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.

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.