A God-shaped hole

We were driving to my house late one night. I could feel the dull ache of my heart as Alex talked about working overseas. It was a feeling I was familiar with. At some point, I had just gotten used to it.

But when I volunteered, it would fill up. For that brief amount of time, I felt whole again. Alex and I, along with a team of college students, spent many Saturdays filling food boxes, babysitting foster kids, playing with children in Mexico and wrangling a gaggle of sassy refugee children. It helped me feel okay, when I would otherwise wrestle with an ache so deep I didn’t know what to do with.

I had never told anyone that before. Until that night. I waited for Alex to say something about how I just needed Jesus. He didn’t say that. He said he felt that same ache in his heart.

I remember what it was like to fall for him, blissfully. I had never met anyone before who made me feel so connected and understood. I trusted him, respected him. I asked him for advice. I followed his judgment. I don’t follow a man unless I like him. I’m simple in that way. So when he suggested that I go on a mission trip to Ireland, I obliged. Soon, we discovered he would be going too.

I was ecstatic.

Now, I won’t lie. That trip was awful for a lot of reasons but there were moments where God counseled me through the missionary family we stayed with. I saw what my life could be. I saw this quiet, powerful life on mission. I saw dirty dishes and old clothes. We ate expired food too precious to throw out and warmed ourselves by a portable stove.

My mind goes back to the church we visited, housed in a storage unit with no electricity in the middle of nowhere.

And my heart didn’t hurt once those almost two weeks. I was doing what I was made to do.

We came back and I confessed my feelings to Alex. And he cried. He told me he loved me. He loved my heart for the gospel. He loved the passion I had for the hearts of other people. But he couldn’t be with me.

I didn’t understand. It’s been five years and I still don’t understand. Why isn’t my heart for the gospel enough? How could you love someone and not want to be with them?

Mind you, I am okay that it didn’t work out. I just have questions that will never be answered.

I never did become a missionary. God closed every door I tried to open. At some point, I thought He had taken away that ache in my heart but recently, I’ve come to realize I had just numbed it with complacency, food and shopping.

Somehow, God has to fill this hole in my heart. He did it for Alex. Someday, He’ll do it for me.

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Doppelgangers

I’ve been binge-watching How I Met Your Mother for the last week or so and what I find so fascinating about the show is this idea of doppelgangers.

A doppelganger is someone who looks like someone else. A twin of sorts that is not biologically-related to the person they look like.

In the show, the main character says that we all eventually become doppelgangers of who we used to be. People that look like us but aren’t our old selves.

I was staring at myself in the mirror the other day with this eerie feeling that I was staring at a doppelganger of myself.

I’m not who I used to be.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any given amount of time, you know this year’s been rough. You can’t come out of a mental health crisis not changed.

I’ve been bent and broken, twisted and undone in ways I never imagined. I was recently asked to detail the whole ordeal for a major publication and while what I wrote was probably one of the most heartfelt things I’ve ever written, it left me in a puddle of sobbing goo.

This is what life does to us. It bends and breaks us, twists and undoes us until we come out as doppelgangers of who we were before.

I’m a bit more serious than I was. A little bit less self-involved. I serve differently, talk differently. I’ve become more reserved. I pull back a little more.

This week a year ago, I was starting my life over. I spent the days before crying over how much I was going to miss my home, my church, my friends. I cried over a guy that wouldn’t pursue me. A guy I still wish would make a move. I cried because leaving meant he never would.

I didn’t know how bad it was going to get. I didn’t know my life was going to head the direction it did. I just knew I was doing what God had asked of me. It was all I could do.

A year later, I’m healthy for the first time in years. My heart rests in ways it never has. The dust has settled.

I’m not who I used to be.

Neither are you.

Who God Says I Am

I’ve been attending this women’s bible study the last few weeks and each week, a layer seems to be torn off of me.

Yesterday, we talked about Beauty.

I thought this would be one week where I didn’t learn much. Not because I have astronomical confidence but because beauty’s not really a big deal to me. There’s a gift I’ve gotten from having a visible disability where I’ve learned that comparing myself to other women is pointless because I will never look like other women. It’s allowed me to embrace my own beauty more readily.

And then the speaker talked about the other side of beauty. The beauty of who we are, not what we look like.

My stomach dropped. Because I don’t view myself as beautiful on the inside.

I’m a perfectionist, which means I go way harder on myself than anyone ever will. It is an active fight to give myself grace. But I was getting better, for a while anyway.

A few months ago, I found myself talking with two friends who turned the table on me by recounting every ugly thing I had done, every ugly part about me. It was one of the worst experiences I’ve been through and no surprise, I no longer have a relationship with those two people.

Their words had a lasting impact on me, because now I had proof. I was an ugly person and everyone agreed. I fell deeper into a depression, isolating myself from others and behaving as if the words I heard from people I trusted were absolute truth. I was a failure. I was not enough.

So yesterday, when the speaker talked about being beautiful as a woman, all I thought about was their words.

We were asked to pick a word that represented what we felt God was asking of us in order to embrace who He says we are. I knew exactly what my word needed to be.

Grace.

Go.

This time a year ago, I was preparing to stay. I had every intent of staying in Tucson, finding a better job and getting myself out of the whale of a dilemma I had gotten myself into.

The air itself seemed like spring, although it was deadly hot. I sat across from a woman who was mentoring me at the time and told her spring was coming. The life God continued to promise me was approaching.

My plan was to remain faithful to where I was, press into the community I found myself in and trust God.

I had no idea God had other plans. I didn’t know that in nine short days, I would lose my home. I didn’t know that in ten days, I would lose my job. In less than two weeks, I would make the move to the Valley.

I sat across from a friend the day I lost my job. We crossed our legs on the peach title of my living room floor, the room in disarray from my obvious anxiety and depression. I had just asked God how He could love me and destroy my life at the same time.

My friend described my situation as the city throwing me up.

It’s time to move on. Go.

She looked at me with concern.

I had no other choice. My other options for staying had not panned out. God wanted me to go.

But still, I waited. I packed my things in between sobs of lost hope and unrequited feelings. I thought I had the story right. I thought things were going to turn around. I thought God was pushing me to settle, commit. I was not usually one for sticking around. The only thing I had ever committed to was Jesus. I thought God was teaching me how to keep a faithful presence. I still believed that, which made leaving all the more confusing.

I was about to learn that God’s thoughts are not my thoughts. His ways are not my ways. Commitment and faithfulness doesn’t always look the way we think it does.

I waited three days, still packing but unwilling to move cities until God said go.

The pastor said it for Him. You need to go.

I didn’t hesitate after that. With help, I loaded my car with all my things and wiped the last of my tears from my eyes. I would be faithful. I would commit to the only thing I knew to be true, even if the circumstances made no sense.

God fulfilled every promise He had made, creating a season of Spring in my life. It didn’t make my life easier but it did provide fruit in areas previously barren.

I’ve spent a year learning commitment and faithfulness. I’ve learned how to plant roots and rest in the mundane. I’ve gotten sick and gotten better. I don’t look like the same person I was a year ago.

Sometimes, the biggest thing you can do to demonstrate true faithfulness is say yes to what God is asking of you even if the circumstances don’t make sense. Pragmatism and practicality are very real idols in our culture. For many of us, it determines what we believe and how we live. But if I truly followed pragmatic thought, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be this blessed. I would have stayed where I knew people, where I had friends and security. Who would have moved to a different city when leaving meant losing so much?

The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net. – Psalm 25:14-15

But this, being here, is so much better. Healthier. More faithful.

The Sunday School Answer

It’s the inside joke for those of us who grew up going to church.

The answer is always Jesus.

For every question we’re asked in church, the only true adequate response is Jesus.

We chuckled over this in high school.

****

I was meeting with my new doctor the other day, going over my history, like all good mental health physicians do, when I was asked the same question I’ve been asked by every doctor since this whole recovery process started.

How are you still functioning right now?

The truth is, the only people who know every detail of my past are the doctors who ask and my sister. At this point, no one has ever heard just how much I’ve walked through. I don’t tell people mostly because I don’t feel most people in my life are ready or able to hear the details without walking away damaged themselves. I care too much about my friends to put them through the details too soon.

But in order for the doctors to help me, they have to know, which is why they ask the questions they do.

Literally every doctor asks me how I’m thriving now. They look at me like I must hold the magical cure for adverse behavior.

I’ve been told I should be different. I should be leading a very different life right now. Or at the very least, I should be recovering from a very different life.

But as of today, the only thing I am recovering from is a previously undiagnosed mental illness and current sugar hangover.

****

You are a peculiar woman. The doctor eyes me with a smile.

I swallow my anxiety. What do you mean? What had I done wrong? I clasp my hands, feeling dread.

You are brave. She responds. It takes a brave woman to live like you do with all the adversity you have experienced. It’s very impressive. 

I try not to cry. I do not feel brave. I feel terrified. I have cried three times today and have begged God all day to give me peace to no avail.

Thank you is all I can muster.

What is your secret? The doctor asks with eager anticipation.

I want to groan. I am annoyed that God has still not granted me peace yet. My faith. Jesus.

She seems disappointed. They always do. No doctor I’ve met yet has been satisfied that Jesus is the reason I am not what I could’ve been.

But there’s nothing else I could say. Jesus is the only true adequate response.

The woman who dared to touch Jesus’ cloak

 

 One of my biggest struggles when it comes to faith is believing truly that I’m saved. While intellectually, I understand that I am saved by grace and not by works, I often wrestle with the fear that I have not done enough to earn God’s love or favor. I was told once that our understanding of God is directly related to our relationship with our fathers. My father is not a gracious man. It has taken years for me to even begin to understand what grace is or does.

Going through my recent mental health crisis impacted how I viewed myself in God’s eyes. I questioned whether or not I was truly saved for months. I doubted I loved God or even believed He existed.

For twelve years, I walked around with an undiagnosed mental illness. I saw several doctors and counselors. I took medication I didn’t need because it fit diagnoses I didn’t have. By Spring 2014, I was off all medication. It was determined that I didn’t need it.

My condition got worse. I isolated myself from others, pushed friends away, did things out of character and lacked an ability to self-care. And while some people have continued to run this race with me, most people gave up. I was yelled at, disciplined and accused of the very thing I feared the most: I must obviously not be saved.

And a woman was there who had been afflicted for twelve years by an issue of bleeding. She had suffered greatly under the care of many physicians and had spent all she had, but to no avail. Instead, her condition had only grown worse.

When the woman heard about Jesus, she came up through the crowd behind Him and touched His cloak. For she kept saying, “If I only touch His clothes, I will be healed.” At that instant, her bleeding stopped, and she sensed in her body that she was healed of her affliction.

At once Jesus was aware that power had gone out from Him. Turning to the crowd, He asked, “Who touched My clothes?”

His disciples answered, “You can see the crowd pressing in on You, and yet You ask, ‘Who touched Me?’”

But He kept looking around to see who had done this. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell down before Him trembling in fear, and she told Him the whole truth.

“Daughter,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you; go in peace and be free of your affliction.” – Mark 5:25-34

I understand this woman’s struggle intimately. To continue to get sicker and not know what to do is a nightmare. I felt like I was a burden, a problem. People were better off without me. I read this story recently in a bible study I joined and started sobbing.

Because I get her. I understand the desperation.

That moment when you have exhausted everything you have within you and you cannot go any further. When you are down on your knees and the last thing you can grasp onto is the bottom of Jesus’ cloak.

Her faith made her well. Believing that not only could Jesus heal her but that He would is what healed her.

I don’t think she earned the healing she received but I do believe that it is impossible to please God without faith. I’m learning that the Christian life is not simply a decision you make once but a lifelong journey of daily choices to walk in faith. Sometimes they’re big choices. Where you live, who you marry. Mostly, they’re daily decisions to take one step at a time towards the bigger story. Send that email, pay that bill.

Everything we do takes faith. When we choose faith over what is known, we trust our futures to the God that knows us best.

I am understanding that I am a daughter of God as I continue to walk in faith with the God that rescues me daily.

Biblical justice (For Someone with a Mental Illness)

By Day 3, I know God is fighting for me. For someone with a mental illness, treatment is justice. I tell the doctors that I never knew a brain could feel like this. So clear, easily untangling the irrational thoughts that float into my head.

You need to go to the hospital.

The words cause a stir of panic. I can’t do this, but I’m running out of time. Somewhere in the back of my mind I can hear my friend’s voice. How you handle this will determine if you’ve learned from the mistakes of your upbringing.

I look up at the counselor. It’s a rarity for me to make eye contact with anyone. I’ve never understood why.

You’re declining fast. I can’t force you to get help but I can encourage you.

I decide to go.

The ER feels like a memory. They draw blood and take vitals. My legs won’t stop moving. They kick back and forth while the nurses feed me and tell me how sweet I am. My voice sounds childlike.

It takes two hours from the point of entering the ER to admission into inpatient care. Unheard of, the ER nurse says. Someone upstairs must be looking out for you.

God is, I think. God is providing. 

Inpatient care is no joke. They take away my belongings and fit me in donated clothes. I didn’t bring anything with me. I want to leave within minutes of arriving. I don’t want this. I never wanted to hurt myself. I’m just not well. I don’t know why.

This is the hardest choice I’ve ever made. The doctors and nurses are kind and compassionate. We are all trying to find out what is wrong with me. Because I am the most positive person I know but my thoughts speak darkness over my life. Even as I walk around the ward, my heart is abounding in hope by the Holy Spirit as I trust in God. I know nothing happens without His permission. Something about this screams justice, that God is outpouring His light to take out the darkness that has overwhelmed my life for the last few years. I’m just not sure why it feels this way.

The diagnosis is not a surprise. By the end of Day 1, we know I am on the spectrum. I am sick. I have a new(ish) disability. The friends and family I call are not surprised. They are happy for me. They say my behavior makes sense now. The disconnect between my emotions and thoughts make more sense.

I am fighting for my health in a way that I never have before. Cerebral palsy has nothing on my new diagnosis. It is the end of Day 2 when I start to feel different. My brain feels different. It doesn’t hurt anymore. It feels less cluttered. One little pill has started to change the way my body thinks.

I start talking to the other patients, asking them questions about their lives. I find out quickly where all my experience working with people with disabilities comes to good use. I give the other patients advice on navigating services. I’m teased lovingly for offering help when I’m here to get better.

I can’t help it, I think. No matter where I am, I will always be an advocate.

By Day 3, I know God is fighting for me. For someone with a mental illness, treatment is justice. I tell the doctors that I never knew a brain could feel like this. So clear, easily untangling the irrational thoughts that float into my head. I cry grateful tears. My brain is not typical but it is becoming well at a miraculous speed. This, I am not surprised at. God has always been quick to heal me when I have agreed to surrender.

I get to leave the hospital early. The follow-up appointment has already been made and my brain feels amazing. It is not until I am home the following day that it hits me what God has accomplished in a matter of days.

It is when I realize that I can feel the carpet under my bare feet that tears come rolling down my cheeks. The only words that come out in prayer are Thank you.

I never knew that because of an undiagnosed mental illness, I have never truly felt the ground under my feet. I have not been fully connected mind, body, spirit. As I experience the joy of feeling every fiber of my bedroom carpet, I know God has proclaimed justice over my life. I feel His victory. He won.