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.

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.

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

Does “happy” = “good”?

This post is about why I think they’re different (I’ve written about something related here too):

Talking with a couple of close friends last summer helped me articulate a question that has been a theme in my life for the last year: is doing well the same thing as being happy?

Honestly, I’m in a tough season. I’ve had mental illness flare ups that I thought were gone. I’ve Come Out to close friends (what a consistent adrenaline rush that is!). I’ve started establishing healthy rhythms and spaces to be in close community. As I have started to accept my vocation in celibacy, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to thrive as someone who is single in a culture where most intimate friendships are connected with marriage or romantic relationships. I still feel the need to be a part families where I can just do life with other people honestly. Because this way of life is pretty uncommon, I have been feeling the weight of cultural neglect of practical space and provision for people like me.

Day to day tasks have required a level of determination (I’m living with chronic depression, depersonalization/derealization, anxiety) that feels impossible with my seeming absence of vitality.

Oh Lord, how I desperately need Your mercy. If I am able to get through this next hour it will be because of strength You provide.

You know what? Somehow I’m still able to work; somehow I have resisted to the temptation to hermit myself from the rest of the world. Time after time I have felt the Lord somehow give me the strength to get through each day, each minute. The few times when I just couldn’t go on, He held me through whatever happened. I’ve made it to this point so far, and I count that as the grace of God.

So haven’t been happy, per se, but I do see some good that is growing out of difficulty. Seeing the Father do everyday miracles, growing in endurance, taking steps toward health–these are all good even if I’m fighting to just get up each morning. Sometimes whole-hearted devotion and life-worship looks like choosing to brush your teeth in the morning when you just. feel. like. you. can’t. go. on. It’s saying “God, I don’t feel like I can do this. But out of my love for You, I’m willing to try.”

While I may not be as blissfully carefree right now as I might prefer, I am well because I’m growing in tremendous ways, moving toward something greater. And I am thankful. This season has been difficult and painful, but it has been good. Life is more than a pursuit of happiness and pleasure. In the thick of life, I cling all the more to the Hope of the Gospel, because following Jesus is worth it.

Stubbornness & Black Beans, Laughter & Shame

I didn’t want to cook, but I needed to eat right away: I had a meeting soon and felt the threat of hypoglycemia drawing nearer. My recent grocery shopping procrastination meant that I had very few options for dinner. With my determination to expend as little energy as possible into my present culinary endeavor, I pulled out of the cupboard corn tortillas and a can of black beansI’m going to make tacos. I can’t help but laugh about this decision now. Oh, but I don’t want to have to cut up anything or do any dishes, so I guess I’ll just have them plain*. Yeah, that’ll be fine. I just need to get energy into my body, anyway.

Mistake #1: Did I bother to add anything to my tortillas other than the beans–seasonings or toppings? No. No, I didn’t. Not even salt.

Mistake #2: Do I even like black beans? No. No, I don’t.

I put four corn tortillas on a cookie sheet, spread black beans over them evenly, and popped it in the toaster oven for a few minutes. The oven was my heating method of choice so that the corn tortillas might gain a little strength without having to warm the two ingredients separately. I sat down with my plate, pleased at my quick and efficient method of meal preparation. Then I took my first bite. Gag. Oh, this is not good. These are very not good.

Mistake #3: The tortilla rim left untouched by the beans was stiff and dry. The dryness itself was nearly enough to make me choke, even without the added complication of my gag reflex caused by my first two mistakes.

I took another bite. C’mon, it’s not about the taste right now. You just have to get through it, I assured myself. After the first–well, un-taco–I downed a glass of water. This is going to require pulling out all the stops. My nausea grew with every bite, but so did my determination. I was going to get through all of them, and I was going to do it well (whatever that means).

In the end, I did finish all of my food. I was so proud of my accomplishment that I walked around the kitchen in a victory pose.

Victory! I can’t believe I just conquered that. This whole un-taco thing was ridiculous. But, oh! This is also going to be hilarious. Who even am I? What was I thinking? 

~

I called my mom this morning to catch up. I relayed my ordinary, pitiful un-taco incident and its thankfully minimal resulting consequences.

As I was laughing through my story, I realized from my response to those mistakes, that I have grown.

Shame and I have been best friends for a long time. My tendency is to wrap myself in a robe of shame and hide all mistakes or even embarrassing moments. When I neglect to accept opportunities to laugh, I end up adding the experience to my reasons to feel shame. That. is. not. healthy. And while I still do have that tendency, I’m excited to see that I am growing and learning another way.

Plus, I am so thankful to be able to eat on a regular basis in general. Many people do not have that luxury, and that does not make me any better than they. I also have the undeserved privilege of getting to choosing from a vast variety of foods.

Friends, let’s not take this wealth for granted. Let’s be thankful for every single privilege and blessing, no matter how small. And let’s also remember to laugh! I’m learning that every time I allow myself to laugh at my mistakes, embarrassing moments, and ridiculousness, I am choosing joy over shame.

Let’s let our craziness out a little if that means we can share our joy with one another in the process.

~~~

* = I really do know how to make actual tacos. My anti-energy-usage stubbornness was just getting in the way of that process.

Piano, Life’s Complexity, & Storytelling

It was last spring that I had the alarming realization.

I was preparing for my senior recital, the capstone of my time as a music major  emphasizing in piano performance. Here’s my problem: I was playing through a lively piece by Debussy when I lost all my confidence in the difference a between playing loud versus soft. Sure, I could hear the difference, but playing it was a totally different story. The longer I sat on my piano bench trying to remind myself of the elementary musical principle, the more disconcerted I became.

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My problem was not the loss of ability to strike the keys louder or softer, but rather that my maturing musicianship had increased the complexity with which I could play. I could now orchestrate in my mind the interrelated elements of playing even single note: color, shape, velocity, tone, approach/release of the key, articulation.

Telling myself to play this note loud and that note soft was like looking at a color wheel to find the bright color and the dull color. Which hue? What saturation? Do you see my predicament?

The reason that this was frustrating–other than the fact that I realized it all at once–was that I wanted to just follow the written directives on the page in all their detailed glory. Instead, my mind was forcing me to involve my own interpretation of the written music in the process. Ironically, any playing at all involves interpretation, I was just blind to this at first. When I was just beginning piano, I always wanted to play everything as – pre-cice-ly – as – I – could. I was mechanical in my playing (that’s probably why I so enjoyed Bach). But you see, that too is interpretation. I am a reforming literalist. I like to see things as black and white. If only life would cooperate!

Music has countless dimensions. For a beginning pianist, there are just 3 main dimensions–notes, rhythm, dynamics. In order to holistically progress, a musician needs to develop their sensitivity to an increasing number of these dimensions (several of which I mentioned above). I was aware that I had been growing in these areas for quite some time; the surprise factor that day was the loss of simplicity that I craved.

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My point is this: Life is complex. People are complex. Situations are rarely black-and-white.

I read recently that the difference between good and evil seems to be growing increasingly blurry. Hold on–let me clarify. I do believe in an absolute difference between the two. I believe that God is Love Himself. He is Grace, Mercy, the infinite Good One. There are also actions, events, situations which are thick with darkness by nature. No, the boundary between good and evil remains firmly intact. It is how these situations affects our lives when viewed through the lens of time which is difficult to distinguish. As long as we don’t completely surrender to bitterness or anger (or self-pity or despair… but you get the picture), pain eventually prods us toward maturity. The Lord’s grace redeems even my brokenness to purify and strengthen me. I hate pain. But growing requires pain.

For example, I went through a burnout/breakdown from school leadership, music ministry at church, and unhealthy friendships by the end of high school. My life felt unbearable, and my health is still faces repercussions from that chapter. On the other hand, though, the experience taught me the consequences of poor boundaries. Being forced to slow down and say no to opportunities likely prevented me from a life-long pattern of mistakes. It made me more empathetic, confident of my skill set, and passionate about supporting leaders. It is true that I made many unwise choices, but can the situation be fairly assessed as being either good or evil when both have resulted from it?

I’ve been rethinking my Story. How can I best describe my desperation, my successes, my journey to be found by Hope Himself, and my passions, all while doing justice to the complexity of each? Can we present intricacy simply? How do we make sense of our life’s events? This is one of my current endeavors. Just as with playing piano, every narration involves interpretation. I desire to tell an honest, transparent, and edifying interpretation of my life, my subplot in God’s Story. Perhaps put most simply, this is my story:

I have tasted the despair of the world’s emptiness and embraced the grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The LORD is my hope, my light, and my salvation; I live for Him.

That’s the simplest version. My difficulty comes when I expound on it. I easily grow frustrated when representing entangled complexity, but I suppose it is appropriate that the process of shaping my story is a journey in and of itself.

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Now, back to Debussy. Because I needed to stop philosophizing, get back to earth, and utilize my practice time, I eventually absolved myself from total perfection concerning his dynamics. After all, even his written directives were an interpretation of how he gave his song color and life. That reveals something both beautiful and difficult about stories, musical, verbal, and otherwise. Stories cannot be reduced to objectivity. 

As I set aside my obsessive drive for perfection and allow the beauty of tension, I encourage you to consider the hue and saturation of life’s colors. Life is not black-and-white. Let’s give people the space to surprise us with the complexity of their personalities and experiences. Let’s listen well to those around us and be honest about our journeys. Please, let’s be gracious with one another as we seek truth, grace, peace, relationships.

May you find joy today from the Creator of Beauty.