A New Ending

The past several months have held light. Hope.

I have felt stronger and more resilient. Not completely myself, but I am catching glimpses of who I used to be. I can imagine again what it might be like to live in joy and experience that sweet place called thriving.

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Healing did not come in one day. It has come in hours, over months. Hours of friends showering me with grace as they listened to me share over and over again how I felt like the darkness was winning. Hours with my hope-speaking counselor declaring resilience when I could not believe it for myself. Months of me recognizing the need to make choices that are good for me, even if they are impractical or feel an extravagance.

Bad days come farther and farther apart. When they do come, I still have memory of the good. I know bad won’t last forever. I can rebuke the darkness that enters my mind because I remember the truth I had known just days before.

Health did not just happen. Every day I have fought for it.

I have listened to my body and sought relief for my worn-out adrenal system. I have learned to be grateful for medicine that brings the serotonin-stability my body is too taxed to create on its own.

I have gone to the gym when I didn’t want to because exercise is good for a depressed body. I have napped when I needed to nap. I have texted a thousand times over with my faithful people just to say, “I need to know someone sees my struggle.” I have scheduled lunches and appointments on days without commitments so I would have a reason to get dressed. I have sought out the sun.

And week after week I have sat in my counselor’s office to wrestle with my own brokenness. I have been more honest with myself than I ever have. I have sat with the hard. I have felt my disappointment. I have quit running. I have learned what mindfulness is, and I practice it. I fight to validate what I am feeling instead of telling myself it doesn’t matter. Slowly I am learning to breathe instead of panic. I am choosing to see myself as strong instead of the vulnerable curled up waiting for a fatal blow.

Health is one good choice at a time.

Over the days, the weeks, the months, the choices have added up. They have become habits of the healing kind. They are pieces of a puzzle being built to lift the weight of depression.

It was not long ago when I couldn’t imagine a future. Every single hour felt overwhelming, and I did not think I would make it. I could not fathom a day when depression would not rob me of life.

But here I am. The future has a new ending.

This is My City

This is my city. The city where a mouse makes dreams come true and the rides of Harry Potter thrill relentlessly. Dolphins dance for crowds and a whole world is created of Legos. It is also the city where hate took 49 lives. One man took judgment into his hands and broke the happiest place on earth.

This is my city, and it is the City Beautiful.

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Several times a week I drive by a club named Pulse. The streets where I often work at Starbucks are lined with rainbow banners. I see two men eating breakfast outside, their dog sleeping at their feet. Two women play at the park with their child. Our pharmacist, who might as well be family, tells us his partner is doing well in the banking field. The LGBT community in Orlando is strong. There is freedom, acceptance, strength and support.

This community has very specific faces to me. It is my pharmacist, my former hairdresser, the server at the Thai tea shop. It is my barista, my favorite checker at Target and one of my daughter’s friends from school.

Those faces are filled with fear and grief today. Hatred was taken to a whole new level.

On Sunday, just hours after hearing the news, I am in the parking lot of Target. The big red bus is parked in its usual spot. Only today it doesn’t have to offer the usual movie tickets to get the donations it needs. The temperature rises to near 100, and literally hundreds fill the parking lot waiting to give blood. They will be there for hours, but none will leave. The City Beautiful will care for its own.

Twenty-four hours later, I make my usual drive to buy meat and veggies. There is no avoiding the helicopters buzzing overhead. Pulse is only a few blocks away. My city has been invaded. Cameras and reporters are everywhere. They have set up camp at the end of the blocked-off road. Geraldo is reporting from the hospital where the surgeons fixed my back and my friend fights cancer. The place feels personal to me, and it’s being invaded.

I drive home from my market, and I pass the Medical Examiner’s Office. At the time, 24 families still hadn’t heard the news they both needed and didn’t want. Crowds are gathered by the door, and it just feels too much. The weight of grief is so very heavy. These families are not abstract people mentioned on the news. I see them standing in the hot sun just 20 feet from me. Wanting to wake up from a nightmare.

If I am honest, I have to confess I have thought often about the likelihood of hearing the news we heard Sunday morning. Sixty million people visit my city every year. Fear seems the most crippling monster to a city committed to creating a fairytale reality.

But I never thought it would look like this. I never thought such explosive evil would be unleashed at a bar. I can not fathom such hate.

This is my city. A terrorist attacked the very streets where I do life. He tried to stir hate, but my city won’t stand for it. We will not let his incomprehensible actions define us.

We will love.

We will give blood until the big red bus closes its doors. We will stand with the LGBT community and tell them they are loved. We will cry with our neighbors over the loss of innocence our city has suffered. We will carry the financial burdens of families who can not pay to put their lost ones in the ground. We will cook and clean and light candles and sing and pray.

The City Beautiful will shine even brighter, but with a rawness one can not know without walking through the unthinkable. Our service and kindness and love will unite our city beautiful. We have faced evil together, but we will be the victors.

This is my city.

 

 

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.

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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.

The Man with the Tattoo

I wish I knew your name, my friend.

You sit down near us in a sea of people, and I am immediately drawn to your story. A tattoo under your right eye jumps from your face, but I can’t distinguish the word it says.

At first you appear a traveler like the rest of us. A heavy olive jacket to keep you warm, a knitted skullcap covering your head. Your large red suitcase showing its years of use sitting next to you.

We sit next to one another at Grand Central in the place where the masses gather to catch a meal or just pass the time. As I blow to cool my tomato soup, you eat too. But you are not a traveler like the rest of us.

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Your meal is in a can. Do you eat cold soup tonight? Or are they beans? You eat with gratefulness, and I am grateful with you.

We sit just feet apart, and everything in me wants to ask you your name and listen to what brought you here. How did you get to this place? What is the word stamped on your face? What does it tell of your story?

You turn to your giant red suitcase, the one packed with all you own. Right there, in the middle of Grand Central Station, you had brought your entire life. You rustle for a moment and then seem content to just reorder.

On the night we sit, it is cold outside. Hot soup warms our insides as layers and scarves warm our skin. Your jacket is not made for this weather. Maybe that is why you are inside. You wear well-worn black Asic sneakers. They are old with scuffed leather and look one size too small. You wear them without socks on this chilly night.

Friend, do you have socks? Does your red suitcase carry warmth to cover your feet?

We sit longer still. You because there is nowhere to go and me because I can’t seem to leave your story behind. I wonder what your name is. I want to hear how you got to this place. What pain do you carry on this night?

You suddenly begin an animated conversation. You talk to the empty chair across from you with passion. And you begin to rock.

As you talk and rock, you push up the sleeves on your worn olive jacket. More tattoos are revealed, and you bear scars. Are they the marks of one seeking healing through the highs of a needle?

Does a needle drive you now, my friend? Are you here but lost in euphoria? I see your eyes, and they look present. I think you are here. I think you see the fullness of reality.

You rock and talk and then you seem to disappear. Where have you gone and what madness has hold of you?

I think of where you’ll sleep tonight, and I hope you’ll be warm. I hope the night takes you to a place where you are known.

I pray joy for you. I pray for someone in your life to bear witness to your suffering. I pray you would know the comfort of human touch and the love of someone who cares about your very precious story.

I pray you would know how deeply you are loved by the God of the universe. He sees you, my friend. He grieves the pain written on your heart. You are worth more to Him than all the silver the world can hold. You are so, so valuable.

God knows your name. Not just the one spoken once by your mother but your true name. He knows you fully.

I can delay leaving no longer. I have to go. I won’t forget this night in a train station in a city I do not live. You have not even seen my face, but I am the one who will pray for you the rest of my days. I will not forget your dark, tattooed face. I have seen you.

And I wish I knew your name.

 

 

The Land of the Living

Last week I shared my story with the team I work alongside. They are a grace-filled and safe place. Though answers are few, it is good to be known. It is good to let others help carry my weight. I am grateful for the opportunity to borrow hope.

One who has walked through similar darkness shared a word that challenged me deeply. And planted hope.

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Psalm 27:13

I needed to hear this. I wish I would have heard it six months ago.

Hope feels to be a magical word when in the world of depression. In fact, my best description of depression is the absence of hope. That is what makes it so, so dark.

One of the places I have struggled most is in what my hope should be placed. I thought my hope should be in the resurrection (and in part, it should). But I also desperately need a hope that isn’t an eternity away.

On my darkest days, I longed for the rest heaven would bring. I didn’t want to die as much as I didn’t want to live. Glory is a great hope, but it is far away. I remember the days glory consumed me. I longed to be relieved of the world. I wanted it all to be over.

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During this season, I have clung to God’s word. I have poured over every verse that speaks joy and hope and strength. I have prayed them when I felt the very opposite. I have tried to believe when nothing in me experiences their validity.

When darkness chokes out hope, it is hard to believe there is goodness in the land of the living. It is hard to believe there ever will be goodness in the land of the living.

It is hypothesized several figures from the Bible struggled with depression. David, the author of Psalm 27, is among the most prominent. The psalms read like his ancient blog posts through a darkness of his own.

This verse does not just speak to the hope of glory. It talks about goodness this side of eternity.

So today I am seeking something other than resilience. I am asking for more. I am asking to see the goodness of God in the land of the living.

May the day hasten when I can declare it with the confidence of David.