Last week, I turned 27. The leaves in South Carolina decided to hold out on us until the last minute and then surprised us by changing overnight, and who was it who said autumn's trees will teach us how to let go gracefully? I haven't written much over the past couple of months, so admittedly, this feels a bit like starting over.Read More
I turned 25 last year and went through some major life changes. My husband and I moved from Georgia to South Carolina, leaving behind jobs that were less than fulfilling in favor of pursuing positions with our church. We loaded up our hand-me-down possessions in a U-Haul and set out for what I thought would be an entirely new life. For months before, I had prayed and cried and prayed and cried for an open door, a way out of what my life had become. I was struggling with loneliness and comparison, and my anxiety and depression had reared its ugly head, now, stronger than ever before. It was a Saturday morning -- I had been up all night with leg cramps that had forbidden me to rest, and I told my husband to take me to the doctor before I lost my nerve. Now, I take a little pink pill every day in order to keep my chemicals in check.
The truth is, some days I still feel like a scared kid trying to navigate this weird world of adulthood. I don’t always want to clean my room, sometimes I want to eat Lucky Charms for dinner, and Sallie Mae is like a taunting playground bully. But other days, I do okay, and I know it is due, at least in part, to this recent realization: life is a race, and it is not a race.
Life is a race, and it is not a race. I must have been driving, because all my deep thinking takes place in the car. At first, I was baffled. What does that even mean? Since then, I’ve unpacked it a bit.
Every Monday morning, my coworkers and I gather with coffee and breakfast remnants to discuss the previous day's services. We take turns talking about how things went well, how things could be improved, and how we saw God at work. Dave almost always has a funny story to share; a handful of people compliment my sweet husband on a job well done in the tech booth, and my heart swells with pride and gratitude for him. This particular Sunday had been slightly chaotic for me, as my ministry partner was out of town, and a handful of volunteers had declined to serve due to a baby's fever or a venture to see family members out of town. When I recapped how services went, I admitted that I was a bit unnerved by the prospect of having to fill the holes. My supervisor was kind when she told me later in the day that, in general, we tried to avoid using the phrase "needing to fill holes," because ministry should not be reduced to that.
I haven't been able to shake that this week -- not because I said the wrong thing in our staff meeting, but because I think God is looking for any possible means of getting through to me in the wake of the whole "search me" chat we had awhile back. The truth is, I have a lot of holes, and I've been trying desperately to fill them. The deeper truth is that I try to fill them because I don't want to need God. So I turn to my girlfriends, my husband, sex, food, Netflix, social networking, building a platform, blog metrics, shopping, my job, and pretty much anything else within reach that I can use to distract myself from the knowledge of the holes -- the realization that I cannot save myself.
I am just a girl. I have holes. I cannot save myself. And I cannot save anyone else. Perhaps that is the greatest attempt to fill the void -- the belief that these words of mine could save you. I disillusion myself to think that perhaps if I am empty, at least I might be noble in my aim. And I write the same words over and over again, praying they will plant themselves like seeds inside all of our hollow spaces.
The words themselves are unoriginal at best, and I begin a slow descent into the all too familiar realm of self-loathing. I try to cram my own journey inside the mold of others -- the ones that look more delicate and lovely to my jealous eyes. I rush haphazardly to and fro between the belief that isolation is the secret ingredient in finding myself out here in the woods and the plea that I will not be left to my own devices. My stomach ties itself in knots and I swallow hard the blood unearthed by the nervous habit I have carried since childhood.
Occasionally I decide to spend time with Him. Mostly in the car, when I know the quiet will sear into me if I don't fill it. I put these words on repeat: all I know is I know that You are here now. I want to believe it, and maybe in those moments I do believe. I want to believe that He is willing to stay with me, even though I still don't know what it means to just be still and let Him make me whole.
I promise, I'm starting to want to know. And maybe that's enough for now. Maybe the woods weren't meant to be bounded through with headstrong intention. Maybe they were purposed to remind me of my dependence, and my need to simply take baby steps -- agonizing though they may be. This is how endurance is built.
It is a Wednesday. The nurse tries her best to hide the sense of alarm rising up her gaze as it falls on the screen. The numbers shouldn't be that high. The cuff tightens, and I try to breathe, try to keep my knees still. My heart beats, and I can almost hear it, and I think what in the world am I doing here? I am telling the truth. I am saying it out loud.
The doctor calls it white coat hypertension: a common spike in blood pressure occurring in a medical setting in otherwise healthy individuals. Months earlier, they had done blood work and an echocardiogram because the numbers were too high. Everything turned out to be fine. I try to remember that I am okay.
I tell her that I used to start my day by reading the news, but not anymore. I tell her about the panic attack, how I felt as though I had been run over by a semi-truck all the next day. I tell her about my leg muscles seizing in the middle of the night, and how my patient husband would massage the extremity until relief finally came. I tell her about the last time I self-harmed. I tell her about the sense of dread -- that Fear has been running the show, and I will do anything to get my life back.
What I don't tell her is that when I called the crisis hotline as a teenager, no one answered. No one told me that depression is every bit as devastating as cancer. I don't tell her that I wake up in the middle of the night crying, and that I can't remember the last time I showered. I don't tell her that sometimes when I'm driving, I want to leave this place and never come back.
I already feel like a fool for saying so much, for actually telling her that I am familiar with the symptoms. I tell her that I must be a doctor's least favorite kind of patient, knowing just enough to get me into trouble. She is kind, and says that it sounds a lot like clinical depression.
I have clinical depression. It is also called major depression.
The enemy that has remained aloof for the better part of a decade had finally been given a name. I didn't know if what I felt was relief. I had always known its face, and could see it coming from a mile away.
The doctor interrupts my thoughts. She says there are medications, and that sometimes that is the best course of action. She says that the side effects should only last for a couple of weeks, and that if I needed anything, I could call her any time. The pharmacist warns that the nausea is the worst of all, and I find that he is right. My stomach churns for days, and seemingly stops like clockwork just as they predicted.
Every Wednesday evening, a group of teenagers and a handful of twentysomething leaders meet in the church foyer to talk about what it really looks like to follow Christ. Their clothes are monochromatic, and their hair is a different color every week. They bring their questions, and we do our best to show them the way. Don't all of our questions echo the hissed inquisition of the Garden? Is God really good? Can I trust that grace will catch me?
We talk about how Christ, God with skin, met people where they were, in the middle of their mess. In the heart of their lies, their adultery, their plots, their pain, their smelly, blood soaked cloths -- the clothes they wore to the grave. He never held out for perfection.
I'm good at preaching that to others, and terrible at believing it for myself. I'm thankful that Christ comes all the way to meet me, but I would much rather him call ahead so I can clean myself up. I don't want him to see my dirt, my heartache, my indecision, my inability, my wrecks. I talk a big talk about authenticity, but I'd rather you believe that there is nothing wrong with me. I'd rather you not realize that in the deepest parts of my being, I'm still looking for something.
When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up to be a lot of things. A dancer, a lawyer, a meteorologist. For a long time, I wanted to make signs. I grew up seeing signs nailed to trees and telephone poles: Jesus saves. And I was certain that the people who nailed up those signs made a living doing it. I could make a living telling people that Jesus could save them.
I wish I could go back in time and pinpoint the precise moment when I began to question if Christ truly was everything I had believed him to be -- the moment where the lies forced their way in. You have to perform. You have to hustle. You have to compensate for your inefficiency. How well you follow the rules is more important than the condition of your heart.
Is it really any wonder that my blood pressure is through the roof from the minute my feet hit the floor every morning? There are days when it seems like nothing I do is right or good or even okay.
I consider his sanctuary -- his divine operating room for mending hearts like mine. I don't want to believe that there's anything wrong with me. I don't want all the ugly to be exposed. Even more than I don't want the pain, I don't want the ugly, and pride has always been one of my greatest downfalls.
But still, he asks. Do you want to get well?
Will you let me do my healing work inside of you? I know how badly you want to be used by me, and this is the first step. Let me love you back to life.
My heart beats. I am the paralytic, and I can only muster excuses.
But I cannot heal myself.
He won't let me go. His love compels in the most gentle of ways. My heart is his, but sometimes I get nervous and try to take it back. I make a mess of myself. I become bitter.
And he makes beautiful things. If we let him. I want to let him.
Lord, let it be according to your will.
Spring won't officially start for five days, but it feels as though it is already here. Yesterday was so breathtaking that I didn't want to stay inside, and for a bookish introvert who prefers a sofa over a sidewalk, that is saying something. I'm starting to sense the changes, the metamorphosis taking place.
I was thinking about it as I drove to lunch yesterday: it is difficult for me to start something in the middle of winter. I thought back to January and my word for the year, the goals and resolutions I had made for 2015. We've had a lot of snow and ice and gray, and seasonal affective disorder is a real thing that makes it hard to gain any traction. I've thought a lot about blooming, but I have lacked the motivation.
Truthfully, the past few months of my life have been really lonely. I have struggled to know people and to let myself be known. It has not been pretty, or at least, I've never thought it to be. I wrestle and thrash and naively try to avoid the things that hurt, trying to escape those feelings that I would rather not experience.
The other day, I was reading from one of my favorite books and came across this passage:
"When I get lonely these days, I just think, so be lonely. Learn your way around loneliness. Make a map of it. Sit with it, for once in your life. Welcome to the human experience."
There I was, trying to run away from the feeling, and when I wasn't running away, I was trying to analyze it, wondering if loneliness here was just God's way of preparing me to be called away, or if my desires to be known and loved were really only the bricks and mortar of this tower I'm building to make my own name great.
The enemy never stops. He finds the most remote and forgotten back doors to enter through. If the feeling itself is not painful enough, he will fill its nooks and crannies with doubt, making you wonder if you're really in sin.
Who really wants to sit with feelings like loneliness?
I'm learning, slowly but surely, that blooming begins by simply being where you are. Blooming begins with the hard work of putting down roots in places that seem dark. Blooming requires a shift of perspective. I need to stop seeing these seasons of my life as emergencies that I have to rush to fix and start seeing them as opportunities to find and glorify God in my life.
I don't have to strive to fix myself, to fill up the holes in my soul and heal the hurt in my heart. I don't have to analyze and figure it out, and nothing I avoid is ever truly resolved. I just have to be willing to be where I am.
Because at the end of the day, seasons are just seasons. They aren't meant to last forever.
I am always in awe of the rhythm of the world. The birds are never worried about what they will eat, the flowers don't fret about what they will wear, and the person who trusts in the Lord -- who searches for and finds His gracious hand in every situation -- is like a tree planted by the water.
I want to be here now, even if here is feeling a little under the weather.
I know the sun will be back.
I've been going through some old journals lately, listening to songs I haven't heard in years, and thinking about the person that I used to be. I read once in one of Don Miller's books that the body regenerates every six months, and the truth is, I find myself wishing that I could go back. The person I was had grit and resolve. She was honest and less guarded, and hated small talk with a passion.
I used to love poetry. Have I ever told you that? The person I was could sit for hours and marvel at the way words came together with unparalleled decadence. But now, the only books I buy are about time management, and when I made a color coded calendar for the month of March, I ended up feeling as though I had lost myself.
The person I am now is an expert at inviting walls into wide open spaces.
And maybe this is just part and parcel of growing up, but it all feels so extreme and heavy handed.
We went to a parking lot carnival last summer, and there was a ride called The Fireball. It was the only one I was scared to get on, and I almost backed out. It swung you on a pendulum, spinning, and suspending you at a moment's notice. In the end, I did get on.
It has taken me this long to realize that the past few years have felt like one long ride.
The other night, I asked C if he thought we were happy. We were in the car, as usual, headed home from some Bible study or work obligation. He said yes, but honestly, I'm not sure.
There was a time when I thought we had really hit it big. We have everything we want. Our needs are met, but are our souls truly satisfied? The psalmist never said that our souls would find rest in 401k's or throw pillows or self-help books.
I've been feeling the tug of the Spirit every time I open another one of those books. The words may help you through this season, but I am using this to make you whole.
A friend's words slip quietly into my inbox: what every artist needs is a handful of friends who are allowed to see them at their worst, friends who won't back down or shy away from an invitation to step into their ugliest moments.
I hit reply, and through tears, shared that I don't know if I have those friends. Not in my real life, anyway. This season of life is so transient. Graduation day saw some of our closest friends move away. Last year, we helped the man who stood beside C as we became husband and wife fill a U-haul with the things he and his wife had collected and waved goodbye as they drove to New York. Then, in January, we watched our pastor and his wife answer God's call to move to Nashville.
This past Saturday, my best friend from high school buried her baby. And despite having grown apart in college, I drove the half hour to go to the funeral, because that is what friends do. And as the eulogy was spoken, I wept, both for the life of her sweet boy, and for the lives of the people we used to be.
It is hard to be known by anyone else when you surround yourself with bricks and mortar. And the truth is, I've never needed a lot of people. I just need the right people.
Two weeks ago, I sat on the front row of the church and listened our pastor spoke about emotional wellness. And T, with the nautical eyes and the untamed hair, played guitar and sang about a love that doesn't fail, and I cried.
I cried because I'm not the person I want to be. My soul craves rest and simplicity. Simplicity: freedom from complexity, intricacy, deceit, guile, division into parts; absence of luxury or pretentiousness.
I cried because there is more to me, more to the person I am than has ever been given credit (especially by myself).
The question crept into my inbox, so quietly that I almost missed it among all the other things that demanded my attention: what are you watering that is already dead?
She said that sometimes our roots become tangled and begin to die, and the only way to survive is to break them.
The surest way to miss out on seeing the beauty and the birth of something new is to resist and refuse to be broken and allow what's dead to rest in peace.
For three years now, I've been meditating on Psalm 46:10.
I think back to that Tuesday night, circled up with some of the most beautiful searching souls I've known, and the definition of perseverance that K shared: being willing to cooperate and remain under pressure. In other words, the cessation of striving. How much more simple could it possibly be? The man who strives is unstable in all his ways.
Don wrote that this is the time that a lot of people give up, but I am not giving up. I am still learning to rest. And I promise, I am trying to remember that spring is coming.
I look at these hands, the blood coursing through veins, and I know that she's still in there. She just looks different now, and that's okay. I am learning to love her.
And I do want to be known. From now on, I'll try to be more honest.
In the spirit of old MySpace blogs, I wrote this while listening to House of Heroes' album Cold Hard Want.