Chains of Shoulds


I took a stand against shoulds long ago. Or at least I thought I did. I have seen one follower of Jesus after another drown under what they “should” do. Shoulds do not fan freedom. They suck life.

This week, I heard my hope-speaking counselor say something he’s been saying all along. Only this time, my ears could hear. Some of the weight I carry, some of what makes it so much work to get out of bed and tackle the demands of my crazy life, I put there.

The shoulds I hate so much lay on me as a suffocating blanket I can not get out from under. I’m struggling for air, struggling for light.

They crept in as thieves in the night. I did not see them.

They are trying to do the right thing, trying to avoid hurt and dysfunction. Pursuing intimacy in my marriage and protecting my kiddos from the arrows of my own wounds. The pursuit of emotional health has ensnared me. The voices of good I hear paralyze me. There are a million very good shoulds I can not live under.

I need freedom. The hope-speaking counselor is good at giving me permission. I’m just not good at feeling it.

I do not want to mess this up. Not because I don’t want to mess up but because I desperately want the good that is suppose to come from it.

I am losing me in the process.

I have to learn how to give up the shoulds. They are dreadful because in and of themselves, they are good and profitable. My pile, however, is so big and so heavy, it has distorted my sight. It has distorted my gait and my very soul.

This is the space where I need grace in its greatest measure.

The honest truth is that the shoulds bear bitterness in me. I can’t offer them freely. They are a pretending.

What a hard and ugly place.

I cling to this little flash of hope that comes alive, as the hope-speaking counselor challenges me to actually own what I feel instead of try to feel my picture of right. There is freedom in that place. There is light and lightness.

Let grace come. Let it wash over me and breathe hope.

Four Days

The silence I have felt from God in the midst of darkness is one of my hard places. I see His hand protecting me. I see Him bringing freedom, restoring and redeeming. But I don’t feel him.

I don’t feel His comfort, and I don’t feel His peace.

I have known a time when God was so present I could almost touch him. I could feel His arms around me and my heart knew His delight as surely as I knew the sun would rise. Why, when I need His presence most, when I ask and pray and cry and scream for His comfort, do I feel nothing but deadening silence?

This week, the littlest and I were talking about Lazarus. He knew the story vaguely, and I told it to him again.

Mary and Martha and Lazarus were really good friends with Jesus. He loved hanging out with them, and the Bible says Jesus loved them deeply. Well one time, Lazarus got sick. Mary and Martha knew Jesus could make him better and sent a message to Jesus begging Him to come to where they lived and heal Lazarus. Jesus got the message, but he didn’t come. He waited. A couple of days later, He went to where Lazarus lived, but Lazarus had died. . .”


I told him about how Jesus cried when He saw how sad Lazarus’ sisters and friends were. And of course, I told him how Jesus had called Lazarus out of his tomb. That was the part he wanted to hear. Isn’t that the part that redeems the story? Isn’t that where we cheer and think about Jesus’ as the hero?

There is much that pricked me as I remembered this story. But circled with a red pen and highlighted in yellow were the words, “He waited.” Mary and Martha were in agony. They knew things were bad, and they feared the outcome. They had begged Jesus to come, but He waited. In fact, John says Lazarus had been dead for four days before He came. For four days, Mary and Martha longed for Jesus presence and heard only silence.

In those four days, they did not know (nor could they have perceived) Jesus was going to raise their brother. They had only their grief.

Could my darkness be like those four days?

Twice in John 11, it says Jesus was deeply moved when He saw those around Lazarus grieving. His spirit was so moved, He wept.

When I weep, it is not pretty. It is ugly, loud and gut-wrenching. It physically hurts. When the Jews saw Jesus respond with such emotion, they could only say, “See how he loved him!”

Jesus loved Lazarus. And He loved Mary and Martha. He knew the pain they would walk thru, but he still decided to wait.

This is the clearest picture of hope I have had in two years. Just because Jesus waits to make His presence felt to me doesn’t mean He does not care deeply about my heart. As I recounted the story to my littlest, a picture grew of the Father weeping at my pain. I saw Him shaking, as tears poured from His eyes, as His heart hurt with mine.

We are the lucky ones in the story of Lazarus. We get to read the end before we have to wait. We see Jesus call Lazarus out and command his grave clothes removed.

Mary and Martha, the disciples, and the multitudes overcome in grief had to walk through every minute of their hearts breaking. They didn’t get to skip to the end.

But Jesus did come. And He wept.

“Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

A Different Hope

My ears didn’t hear hope from my hope-speaking counselor today. I heard hard. And the hard felt stone cold against my fragile heart. He spoke that the more health I experienced, the more my discontent would grow.

I’m not going to lie. It sucked.

I so much want a hope I can hold onto. I want to touch it and feel it and see its colors. I want to smile as it breathes life back into weary, weary bones. I want comfort.

I want relief.


The hope-speaking counselor won’t give it to me. Instead, he sends me further into the raw places that take my breath away. I am trying my best to hold those places together. But he is relentless. I am crumbling.

The madness is that as I crumble, I feel the stirring of life. I feel it.

He calls to the deepest places of what I want. Not to what is easy or comfortable or even right. Though I have a feeling those will be waiting at the end.

He calls to what stirs my heart. I have silenced it for so long. He speaks that it matters, and everything in me fights his words. The more I feel, the greater my discontent.

This is the opposite of relief. There is no comfort. It does not feel good or restful or happy.

Anger bubbles as I type the words I know to be true: my hope-speaking counselor is speaking hope. I fight just to stay in the fight. I do not want what he is saying. I do not want that reality.

And yet I do.

Owning Pain

My hope-speaking counselor was at it again this week. Pushing, stripping, freeing.

He does not speak counselor talk. He speaks grace, and he curses. I like him.


For years, I have been told I didn’t feel enough. And that embracing my feelings was the way to health. Oddly, I didn’t think I wasn’t feeling before. I felt deeply. Often feelings swelled to the very top of me and had only paper to spill onto. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t feel enough. So how was I not doing it right? One word broke my spiral of self-defeat.


“It sounds like you think your feelings are inconsequential,” said my hope-speaking counselor.

Well, yeah. That’s what I’ve been learning for forty-one thirty-four years. Feel deeply, I hear. But who is there to care about what I’m feeling? Too much life has been sucked from me trying to convince people to care about what makes me most me.

Like the time I called across an ocean weeping so hard I could barely speak. “You need to find someone else,” said the friend who had promised to walk through the ugly with me.

Like the time trauma paralyzed me, and I begged for relief. “Why does it bother you so much when you were complicit?” was the response.

Like the time I begged God to comfort me in the darkness and I heard only silence.

Those feelings labeled health. . . my heart yells at me that they are inconsequential. The line becomes so fuzzy it vanishes. Survival takes over for hope.

The hope-speaking counselor asks about places that hurt. I share with honest words. And then he calls my bluff.

“You have a qualifier every time you share what you’re feeling.” The spotlight on my heart glows bright. I feel its heat bearing down.

He is right. I am completely exposed. I do feel deeply, and then I convince myself it’s inconsequential. I preach to myself what those wounds only hinted.

My qualifiers pass the buck. But my pain is my pain. People hurt me. My fear is real. It grips me to the point I can hardly breathe. I get angry, and I want to curse. Ok, so I do curse.

My hope-speaking counselor tells me I can feel, and it won’t kill me. I think he is crazy. When I felt deeply before, the hopelessness overwhelmed me. The pit sucked me in.

Or did it?

It’s odd the freedom that filled my heart when he invited me to feel without qualifiers. Maybe freedom lies not on the side of passing the buck. Maybe my attempts to survive are what is killing me.

Nothing and Everything

The words come at a stop light.

I push them away, refusing to entertain them. . . willing myself to choose different words to dwell on. . . hoping for a split second they will vanish as quickly as they came. I don’t believe the words in my mind, but they yell so loudly. So very loudly.

I lose the battle, and the words flood me. They wash over my mind, and I am ashamed. How can a follower of Jesus have such dark thoughts?


I do not understand. Where has hope gone? When was the exact moment it evaporated? Did it slowly float away, as if a leak in a balloon or was it sucked out by the vacuum of trauma and fear? Did I know the moment it faded away? If feels as if going to get my winter coat and not being able to find it. I thought it was safely stored away, but in need, it is gone.

I put my foot to the gas and find my way into the Aldi parking lot. My body racks in sobs. Soon my cheeks are stripped of color and my shirt shows the collection of tears. I hurt. My chest squeezes in agony. It is not a specific pain but more an absence that has grabbed me. I feel nothing and everything. It is unbearable.

In the sound of my tears, my phone lights. Words from a new friend ask about my battle with the gremlins. It stops my sobs and makes me breathe. I share my darkness with her. She knows it. She has felt my crazy before and knows the struggle to make a mind obey a will.

My picture is not pretty today. It often isn’t. But it is a picture I want. I have to remember I want it day after day. Often hour by hour and minute by minute.

The fight is wearing me down. My hope-believing counselor spoke resilience over me this week. He spoke so surely of something I couldn’t feel. He spoke of a different narrative with an ending yet to be written.

Words spoke despair this week. Can I also receive the strength?

A haunting

During my sabbatical, I am trying to reignite parts of my heart that once burned strong. One of those places is music. It used to absolutely capture me. As my heart has felt unmovable, however, it has lost its appeal. I want to catch that place once again.

For those of you in cyberland who have done the Birkman, you’ll remember the section where it lists your interests and how those interests might fit into a career. I scored a 99 on music. It’s more than a like, more than a passing fancy. It is a need. And for over a year, I have let that need fall silent.

In the past few weeks, I have been hunting down worship songs that stir something in me. Here is a song that has haunted me:

The music captures me. But it’s the lyrics that haunt me.

You are good, good, oh

You are good, good, oh

You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down.

You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down.”

With all of my heart, I want this to be the cry of my soul. I want to believe God is never going to let me down.

The problem is that what is so sure in my head is having an impossible journey the 10 inches to my heart. My heart feels so very let down. I stepped out in faith and plummeted into a pit. I don’t feel God’s hands holding me. I don’t feel anything.

I have listened to this song over and over and over again. I have blasted it in my minivan every time I make the drive to counseling. I will do it again today. I let my body feel the pulsing rhythm, hoping that on the 102nd time, the walls on my heart might begin to crumble.

I am praying it haunts me until I can believe it with arms lifted high.

P.S. If you don’t mind, I would love to hear your favorites too–your music would be a sweet gift to my weary heart.

I’m missing me. . .

You know when you’re in a dark room and you feel disoriented and can’t distinguish one thing from another? Even in a room you know well? In your bedroom, you know exactly where each piece of furniture is placed. You know where clothes are left of the floor and the spot where a cord reaches across in peril.

But when the lights are off, all you see is the darkness. There is a bed to walk around, but how far does it go? Clothes usually land somewhere around here. . . are they right in front of me or to the left? My beautiful smoky purple walls look exactly like my yellow bookshelf and my white mirror. The wall that was obvious in the light can only be guessed at by a hand reached out in exploration.

It takes so much longer to walk in a dark room. It takes so much energy to navigate around danger.

Depression is the darkness that darkens every room. I miss the light.

I miss joy.

I miss wonder and peace. And energy and vision.

Perhaps, most of all, I miss hope. Hope is incredibly veiled without light.

I miss how the funky nail polish on my toenails made me smile. I miss waking up in the morning with excitement for my day. Or even energy to want to get out of bed. I miss flipping through cookbooks, imaging flavors coming together and dreaming about when I could create in my kitchen.

I miss clarity of thought. And passion.

I miss me. A lot.

I’m a week into my intensive counseling. It’s been. . . intense. There is someone fighting to breathe hope into my heart. All I can offer are tears and exhaustion to join him. Just showing up is all I have right now. But I’m doing it.