Learning Not to Resent Fragility

“Help me not to resent fragility, Lord,” I wrote on October 15, 2014, five days before I was scheduled to start my job at Old Colony Elder Services. It seemed like a dream job to me. I was looking for an administrative assistant-type position (which this was), it was for a non-profit, and it paid more than I was expecting. It was a blessing and an answer to prayer. But I had to have a physical, and the issue of my having Carpel Tunnel Syndrome came up during my exam. The doctor was concerned, as it was an office job, and I’d likely be on the computer most of the day. She said she couldn’t state it wasn’t a concern, because it was. She recommended no more than four hours a day on the computer. I understood, but said, as I blinked back tears, “I really need this job.” I sobbed the whole way home. It didn’t seem fair. How could God seem to have blessed me with this job, only for it to be potentially taken away? But through tears, I resolved to trust. To trust God had a plan. And that if that plan was this job, He would make the Carpel Tunnel a non-issue. And if it wasn’t, He’d provide another.

I called Old Colony the next day, and spoke with the Head of HR, with whom I’d been corresponding regarding the job. I wondered whether she had gotten the doctor’s evaluation yet, and had stated that I personally felt my Carpel Tunnel wouldn’t affect my job performance; that I wore a brace at night which helped. She stated, and understandably so, that they couldn’t go against the doctor’s recommendations, and that she would have to think about it because the job requires being on the computer a lot. Again, I understood. But I was sad. I prayed that if there was a way, God would make it.

I heard back from the head of HR, who had spoken to who would be my supervisor. They agreed it would be doable for me to only spend four hours on the computer a day, and the other three could be spent doing other things, like filing. I was so relieved! This job was a blessing from God. There was just a speed bump in the road on the way there, an opportunity to trust Him.

He gives me a lot of those. And I don’t always do the best job of taking advantage of those opportunities to trust and learn and grow. I often complain and throw hissy fits, tell him how it isn’t fair.

I often resent fragility.

I don’t like being weak. I don’t like having to have opportunities to trust and rely on God for strength. I’d much rather the easy way out. To never be challenged, to never be humbled. To always be able to do things on my own with ease and comfort, with no help.

Except not really.

It really is hard at times for me to say with the Apostle Paul that I can boast gladly of my weaknesses, and be content with them. With hardships. With calamities (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). But without times of questioning, God’s goodness wouldn’t taste as sweet. I wouldn’t be as thankful for His provision. His light wouldn’t shine as brightly through me as He does things in my life that only He can do, that could never be attributed to my strength or power alone.

I have been ushered into a new level of fragility in this season of my life. More to come on that later. There will be some changes to my blog in the coming weeks. It’ll be undergoing a makeover, and will have a change in name, and focus. The purpose of the blog will be to chronicle my journey through this particular season of my life, and to offer hope to others through what I’m learning during this time. To give you a brief glimpse, I’ve been dealing with physical illness that’s really thrown me for a big loop. And at times I find it baffling that Paul could ever say he rejoiced in his sufferings, and question if I could ever find myself saying that along with him. But then there are times—which will turn into days, which will turn into weeks, which will turn into months—when I know God has a purpose in it all, even if I can’t see it. And I trust that if this is what will bring Him glory in my life right now, that if this is how others will see Him in my life, then it’s worth it. I hope those times do stretch into months, and that this is a season of trust only sprinkled with moments of questioning, rather than the other way around. I’m learning not to resent fragility, because His strength is made perfect in my weakness.

God is Bigger than the Boogeyman

I don’t even remember the VeggieTales episode, just the song. Somehow, it stuck in my head. And I sang it to the boys I nannied when I put them to bed one time when their parents were out, and they were afraid of monsters under the bed: “God is bigger than the boogeyman. He’s bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on TV, oh God is bigger than the boogeyman, and He’s watching out for you and me.” It’s easy to sing that song to a child, thinking it will miraculously melt away their fear. It’s easy to think, “There’s no reason to fear monsters under the bed! They don’t exist! And God’s here, anyway, and He’ll take care of you.” As an adult, it’s easy to minimize the fear of children because we know more than they do. We know there are no such things as monsters under the bed. But to children, those fears are real. And the presence and comfort of God is something real to be offered, not just a pat answer.

And aren’t we all children in a sense? The monsters we fear may be real—depression. Illness. Divorce. Layoffs. Losing loved ones. The list goes on. Those monsters are real. But do we really need to fear them? God is just as much bigger than those things as He is bigger than the boogeyman. And He’s watching out for us. He saw that monster form and lurk its way toward you, and He will watch it go. And like the adult who knows the child doesn’t really need to be scared of the monsters under the bed, He knows His children—the redeemed and reborn who put their faith in His Son—need not really fear those things. Because He is bigger. And He can slay them in an instant. He doesn’t always. Sometimes He lets them linger, because He knows they’re to teach us to trust Him in the midst of the battle. But knowing He could cut them down dead in an instant if He really wanted to? That He’s stronger and bigger and more powerful than them, and they don’t have the power or authority to destroy me? That comforts me. And I know I don’t really have to be afraid of them.

As adults, we tell kids that monsters under the bed don’t exist. But we know monsters are real. They just aren’t blue and fuzzy with purple polka dots like Sully. They take a different form. But nevertheless, we need not fear them, because God is bigger.

Phragmites

It’s time.

It’s time to start writing again. Or at least start sharing. Tears almost fill my eyes as I set my fingers to the keyboard. It’s been too long. I’m ready now.

Yesterday, a friend of mine posted a video to a song on my Facebook wall, It is Well.  There’s a line that says, “And this mountain that’s in front of me/Will be thrown into the midst of the sea” (Read more: Bethel Music – It Is Well Lyrics | MetroLyrics) It had reminded me of a prompt I had done in a writing class I had taken about three years ago, which in turn prompted me to take out that floral print, spiral-bound notebook. As I flipped through the pages to find that particular prompt, I scanned the countless other prompts I had written, many of which about I had forgotten. And I was taken aback at how, though I had written about entirely different circumstances, that three years later, much of it is applicable to things I’m experiencing now or have experienced in the time since then. I was taken to one particular entry that seemed especially fitting, and felt compelled to share it today. It was a twenty-minute prompt titled, “Phragmites,” that was written some time in the spring of 2012.


“Phragmites”

She’s beautiful.
She stands tall, brave, confident–but not rigid, like she’s bracing herself for a blow, fearful she might be uprooted and topple over if she’s not strong enough.
No, she knows better now.
She knows because she’s tried and failed. Tried to be strong on her own, tried to think if she managed to stay put, stay rooted in the ground, that it was her own doing. But it never was.
And it wasn’t until the fiercest of storms blew through that threatened to destroy her that she knew: phragmites were never designed to be rigid. They’re supple. They bend and they sway, seemingly at the mercy of the waves and the rain. But they’re not. If their roots grow deep, they may be bent to the ground, but not cast off. And turns out, being bent to the ground is one of the most beautiful things. Painful, yes–but it’s then that you know that the only way you can get up again is when He stoops down and gently wraps His fingers around you, pulling you to standing. You’re weak and fragile and bend easily at the slightest breeze, but He’s there to catch you, pull you upright again, and you get stronger.
That’s what she learned after the wind whipped through her hair so hard, it threatened to knock the wind out of her. And the waves, they beckoned her, threatened to pull her away for good.
She lay still, almost lifeless. But her roots, they grew deep, and strong. She was still connected to her foundation.
And as He pulled her up and she looked into His compassionate eyes, rested against His gentle hands, she knew.
She knew the memorizing Bible verses and going to Sunday School weren’t just for being a good little girl and getting a pat on the back. They were for the storms. They were for knowing when you’re knocked on your back, there’s nothing you can do to lift yourself back up. There’s only remembering you lie on a firm foundation, established by the One who extends His hand to you, to offer you life anew.
And for her, it’s never been the same since.

 

On Leaving Peaks and Pieces of my Heart Behind, And Lessons in Contentment

peaksOkay, okay, so perhaps it was a little ambitious and naive of me to expect that I would be able to keep up with Writing 101 during such a hectic time. I mentioned earlier this month that in the coming weeks, I’d explain why it’s been so hectic. At the time, I wasn’t quite at liberty to say because there were still some people I needed to tell in person before I broadcast it all over the internet. But now that that’s all said and done, here goes:

I am moving back to Massachusetts.

This winter was rough. I know now it wasn’t just rough for me. But at the time, I was all I was thinking about. I hinted at it in my writing, and griped about it to my friends: I was lonely. And I didn’t like it. And I didn’t even really pray about it, either to be okay with the loneliness, or to not be lonely anymore. I just sort of knew that that season in my life was about learning to be okay alone on a completely different level. But I tried to just push through it on my own instead of asking God for help or putting myself out there to be around other people more. And it didn’t work out so well.

You know the old adage, “Once I was okay without _______________, then it just came when I was least expecting it!”? You’ve heard the stories before. “Once I was finally content with being single, I met my spouse!” “Once I was okay with not having my dream job, I got offered an even better one!” So, this is one of those. But read my words carefully: this is not a formula. I am not trying to sell you something. I am not trying to tell you, “Just be okay with being single, and before you know it, your future spouse will show up!” or, “Just be okay with living in an apartment, and before you know it, you’ll have the chance to buy your dream home!” or any of the other things we set our hearts on. Because you know what? If the end goal is a spouse or a home or a job or anything else, our hearts are still set on the wrong thing.

Contentment is important. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that God wants us to be content. And there’s a whole lot wrapped up in that word, in that idea. Paul said that he learned to be content in any situation, whether he had a lot or he had a little. Because the one constant in Paul’s life? God. Like Kari Jobe croons on her new (and magnificent, if I might say) CD, “If I have You, I have everything/But without You, I have nothing.” Paul could say that he had learned contentment, whether his belly was full, or it was empty. Whether he was married or single. Whether he had his dream job or didn’t. Whether he had a mansion or a shack. Whether he drove a Ferrari or a beat-up Broncho. Those things were just that—things. They didn’t have the power to sway his contentment. Those things didn’t determine it.

You see, God isn’t some cosmic gumball machine in the sky. He’s very much concerned with the affairs of humankind. I know plenty of people who would beg to differ, considering the current state of the world in which we live. I can understand that. I don’t agree with it, but I understand. It’s hard to wrap your mind around the fact that there is supposedly a powerful and loving God, and yet He seems to refrain from intervening in some devastating and heartbreaking situations. Why do children get cancer and die? Why do natural disasters ravage entire communities? Why do groups of people enact grave acts of terror on others? And if there is this God who can do something about all of it, why doesn’t He?

It may not seem logical when I tell you that I believe in a God who cares about the goings-on of the world He created, yet mysteriously chooses to allow some of the things He does. But I do. I believe in a God who allows the world He created to experience the effects of rebelling against Him, while simultaneously reaching down in grace to redeem that rebellious world to Himself. And I believe He cares about this little heart of mine. I believe He cares about what it sets its affections on more than giving it everything it fancies. And I believe that He knew that at this time in my life, I needed to get this contentment lesson down just a little more. That was so much more important than where I ended up or what I got in the end. But He’s behind all that, too.

It wasn’t about getting off this island or getting more friends or not being so lonely anymore. I won’t say it was like God waved a wand at me, and, “Poof!” I woke up one morning and was magically happy with my life on this island and content to stay. It was a gradual coming, and it was a choice. His grace and love and patient pursuit played a part, but He didn’t force Himself on me, or make the choice for me. It came slow, but when it did, I knew: I was content to live this life as it had been given, on this island and in this community. I was excited. I wanted to be here. I was looking forward to summer with my church family, and the new adventures awaiting us. I had become grateful, on a level I hadn’t been, for the people surrounding me. And all that’s wrapped up in contentment? Gratitude. That’s a big part of it, if not the whole of it. Being thankful for what you’ve been given. My eyes had been opened to just how much of a blessing the people surrounding me had been. Beau and Michelle, I hope you read this because I’m gonna brag on you two for a minute. These two have become my family up here. They drove over in the snow to pick me up the night I broke up with my boyfriend so I didn’t have to spend the night alone. They let me sit in their kitchen and cry and vent for hours. They let me share my heart with them, and they shared theirs with mine. They let me borrow their van on countless occasions so I’d have a way to get around on the mainland. They let me love on their kids, and let them love me. There are plenty of people I have in my life who tell me they love me, and I don’t doubt for a second that they do. These people are no exception. Even from the time that I first got up here, they’d tell me that, which I thought was strange because they hardly knew me. But I knew they were sincere.

There was a gradual awakening to all that I had taken for granted, and to the fact that I really wasn’t alone. Even in the midst of my madness, in the throes of my lowest moments, He was there. He is here. Holding me. And He had surrounded me with people who showed up and said, “You matter to us. You are loved. You’re not alone. We’re here for you.” And when I woke up to that, I was overcome with gratitude. And that just opened up all kind of space in my heart for hope for the future as I had seen it: here, on this island, with these people I had come to love, who loved me. It had happened. I had become content. And I was excited.

So when I met with a Christian financial counselor to help me sort out part of the mess I’d made this winter, moving was not on my radar. She’d asked if I’d be willing to make some radical changes, and I said I was. But I was blindsided when she suggested I move back home to save some money and thus pay off my student loans faster. Well, my parents live in an apartment complex, and without going into detail, the management will not allow my brother or I to live there. I figured that had answered the question for me: moving wasn’t an option. And I was relieved. But I told my financial counselor that I was willing to look into other options, and I was. So I did. As much as I wanted to stay and was convinced that I was going to, I knew that I hadn’t exhausted all of my options. So I sent a couple messages. One was to some friends back in Massachusetts that I knew had housed another friend of mine, who had since moved. I reached out and asked if they’d be willing to have me. They were. My parents were buying a new car. They would give me the old one. Housing: check. Transportation: check. It seemed as though things were falling into place and after much praying, I felt as though I couldn’t deny that God was leading me in this direction. I’d also reached out to the pastor of the church I left when I moved here to the island when I was exploring my options. He’d said it was “funny” I contacted him when I did; he had been thinking and praying about the children’s ministry. Well, I have years of experience and training in this area, not to mention I love kids and believe that God has gifted me with teaching. We met. He wanted to take me on as the children’s ministry director. It seemed as though God’s fingerprints were all over this entire situation, and it would be foolish to deny that. And while I would have loved for a ministry opportunity like this to present itself right after I finished college and had no idea what I was doing, I wasn’t ready.

I can’t even say I really feel like I am now. But I will say I was in a much less qualified place to serve in such a capacity when I was a bright-eyed recent college grad who thought she had the world at her fingertips. “I’m young! I’m smart! I’m capable! I’m trained! If anyone’s cut out for ministry, it’s me, God. Okay, where’s my chance?” It hadn’t come then because I was too proud. After this winter, I felt like such a wreck and totally unqualified for any such position. I was humbled. The last thing I’d do would be to seek it out on my own. But when I have those Moses moments and am tempted to think, “I can’t do this!” I remember how He’s orchestrated it all. It’s not my doing. It’s His. He’s gifted me this way. He’s given me the opportunities to be trained in this area. He’s put me in a position to be able to move back and save money, and minister in the church that I grew up in and helped shape me into a woman who tries to follow Him. And I have to say, I’m excited.

I will miss Peaks terribly. And I will miss my church family. I will miss the Boyles. I will miss Livie calling me Tammy, and then catching herself and correcting it to Tamara. I will miss baby Gigi’s toothy grin. I will miss hugs from Jojo and Mimo. I will miss my best ASL student, Brady. I will miss Nicholas always saying hi to me in the store. I will miss too many people and too many things to list. But just like the place to which I’m returning shaped me as I grew up, Peaks and my little church have played a huge part of shaping my life over the past two years. And while it hurts to say goodbye, just as I was content to stay, I am content to leave. Because the one constant is God. And I’m learning once again to set my heart on Him. Not on people, not on a place, not on a job. People are important and hold special places in my heart. This place has a piece of it, too. But neither have the whole of it. That’s reserved for God alone. That’s the aim. The rest of it is peripheral. The marriage and the job and the house may come, but even if they don’t, God is here. He is constant. And He is enough. Always enough.

Where My Soul Calls Home–clicking heels, time-and-space travel, and brainstorming meetings with not-so-strangers. (Writing 101 Day 2)

Writing 101 Day 2
Today’s assignment begins with a question: “If you could zoom through space in the speed of light, what place would you go to right now?
The assignment? Write about this place. The twist? “Organize your post around the description of a setting.”

………………………………………………………………

I close my eyes and click my proverbial heels.

I am transported through space and time to a place that is limited by neither.

I find myself upon a shore, sinking bare feet into sand while waves wash upon them. The sun is just starting to set over the oaks behind me. You walk toward me.

You and I, we make our way up the winding, narrow, boarded path to the cozy cottage that sits upon the hill, tucked behind trees whose branches make just enough space to view the shore through the bay window, the one with the bench seat littered with brightly colored pillows.

You and I, we sit in that cozy living room sipping tea. Maybe you prefer coffee. Or something cold. But I wrap my hands around ceramic and sip while you do the same with your drink of choice. We’ll sit across from one another, I with my feet curled up beneath me on the beige love seat, enveloped by more plush, oversized pillows. I’ll set my tea down on the vintage, light blue, three-legged end table next to me and hug one of those pillows, set my chin upon it. You’ll sit in the oversized chair opposite me. Maybe put your feet up on the ottoman, and maybe you set your forearms on your legs and lean forward. Books are scattered on the coffee table constructed of old pallets sitting between us, and line floor-to-ceiling shelves that enclose us in this room small enough to feel safe without being confining. But not even they could catch the attention of a bibliophile such as myself, because you and I, our eyes are locked on one another.

You and I, we have all the time in the world—because time doesn’t exist here. We’ve not lost a minute of our lifetime sitting here for what feels like hours to our time-confined bodies. We don’t look down at wrists wrapped with a banded face that tell us we’re slaves to its ticking hands: it’s time go to work, time to go to bed, time to go on to do more important things. This, you and me, right now, this is what matters.

Maybe you laugh. Maybe you cry. I likely do both. We speak, and we listen. Gold in worden form pours out from our lips and floats through the air, deposits into ears and brains, and really, hearts. We’re the rich ones. We know we’ve found what’s valuable here. We exchange stories, share dreams and fears. But I try to mostly listen, and then tell you that I understand. I understand your heart dreams big and yearns for bigger things. And that fear threatens to hold you back from those things. Then I tell you, “You can do this.” I put that pillow down and we both stand up. I walk toward you and reach my arms around your neck. We embrace. I whisper it again. “You can do this. I know you can.”

We’re ready now. We’re ready to leave this place, to return to a world where time rules. But we know. We know that even in a world where the clock tells us when to eat, when to sleep, when to work, we can carve holes into the hours that make up days to live outside of ourselves. To fulfill the dreams that were planted in our hearts, dreams to take the way we’re made and bring it to the world in a way that makes a difference. I write. Maybe you paint, and maybe you sing. Maybe you build houses, and maybe you teach. But we both know we needed this, and we’re ready to return to time. I walk with you out the screen door, into twilight, back down that path, back to the shore, and wave goodbye as waves approach my toes. I stand awhile on my own to take one last drink of this place, with its fragrant sea spray and emerging stars.

But I always come back here. This is the place I go when I’m aching for connection and difference-making. This is the place tucked into the location of my mind that hungers for more, that knows it’s made for more than thinking small and only about me. This is the place I go to when I need to be inspired, when I need to rekindle the fire that fuels the forward motion, the growing and seeking and learning I have so much more to learn still. This is the place I go, because sitting with strangers like we are kindred spirits reminds me that we are all unique. We all have been written different stories. But the common strand that runs through each of them is that we all must overcome adversity. Jesus promised His followers they’d have trouble, but to take heart. I think it’s clear this world is full of trouble, for all of us. And the part of our stories we get to write is how we tackle the trouble. Do we not tackle it at all? Do we lay down and let it wash over us, let it whisk us away to drown in a swelling sea? Or do we build a boat to ride upon it, above it? This is what inspires. This is the stuff of meetings with strangers in a cozy seashore cottage, who really aren’t strangers at all, because we all have boats to build to really live. When you sit and tell me how you’ve constructed boats in the past, this is how I know: You can do this. You’ve done it before, and now it’s a different shore with different building materials, but they are there. You can do this. And if you can do this, I can, too. Oh, and when we both need to be reminded of that? That gray-blue cottage with the white trim and porch, the one with window boxes filled with pansies and alyssum, is just a heel-click away. I’ll meet you there, where you and I steal away from time to drink some tea and do some boat-building brainstorming.

Til then.

Welcome Back, Tamara (Writing 101 Day One: Free Write, and Happy 1 Year Anniversary with WordPress to Me!)

It’s been a while again, I know. But I’ve found just the thing, I think (I hope), to get me back on track with writing consistently. WordPress has a twenty-day writing challenge called “Writing 101: Building a Blogging Habit.” That’s what I need!—to build a blogging habit. So here goes. This month is going to be pretty hectic for reasons I’ll reveal in the coming weeks, so sticking with this for the entire twenty days will be tough. But I’m up for the challenge!

Today’s prompt was to free write for twenty minutes. Today’s twist? Post the result on my blog. So, I sat on my porch and set a timer on my phone for twenty minutes. Then I set pen to paper and didn’t stop until that timer went off. Here is the result, transposed to computer screen for your viewing pleasure. Enjoy!

PS-Wordpress informed me when I logged in to post this that today marks the one-year anniversary of my blog, OnceLost,NowFound! Hooray!

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There is much to be done.

This month is going to be a crazy one.

But in good ways.

A crazy one, yet at the start, I take twenty minutes to sit. To sit and smell alyssum while I write, following Writer’s 101 prompt. This “course” comes at what may seem like an impromptu time, but right now, I’m welcoming it.

Life is always crazy in one way or another, right? And if this writing endeavor is to be a serious one, I need to learn to write amidst the chaos. A lot of times, in fact, chaos fuels creativity. So I welcome the fuel. And this month’s adventures will provide plenty of writing material.

Things will come to fruition that are perfectly planned—like the lesson in Sunday School yesterday (was it really just yesterday?) on the widow with the oil jars. God’s provision is right on time, but often requires humble faith and obedience on our part.

Humble faith and obedience.

That’s really what it comes down to, isn’t it? First, we must humble ourselves before God—admit we need Him, that He knows better than us. We have to believe He is good and holy and trustworthy. Then, if we trust Him, doesn’t it follow that we’ll do what He says? That He knows what He’s doing, even if we don’t? That ultimately, it’s for His good and our glory?

It should.

But it doesn’t always.

It hasn’t always in my life. But I’ve found that most of the time, my disobedience doesn’t start at the last step. It usually isn’t that I admit God knows better and that I believe He has my best interest at heart, and then simply refuse to do what He says. Oh, I’d say I believe. But really, most of my disobedience stems from my pride and/or disbelief that God really does know and want, more than I do, what’s best for me—and those around me. Because ultimately, it’s not about me. Sacrifice and surrender are painful, but to pour into others, we must be poured out. And Jesus considered such—in the worst way imaginable—to be joy. To suffer more than anyone else has suffered, in order to pour out His blood so His Spirit could be poured into us, was joy to Him. Do I think He was jumping up and down to approach Golgotha? No. The account of His agony approaching that point in the garden of Gethsemane tells us otherwise. But when He thought about the future suffering He’d face, He considered it joy to know that the Father would accept His sacrifice on behalf of sinners like you and me.

Suffering is not fun. It’s not supposed to be.

Building Frames Out of Crumbled Bricks

Any HB fans in the house?

I’m a big fan of Hannah Brencher.

I’ve never met her, but I feel like I kind of know her. She has that feel to her, because she lays it all out bare.

I may never meet her in this lifetime. But I look forward to eternity. There might not be espresso in Heaven, but I like the idea of Hannah and I, us two girls sitting across the table from one another, sipping coffee and remembering what it was like to be twenty-five and single and trying to be brave, trying to navigate through our short time on this earth alone, even though we were never really alone. It felt like it sometimes. But we were never really alone, because He had our backs all along. And even before we knew each other’s names, we had each other. We had the shared experience of awakening out of depression and braving the baring of our souls in blog form.

Did you catch that? We both, depressed. Yep, me too. Sometimes I think of Hannah as superhuman, as it being easier for her to write about depression like a thing of the past. But that’s what makes the brave all the more brave. To step up when it’s hard. And when is it ever easy to shout over cyberspace, “Depression sucker-punched me in the face”? But when we show up real, that’s when the rest of the world says, “Me too. Me too. I know your words because I’ve cried them, too.”

Depression and I have toed the line from time to time since I was fifteen—probably earlier, but that’s the first time I can remember having what might be categorized as a “depressive episode.” And I’m not proud of that fact. Many times I didn’t even put up a fight. I just laid down on that line and let the darkness wash right over me, whisper lies loud and drown out the truth. Sometimes, like most recently, it sucked me over so far that I only had a fingertip remaining on my side of the line. It never totally swallowed me whole because He was holding on all the while. I know now that you’re only as sucked in as you want to be—and He’ll let you slide, but He won’t let you go. The thing is, depression is a seductress, and she preys on the weak. Her door is open wide, but you don’t have to walk in. She’s a smooth-talker and smells of sweet perfume. The nectar from her blood-red lips drips on desert-like hearts cracked open, and oh, it sounds so good. “Go ahead, feel sorry for yourself. Eat that entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s. You deserve it. You need it.” But you fall, you indulge, and then you realize the nectar tastes sweet, but it’s really poison. And once you’ve walked in, it gets harder and harder to leave. You know now that she wasn’t trying to soothe you, protect you. She’s trying to kill you. And the same lips that dripped sweet now hiss hate: you want out now, but you believe there’s no way. She’s not made you believe anything, but she sure is convincing. And the sick thing is, she’s told you that you don’t have a choice when you are the one who is choosing to believe you will never get out. But the chains that bind you are merely paper, like Hannah said (I’ll get to that later). The weight you feel is not the unbreakable bond of the chains, but rather the burden of hopelessness. You just don’t see it. She’s a master manipulator and all she had to do was tell you there’s no way out. But there is, darlin’. There is. All you gotta do is stand up and let that weight slide right off to see it doesn’t hold you. It doesn’t hold you. The only thing keeping you there is you.

I’ve been there. And even though I’ve ripped through those paper chains, sometimes I still am tempted to look over my shoulder, waiting for the moment she’s gonna suck me back in. I’m running free now, and the grass is wet beneath my feet and refreshing to these cracked heels. But after being in that dusty basement for so long, it’s unfamiliar. And sometimes the feelings of powerlessness that accompany Depression’s seduction, even though I’ve learned by now that it’s poison, are really just a cover-up for wanting to be sucked back in because it’s safe and sickly comfortable. I’ve learned by now to recognize the poison, and there are times when I gulp it down even though I know the damage it’ll do, even when I’ve sworn the last time, “Never again. Never again.”

And I’m not proud. I don’t wear it as a badge on my sleeve like I’m better than the ones who have it all together, or at least pretend that they do, like it’s my excuse to stay down because at least I’m being “real.” Believe me, no, I can’t be proud. I can’t be proud because I wore that cloak for too long, the flashy one that cries, “Look at me! Look how good I am!”, but really, is covering up the wounds that whisper, “I’m drowning. I’m drowning. But I’m much too frightened to admit it, to ask for help, because that means letting you see, and I’m ashamed of what’s here.”

We’re never as good at pretending as we think we are.

No, I’m not proud, and I’ve given up on pretending. That doesn’t mean I won’t be tempted at times to pick back up the mask I’ve shed. But it does mean that I’m pulling back the cloak and saying, “Here. Here is my heart. It’s messy, but there is good here. No, not in me. Not in me at all. But Him in me. He’s teaching me and healing me, and I’m pulling back the cloak to let you see because I want you to be healed, too.” It means I’m ready. I’m ready to go beyond saying, “I struggle,” because we all do, and it’s easy to convince ourselves and others that the struggle is smaller than it is, that we’ve got in under control. That it’s not overtaking us. I’m ready to name the struggle. To say that I am not a victim of depression, but a victor over depression. I am still waging battle against her, and probably will until the day I die. There will be times when I have gained enormous ground and it will be tempting to think she’s dead. And there will be times when she will revive and take advantage of circumstances that put me in a vulnerable place, and it will be harder to fight the lies that attempt to suck me back in. But no weapon formed against me shall remain, and in the end, in His strength, I shall prevail.

So when you come to me and say, “I am depressed. And I don’t just mean ‘blue.’ I mean I am all out drowning in the depths of depression. And it hurts. And I don’t know the way out,” I can close my eyes and hum an “Mm-hmm.” Because I know. I know. I know what it feels like to want to die, and to feel like there’s no way out. But let me tell you, the hope is yours for the taking. You can stand. And I will be here to take you by the hand and help you up, to escort you to the hands of Hope Himself. I will be there, because even though I can’t make you stand up, make the choice for you, I know it’s a whole lot easier when there are hands waiting to help you up. Hands like Hannah’s and her lovely readers (wait for it—I’m getting to it, promise! I’ll bring this thing back around and show you why Hannah means so much to me today. Hang on). Like those of best friends and brothers and pastors and Christian counselors and doctors, the brave who are not afraid to rush into that dusty basement to bring you out.

These are the ones that are lifting me up and out this time, this time when depression sang her siren song and it sounded so good. She took one thing after another and piled them on top of each other, stood on top of those bricks built high, that I felt so small and that there was no way to escape from them toppling down and crushing me. A breakup. The long, cold, snowy winter. Health issues (likely perpetuated in part by the depression, while simultaneously adding fuel to the fire). Living completely alone for the first time, away from my family and closest friends.

At first I was tempted to scale the bricks myself, stand tall and high, show the world how I conquered them all. “Look, see? I’m doing just fine on my own,” I wanted to say. Oh, how I wanted. But I wasn’t fine at all. In my attempt to scale the bricks, they in fact tumbled, and the weight was crushing. It got hard to breathe. But in the rubble heap the Maker—and the One who is ultimately sovereign over my circumstances—showed me that each of those circumstances, each of those bricks, are just that: one brick. One thing, that on its own, does not have the power to destroy me. He’s taking me by the hand and helping me arrange the bricks in a pattern, to frame my life with. Not define, but frame. And instead of standing on the bricks, I’m standing in them. And He’s saying, “This is how I’ve chosen to frame your life right now. When people see you, they will see the circumstances that surround you, but that is peripheral. That is not the focal point. They will see you, in the middle of it all. Living. Shining my Light. Let it shine, child. Let it shine.”

Together we’re in the midst of laying the bricks down side by side.

But in the middle of the crumbling, I wrote an email to one Hannah Brencher who wrote a list of twenty-five things that I stumbled onto I-don’t-remember-how. That Hannah wrote back and asked if I’d be okay with her responding to my email on her blog, asked if I’d let my words bless others. “Um, yeah!” I may or may not have done a dance in my kitchen by myself upon reading those words. I waited patiently for that response like I needed those words to live. And they didn’t come right away. So when I saw the title of today’s post in my inbox, I didn’t think it had anything to do with me. But I clicked open and started reading, and today, she weaved words that brought blue jeans and lemonade right back to me in a way I couldn’t have imagined. Then she invited readers to leave love in the comments, and they did just that. Like my own little love bundle. And they blessed me by letting me know how they were blessed. Because when you’re His, the biggest blessing can be to be a blessing, even when it comes from pain. The resulting beauty and healing is worth it.

So, here is Hannah’s response to not-so-anonymous me. I’d love to let you in on her gracious, inspiring, tear-inducing (in the best way possible—like the laughing sobs when you’re so touched and moved and ready to pick up the literal gray sweatshirt that inspired that email and cut it up into pieces and throw it away for good) response, because I think it’ll bless you, too.

And with that, with her, I’ll say, too, if you need a place to come fall apart, come find me? I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have the words that you need to live. I can’t fix you, put you back together.  But I can look you in the eye and say, “I know…I know.” Because sometimes just being known by another human being is a start. I’ll extend my hand when you’re ready to stand up, and together we can run into the arms of the One who is waiting to put us back together.