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.

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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.

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.

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.

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.

“The Last Word” – A reflection of hope from Cheree Hayes

I encourage you all to check out Cheree Hayes’s most recent article called “The Last Word.” Cheree is a thoughtful, humorous, and wise teacher, mom, writer, mentor, friend.

From local school shootings to ISIS, she offers an honest reflection on seeing hope amidst such sickening injustice.

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

7 Thoughts on Tasting-the-Cost of Following Jesus

1. Choosing to follow Jesus is not just a one-time deal I’m in a season of life which has put significant forks in my path more frequently than usual. In this process I have uncovered many deep wounds which have been festering beneath the surface for quite some time. Every day–every hour, even–I am faced with an underlying choice: for what or whom will I live? If I do not think about it consciously, auto-pilot makes the decision for me. Choosing to follow Jesus means constantly surrendering and re-orienting my whole existence to His ways. Will I choose to follow Jesus Christ or satisfy my own desires? In the past, my response to this question has been to shove away any possibility other than strict obedience to what I believe God teaches in His Word–the Bible (I openly confess my history with and tendency toward strict rule-following and hypocrisy). Lately, though, I have allowed myself to feel the gravity of what I am giving up by following Jesus. Over-dwelling on it is unhealthy, but I think this process can also be done in a way that increases our intimacy with God. That leads to the next point…

2. Tasting the cost may involve grief A part of our relationship with Jesus is dying to ourselves. I don’t know how you feel about it, but in my experience, dying can hurt! Sacrifices looks different practically for each person, but it always involves the submission of our desires and decisions to the will of God. The Lord is good and desires to bless us, but His goodness to us might look different than we expect because our scope is so limited and His so broad. Sacrificing may mean moving to the other side of the world for the rest of your life, leaving behind all your family and friends for the sake of sharing the Good News. It may mean selling all your possessions and living among the marginalized. It may mean being killed for not renouncing your faith in Jesus. Whatever the cost entails, I don’t think we should not try to hide the cost. We need to be realistic about the grief it may involve so that we may be better prepared and that our commitment to Christ might be that much stronger.

3. Following Jesus may require suffering, but the cost is worth the hope 2 Corinthians has been a constant challenge and encouragement to me in my daily life since having the opportunity of studying it in depth. It’s one of my favorite books in the Bible. Let me highlight a couple of points Paul makes that are especially relevant to this topic of tasting the cost.

2 Cor 4:16-18 (ESV) “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

This blows me away. The heaviest weight, the most bitter grief that I bear now cannot even be compared to when I will be fully in the presence of Jesus. When weighing the pros and cons of how “worth it” the cost of discipleship is, my current suffering does not even register on a pendulum scale when compared to the future glory of being with Jesus. Compared to the “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” my pain only registers as “light momentary affliction.” Honestly, this is hard to grasp much of the time simply because of a distinction that Paul raises: we see our suffering, but our hope is largely unseen now. This is where faith comes in.

2 Cor 12:9-10 (ESV) “But he [God] said to me [Paul], “My grace is sufficient for you, of my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Trusting God does not mean ignoring pain. The pain can still feel excruciating. But I still have hope. That is why I do not lose heart; that is why I dare taste the cost of following Jesus. I share stories of my weakness because these are the stories from which God’s power and grace can shine brightest.

4. Honesty in suffering can reveal self-centeredness Sometimes the ugliness that comes out of my heart makes me scream. I absolutely hate it. I am learning, though, that while the Holy Spirit convicts, He does not condemn. While my tendency is to withdraw into self-hatred and despair, the Holy Spirit is gracious. He wants to be gentle. He wants to hold my hand as we face my brokenness. He does not make me face my sin alone.

5. It requires that we fix our eyes on Jesus A. W. Tozer writes that “faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.” I really like that definition. It communicates that faith isn’t simply a one time decision to “ask Jesus into my heart,” but a continued relationship with God, for whom I lay down my life and from whom I find new life. I fix my eyes on Jesus. It is honestly a fight. Rather than an easy (metaphorical) glance upon His face, there are times like last night when it required intense focus in order to keep my attention on the Lord and His character. It took every ounce of my strength to have faith, because the weight of the cost felt so heavy.

6. Hard questions may surface. And that’s ok. I think it’s ok to look temptation in the face, just as long as we return our gaze back to Jesus, trusting that He knows what is best. A man I greatly respect once told me, “There can be no faith in the absence of doubt.” We call obvious, objective answers “facts.” Why would you need to trust in something that is plainly before you? There would be no room for faith. Instead, faith pushes through the doubt—incorporating both our mind and heart—and trusts that God’s motives are good, pure, and just. I love Mark 9:24 when a man cries out to Jesus: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” This should be our attitude, trusting God while we wrestle through life with Him.

7. Jesus is worth the cost Let’s be realistic about the cost of discipleship. Even more than that, let’s not forget that God is sweeter still. He is kind, as my friend recently reminded me. God is not just a distant, detached good deity. God is kind. I won’t fully understand the depth of His kindness until I see Him face to face, but I do trust that He is kind, gentle, compassionate. He sees my pain, and He understands. I cannot leave behind my faith. It is so much a part of who I am that it would be like cutting off an arm and a leg. I cannot forsake Jesus Christ or my relationship to Him. I value it more than my physical existence. All of my hope is anchored in the Good News of Jesus.  Having faith isn’t for the faint of heart. Being a follower of Jesus is costly. We don’t typically understand that the United States of America. In other parts of the world choosing to follow Jesus can literally mean you are forfeiting the rest of your life to being imprisoned, tortured, or brutally killed. My cost is not nearly as extreme as it is for my other Brothers and Sisters around the world, but we must take our faith just as seriously, because Jesus is worth everything I end this rather lengthy post with a song that articulates the cry of a desperate Jesus-lover who trusts that God’s “love is better than all the world can give.” I encourage you to still your mind and heart, and let this song resonate through your bones. I’ve attached the chord chart for you fellow musicians. 🙂