On Endings and Beginnings

Two years ago today, I was walking down the aisle toward the man I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. Everything about the day was a dream – the dress, the venue, the photos, our wedding party. Despite the best efforts of his father and stepmother, the wedding went off without a hitch.

 

Today is (would be? would have been? was?) our second wedding anniversary, and I am sitting in the corner of my favorite coffee shop, sipping a pourover and reading over my divorce paperwork. Tomorrow I’ll see Eli to close on the sale of the home we bought together last December. The home where we were going to raise our children, build our dreams, live our lives together.

 

Besides informing family and a few close friends, I’ve been mostly quiet about the divorce. The clues are there to piece together for those who care to sleuthРI moved to Grand Rapids by myself, I haven’t posted about being married in months, I quietly changed my last name on social media.

 

There’s no juicy gossip, and no one hates anyone. Eli and I are on good terms; we talk often; and both of us are pursuing our dreams. I’m thrilled for him and the opportunities he has found in this season. I cried tears of happiness for him when I found out he was going to school for zoology, and I can’t wait to see how he grows.

 

The thing I‚Äôve been asked the most often is ‚Äúare you okay?‚ÄĚ And the answer is simultaneously ‚Äúno, not at all,‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúyes, almost completely.‚ÄĚ

 

The last nine-ish months have been full of screaming, fighting like hell, crumpling naked on the bathroom floor after an hour to sob until I vomit, therapy, panic attacks, crying myself to sleep, staring blindly at walls/the road/my ceiling, sleeping for 18 hour stretches, weight gain, being a bitch to the people who love me the most, and way too much midnight pasta. There have been days I physically couldn’t get out of bed, and days I called my mom hyperventilating too much for her to understand me.

 

But they’ve also been full of so many good things. New friends, spontaneous road trips, honesty, learning who I am, letting myself feel after 25+ years of chasing away the feelings. Jocie’s family adopted me, no questions asked, and let me spend evening after evening sitting on their couch and eating their food. My support system has tripled, and I finally feel like myself.

 

I’ve learned how to ask for what I need and get what I want. I’ve laughed from the deepest part of my soul and been wrapped in the arms of those who have my back, no matter what. I’ve negotiated new relationships and gotten a scholarship for grad school and gained confidence in my talents. I have a job I love and an adorable little house with fantastic roommates. I’ve learned to set boundaries and ask for help when I need it.

 

In the words of Sleepless in Seattle, ‚ÄúI‚Äôm gonna get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out all day long. Then after a while, I won‚Äôt have to remind myself to get out of bed every morning and breathe in and out.‚ÄĚ

 

Or as those good, good brothers would put it — I‚Äôm just going to keep eating that recovery sandwich.

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A Year of Desire

I spent the better part of 2017’s last quarter working my way through¬†The Desire Map by Danielle LaPorte while huddled in the back of Rough Draft, drinking whatever latte the barista recommended that day. Pages and pages of my journal are filled with quotes and ponderings from the book, dotted occasionally with tear stains as I drank in the idea that my heart and emotions¬†aren’t actually evil above all else.

[Briefly, the idea behind the book is to identify not what you wish to accomplish, but how you want to feel, and to learn to work in pursuit of those desires rather than material accomplishments.]

Therapy is another place I spent a lot of time at the end of 2017, sitting on a couch in downtown Hillsdale trying to figure out who I am and what I’m doing and what is even going on. In other words, being a young adult. When I told my therapist about this book, she asked a question that squeezed my very soul.

“What feelings would you chase if you believed you were worthy of feeling them?”

With that question ringing in my mind, I came up with these four core desired feelings. They’re not resolutions, “One Words,” or proclamations. They are the things I want to believe I am worthy of feeling. These are the desires I want to run after in 2018.

grounded. firmly planted with roots stretched deep into the ground, impossible to pull up. like a tree planted beside still waters, planted firm in the faith of my ancestors as it mingles with the things i am learning to believe for myself. feet in the grass, hands in the soil channeling nana baker as i dig and weed and prune. i want to be sure and secure in my identity, my relationships, my livelihood. to have my feet firmly planted in my truth and my arms wrapped securely around my people. i want to be connected to a community of likeminded people and to those who challenge me. to be truly known and heard and loved, to stand strong and sure in who i am and what i believe and where i come from. grounded.

insatiable. i want to always want more, to be thirsty for life and hungry for adventure. i never want to stop learning, yearning, reaching, trying. i want to always want. may life never be enough, may i always long for more joy and life and food and pleasure and adventure and peace and challenges and friends. i never want to stand throwing distance from my dreams and declare that i’m close enough. i never want to be satisfied.¬†insatiable.

fulfilled. filled up. overflowing. i want to live out my calling, to spend my days doing work that matters and my nights pouring myself out for those i love. filled up to empty myself for others, to know beyond that shadow of a doubt that i am where i should be and doing what i should do. boots on the ground, feet on the grass, hands in the proverbial soil getting dirt under my nails while i dig ever deeper into life.  constantly chasing that feeling of sitting on the porch of the miracle building with coffee on my armrest and my bible in my lap; always longing for the dirty feet and linked arms of dusty pucallpa nights. i want to do what i was made for, live the life intended for me. fulfilled.

safe.¬†i don’t want to have to hide who i am or pretend not to be passionate about the things that light a fire inside me. i want to be myself, loudly and honestly and truly. i want to know that i am loved and cherished no matter what i do or who i am. i don’t want to walk on eggshells or have to guess what’s okay to feel that day. i want to laugh late into the night about things that won’t make sense in the morning, to know i’m not a burden or an annoyance or too much. to take care of myself unashamedly. i want to be protected, sheltered, cared for when the world caves in; to be held when i can’t stand up anymore.¬†safe.

Things I am Done Apologizing For

Like many women, I frequently find myself saying “I’m sorry.” It doesn’t matter the circumstance; if I feel my presence, opinions, or personality are an inconvenience, you better believe I’m muttering a “sorry,’ and backing down.¬†My desires, needs, wants? Unimportant. Shelved for the convenience of others’ comfort. I mentioned this to my therapist today when she told me to work on “just doing me.”

“I’m really not good at that,” I said. “It’s easier to just… not.”

She laughed, then grew serious again. “But isn’t it far scarier to live your life with yourself in the back seat?” She was right, of course. After all, that’s what I pay her for. And so, without further ado, I present you with a list of things for which I am finished apologizing.

Splashing and making noise while I swim.¬†I’m not small. When I propel myself through the water, there will be water displacement. This is science, and is something I am unable to control. I will make my noise, breathe loudly, kick hard.

Not always wanting to talk on long drives. Seriously. Can’t we just sit in silence? Maybe listen to a podcast? I don’t hate you, I’m probably just tired.

Dipping my fries in honey mustard or ranch instead of ketchup.¬†It’s just delicious.

Setting boundaries. Period.

Needing alone time. This goes with the long drives thing. I’m an introvert. Sometimes I just need to be alone, or at least not be actively engaging.

My political and religious beliefs.¬†No, they aren’t a carbon copy of my parents’ and family’s beliefs. Yes, I engaged in critical thinking to come to my conclusions. No, I am not stupid just because I don’t believe exactly what you do.

Liking those awful little Totino’s party pizzas. Look. Sometimes it’s 9 pm and I haven’t eaten and I just want to sprinkle extra cheese on some glorified cardboard with highly processed “meat” and call it dinner.

My stomach, thighs, and general body shape.¬†I am not small. I take up space. If you sit by me on an airplane, our arms and legs will probably touch. This doesn’t make me less of a person (in fact, it quite literally makes me more of a person). Sometimes my clothes might reveal the fact that I have a stomach/boobs/thighs. Because I DO HAVE THEM.

Not being head over heels in love with the USA right now. This country, right now? Is not great. It’s not welcoming the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free. It’s not treating all men as created equal. It certainly is not practicing religious equality. So no, I won’t be waving my tiny flag in a parade anytime soon.

Believing that LGBTQIA+ people are, in fact, people Рdeserving of full and equal rights. Do I really need to explain this? Still? In 2017?

Not running. I’ve tried. It is terrible. I do NOT feel better when I’m done. The runner’s high has to be a myth perpetuated by Big Running to try to trick me into screwing up my ankles and knees forever.

Taking care of myself. After growing up in a world where any self-care or acknowledgement of my own needs, desires, wants, or plans are selfish and my heart is “deceitful above all else,” learning to care for myself has been a steep learning curve filled with excuses and avoidance. No longer.

From here on out, I will be free.

The One Where I Get Real

October is my favorite time of year. Usually, this month finds me adorned with boots and scarves, tilting my face toward the sun and pausing to take pictures of leaves on my way into work. There are weekend trips to farmers’ markets, afternoons apple picking, and more than a few selfies with warm, spiced coffee drinks. I make fall look good.

Maybe it’s the autumnal equinox. Maybe it’s the new birth control. Maybe it’s the completely unnecessary and absolutely misguided shame I am still wrestling with since a couple¬†who was supposed to love my husband and I spent the weeks before our wedding trying their damnedest to destroy us.

Probably it’s a combination of all of those things. So far, this October has been different. It hasn’t been good, it hasn’t been pretty. It has been HARD. I’ve spoken some here in the past about my battle¬†with depression and anxiety. I’ve talked about it, but I’ve never written from the midst of it like I am now. For a type-A control freak like myself, it’s not easy to admit that the chemicals in my brain are controlling my feelings.¬†After all, only I control my feelings. Carefully, letting out just the right amount before masking the rest with sarcasm.

Those who have struggled with depression and anxiety will recognize my description of “that feeling,” when your chest starts to tighten and it’s a little hard to breathe, but you can keep going. The feeling¬†hit sometime around mid-September. I brushed it off. I took my orange pill in the morning and my pink pill at night and I. Was. In. Control. I went to work, I was professional, I made dinner, I was a good wife, I. was. fine.

Until I wasn’t. Until I had a panic attack so severe on our way up north that I collapsed on the ground outside of the car. Until all of the sudden the chest tightening was combined with stomach pains and muscle aches and sore throats and migraines because when you do not listen to your body, it screams. Until “I can’t” became the most frequent thing Eli heard me say. Until I missed three days of work last week because I could not, could not, could NOT get out of bed.¬†Until I tried to go grocery shopping and ended up leaving without most of my list because I couldn’t do it, couldn’t be around people or away from home. Until I snapped at my husband and then started crying because I had no idea why I was upset.

Last week was the worst of it, so far.¬†In between hiding under the covers and staring at the ceiling, I got news that an opportunity I had been hopeful about was not, in fact, going to turn out the way I had wanted. It’s because I’m not good enough.¬†Then the bank account overdrafted, due to some clerical errors with my check at work and the day rent came out. It’s because I’m so stupid and can’t even handle money much less being an adult.¬†I tried to see a close friend over the weekend, but she was sick.¬†I’m an inconvenience to everyone around me.

See, when you are depressed – your brain knows the truth. I know that I am good enough, that I am not stupid, that I am not an inconvenience. But somehow, at the exact same time and in the deepest part of your soul, your brain does not at all know the truth. So you spend your days in a constant battle of mind vs. mind, trying to figure out what part of your brain you are allowed to believe that day.

When I was younger and would hear adults talk about depression, I always pictured people sitting at home, crying and crying. “Why are they so sad?” I would wonder. “And why can’t they just be happy?”

The thing I know now is that depression is not just sadness. It’s emptiness, worthlessness, nothingness. I spent a half hour last night sitting in the bathtub after it drained, literally just staring at the shower wall. Depression is staring at shower walls, naked in an empty bathtub, because you are too drained to stand up.¬†It doesn’t just go away if you pray or believe enough.

I don’t have an ending for this, because I’m not through it yet. I’m going to the doctor this week to ask about my medications. Jesus is still good. Elijah is the greatest man I could have asked for, and always knows exactly what to say or do to help me. God is providing.

So for now, I’m just sharing my reality. I’m speaking up, because this is too often suffered alone and because speaking struggles out loud often helps view them in a new light.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to calm my mind by watching the debate.

The One Where I Am Feeling Things

I was in my sweatpants by 6:00 tonight. It was one of those rare days where the cancellations synced up with a clean apartment synced up with a while before the next writing deadline.¬†A quiet evening — soup, Christmas lights, kitten snuggles and binge-watching Netflix.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” I told the doctor who has known me since birth. He had made the same booger joke he’s been making since I can remember just a few minutes ago, when he looked up my nose with the light. “I can’t sleep, I can’t eat. I’m throwing up every morning, having minor panic¬†attacks every couple hours. Everything hurts.”

Something about making soup inexplicably calms me, draws me to that place I so often try to avoid. As I chop carrots, dump in beans, shred leftover turkey from Saturday’s dinner party, my mind quiets down… and when my mind quiets down, my heart pipes up.

“Anxiety and depression,” the doctor said. How had we jumped from booger jokes to this?

He kept talking as he began to scribble on a prescription pad. “Your dad thinks this is bullshit [the doctor has always enjoyed cursing around me], but I’m the one with a medical degree and I’m putting you on medication.”

He stops writing abruptly, crumples the page. “I forgot your insurance is useless. I’ll get you samples.”

I pour in the broth, watching all the ingredients from the bottom of the pot begin to float. Then it hits me.¬†A year ago, almost to the day. That’s how long it’s been since I stepped down from my internship at Crossroads. How long it’s been since I admitted that the dream I had held for years wasn’t God’s plan for me. Since I was able to sleep for the first time in months. I turn off the TV, and the only sound in the apartment is my knife, chopping a few more carrots.

The doctor is still talking, even as I watch the paper crumple to the ground. I’m perched on the exam table, silent, the familiar feeling crushing my chest again.

“Counseling,” he says. “Is a must. You have to take care of yourself. Are you exercising? Keeping to a routine?”

He doesn’t let me answer. “Start exercising. Keep to a routine. Go to counseling. Take this medicine. You’ll be okay.”

I haven’t talked about those days much. Not here, not with friends, not anywhere really except to the $25 an hour “counselor” out of a church in Angola I went to three times who tried to “break the word curses” placed over me by “speaking prophecies of truth over me.” ¬†They say time heals all wounds, and it was true with this one – unless the prophecies actually worked. There are no hard feelings, no grudges or ill-will. God has graciously mended broken relationships.

The feeling came back, last winter, after the samples ran out and my medicine got changed to something affordable. ¬†The chest squeezing, sleeping too much or not at all, eating too much or not at all, panicking for no reason feeling. My childhood¬†doctor had a stroke a few months ago. ¬†He’s back in the practice, a few days a week, but his office is¬†two¬†hours away.

So I went to a new doctor. She looked up a list online of the symptoms of depression and read them to me in a monotone, asking me to rate myself. At the end, she did some blood work and prescribed me something different. She handed me a few business cards for counselors and a bill for the 15 minute appointment. $250.

The carrots are chopped, so I swirl in some heavy cream, sprinkle in some basil.  I unwrap a loaf of crusty bread, cutting off a piece to put in the oven. Last week I rescheduled a day of appointments because the seasons are changing and the anxiety and depression are coming back, stronger.  I laid in bed until 2 pm, staring at the ceiling in absolute silence. Elijah came over after his classes and held me, silently, understanding without speaking.

It’s been a year. I took a little orange pill this morning, now blessedly covered by insurance from my new job, and on Thursday I’ll spend an hour in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. ¬†I bought a sun lamp and I sit by it for a while every day. ¬†Jocie comes to the gym with me and I make myself push through it – whatever¬†it happens to be that day.

My counselor tells me I need to slow down and stop talking so I can start feeling things. She says that I explain my pain away and talk through my sadness. She’s probably right. After all, last week at our session, we sat in silence for 15 minutes. It was uncomfortable and awkward and I cried for two hours that night.

I sit at my table, still decorated from the dinner party Jocie and I threw on Saturday night.  As I dip a warm crust of buttered bread into my soup, my apartment is silent. I am slowing down. I am not talking.

I am feeling things.

The One For Your Dark Days

Note: Several of the pieces I link to are raw and contain strong language and themes of doubt. A link to a piece by a particular author does not signify an endorsement of their theology or everything they’ve ever written; it just means that piece prodded at my heart during my darkest days. Thanks for reading.¬†

The end of fall is drawing closer, the¬†days are getting progressively shorter, the sun is poking its face through the clouds less and less, and the darkness is creeping closer to you. I know, because you’ve told me, and because I’ve been there.¬†I’m not there now, but I was, and I remember.

When I drove past the cemetery today, I noticed that the leaves were almost all off the trees. Timehop reminded me yet again of where I was at this time two years ago – of the sleepless nights, the way I cried anytime I was alone, and the endless doubts and questions that plagued my mind and spirit.

I don’t know where you are, not exactly. Some of you have texted, called, written, talked. Told me you’re struggling, doubting, fumbling, scared. “I just don’t know what to do,” and “is it normal to cry this much?” and “where is God in this s**t?” are all texts I’ve gotten from you in the last few days. From 3-4 different individuals, making up the collective “you.” Different circumstances and stories, the same creeping darkness. The same ache to find some light.

It’s not like you don’t know. The answers are familiar to you – you’ve grown up in church, go to Christian college, etc. You know God is good. You know faith should be enough. But for whatever reason, it’s not right now. And on the darkest days, the ones when you don’t want to poke your head out of the covers or unroll the blanket burrito to face the world, no amount of cheerful Bible verses or “God’s got this!” is going to help you. If one more person tells you to delight yourself in the Lord, you’re going to punch them in the face. You’re not that okay right now, and you want something more than the Sunday school answers.

That’s why I’m writing this. I’ve been reminded lately of the things that got me through those dark times – little things. Honest writing, simple prayers, self-care. Because the truth is that God is good, He¬†is enough, you should delight yourself in the Lord,¬†and everything¬†will be okay… but sometimes that doesn’t help and you just need to take a hot bath and know you aren’t alone. I’ve been “meaning to” put together a kind of list of the things that helped me keep my grip on sanity in my own dark¬†days, but as I walked downtown hunched against the cold wind¬†today, I decided to finally¬†do it.

I pray you’ll find something here that speaks to your soul. I pray you will see the simple love¬†of Jesus in a brand new light, that your faith will become your own and that it will be enough to sustain you when the darkness rolls in again. ¬†I pray you find your safe places and people, that you are always real with yourself and with God.¬†You are loved deeply and vastly by the creator of the Universe. May you believe that fact more every day.

Writing:
Micah J. Murray:
The Day I Stopped Believing in God
When We Criticize the Church
Dancing Around the Edges
To the One Losing Her Faith
I Don’t Have my S**t Together
And really, almost everything he has ever written. Two winters ago, I started at his first post and worked my way through his blog.

Addie Zierman:
Come Weary
An Open Letter to the Church: How to Love the Cynics
Why Are You So Depressed?
Glossary of Christian Terms Series
When We Were on Fire (If you read nothing else on this list, read this book)

Emily Maynard:
Why I Can’t Go to Church on Sunday
I Don’t Think God Has a Plan for my Love Life
Modesty, Lust, and my Responsibility

Sarah Bessey:
In Which I’m a Feminist, Sure, But First I’m a Disciple of Jesus Christ
Love Looks Like series (the kind of girly, chick-flick reading that helps with a good cry)
Jesus Feminist

Other:
Faith Unraveled – Rachel Held Evans
-Poetry by John Blase at The Beautiful Due
-A Deeper Story

Prayers (usually repeated in a whisper or a scream, over and over and over):
-“I can’t.”
-“Help.”
-“Thanks.”
-“Give me peace.”
-“I need You so much closer.”
-“Prove it.” (and then be still. Because He will.)
Valley of Vision

Practices:
-Light some candles
-Set an alarm and do nothing for 5 minutes but stare at a wall
-Journal at least a sentence a day
-Go for a walk
-Read liturgies
-Pet a dog or cuddle a baby
-Call your mom or grandpa or best friend
-Make something: food, a craft, etc. Use your hands.
-Before there’s snow, stand barefoot on the grass
-Look at stars
-Read poetry
-Take a bubble bath
-Visit a new church
-Go to counseling. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself

The One Where I Am Worthy

It’s a lot harder to write about things that are in process than things that are complete. It’s a lot harder to tell stories when they don’t have an ending. Yet, isn’t this¬†what most of us need to hear? Don’t we need someone to climb into our trenches (or blanket burritos) with us and say “I’m here too, right now.” Not “I’ve been there, and now I’m out,” but “I am here. Let’s be here together.” Maybe you need this.

So… I am here. Right now. Let’s be here, together.


[image from soworthloving]

This has been a year of learning how to say “I am here.”¬†It’s been a year of transition, a year of “I just moved again” and “actually, I’m not at that job anymore.” It’s been a year of full-time classes, part-time work, and support raising. When I decided to leave Moody and move into an apartment in Reading, I didn’t really realize I was thrusting myself into adulthood two years early.

In the midst of all of the transition, though, I’ve finally found¬†myself settling into who I am. My life has quietly been riddled with insecurities, body-image issues, and general feelings of worthlessness. (All my fellow conservative-Christian purity-culture survivors¬†say HEY!) I was too loud, too much of a leader, too fat, too awkward. From a very young age, I convinced myself of these things. I was a walking oxymoron, displaying confidence and leadership tendencies while inwardly shrinking back from myself.

When your whole life, you hear “be humble,” and “you are worthless in your sin,” and “don’t be too flashy/immodest/into yourself/showy/etc or you’ll attract the wrong type of guy,” combined with two or three mean kids in middle school, you start to believe that it is¬†somehow holier to hate yourself than it is to love and take good care of yourself. Throw in the part where we believe people who are actively suffering for Christ are better than those who are really joyful in their lives, and I was basically screwed.

Change is hard and scary, and lies are easy to believe, so it took the complete-falling-apart of a couple years ago to get me to realize how many of the things I had believed about myself for so long were lies. And guys? That is hard.

Throughout the last year, Jesus¬†has really been prodding my heart on this one. I regularly sit with friends and girls from Crossroads and beg them with tears in my eyes to recognize their inherent worth in Christ. I write “you are worthy” in enormous bubble print on the letters I send them… yet for so long, believed I wasn’t worthy. Wasn’t worthy of love, wasn’t worthy of taking care of myself, wasn’t worthy of being a generally happy person who actually liked my life. I told myself I wouldn’t swear on my blog anymore because of my internship, so I’ll settle with saying “that is CRAP.”

Satan still whispers his lies in my ears sometimes. I try to put those scales back on every once in a while. I’ve found myself sobbing in my car a few times… but I am slowly learning to believe and own my worth in Christ. Jesus thinks I’m awesome, and I should think that too.

I’m taking practical steps to take care of the body He has given me. (The girl who pretended to be sick EVERY. SINGLE. MONDAY. in eighth grade to get out of PE just jogged on purpose).¬†I’m¬†choosing to set boundaries for myself, to say no when I need to, to surround myself with people who lift me up instead of tearing me down. I’m done apologizing for¬†my beliefs, opinions and preferences. I’m choosing to smile more, light candles in the evenings, take bubble baths, read books for fun and write¬†letters to an invisible penpal in a southwestern-themed journal.

This is where I am. It’s one of those things that’s hard to share (I still think humility is an important thing, so I don’t want to be all, “HEY GUYS, I’M AWESOME!”), but I’ve been discovering how many women believe the lie that they are worthless.

And that’s exactly what it is: a lie.

You and I, we are so. worth. loving.