The One Where I Want to be Known for Love

Today’s inauguration has me feeling all sorts of things, things that other authors have summed up far more eloquently than I will try to. All day long, I have been alternately inspired and alarmed by things shared by my friends and family members on both sides of the political spectrum. There is hate flying on all sides, emboldened by the ability to hide behind a keyboard and screen.

As I sit here tonight, mourning and hoping and praying, I have been convicted. I could write all night about all of the negative repercussions of this election. I could spend the rest of my days spewing facts and quotes at people who aren’t going to change their mind, and arguing with people who aren’t going to change mine.

That’s not what I want to be known for, though. Sure, I would like people to know that I don’t support this presidency, but much more than that, I want people to know that I DO support them

Photo: https://www.instagram.com/p/yDHkSxDiOf/

I want to be known for being a safe place for those of you who feel displaced and unheard in light of this election. For being the person who will hold your secrets, who will love you not in spite of who you are but because of who you are, and who will sit with you in the pit when words are not enough.

I want to be known for opening the doors of this precious home, dishing out hot soup and crusty bread, filling every inch of our house with those we love. For forcing you to have seconds, take home leftovers, stay for a cup of coffee, spend the night if you want. I want this home to be a safe haven, in every sense of the word.

I want to be known for kindness, for treating strangers with respect and smiling at the cashier at Meijer even when she is moving slowly. For hard work filled with empathy and honesty; for a welcoming spirit. For love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness. And self-control, even though that one is the hardest of them all.

Most of all, I want to be known for striving to be more like Christ in everything I do. I want to be known for crossing party lines, subverting cultural norms, and welcoming “the least of these.” I want to love you like Jesus does, regardless of who you voted for or what we agree on.

I want to be known for my love. May no one describe me by saying “she really doesn’t like [Trump/Southern Gospel music/Amy Schumer/mushrooms],” before they say, “she really loves [Jesus/people/making soup for people/dogs].” May my open arms and open door speak more loudly than my ringing words. May I never add darkness to a night already devoid of stars.

 

[thanks to my youngest sister-in-law, virginia, for calling me out, convicting me, and inspiring this blog post. love ya, gin. even when we don’t agree and you school me on how to love Jesus better.]

 

 

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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 About The World

in nearly every corner of the world, darkness presses close and whispers

i am winning

he watches as brother turns against brother

as blood flows from theaters and bombs go off at birthday parties

darkness smiles as refugees are turned away

as children die for the sins of their parents

i am winning, he whispers

as another baby washes ashore

darkness sinks in further, gets comfortable

as parents disown their children

and churches bar their doors to those who are searching

i am winning, darkness smiles

he cackles as the inky black creeps further into the world

and those who claim to have light

pause with their hands on the switch

to argue about who, exactly, is worthy of the electricity

 

The One That’s a Love Letter to a Hometown

Dear Reading,

We’ve been together just over two years, you and I. I go between “only two years?” and “already two years?” nearly every minute. And even though I’m leaving soon, a piece of my heart will always love you.

If my life was a movie, your part would be that scene when the girl takes her glasses off and realizes she’s beautiful. Or the scene where the underdog finally stands up to the bully. (In this analogy, the majority of my life is the scene in Napoleon Dynamite where the farmer mutters something about arrowheads in the hills, but I digress).

I came to you, dear Reading, confused and hurt and tired and lonely. I needed a safe place to figure out who I was, to learn how to love and be loved.  I needed to learn how to fit into myself, to stretch into my fingertips and toes and stop trying to keep up appearances.

That’s exactly what you gave me. In this tiny little one-horse (well, maybe 7. We have Amish people) town, I rented my first apartment. I bought too many vegetables, not enough meat, and all the wrong cleaning supplies. I cleaned the bathroom, made a lasagna, lit a candle and crowded new friends around the tiny wobbly table donated to me by a cousin. After my first official dinner party, I christened myself an adult.

I finished school, worked full time, paid bills and mostly failed at budgeting. I walked your small streets and got a library card that isn’t even laminated. You let me cry – oh, I’ve cried so much here – healing tears and joyful tears and tears of betrayal and guilt and loneliness. You hid me in your cornfields and by your tiny lakes when a years-long dream shattered.

You taught me to laugh, deep and long, until I cried all over again. You gave me friends within easy driving distance, confidantes and acquaintances alike. Late nights crammed in my tiny apartment, playing stupid games and talking about everything. Long walks with ice cream and thrift store runs and trips to the beach on cloudy days.

You watched me fall in love with Jesus all over again, deeper and newer than every before. You saw me worship in an old church on Sunday nights, surrounded by teenagers I would give a kidney for. I got baptized in that old church, declaring to a room of the aforementioned friends and teenagers that I was in, all in, with this God thing. You heard me whisper prayers just outside the door of an old barn, saw me sob at my grandmother’s grave after buying the things to make freezer jam, and sat patiently while I screamed and threw rocks from train tracks into a deep gully.

I fell in love, for real, for the first time while walking your streets and sitting in your diners. Mile loops from my apartment, past that house, hoping for a glimpse or a quick hello in the midst of my short bursts of what I called jogging but actual joggers would refer to as “slightly brisk walking.” Breaking my family’s texts-sent-in-a-month record, constantly smiling down at my phone. Making mix CDs and passing notes like middle schoolers. That first hug, while your stars winked down at me. Crossing back over your borders after the most perfect first date.

I’ve learned so many lessons, dear Reading, in the two short years I’ve been with you. People I haven’t seen in a long time tell me how happy I look. I introduce myself to people now; I’ve learned how to small talk (when the conditions are just right and the stars align).

There aren’t enough words to talk about how thankful I am for the years we’ve had together. They’ve been some of the most influential I’ve experienced thus far.

Even though I’m leaving, dear Reading, you will always be dear to me.

After all, you introduced me to truck pulls.

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 for the Single Ladies

this one’s for the single ladies.

no, wait. i see you rolling your eyes, shaking your head, backing away. you know where this is going, don’t you darling? you’ve heard it all before, a million times. you’re sick of being categorized, tired of being told who you are and how to fix it.

stay with me. because this one isn’t for “The Single Ladies, LLC,” a collective group of people who magically have the exact same thoughts, feelings, and problems due to their relationship status. no. this one is for you.

this one is for the women who go to work and come home to an empty apartment or a house full of roommates. the ones who try a new recipe on monday night and end up eating the leftovers for the next week. the women who sing loud in the car and shower, smile a lot, and go to bed feeling satisfied. the girls who have no problem doing homework, blaring music, taking a bubble bath, and going to bed alone. this one is for the women who truly love their life for exactly what it is right now.

this one is for the girls who have laid on a blanket on the lake superior beach, next to a boy and under the stars. this one is for the girls who thought that, maybe, just maybe, the songs playing on his phone weren’t an accident but a secret message. this one is for the girls who scooted a little closer, just a little, under that summer sky, thinking that maybe, just maybe, this could be something.

this one is for the ladies who truly love their lives 99% of the time, but then one day they’re singing loud in the car when they realize that there are tears streaming down their face. this one is for the women who have always believed they’re awesome, but are maybe starting to doubt it a little because no one else of consequence has seemed to believe it yet. this one is for the women who vacillate between sobbing for hours after every romantic comedy and cursing and throwing chocolate at the TV.

this one is for the women who will DECIMATE the next person, blog, book, poem or happy-Christian-instagram-post to tell them that they’ll only find a man when they’re 100% content in Christ. this one is for the ladies who ARE content in Christ, who have worn that purity ring and written those letters to their future husbands and guarded their hearts and done ALL OF THE THINGS that their youth pastors told them to, but haven’t gotten shit out of it. For the women who have never so much as had their hand held. For the girls who aren’t waiting anymore, because they were promised there would come an end to that wait but there hasn’t.

this one is for the girls who grew up with guy friends, and always imagined that one of those friendships would naturally turn perfectly into a When Harry Met Sally scenario, ending with love… but instead have found themselves in more of a My Best Friend’s Wedding scenario time and time again. For every girl who has been called a “sister in Christ,” “one of the guys,” or “the best friend.”

this one is for the ladies who have decided to be more bold, to take more risks. for the girls who got up all their courage and asked a boy out via text for a casual cup of coffee, only to be turned down in a 4-paragraph email; as though she had requested his hand in marriage and several cows from his father instead of a latte at a record store. for the ladies who laughed it off and kept moving, because the christian homeschool conservative subculture is a scary place and laughing is sometimes all you can do.

for the girls who joined okcupid for two days, but got creeped out and deleted all traces of their profile. for the girls who are still on okcupid. for the girls who burned their future husband journals, and the girls who still write in one every night. for the girls who fill their apartments with friends, week after week, because they want to cook and clean and be hostesses for someone other than themselves. for the girls who eat take out every night.

for the girls who have cried seventeen times this week, and for the girls who haven’t cried in years. for the girls who have gotten close, so close, only to realize they were wrong all along.

for the girls who know so acutely what it is to have a broken heart when there was never even a defined relationship, or to be broken by the same boy (or type of boy) over and over again. for the girls who go to the gym one night because maybe if they looked better….. but then eat an entire pizza the next night because “ANY MAN WHO LOVES ME WILL LOVE ME FOR WHO I AM.”

this one is for you, darling. you who read this and nodded at more than a few of the paragraphs. you who recognizes yourself in a little bit of each of these, because you recognize that “Single Lady” is not your label but just another bulletpoint on the list of beautiful things that make you, you. maybe even a sub-point, depending on the day.

this one is for you, who hasn’t found an easy answer. for you, who isn’t bitter or angry every day, who isn’t crippled by your singleness… but who would still really like to be loved someday, and to know when exactly that “someday” is going to bother to roll around.

this one is for you, and this one is for me, and this one is for every single one of us who are every single one of the girls i wrote about – depending on the day (or hour, let’s be real). there aren’t easy answers. there’s not a formula. this is not me promising you a boyfriend, or joy, or happiness. this is not me telling you to stop crying, or to look at the positives, or to be more content. this is just me seeing you.

this one is for you, because girl, i see you. i see the pain and the anger and the love and the longing. i see all of the things in your eyes and i know that sometimes, you just need someone to acknowledge that all of those things are in your eyes.

this one is for you, darling. come over if you have a minute, or if you need a minute. let’s talk about it, or not. let’s eat pasta and chocolate or pizza and ice cream or salad and grilled chicken. let’s cry over a cup of chai or a glass of wine, or scream and throw things. let’s talk about how much we love Jesus, or how we’re doubting right now. let’s watch a chick flick or pore over “hey girl” memes. let’s dream about our weddings or take sharpies to copies of The Knot. let’s pray, or not. let’s not make empty promises. let’s love where we are, except for when we don’t. let’s celebrate our souls and our worth in Christ and all the people who love us SO WELL even when they don’t know they’re doing it.

this one, it’s for you.