A Post-Christmas Meditation

It is the day after Christmas, and all is {finally} calm in our house.

The busyness and anticipation is over, and we are settling back into normal. There is no rushing around today. The kids continue construction of Legos and practice with skateboards. New books will be cracked, movies will be watched, and we will re-learn how to slow down.

The whole world moves on today, but I am stuck on Christmas Eve.

We live fairly close to The Morse Museum, which houses the largest collection of Tiffany stained glass anywhere in the world. On Christmas Eve, I drug our family to the Morse for 30 minutes of culture and a four-piece string ensemble.

During our quickly-paced tour, we passed by one window I found beautiful but somewhat common. The youngest asked who it was, and I guessed maybe Abraham and Isaac? We moved on to see other pieces but came back around as we were looking for the exit. That is when I saw the title.

“Christmas Eve.”

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Christmas Eve window, c. 1902
Mable Nast Crawford house, New Rochelle, New York, c. 1911–present
Leaded glass
Tiffany Studios, New York City, 1902–32
Designer: Thomas Nast Jr., 1866–1943

The power of the depiction fell on me heavy with awe and ache. It is the night before Christmas, and God the Father is holding the son in which he has great delight. He is savoring a last few precious moments before sending him into the world. The Father knows what awaits. He know the suffering the Son will endure.

My heart breaks.

Never have I thought about the ache of the Father on Christmas Eve. We experience Christmas with such incredible joy and anticipation. And surely those were true for the Father, as well. But not one time have I thought about the pain of sending his son.

And so, as Christmas moves past and normal returns, I linger. I linger in this moment where a father holds his son and looks at him with a full recognition of the separation to come. I feel the delight of him holding his only child in his arms while also anticipating the pain of the moment when he will have to send him away.

The love of the Father overwhelms me. In this picture it is not sterile. It is not distant or stuffy. It is tender. And it hurts.

On this first day post-Christmas, I am praying we continue to be struck by the very real and powerful love of a Father who would send his son to be flesh. I am praying I remember the tenderness of a moment captured in stained glass far longer than our tree stays up or the tinsel hangs around town.

A belated Merry Christmas to you, friends. May the awe of what happened on that first Christmas continue to move your heart. And mine.

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Standing After the Storm

The sky is blue now and only a breeze makes the leaves flit about on our young live oak. You would never know a hurricane passed through two days ago. You couldn’t imagine how the wind whistled through our windows and how that little live oak bent farther and farther as Matthew pushed it to its very edge.

Yesterday it felt like the sun might not ever shine again. But it did. It is.

In the middle of it all, I realized a hurricane makes for a very striking picture of the journey through anxiety.

The day before Matthew arrived was gorgeous. The city was a buzz in preparation, and it felt surreal. There was hardly a cloud in the sky.

I met a friend for brunch, and we sat outside. Those not from Florida can’t appreciate what a rare opportunity that is before mid-November. It was the first hint of a slight reprieve from the sticky days of summer.

The weather was so captivatingly pleasant, I spent the evening soaking in more of it watching the youngest’s football practice. I didn’t need to be there. I just wanted an excuse to be outside.

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The night before Hurricane Matthew

Parents around me shared hurricane stories and tried to assure themselves they had prepared adequately. Those from south Florida spoke with shock at the lack of shutters and boarding. The ones from the north grew in anxiety over how to fit their families in closets while the storm passed.

We were all, everyone of us, anticipating disaster. Catastrophe. Tragedy.

Everything around us looked peaceful and normal, and yet we carried with us the impending sense of doom.

We did not know if we would be ok.

 

Those 24 hours, as Hurricane Matthew strengthened and edged closer and closer to our homes, is exactly what it is like to live with an anxiety disorder. Except most of the time there is no hurricane coming. There isn’t even a storm in the forecast.

It is just a forever anticipation of disaster.

It is always being on the look out for how to be prepared for a catastrophe. It is constantly looking around for how to protect yourself from what could happen.

It is believing that something so cataclysmic is going to happen that I will not be ok.

 

The storm came. We went to bed anticipating only a few hours of sleep before winds began thrashing outside. We were prepared to tarp broken windows and huddle together in closet away from flying glass.

Wind did blow. Hard. It made our windows sing. But we woke with 8 hours of sleep and no broken glass. We even had electricity. The hurricane had moved just 10 short miles east as it came its closest.

Into the afternoon, wind would gust and rain would pour. The live oak in our backyard would lean farther over with every gust. But it continued to stand. The gusts still blew, but with every hour they weakened.

And then it all stopped.

Leaves and limbs littered the street. A few trees didn’t fare as well as our little live oak and toppled into the street. Fences would need to be repaired across our neighborhood. But that was as bad as it got. We were banged up a little, but we were ok.

 

Matthew released the last of his fury in the Orlando area around 3pm on Friday. By the next morning, the sun was shining, and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. The storm passed, and the sun did shine again.

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The morning after Hurricane Matthew. 

Isn’t that just like life? We get banged up, but we continue to stand. We really are ok, even with our bruises. Just like a person’s struggle with anxiety.

Hard things come. They do. But rarely is it as bad as our anticipation. Anxiety likes to puff-up catastrophe. It lies about resilience. But we are stronger than we think. We are far more resilient than we fear.

Storms come, but they always pass. And afterward, there is a beauty you can’t appreciate without having sat through the pounding wind and rain. I have more depth, more compassion, more kindness because of storms I have stood through. The world is richer and more inviting than it has ever been.

We are resilient. I am resilient. I might lean a little like our live oak, but I am standing. I have more and more experience that as many storms as come, I will be ok.

Global Suicide Prevention Day

In 2014, 42,773 Americans died by suicide. One of those was my friend Robert. He is not just a statistic, nor are the other 42,772 represented by that number.

The suicide rate in the U.S. has recently hit a 30-year high according to an article in the New York Times. The overall suicide rate in America rose by 24% between 1999 and 2014. And more than 800,000 people die by suicide around the world every single year.

Is that not shocking to you? It’s shocking to me, and yet, I can understand the desperation of each of those numbers.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. Let’s be a part of the conversation.

semi-colon

Last Fall I got a semi-colon tattooed on my wrist. To many, it’s an odd little thing (especially my parents). But for me, it’s a victory sign. It’s a reminder that as dark as depression can feel at times, it is only a pause. Not a period. It is not the end of the story.

My story is not over.

I am huge supporter of an organization called To Write Love on Her Arms. To Write Love on Her Arms is “a nonprofit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. TWLOHA exists to encourage, inform, inspire, and invest directly into treatment and recovery.”

The TWLOHA community was an incredible speaker of hope during days I felt were hopeless. I now join with them in speaking against the stigma of depression and other mental health issues. I want to normalize the conversation.

Each year TWLOHA picks a phrase to champion during Suicide Prevention Week. This year the phrase is “so I kept living.”

It is from a gem of a book called Reasons to Stay Alive, in which the author writes about his own journey through depression and anxiety. It is a must read for everyone who knows someone battling depression (which, statistically, is all of us).

In the book, author Matt Haig writes of standing on a cliff in Ibiza contemplating taking the last step to end his life. “I think life always provides reasons to not die, if we listen hard enough. . . And so I kept living.”

What a great exercise for me to share that I kept living because there are three amazing kids who need their mom.

Because my husband told me, “we’ll get through this together.”

Because I told people when I wasn’t OK, and they listened to me. 

Because a tenacious counselor told me week after week not to underestimate my resilience. He spoke hope over me again and again.

Because I remembered what it was like to love what I do.

Because I had words to share.

I kept living because I knew my life was precious to the God of the universe.

I kept living.

And here I am. I am alive, and I am speaking hope.

If you are struggling today, will you please tell someone? Depression lies. It tells you you are alone, but you are not. You are not alone.

If you want to help someone struggling, would you consider giving to the efforts of To Write Love on Her Arms? This week they have been working to raise $85,000 toward the cost of treatment and recovery for those who need it. One of the counselors investing in that effort is mine. The work is real, and it saves lives.

Join the conversation. Tell someone your story. Keep living.

The Day I Wanted the World to Stop

It was a week ago today I got the text.

“It doesn’t look like he’s going to make it.”

A few hours later came an even harder one. “We’re getting ready to say goodbye.”

My breath was gone. I couldn’t seem to process what I had just read. No. This was a horrible mistake.

Then the sobs came. Deep, heaving sobs. My kids all rushed to me, and I could barely get the words out.

“He’s gone.”

It might be the first time my kids have seen such devastating grief. They knew our friend too, but time had lessened their pictures. It had not lessened mine. They were so sweet to sit with me as I wept and pray with me for our friend to be ushered into the Kingdom with fanfare and rejoicing and love. We prayed for the very first time he would see the face of Jesus.

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Plans were made, and 36 hours later we were on a plane headed to be with a grieving wife and kids. We wanted it all to be a bad dream, but if it wasn’t, we would walk through the unbelievable alongside the family who had shared three years of our lives. We had created so many beautiful memories together. We would walk thru the hard too.

We landed in a bustle of planes, in the middle of a city swirling with life. I watched families gather their bags with anticipation. I saw a workforce moving like any other day.

And I wanted to scream, “Don’t you know our friend just died?!?”

I wanted the world to stop.

I wanted everything to stop and recognize the loss of a deeply good man. A husband. A father. A friend.

How could the world still be spinning as usual? It had all come to a screeching halt for us. I was mad life was carrying on like normal for so many.

We spent two and a half days in the sacred reality of death. We held a family tightly. We spoke words that often aren’t said until moments like this. We looked at pictures and remembered so much good. We laughed.

We played cards and waged Nerf battles with precious kids who are far too young to be without a daddy. We listened, and we loved.

We wept. We wept for our own hearts, and we wept for those were left with a devastating new normal.

And then we honored a life very well lived. It was an incredible privilege.

The world did not stop. It kept whirling around us, and it will keep on going.

My world is different now though. It is sweeter, and it is deeper. My heart hurts so badly, and yet I would not trade it. I am so thankful for the chance to have loved, even if it means we say goodbye.

There was a day not long ago where I would have worked hard to not feel the pain I now know. I would have thought it more than I could handle.

I do not choose that anymore. I choose to feel. I choose to feel deeply in joy and in grief. I choose to feel alive.

We won’t ever forget the days and years we had with a really good guy. We won’t forget the adventuring or the respite he provided. We certainly won’t forget the food and wine we savored together. Love allowed us to share our lives with each other, and it was good. Even now, it is very, very good.

Goodbye friend. We rejoice for the glory you now see. We know there will be a day when we will share wine with you once more. We long for it.

Courage

I ate with a man this week who has spent his life writing on the behalf of others. Pulitzer honored him with the most prestigious award in his field, and yet he is honest in his self-hatred.

He can not forgive the man he used to be. That unforgiveness stops faith cold.

Typewriter

Genuinely, he asks, “What is faith? Really.”

Five years ago his daughter was born at 23 weeks gestation and spent six months in the NICU. Every day for weeks on end he did not know if he would ever hold her outside the walls of the hospital.

“Your faith isn’t like Hallmark is it?”

No. It’s not. There are no bows and no anesthesia. My faith is real, but so is the pain of life.

He talked of the book he got from a colleague while his daughter was fighting for life. The colleague had lost a child and determined there was no purpose. He wrote an entire book about the futility of human life.

The silver-haired writer in front of me couldn’t accept it.

“I don’t get it. In my mind, God isn’t an entity. It’s the place where meaning exists.”

The silver-haired man desperately wants answers that give purpose to his pain. It is the only way to hold his fragile world together.

My heart breaks. I want desperately for this man to know hope. I want him to know somehow this crazy spinning ball is not for naught. I want him to know the God of the Universe died so he could be forgiven. I want him to know there is One who cares infinitely about every second of the pain and anguish of watching his one-pound daughter fight for her life.

I have heard too much depravity in these few days. My heart can’t take one more picture. It needs rest. It needs to wake with the hope of the watchman waiting for the morning.

The silver-haired writer does have something I envy. His courage of heart calls me to a deep place. He does not step back from the pain of others. He enters in. He drinks deeply from our shared humanity. And yet he does not have the hope of eternity.

I don’t know how he does it.

I have that hope, the knowledge of the infinite love of God, and my heart still shrinks.

The depths of depravity feel too much for me on this night.

I pray for the silver-haired writer, and I pray for myself. I pray for belief and for courage.

 

To the Well-Intentioned

I know you mean well.

Really, you do. You desire to be a voice of encouragement and hope.

But sometimes well-intentioned words can feel the very opposite of hope and encouragement. They can heap shame and condemnation.

I know my hard can be just as confusing for you as it is for me. I get that you don’t know what to say. I often don’t know what to say either. Most of the time I don’t need answers though. I just need your presence. I just need to hear you say you care about my pain.

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To the well-intentioned who said, “Thankfulness is the answer,” I know you were trying to help. I know you wanted good for me. A thankful heart didn’t make depression go away though. Your words made me wonder what I was doing wrong because as hard as I tried to be thankful, I couldn’t escape my darkness. They also made me question the validity of what I was feeling. Was I not suppose to feel that depression absolutely sucked? Was I to be thankful for the imbalance that made me feel I was going crazy? I can not bring myself to fake being thankful for that.

To the well-intentioned who said, “You’re over-spiritualizing,” I know you wanted health for me. The only thing I had at the moment was God’s presence with me. In saying I was putting too much comfort in that, you robbed me of the only strength I had. You made me question my experience of God and my utter dependence on him. That did not bring me health.

To the well-intentioned who told me, “Maybe God is withholding His presence so you learn to depend on people,” I know you wanted me to experience the joy of community. I know you wanted me to lean on the Body of Christ. But in saying that, I began to doubt God’s goodness. Why would he withhold his presence from me when I needed it most? I struggle still with fearing the emptiness of God’s silence.

And to the well-intentioned who said, “God must have a lot to teach you,” I have wrestled for years trying to learn my lessons to bring relief to what threatened to swallow me. I know you were looking for a silver lining on a dark cloud, but the pressure to get it “right” so the lesson would be over has pulled me even deeper into the crazy. Your well-intentioned words were condemnation to my desperate desire for the darkness to be lifted.

Simple answers rarely comfort complicated questions. If an easy answer made our hard better, hard would not bear the weight it does.

Please do not hear I am not grateful for your desire to lighten my darkness. I want that desperately too! I know your intentions were for my good. What I want to share is a caution against putting the hard of life in a box. It just doesn’t fit.

Our nature is to try to make life clean and pain contained. After months sitting with the relentlessly hope-speaking counselor, I am at peace with my boxes having been stripped away. I spent so much energy trying to shove my darkness into something I could understand I had no energy left to feel what I needed to grieve.

I know you might be uncomfortable with your own hard. That’s ok. Know that words can be powerful though. They can bring life or they can bring death. Please don’t risk my vulnerable mental health to protect your own fear of life outside the boxes.

I know you mean well. Really, you do. Sit with me. That speaks I’m not alone. Let me cry and rage against my own limitations. That speaks I’m not too much. Hold me when I fall apart and put your hand on my shoulder when words don’t come. That brings comfort I long for.

Be with me. Let me see your eyes feel. I need only to know someone sees my pain.

 

I Will Remember

Last Friday was a hard day. I have had two months of better days and even good days. With all-out abandon, I loved them.

Gratefully, I have been waking up in the mornings ready to face the day. I haven’t been driven by when I could nap or how to avoid social situations I didn’t have energy for. I have been able to think clearly again and actually enjoy parts of my day.

There has even been that magical word hope lingering.

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What a crazy thing depression is. It filters every thought so drastically. One day living in color and the next living a silent black and white.

I don’t know if it is a good thing or not that I have been in this long enough to recognize the monster tainting everything. On Friday I fought hard to remember the experience of joy. Even though its scent still lingered, it felt as if it had vanished in the quiet of the night.

My thoughts drifted to hopelessness. They went right back to the place I had spent months trying to escape.

“There is no point.”

“Life is just a purposeless passing of time.”

“Would anyone even notice if I wasn’t here?”

I felt invisible. Alone. Desperate. I felt it deeply. It totally sucked.

It sucked for many reasons. One is the fatalism it brought. Another is the absolute defeat in thinking there might never be an end to the darkness. One can not live without hope, and that defeat took all my hope with it.

I tried to remember. Even days earlier I had felt fully different. Days earlier there had been purpose and contentedness. I had felt the sun and colors made my heart skip a beat. I knew it was possible for me to live outside the darkness.

Darkness shades everything. Even in recognizing the monster at work, I could not change my perspective. I only hoped it would pass.

I had coffee with a friend. I got my toes done. I bought sunflowers. I texted those who know me and told them the day was hard.

And then I took a nap.

When I woke, the world wasn’t quite so heavy. Hope had not quite returned, but I wasn’t drowning. A full night of sleep brought more energy. A morning at church and afternoon on a football field brought even more. Three days later my heart is full and the sun dances again.

It was a hard day. That’s it. It wasn’t forever.

I will remember it passed. I will remember I chose to do things I knew were good for me. They didn’t make it all better, but they were good choices. Healthy, gracious choices.

I will also remember how my mind turned on a dime. I will remember how twisted my thinking became and how it passed. I will remember putting one foot in front of the other and coming to the other side.

I will remember my resilience. It is where hope dwells.