Awaiting Meaning

We have an instinctual need to make meaning out of difficult circumstances. So what happens when we find ourselves in a whirlwind and lose our sense of direction?

The last 6 months have been a sort of unraveling for me. I’ve craved a simplistic narrative about this season to make sense of it all. I want a clearly defined purpose to console myself or rattle off, but I know now is not time for analysis. It’s time to wait, to abide in Hope, to rest, to trust. 

Margaret Atwood shared a similar idea in Alias Grace:

When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling, to yourself or to someone else.

I’m not out of the whirlwind yet, haven’t reached the other shore. I am, thankfully, becoming more steady and rediscovering unburdened joy. The meaning of this season will sometime emerge and become be a crux in my life narrative. Someday, I’ll have a story to tell of heartbreak, change, and His grace through this all. Still, amid the unknown, I will hope continually and praise my Savior yet more and more, because my Father is generous, kind, and faithful.

Surprise-good-days

“I’ve had a good day,” I told a friend.

“You know what? I have too. I’m not really sure why today, but thank you, Jesus!”

The conversation got me thinking about my tendency to default to feeling false guilt and shame for experiencing mental illness. Yes, I am absolutely responsible for to make wise choices, but sometimes there’s nothing do that causes a good day. When I don’t do anything differently but wake up without a sense of dread or deep heaviness, I relish the day as grace.

Here’s the thing: if I don’t always get credit for these surprise-good-days that are full of life and color, then maybe I shouldn’t automatically assume full blame for heavy, dark days either.

Rain Stick Fiasco

I went to my parents house for the night and slept in my sister’s high bunk bed since she’s still at school. In the middle of the night, I noticed that on one side of the bed there were a lot of crumbs by my feet, really STRONG crumbs. Hopefully it’s not mouse poison or something, I thought. 

I just woke up to the soothing sound of a rain stick. But, why would someone be playing with a rain stick in here while I’m sleeping? I figured that something must be falling but wasn’t troubled by it because, you know, rain sticks. They sound so nice. I woke up enough to reach down, and I caught the corner of a bag just as it was escaping from the windowsill toward the floor. I found a light source, and — oooh, oh no. In my hand was an open, half-full (empty?) bag of rice. So that’s what those crumbs were

The “strong crumbs” I felt in the middle of the night
 

I’m afraid to look. The rice started on the bed, slid onto the windowsill, then either landed on the desk or the floor. 

Sis, I’m not sure why there was an open bag of uncooked rice on your bunk bed, but I’m sorry that I spilled it all over your room. I’m also sorry that you didn’t get to hear the pleasant part of the situation — waking up to the rice waterfall. That was really nice. Spilled rice isn’t very awesome, but I’m thankful that it is uncooked and that it wasn’t mouse poison.  

Update:

I found bravery from deep within to investigate. Here’s what I found: 

View: window and desk from the bed
 

  

View: directly under the bed
  
Despite the fact that there are grains spanning the entire room, it could be much worse. Next time I’m sleeping in someone else’s bed, though, I’ll check for bags of strong crumbs before falling asleep. 

What am I *really* Craving?

Some days I get stuck in a pattern of checking my phone, Facebook, or *insert form of media here* mindlessly. It doesn’t make me feel good/better; it isn’t even really enjoyable. I’d like to think that watching a show or movie is restful and mindless, but when I’m honest with myself, I’m not so convinced. More often than I like, what I choose is easier and more convenient than what I suspect would really help.

I’d like to be better about discerning I’m actually craving when I crave social media or Netflix. What will actually satisfy me? To know what will satisfy, I need to know the problem first. Am I craving rest? Community or connection? How can I actually meet those needs?

Some activities that are nourishing to me are composing/arranging/learning new songs, exercise, prayer, spending time with nature, having deep conversations, encouraging others, and sitting by a fire. Also, believe it or not, I begin to wither up if I don’t meet my staring-at-a-wall-in-deep-thought quota . I do get behind on that one. I forget how crucial it is to my thriving, because who actually plans that into their schedule?!

Media can be great, but it takes its toll on me when I consume it in excess. Actively pursuing what will nourish me takes more work, but I’m making an effort to move in that direction. Let’s take some deep breaths and then create good habits, people. 🙂

When only people remain

I enjoy traveling. I’m not, however, itching to go most places that other recent grads long to go: London, Paris, Rome, or Vienna. I want to go somewhere that’s less developed, not showy, perhaps more rural. I want to live alongside the marginalized. I want to experience both the joys and the difficulties of living a simple life. I love simpler places because there are fewer distractions from seeing the beauty of people for who they are and their culture.

When all of the glamour of life is stripped away, what’s left is people. It’s people who are most important to me. I’ve heard that (as a generalization) more impoverished areas of the world value relationships more highly than in consumeristic countries. That’s how our priorities should be. Don’t get me wrong: sightseeing and travel are wonderful and good! But let’s not allow them to eclipse the beautiful people who inhabit those areas.

I realized this about myself when I was just a kid struggling with mental illness. In my depression I concluded that life was meaningless if not for relationships. If I was going to live at all, it would be for relationships–for God my Redeemer, for my family, for friends.

It takes going through something uncomfortable for us to re-evaluate our priorities. In tension with loved ones, having major illnesses, or experiencing tragedy we have the opportunity to look at our values with a fresh perspective. The incomprehensible international tragedies in the last week give us pause. What is most important to me? WHO is important to me? What do I live for? Comfort? Possessions? Family? Security? Faith? Success?

I’m firmly convinced that it is relationships that are most important. So how do I filter my every day decisions through that filter? How do I arrange my schedule to reflect my values?

Pray for those who are hurting around the world while you hold your loved ones close. Tell them how much they mean to you and enjoy their presence.

How Being Around The Elderly Helps My Depression

When when struggling with depression, it can be nice to be around people who are vibrant. On the other hand, though, caring for people who are elderly and suffering chronic maladies has actually helped me in my fight against depression.

I can relate to the chronic pain and discouragement that those who are older often feel. I don’t have to hide the fact that I don’t have it all together. When Depersonalization/Derealization Disorder makes it difficult for me to formulate words or remember usually obvious things, I can resonate with the exasperation of Dementia.

From their seasoned years of experience and wisdom, I am like one of their grandchildren (or great-grandchildren!). It’s ok if I’m having an off day. “My People” tend to be more patient, gracious, and understanding than the average person I might encounter elsewhere. If I can’t think of the word I want, I am having a bad joint day, or had a a horrible night’s rest, they get it. My people are quick to lavish grace and kindness on others which is often born out of their experience of suffering in a way only grandparents are able.

I love helping them find delight in little things. I am struck by how vital it is to exercise one’s sense of humor in order to be well, especially in old age. Being able to get a smile or laugh out of someone surrounded by suffering makes my day. Sometimes when I’m too full of nothingness to fight mental illness for myself, a small spark of life remains in me to help someone else fight depression. In fighting for someone else, I may gain the momentum I need to look the darkness in the eye that I’m facing. And that step can be just enough to keep me going.

Alright, it’s true. Some people that I work with can definitely be grumpy, self-centered, and rude. Isn’t that the case with any group of people, though, no matter the culture or generation? People want to be loved. Often persisting in kindness will break down some of the person’s barriers. If nothing else, it humbles me to be honest about my attitude toward them.

Being around My People puts my life in perspective. I don’t need to have my life all planned out by my mid twenties. Worrying is really no help at all. Relationships and loving people well is of utmost importance. Busyness is overrated and actual rest undervalued. Probably the most significant way that being around those who are elderly helps my depression is that it makes me see just much I do have. I can usually walk unhindered, breathe easily, maintain my balance, take care of my basic needs and activities of daily living on my own. What a gift. How humbling it is to take care of those who are no longer independent. It makes me thankful for the time I have left to live, grow, love, serve, and adventure. Serving gets my focus off of myself, even if just for a moment.

Space at the Table

Space at the Table: An evangelical father and his gay son tell their story and show us how to live a radical new kind of love and acceptance.

Space at the Table is an upcoming book which voices a crucial message for everyone–gay or straight, Christian or non-religious. I expect it to be encouraging and challenging to all of us.

Co-author Dr. Brad Harper has been a tremendous support to me in my struggle with mental health, suffering, and in my process of beginning to come out. He is a compassionate, down-to-earth man who is all about relationships.

I urge you to consider backing their Kickstarter campaign and spread the word.

God is Alive Enough

I tend to think of myself having a meter or bank account for amount of life (I mean this in a physical/mental/etc energy sense) I have. I weigh each activity or task and think of its input/output effect on my meter. When dealing with mental health, chronic pain, etc., activities “cost” more. Have you ever heard of The Spoon Theory? It’s a similar idea.

On my drive to work a few weeks ago, I misheard a line of a song I was listening to. I thought the line was “[God is] alive enough.” Upon hearing it, I burst into tears–a pretty unusual reaction for me. Isn’t it cool that even though those weren’t really the lyrics, God still used it to encourage and teach me?

You see, I’ve been struggling with a lot lately–mental health, job transitions, death of loved ones, coming out, and walking through tragedy with friends. There have been a lot of times when my “alive meter” has run pretty low, when I wasn’t sure how I could possibly make it through the next hour, let alone day.

But God is alive enough. The line hit me so hard because I was not alive enough. He is alive enough to give me strength and listen to my laments without growing weary of compassion. He is alive enough to mourn with me in grief over death and injustice without growing faint. Jesus is the God who suffers and understands, and He is also the One who offers water of life and satisfaction (for free!) without ever running dry.

You guys. We can’t afford to be fake with each other. We can’t. There is too much hurt going on for us to lose the urgency of loving people. I desperately need God’s grace, and being honest about my weakness allows me to point to His aliveness in my life. He has more than enough to share with everyone around us. He has more than enough peace, strength, kindness to give to anyone who will seek Him.

I end with a chorus from Helen Lemmel’s:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

To Be Loved AND Known

In my community I have always had people who would say that they love me. I know that I am so fortunate to have lived around such loving people. There is nothing like it.

Yet… it is difficult for me to accept that I truly am loved as people say.

Having fought relentlessly to hide my pain and turmoil (and any expression of either) for all of my childhood, I ran myself into the ground as a shut-down, voiceless mess. The last several years I have been working to reverse the devastating effects.

I have been on a become-known adventure especially these last few months. It has been wild. In being more open and vulnerable with others about my story, I have had taken both baby steps and uncertain leaps with a fair amount of set backs mixed. It has been both difficult and freeing, exhausting and invigorating,

I want to share with you a quote that has influenced many of these major decisions in the last year by Timothy Keller:

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.

Hiding feels safe. But in hiding, we are also confined. 

I could only accept love to the extent that I was known.

Living honestly does make me feel more vulnerable, but because of it, I am beginning to experience acceptance and belonging in a way that I never before deemed possible.

Courage to Love

“It takes courage to love, but pain through love is the purifying fire which those who love generously know. We all know people who are so much afraid of pain that they shut themselves up like clams in a shell and, giving out nothing, receive nothing and therefore shrink until life is a mere living death.” 

~ Eleanor Roosevelt