable.

So I decided to try to embrace it. I took my hair out of its ponytail, stood outside my car, tilted my face to the sky, and I let the rain fall down on me. And I breathed. I felt the coolness of the rain on my skin, my hair curling as it grew increasingly wet, and slowly I felt myself starting to smile. Because how often in adulthood do we take the time to stand in the rain? And really, water falling from the sky? It’s kind of incredible when you stop long enough to wonder again at the things we have become so desensitized to.

And so there I was, smiling at the sky. Once I stopped raging against the rain and decided just to accept it, I suddenly didn’t feel so angry.

I talked with my therapist tonight about how I think my panic is often the result of me trying to rage against the depression, particularly when it settles itself on top of me like a heavy, wool blanket. I try to kick it off, try to get out from underneath it, try to see some light, and I can’t. It’s all heavy blackness. And I can’t fix it . So I panic.

But when I don’t try? When I just accept that this is where I am right now? When I remind myself I haven’t always felt this way and won’t always feel this way? When I stop raging against it, stop saying, “I CAN’T FEEL THIS WAY,” and instead focus on breathing? The panic is much less likely to be next in the series of events.

Radical acceptance. Mindfulness. Thought monitoring.

I prefer sunshine.

But the rain won’t kill me.

Pain and Beauty

I don’t know what to do but stand under heaven, arms spread wide, and be.

Be. “You are God and I am man.”

Be. “Help me, help me, help me.”

If sorrow was liquid, if grief was a substance that could be seen and felt, I’d be drowning.

And someone would help me. “She needs help,” they’d say. And it wouldn’t be an accusation or criticism, it would be a call to draw near. To reach out.

But you can’t see emotional pain, and therefore it seems to hold less weight in this life. And rather than draw nearer, people use it as a reason to keep you at a distance. Like if you’re hurting so much you can barely breathe, it’s because there’s something wrong with you, something wrong with your faith or brain, and not something wrong with the life you’ve lived.

Because people live through worse things. And they survive. Right? So, if I’m struggling to survive and I have a roof over my head and a job I love and a church that feels like home, that means there’s something wrong with me. Right? Some weakness or flaw in brain chemistry?

But when I stand under heaven, I know I’m not being judged. God gets it. My pain is real- maybe even more real than what can be seen. After all, aren’t the realest things invisible to us? Like God Himself? And love? And faith?

*

She called, sobbing. “I can’t understand you, hun. Where are you? Tell me where you are. I’m coming right now,” I said. The ‘hun’ just slipped out. I don’t usually refer to my clients that way, but it was my natural response to her pain- to call her by a word that would hopefully feel like a hug, even through the phone.

And someone else today, coming by my office to say that she’s trying to get pregnant again after losing her first baby. Her eyes teared up. “It’s so good to see you,” she said.

And I can see the beauty in both of these stories. The screaming pain of the first person, who called and let herself be nothing more than incoherent sobs on the other end of the phone, but who reached out anyway. Who let herself be buoyed by “hun” and “I’m coming right now. Just tell me where you are.”

And the trying again of the second person. The tentative hope reaching through the tragedy of a baby lost.

And I keep saying “hope, hope, hope” to my life. And I feel like life keeps responding with loss and disappointment. And I am somehow both the screaming pain of the first person and the trying again of the second. And I’m the one who comes when called, who reaches out through the pain with eyes that care and a touch that reassures them they aren’t alone.

And it doesn’t feel beautiful, this story I’m living. It feels like pain. But I suspect that isn’t how God sees it. I suspect He looks at me, His beloved daughter who refuses to give up on His goodness, even when she can’t bring herself to choose life, and He smiles a compassionate, proud smile. Because He loves me even when I fail daily, and He knows how desperate I am to know and love Him more- and is there any greater worship than that? To stand beneath heaven and beg, “Teach me how You are better than all the things my heart thinks it needs.”?

*

This is why I write- not to make sense of the nonsensical, but to make it matter.

It makes it easier to endure if it matters.

When I write, it matters that the sky is gray, and that you cried yourself to sleep last night, and that your car smells like citrus because you dropped an orange peel and now it’s lost somewhere beneath the driver’s seat.

And also, writing seeks out the beauty in the mess and highlights it.

It makes it feel like these lives were living are significant. Every single moment of them.

Only The Best

Today I read about how Jesus says many will be turned away, thinking that heaven is their fate, but instead He will say, “Away from me. I never knew you.” (Matthew 7:21-23)

That scares the crap out of me. Not as much for myself as for the people I love who I’ve lost touch with- those whose relationship with the Lord is kind of a question mark.

And I wish I could soften the edges of that truth and make it feel less jagged and painful as I hold it in my hand. But sure enough, that portion of scripture seems pretty clear.

And yet, I HAVE to believe in a God that will woo us relentlessly. I have to believe in the earth-shaking power of prayer and that my prayers, even the most poorly worded ones, terrify Satan. I have to believe it isn’t as bleak as that passage of scripture makes it sound.

I believe that because I have to. Otherwise I will be all panic and anxiety and desperately begging people to make changes that only God can really bring about in them. And so I believe that, but I don’t KNOW that.

And that scares me.

But what can I do?

And so I tuck myself under His arm and close my eyes and let Him be God.

*

The baby in the stroller in front of me craned her neck to stare at me as I walked through the parking lot. And I waved. She didn’t wave back or smile, and her mom remained unaware of the conversation taking place between her child and myself, but I smiled and waved anyway.

I smiled and waved almost reflexively. And I realized afterwards, while I continued to smile at the baby, that Jesus would’ve done that too. He would’ve smiled and waved. And that reflex in me is evidence that He is making me to be like Him.

And then I smiled again because how beautiful to see who I am becoming more like Him- sometimes in effortless ways, ways I could almost overlook, and sometimes through extreme, deliberate effort- knees to the ground, tears, prayers, pleading.

*

When someone compliments my ability to write or says I’m smart, there is no part of me that feels proud of that because I didn’t have anything to do with it. It’s how I was made.

Likewise, I have no control over the fact that my hair isn’t thick or that my feet are big or that I can’t sing like Lauren Daigle. As with not taking pride in the things I can do, there doesn’t have to be any shame in what I can’t do, or what I can’t be, because I had nothing to do with it; it’s just how I was made.

Similarly, when I see Him in myself, it doesn’t feel like a thing to be proud of- it feels like confirmation that He is here, working all things together, doing a good thing in me. It is comfort. Promise. Hope. It is all Him in me and growing me and sustaining me.

I can take no credit for the delight I find in the stars or foggy mornings. I can’t be blamed for my love for animals, even when it does border on the slightly ridiculous. I can’t take credit for the fact that I am generally a kind, friendly person. I can’t be blamed because I am unmarried. I cannot take credit for the fact that my hunger for the Lord is as real as fire within me.

Who am I aside from clay- His creation, being shaped and molded?

Additionally, in light of the above, how does it make sense to feel envious of someone else or judge myself as better than them?

So much of it has nothing to do with our own abilities, but His merciful gift-giving and all-knowing, perfect design. We are all His creations. Beautiful and astounding and flawed and fallible and worthy of love, but NOT worthy of a place on a throne or fame or worship, nor deserving of a critical eye or being the subject judgment.

Oh, how twisted this world has gotten it.

In the matter of who we are as people, the playing field is level.

I have control over my decisions. I have control over whether or not I choose to live a godly life. But who I am at my core? That’s all Him. A product of His all-knowing, miracle-orchestrating goodness. A product of my life experiences. A product of genetics. But all of it in His hands.

It’s not to my credit that I am good with children or that my eyes are hazel or that I can write. I don’t know any other way of being. It isn’t something I worked for, it’s just how I was made.

It’s not my fault I am not a brilliant singer.
But I can choose to sing anyway. That I have control over. To hide beneath my inabilities rather than make a joyful noise, that would be a shame. I can embrace who I am–flaws and all–and still choose to live life fully rather than hiding behind “I can’t” and “what will they think of me?”

And it’s not my fault I am terrified of doctors.
But I can choose to go anyway. …Even if I need someone there to hold my hand and drive me because Xanax is required. 😉

There are things we can choose, and there are things we can’t. And how often do we shoulder the weight of things we were never meant to carry- like inferiority or needing to prove ourselves or shame or having to be “better than” someone else?

*

He is all-knowing. The giver of good gifts. This is the life He chose for me. The body. The heart. The personality. There is no other life or personality or appearance that would be better.

And I was thinking about that on my drive to work today, how, essentially, jealously is saying, “God, You made a mistake. I don’t trust You.”

There’s a place for grief and sorrow and laying our dreams down at the foot of the cross, submitting them to Him with tear-filled eyes because we are going to trust Him even if it breaks our hearts. There’s a place for being sad about what we don’t have, but ultimately we have to be able to say that we surrender all to Him, come what may.

We have to live our lives with hearts and hands and minds open to receiving the fulfillment of our prayers, or pleasant and unexpected surprises, or even a “no” in response to our prayers. And when a “no” is the response, we have to be able to hear that and believe that God has better for us, whatever that “better” may be.

And we have to be okay with it not feeling like “better”, and we can grieve that, because what we feel is real and deserves compassion and acknowledgment. But, while our feelings are real, they aren’t reliable at determining what’s true. So we have to be able to cry and grieve and still stubbornly hold firm and unwavering to the belief that He is good and He can be trusted and He never gives us less than the best.

And at the end of the day, whether I’m alone or surrounded by loved ones, I can lay my head down on my pillow and tuck myself there under His arm. And I can close my eyes and breathe in peace and comfort because He is God and I am His. And I trust Him.

The Redeeming Of Mistakes

When I sit down to write a blog lately, my stomach fills with knots and butterflies and all the other things nervous stomachs fill up with. And I don’t know why. Maybe I’m subconsciously afraid I won’t hear from God (which is the whole point of my writing). Maybe it’s the enemy trying to dissuade me from trying. I don’t know. I just know I won’t let my nervous stomach win.

That said,

The other night, I watched Tomorrowland. I honestly didn’t have huge hopes for it, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was one of those “I have to pee but don’t want to get up” movies. So I just sat there, uncomfortable, willing my body to cooperate until the movie ended.

I’ve heard before that there are two wolves battling inside us, hope and despair, and what wolf wins is whatever one you feed. And yet, there was something about hearing that in the context of this movie that made my heart fill with lightness.

The main character, Casey, was relentlessly, unwaveringly hopeful. Even in the face of really overwhelming, depressing, seemingly inevitable things. She didn’t give up. She was convinced there was something that could be done. Anne Frank-style, she saw the beauty through the tragedy. She didn’t deny that the present was hard, she just opened her eyes up to see that it wasn’t JUST hard. And in doing that, she had the power to create for herself a future that reflected the hope she was holding tight to.

And isn’t that what we’re called to do as Christians? To look at impossibilities and seeming inevitability and overwhelming darkness and say “no”? Demand that it bend its knee to the name of Jesus? We are called to look at hard things and speak hope and life over them, calling them to reflect heaven. On earth as it is in heaven, right?

*

It has only been two and a half months.

The other night, I sat in a car with someone who witnessed that season of my life, and I talked about it. And I felt shame-induced nervousness rising into my throat. But I talked about it anyway.

“I forgive me. She still loves me. It’s in the past. God is doing a new thing,” I kept reminding myself.

I REFUSE to submit to shame. I refuse to not talk about it. Even if it makes my hands shake and my stomach hurt and my eyes tear. Even if it makes my cheeks redden and my insecurities about love and relationships and my own mental health resurface, I refuse to hide. I refuse to just carry truth around with me in a backpack, trying to forget it or only sneaking a peak at it in my most private moments.

I will unpack it–brokenness and embarrassment and shame and all–and lay it before my loved ones and I, and we will all look at it. We will look at the truth and we will talk about what needs to be talked about.

And I won’t hide it.

It happened. It’s part of my story, and I can’t move forward without embracing that. I refuse to carry it around with me on my back for the rest of my life, trying to keep people from noticing the metaphorical backpack I’m always lugging around.

Instead, I choose to ditch the backpack all-together as I lay bare my truth. And in doing so, I choose freedom. I choose humility. I choose to trust God with all of it.

When I look back on that season in my life, I can’t believe it actually happened. I don’t recognize the person I was. But the miracle is that, slowly, shame and embarrassment are being stripped away. And all that’s left is gratitude- gratitude for how far God has brought me, and gratitude for the people who’ve remained.

It’s pointless and exhausting to think through the events over and over again, remembering who saw what, and how I felt, and what people must’ve thought, and the person that I was, and what people remember, and what I remember, and how much they all think about it, and whether or not they still see me the same way. It’s pointless and just keeps me stuck there, trying to think my way out of it- turning things over and over in my mind, as if doing so will eventually make them not have happened.

So I say no. I say it’s done and I can’t undo it. I say, “Here are the contents of my backpack.” And I smile because some run the other way, yes, but not everyone does. And that’s beautiful.

Here’s what I know: I forgive myself. God forgives me. And I am still loved. And really, what more could I want? What else matters?

Yes, loved one, you’ve seen me at my worst. You’ve seen me embarrass myself. And yet, you’re still here. …And how much freedom is there in that?! In knowing you’ve seen me as unlovable as I’ve ever been, and you still love me?

So, maybe it’s not embarrassment I should be feeling. Maybe I should just be feeling incredibly blessed. Blessed to be alive, and blessed to be loved.

And grateful that God, knowing this season was coming, placed me among the people who would be safest for me and best for me and see me through it, administering some “tough love” and all.

And anyway, isn’t that what love does? It sees our embarrassment and says, “No, I will still love you.” And embarrassment can’t continue to exist in that environment. In the face of relentless, unwavering love, when the people who witnessed our embarrassment refuse to call it that but instead say “I love you”, the only way we can still be burdened with embarrassment is if we are refusing to forgive ourselves.

And refusing to trust that God is able to restore and redeem even out biggest mistakes.

And He does.

I don’t ever want to go through an experience like that again. I pray over myself regularly that God will protect me and help me guard my heart and stand firm in truth. But He can (and does) take even our biggest mistakes and make them something beautiful. It’s astounding.

You know, I spent a long time thinking I didn’t matter. That I was unloved. That I didn’t have family, simply because it didn’t look the way I had thought family should look.

And I fell into a deep, dark pit.

And they saw. They watched. I embarrassed myself. I scared them. And still, they showed up.

And who does that–who stands by, even while we are destroying ourselves–other than family?!

It’s not embarrassing because it’s cloaked in forgiveness and love. And the result? All I can see now is that God’s given me a wonderful gift. He’s revealing to me His incredible provision and protection for that season in my life, and my continued recovery.

And oh, how the right people are in my life. People who love me without allowing me to unintentionally project my need for God onto them.

And He did that. He said, “These are the people who will love her without letting her forget that, more than anything else, it’s My love she needs. They will be her family.”

It’s only been two and a half months. Oh, how far He’s brought me…

The pit was dark and deep.

And yet, here I am today, still climbing out, but looking up. Smiling. With the sun on my face.

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