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.

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. 🙂

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.

I once was paralyzed… and now I’m free (well, getting there)

Have you ever felt the weight of a burden so heavy, that the pressure from it leaked out in various expressions? For me, it often takes the form of desperate, unheard cries, or detaching myself from the pain until I becoming totally emotionally numb. Have you ever experienced the unrelenting despair of carrying a hidden burden in shame for extended time? It can be devastating, crushing, unbearable.

I have spent most of my life hiding the shame I felt. Actually, hiding the shame of my shame is more accurate. At first this way of coping was fairly inconsequential, but I eventually did this to the extent of shutting off almost all feeling. My shame was finally hidden, and I was safe from others, but left me with only remnants of life inside. Not even the people closest to me knew the turmoil eating away at my life.

A few days ago I had a very significant day. I had the blessing of spending time with a dear friend catching up on life. And those festering, shame-covered wounds? I led her to them. Yes, it felt risky, but I have known her long enough to be confident of her character. I trust her. I cannot describe the respect with which she responded. Her face showed not the disgust I feared but compassion and a desire to understand.

What has changed that made you be able to talk about this now?” my friend asked me, knowing how difficult that was for me to share.

I’m not really sure. All I know is that layers of shame have slowly loosened from my burdens. My failures, my fears, my past–they are all becoming untethered from the grip of shame that held me so closely.

This snippet of our conversation reminded me of John 9 right after Jesus had healed a man born blind. Jewish leaders questioned the previously-blind man as to whether or not Jesus was a sinner. The man replied:

Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see. (ESV, John 9:25)

I don’t know why Jesus has allowed me the healing from shame to be able to be transparent with my closest community. I don’t know why He has allowed me to experience such grace, such acceptance in my dearest friendships.  I don’t know why the LORD has chosen to give me freedom now and not years ago, nor do I understand why He has offered it to me and not yet others. The depth of my God’s mercy I do not understand, but like the blind man I testify to all who will listen: one thing I do know is that I once was paralyzed with shame, and now I’m free.

Let me be clear: I’m still dealing with some consequences of being driven by shame, but they are gradually fading. It is a process which has contributed to my growth in maturity and in sanctification–a fancy word which means becoming more like Jesus Christ. I have found freedom in allowing the chains of shame to be loosened from my burdens. The Holy Spirit really does bring liberty. He has been good to me. Finding freedom has not meant abandoning values or convictions. My morality remains the same, even though it can seem easier to follow whatever my heart desires in the moment.

~

To my surprise, my friend expressed that my example of vulnerability had encouraged her; it gave her courage to continue processing through personal struggles, trusting that God will use it to bring redemption. “I? Inspired you?!?” I thought. God really can use anyone or any circumstance.

Life still hurts–it still can be almost unbearable at times. God doesn’t promise that pain will go away (in this lifetime). I also still have a long ways to go before I would say I’m truly living in freedom. The new path that I’m on promises to be difficult and it could perhaps bring even more pain than the shut-down and shame-protected (how ironic is that pair of adjectives?) version of myself. Nonetheless, the freedom from being fully known and loved is worth the pain of mistakes and failure. 

I pray that your journey will parallel mine in the quest of liberty from shame. I ask my Father that you will experience the depths of freedom which I am beginning to see. Do you have experiences of freedom? What’s your story?

Memorial services… for the living

Have you ever been to a funeral or memorial service where people share something along the lines of “I didn’t say this often enough, but I loved them,” “I regret not ever telling them how much they meant to me,” or “Now I wish I had the chance to make things right between us”? Those comments always break my heart. It is so easy to let time slip by without telling our loved ones how much they mean to us. I am guilty of that too.

I have made it one of my goals to “appreciate” the people whom I appreciate. I have found that giving genuine encouragement is surprisingly and unfortunately awkward in our culture. Our verbal encouragement skills are left unpracticed as well as our compliment-receiving skills. Because, let’s be honest, it is difficult to actually receive praise in a humble and thankful way.

I have been blessed with some friends who are gifted with the ability to encourage. They have taught me both how to speak truth and blessing into others’ lives and have helped me learn that humbly accepting the compliment is actually a gift to the encourager.

What if instead of an expensive birthday present, we wrote a thoughtful card explaining all the positive character qualities we see in the person? Or if we had an open mic “memorial service” for someone who was alive so that they may hear how their life has impacted those around them? Let’s reverse the cultural trend of being awkward about encouraging. Please?  It will take a movement, but it’s already underway. Won’t you join me in encouraging loved ones? Do not waste an opportunity to speak life into your family, friends, coworkers, even strangers. Let’s not wait until it’s too late. Let’s celebrate life now. 🙂