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.

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.

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.

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?