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.

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.

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.

I Too Was Burned By The Church

I know I am not the only one who has scars from those who call themselves Christians. This. Should. Not. Be.

I had given up on the Church*, on Christians. I had almost given up on God, my faith, my life’s value. But somehow, for some reason I can only attribute to the mercy of God, Grace Himself gave me the strength to try again. The Lord alleviated my skepticism long enough for me to open my heart one last time to give the Church another try.

Note: I am open to discussing my experience growing up in that church, but I always hesitate elaborating on the details unless they would be beneficial to the listener. So for now, please bear with my vagueness. My point here is what has happened since I left that local congregation.

What I saw in a new local church (I have since become a part of this family) shocked me. People actually loved one another. These Christians really believed what they said. They really sought the truth, fought hypocrisy, and sacrificed their lives for others. It is in the context of a church family that I have begun to feel the soothing waters of restoration. Yes, I still have panic attacks in church when we sing certain songs as they trigger my past experience in church. But I also know that I am slowly healing. My anxiety is less severe and my episodes less frequent than even a year ago. In order to begin this kind of forgiveness and healing, I have had to face my pain head on. It has meant allowing myself to grieve, counseling, and actually becoming an active member in the Church again.

I. love. The Church. And believe me–that really is a miracle.

Of course the Church still makes mistakes right and left–it’s made up or people, after all! But the Church is what Jesus chose to represent Him until He comes back. God is at work in His people! I have seen it, and I have been encouraged.

Something that grieves and angers me is that not everyone who calls himself or herself a Christian really follows Jesus. That devastates me… for their sake, our sake, your sake. People have done some horrible things in the name of Christianity, some of these crimes horrendous. Since I stand as a part of the Church, I must therefore stand with the Church in its failings as well. I confess that in different areas we haven’t loved well in the past, in the present, and likely will make grievous mistakes in the future. These wrongs are without excuse. We have claimed to represent God Almighty, yet have acted totally contrary to what He would have done. And I Am Sorry. I am sorry that we have neglected you when we should have acted. I am sorry that we acted harmfully–intentionally or not–when we should have extended grace. How I wish I could reverse your pain! All I can offer is a listening ear and a heart eager to extend grace to the broken. I ask your forgiveness for the ways that my people have acted wrongly in the last 2000 years. Please consider forgiveness.

I have experienced so. much. grace. in my local fellowship. I deeply respect the leadership there, and I willingly serve them with joy. They have responded to me with such affection, care, and acceptance. When I was desperate, they offered me patience and support. Even when I “came out” to leaders as questioning both my gender and sexual identity, they responded with nothing but love. They really listened and desired to understand my needs, concerns, hurts.

I testify that though I too was wounded by those in the church, I have witnessed God’s presence, freedom, truth, and grace in His global community of followers since then. My local church community has, by their devotion to God and genuine love for others, helped restore my faith that God really is at work on earth.

If you too have been burned by the church–perhaps deeper than you can express or understand–please hear this: On behalf of the Church, I’m sorry for the pain we have caused. You are not alone in your pain. I want nothing more than for you to experience healing, grace, belonging. Please, consider my story. Through the Gospel–the good news of Jesus Christ–I have found hope and am being restored. Please, consider trusting in the great Restorer, for He is good.

Blessings to you all!

*When I use capital C “Church,” I refer to followers of Jesus across the globe who together comprise Christ’s metaphoric bride, His body on earth

Moving right through the thick of tragedy

It’s been a couple of weeks since I heard the tragic news.

My dad called me, his voice shaking. His best friend had called him and told “the worst possible news.” My friend Madison, his son, had died.

Madison. Died.

What?!?

My dad relayed vague details, and shared the situation’s increasing complexity: Suicide. Madison took his own life.

Shock, grief, numbness, terror, denial, sorrow. What a confusing few weeks it has been with emotions fluctuating from suffocating to starkly absent. I went home to be with my parents and siblings as they sorted through their grief.

My dad had took on all of the details and responsibilities for Madison’s dad, his best friend, and allowed the rest of their family to spend focused time together in grief until the memorial service.

There are pages and pages I could write about the last several weeks as it relates to the tragedy, but I will try to keep this brief. One of the most striking moments for me was in talking with Madison’s dad.

“Someone asked me how on earth I deal with a tragedy like this. And I said, ‘You have to move right through the thick of it.‘”

When Tragedy presumes its horrifying face at your door and shoves its way in your life, you are forced to make choices: Will you invite others into your pain? Will you suppress the deepest, most painful questions? Will you hide? Will you allow yourself to feel emotion or become numb?

These decisions  have to be made on a moment-by-moment basis. What I admire about Madison’s family is that they allowed others into their pain, allowed friends to grieve with them. They didn’t hide their fears, but expressed them appropriately. They allowed their community to mourn with them, to express love’s final mark: grief*.

My dear, dear friends responded with maturity in their sorrow, facing the situation head on. Let’s press on to maturity, friends. It requires courage, so let’s support one another in our weaknesses. For we. Are not. Alone.

Madison, we miss you dearly. You are loved beyond expression. But we grieve with hope that we will see you again.

*I borrow this thought from my insightful mentor