Trust is letting go Pt. II

I’m letting go.

It’s a cloudy winter afternoon and I’m running late. Snow is falling lightly and turning to slush on the roads. If left undisturbed for a minute or more, it turns to ice in the bitter cold. Mindful of the time, I keep pace with the cars gliding down the highway. But when I hit my exit, I realize that time shouldn’t have been my only concern. Because suddenly, I’m slipping and sliding.

My tires have hit a patch of black ice and I’m in chaos. Forgetting what I know, I hit the brakes. Wrong move. I’m beginning to spin even as my car skids forward. I turn the wheel hard to the right and then I see it – the short concrete sidewall of the ramp, less than 10 ft ahead and even more above ground. And I’m moving fast toward it. Overwhelmed and out of control, I take my hands off the wheel and close my eyes, bracing for impact.

This haunting memory is what came to mind a few weeks ago, when I spoke to my play big sister. We got caught up on what’s been happening in each other’s lives and there was much to tell. But in recent years, I’ve noticed a growing calm in my good friend’s demeanor and perspective on the events of her life. My normally boisterous and giggly friend, though still joyful, had become more subdued. The twists and turns of living don’t seem to warrant the same complicated reactions as before. Instead, everything had become very simple. I guess, having a serious illness has a way of doing that to you.

We talked about her restorative trip to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, the calming effect of being near water and her new perspective on stress. Like the water that she watched drift in and out from the shore, she had decided to just flow. Though her body is doing things that she does not want or understand, she was accepting that she was not in control – not of her illness or her life. All she could do is her part – take her medicine, avoid stressful interactions and situations, and treat her mind and body well – because the outcome wasn’t up to her. That part was up to God. My friend was letting go, not of life, but of the illusion of control.

That cold, snowy day on black ice, I made a split decision to release control and trust God for an outcome that I would be able to recover from. I let go. And in that moment right before impact, I wasn’t panicked. I was free.  

When I think about the choice to leave my toxic work environment, it almost doesn’t even feel like a choice. I feel pushed by the toxicity to go elsewhere. But I’ve vacillated between wanting to leave and wanting to be valued. And the truth is that I don’t have any control over that last part.

How people perceive me and my work or what they are willing to do in the face of racism in the workplace isn’t up to me. That responsibility is entirely their own. All I can do is make choices that value and affirm my own well-being. The choice that does that best is the one where I leave. There’s nothing left for me here and I know it.

I don’t know what my future would look like if I accept the job offer that has been the subject of my many pro and con lists. I’m not sure what to expect of this new position in a different field in a new state. A new environment, new people, and new expectations and demands means unpredictable. And in all honesty, I can’t be sure that the “new” place would be any better than the last one.

It’s a choice that challenges me to consider how I view myself and my potential as a professional. But more than that, it requires me to decide whether my faith is real or “sometimey.”

It forces me to ask myself, “do I really believe that I walk through life holding God’s hand?” And if the answer is yes, “then prove it … let go. Leave.”

In her book, In My Grandmother’s House, Yolanda Pierce captures the gravity of this moment well. She says, “Leaving is trusting in God. Leaving is a leap of faith with no guarantee that the situation you encounter once you have left will be any more life-giving. Leaving is walking out of Egypt without the certainty that you will ever arrive in Canaan. … The lesson of leaving is not in the destination, which you may never reach, but in the journey itself.”

Leaving is a gamble. But letting go is trusting, not in myself, but in my God.

I can’t control the outcome, but I can make the choice.

I choose to trust God and journey onward to see what the end will be.

What about you? What are you choosing to let go of?

©2022 Creatorskind

Trusting is letting go Pt. I

“Never underestimate the value of a good pro’s and con’s list.”

I said this to my nephew only a few days ago.  He was weighing the benefits and drawbacks of a job offer at a new company against the familiar rhythms of his current job. “Make a written list,” I told him. “Write down the pros and cons of each company and job.  Getting them out of your head and onto the page will free your brain up to consider the possibilities, instead of trying to keep them all straight,” I said, pointing to his head. He promised to make a list in the morning.

A few days earlier, I was in an EMDR therapy session talking about my own pro’s and con’s list. Actually, lists would be more accurate, because I had several. I had pro and con lists about whether I should leave my job, relocate to another state, and whether to accept a job offer I had received.

But this time, the release that came with getting it all down on paper had been short-lived. Instead of decluttering my brain, the multitude of options lining those pages were short-circuiting it.  To say yes to the job offer, was saying yes to them all and every positive and negative outcome that came along with them. It was a lot to consider. It could be a welcome change, but change, especially of this magnitude, can be scary and is rarely ever easy.

Knowing my love for Jesus, my therapist asked me to imagine giving my list to God. I was all for it. I figured it might be a way to remove some of the pressure I had been putting on myself. So, as I watched my therapist’s index and middle fingers swing from one side of the screen to the other, I imagined giving God my lists.

With a blank expanse as the background, I imagined a large hand extended in my direction. The palm was open before me like a blossoming flower. This big hand with its firm and well-formed flesh looked strong enough to lie in, but I didn’t. Instead, I walked over and lifted the little notebook containing my lists as the hand reached forward to receive it.

At first, I imagined the hand immediately ripping the notebook to shreds. But when I reflected on what my relationship with God had shown me about God’s character so far, I knew that it wouldn’t go down that way. So, like an artist crumpling and tossing an imperfect work, I started the exchange over in my mind.

The hand embraced my little notebook with a care that I hadn’t noticed in the last scene; its fingers gently closing around the book as though it were fragile. And with that same gentle care, the hand put the notebook aside and returned its wide and empty palm before me, beckoning my own. In the next moment, I was holding God’s hand. That scene is where my mind stayed until that EMDR round ended. 

Even though this had all been in my imagination, I knew that something was happening. Even though a single word hadn’t been spoken, in every action, from my hand to God’s, an exchange was taking place. I was remembering a promise that had been made.

In offering God my lists, I was asking God to take the burden of needing to make the “right” choice off of my shoulders. In laying that notebook in that outstretched palm, I was handing over control of every outcome, both positive and negative, and asking God to give me discernment and rest.

Those lists were my concerns – the questions and worries hiding in my heart and overloading my brain. Their gentle handling in God’s hands reminded me of what I already knew but had momentarily forgotten – that my concerns matter to God.  God takes me and everything in my life seriously because that’s what love does.

The hand that reached out to receive and embrace my own reminded me of another point that, lost in my anxious thoughts, I had forgotten – that I’m not in this alone. God is with me, choosing to walk through whatever comes, right by my side.

And it wouldn’t be the first time.

I was remembering that I could trust God.

I was remembering that I could let go.

©2022 Creatorskind

Seeing the big picture

Have you ever found yourself faced with a challenge that is so big and so overwhelming that you can’t tell whether you’re winning or losing?

Maybe you get sick or hurt and need to undergo a medical procedure. Thankfully, you have insurance, so you’re not responsible for most of the cost to address it. So, you use some savings, take out a loan or save your pennies to pay your deductible and co-pays.

You go to the doctor and work out a plan to fix the problem. You take test after test and exam after exam. You find yourself naked in the company of so many specialists that you wonder whether you should adjust your body count.

All of this takes a while, but eventually, you find yourself checking in at the hospital. And then, you wait. Before you know it, it’s over. You’re at home and recovering. Crisis over.

But now, as you make your way back to life as normal, something unexpected happens. You find new bills in your mailbox. Bills for this test, that exam, this specialist, and those medications. New bills arrive even as you pay the latest ones. You’re in a whirlwind, overloaded with bills for something that you thought was over and done with; something you thought was covered. And in confusion and frustration, you wonder, “Am I wasting my time? Will this ever stop?”

This is how the random flashbacks and intrusive thoughts of PTSD feel to me. No matter how much progress I think I’ve made, those two symptoms remind me that it’s not over. It’s a problem that refuses to go away, and certainly, not without a fight.

My way of fighting is to go to therapy, get enough sleep, stay on top of my medicine, workout, do things I enjoy, have alone time and time with people I love, eat well, journal and talk to God. These are the practices that have made a difference for me. But those moments when I am catapulted back into the original moment of pain feel like a setback. A big one. Beyond confusing and exhausting, it ticks me off.

It makes me angry at the people who caused the trauma. Angry at the person or situation that now reminds me of that trauma. Angry at the world for being so jacked up. Angry with myself for not being past this already. And, if I’m honest, a little angry at God too. Why? “Because I’m doing my part, aren’t I? Where is God?”

My anger temporarily blinds me to God’s many fingerprints that cover my story. Fingerprints that show up in the supports I have that are helping me heal, like therapy and friendships. But this blinding anger is a feeling that arises from some hidden bitter place in my heart, though I know better. My back and forth with PTSD makes me feel like I’m failing. And that makes me angry.

I have a friend that I appreciate and admire so very much. She’s a single mom and is working hard to raise her child to be a responsible and independent person with good character. Day in and day out, she invests every resource she has into this simple, but challenging goal. Yet, understandably, she sometimes gets overwhelmed and frustrated when the same mistakes and setbacks continue to happen again and again. Sometimes, she feels like she’s in this all alone. Sometimes, she feels like she’s failing.

One day, we were talking about a recent episode that brought those negative feelings back to the surface. And I saw something in her situation that I now see is true for me too. There’s a saying that describes it well. It says, “You can’t see the forest for the trees.” In other words, she’s in the weeds.

When I look at her child, I see a person who is smart, funny, kind, considerate and well-rounded. In him, I see the totality of her efforts in a singularly beautiful form. I see it all blending and working together in even the simplest things. But I am on the outside, watching her strategic parenting from afar. And she’s too close to the details, too close to every decision, to see the effects they have on the big picture. She doesn’t see that she’s winning.

I realize that it’s true for me and PTSD too. Where I am now with PTSD is not where I was 4 years ago or even last year. Though the uninvited symptoms still show their ugly faces, in the big picture, they have less of a hold on me now than before.

Today, there are fewer episodes with intrusive thoughts. Fewer random flashbacks. Less insomnia. Little to no nightmares. Less anxiety. Less crying myself to sleep. Less stress. Less hopelessness. Less need to be hypervigilant. More confidence. More peace.

In the big picture, where I am now is progress, even if it doesn’t always look like it in the moment. And as difficult as this fight has been, it is exactly because it has been so hard that nothing could ever make me believe that I did any of that fighting on my own. When I take a step back and look at the big picture, I see that I’m winning too, with God’s help.

What about you? What problem has you unable to see the forest for the trees?

©2022 Creatorskind

Time Travel: This is PTSD

It doesn’t matter what I’m doing or where I am. I could be reading quietly or sitting at a table eating amongst friends and, in an instant, I’m transported. The book, the table, the commotion around me withdraws and instead, I am inserted into a vivid, living moment from my past. And usually, it’s a painful one. This is PTSD.

Truly, in the span of a single breath, I have flown backwards through space and time to any one of many scenes that rotate on replay in the ether of my mind. When I arrive, it’s so real that I don’t know that I’ve been anywhere else – there’s no future to speak of, just this moment, right now, and my body makes the shift.

My heartbeat quickens, pounding in my ears. My muscles tighten and my eyes narrow as I am face to face with him, her, it, the experience, again. And I feel the emotion, the same emotion that I felt the very first time, when I lived it.

It flows freely – anger, embarrassment, confusion, hurt or shock. It’s a wave that carries me along through the scene. I speak words in my mind that never make it out of my mouth. I’m trapped.

The pain is my boat, and I can’t get out. I can’t get off. In this repeated scene, I do new things, sometimes no thing, or the same thing. The one thing I never do is leave.

I can’t break away because in this moment, I don’t remember that this isn’t real. In this moment, right now, what I see, what I feel, and this scene is all there is. And it hurts.

When this haunting memory is finished with me, it departs just as quickly as it came. My racing heart is the only trace of its having passed through. My mind clears. I’m back, but I remember where I just came from.

I take deep breaths, in and out, letting the fresh O2 soften the rigidity in my body and slow the pace of my heart. Sometimes, I cry. Maybe just a few tears, sometimes more.  It hurts to be dragged back through pain with no rhyme or reason. And it’s hard to explain.

How do you explain what feels like your own mind trying to take you out? How do you make that make sense? How do you make it plain without sounding too intense? This is what it is. And it’s just a regular day. If I told someone my daydreams hurt, they’d run away, afraid they’ll catch what has already caught me. So, I tell no-one. Instead, I pray.

My words speak of contradictions. Devotion and confusion. Praise and questioning. Struggle and surrender. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” flows from my heart, though I promise it’s not what I believe. But it is how I feel. And it comes with hot tears and anguish.

To this Lord that I love and whom I believe loves me my thoughts shout, “I thought you would deliver me … at least by now!” But out of my mouth comes, “Lord God help me,” in a whisper.

I seek God, believing that God IS; believing that I will be rewarded for my pursuit.

I put it all down in my journal, covering the lines and the margins. My words are addressed to all of Heaven and the hand that made it all. I let it all out and allow my tears to stain the pages.

When I am done, I feel a little better; a little lighter. But, tired too. I have no answers, yet somehow, I know that I have been heard. With that knowing comes a little peace and it is enough for now.

©2022 Creatorskind

She said, “save yourself.”

“Save Yourself.”

With those two little words, my wise, straight-dealing grandmother was telling me that pretending to have no needs, no hurts, and no complaints, wasn’t worth the trouble.

I’m not used to that idea, especially when it comes to me.

What I AM used to is appearing under control at all times. Partly a product of my introverted personality and overly analytical brain, I choose to try to understand a situation before I allow it to engage my emotions.

But truth be told, I have often skipped emotions altogether. More than the result of a deeply analytical personality, it is mainly a maladaptive coping mechanism. It’s something I do to avoid the emotional intensity that often comes with conflict. I had let my emotions take the lead before and the momentary loss of control scared me.

A simple school yard fight, that wasn’t really a fight, is what started it. It was just a little pushing and tussling before it was broken up. Though hot and intense in the moment, when the rage I felt had faded, all I was left with was embarrassment. I had completely lost it and in front of everyone.

I’ve heard it said that depression is rage turned inward and I believe it’s true. Because after that singular experience, I decided that I wasn’t going to let anything or anyone take me there again. I was going to always keep myself completely under control. And because of that decision, my anger, no matter who or what caused it, had nowhere else to go, but back in my direction.

Fast forward to adulthood and the world of work. At work, my need to not lose my cool in difficult situations turned into a warped display of strength. Somehow, not letting other people get under my skin, or even think that they had, became a victory for me. It became a twisted (and prideful) signal of professionalism and “being the bigger person.”

As I found myself increasingly in mostly white spaces, I felt my coolness during conflict stand out in sharp contrast to what I could see was expected…the angry Black woman. I saw the widened eyes and bated breath as people waited for the fireworks to start, complete with snappy insults and the obligatory neck roll.

Well, I wasn’t going to be anyone’s stereotype. I would skip over all the emotion and get to the heart of the matter or ignore it altogether. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was rapidly developing another maladaptive coping mechanism… unamused silence in the face of conflict.

It’s the approach I have taken when faced with micro-aggressions and even blatant racist hatred and sabotage in the workplace.

It’s something that I am realizing that people often mistake for weakness.

In saying “save yourself,” Ma was saying, “to hell with that.”  And could I blame her? Nope. But I can’t shake that this somehow feels incomplete to me. Even if I got it all out, what about the hurt part of me? How does that get healed? It’s a question I ask wondering if my grandmother would have an answer.

In her book, In My Grandmother’s House, Yolanda Pierce remembers crying in the safety of her office after one too many microaggressions. She wondered why, with all that her grandmother and church mothers had taught her, hadn’t she been taught how to care for herself in these painful moments.

She would eventually learn that she needed to offer herself compassion and kindness, not just a steely resolve to push through. She would realize that it was okay to need, pursue, and receive that loving attention. But what she would also realize was that those skills could not come through her grandmother and co., because they hadn’t known how to give it to themselves. It hadn’t even been an option for them, and you can’t teach what you haven’t been taught. My guess is that it was probably true for my grandmother too.

For the me that I am now, I’m seeing that saving myself must include authentically reacting to what is happening around and to me, without the hang-ups about how others will perceive my words or actions. I must give that freedom back to myself. But I also owe myself another important and related freedom… love.

©2022 Creatorskind

There’s more to the story

The room that surrounds me is filled with light.  The sun’s rays stream through the large windows on the room’s northern side, despite the heavy chill of winter.  Plants nearby stretch and lean into the rays with desperation, like fish out of water gasping for air.  There are half-read books on nearly every surface and neglected artwork on the dining room table.  Dishes are piled in the kitchen sink and laundry overflows its hamper in the bedroom.  Though it isn’t orderly and not quite chaos, in every room there is evidence of a life being lived.  But with it, much unfinished business. 

The last time we met, I introduced you to my grandmother through a dream that I had only a few weeks before. But it wasn’t the whole story. It didn’t end with the loving gaze shared between us, with my chin in her heaven softened hands.  After that lovely silent moment, she started fussing. 

I have no recollection of what she said or even my full reaction to it.  Whatever it was, it might’ve been spoken telepathically, because I don’t even remember seeing her lips move.  But even still, I know it was out of love.  She was setting me straight about something I had gotten wrong. It was a teaching moment that I needed. But it’s only in the last few hours that I’ve begun to glean anything from it. 

I often wonder what my grandmother would think of me now.  While I know that she would be proud of the woman that I have become and have a sense of pride in my accomplishments, I wrestle with how she might perceive my struggle with mental illness.  This woman who never slowed down, never got sick, and never seemed overwhelmed, I wonder, if she looked at me, what would she see? 

This woman whose physical pain was evident only in the silent rubbing of an arthritic knee. This woman who had lived the Great Migration and the traumatic indignities of overt and systemic racism in the South and the North. What would she think of me and my blues? Would she chastise me? Or would she share her own?    

Last week, I found myself in the middle of a depressive episode.  I felt myself sinking when a week or so before, I began crying at the drop of a dime. I cried at tv commercials. I cried while gazing out my window. I cried while scrolling on Instagram. I just cried.

With my period on its way, I figured my body was playing musical chairs with my hormones again. But depression and PMS do not mix, and I was afraid that it would trigger an episode of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which I’ve experienced as I weened my body off of medications that didn’t work for me. I didn’t consider that there could be something else brewing; some event in my life that was adding more weight to the sinking that I was feeling.  

Again and again, I find myself in work environments where painful micro-aggressions and overt racial bias are not considered to be evidence of a hostile environment, but instead as innocent mistakes and misunderstandings.  In recent weeks, I have seen my supervisor knowingly sacrifice my well-being for his own comfort and convenience.  In other words, a walking micro-aggression was promoted to a supervisory role.

It didn’t matter that there was a clear track-record of overt hostility from this person. He made a calculation that I would probably quit as a result and decided that he could live with that. The potential loss of my knowledge and experience did not matter. But he was surprised to find that the promotion would not be enough and that he might lose two people at once. Then he tried to back track. The whole thing felt dehumanizing, painful, deeply insulting and manipulative. And while I am positive that I will be moving on in the near future, I feel overwhelmed about how that future might look and how I will deal with this stress in the interim.   

This experience is not unique, nor is it confined to my job or career field. I have too many friends in other professions and environments that have similar experiences. And this isn’t my first rodeo. Unfortunately, as difficult as this scenario is, I’ve experienced worse, much worse, than this.

At this point, I’m just tired. But my hurt and fatigue don’t pay the bills. And here’s my distressing dilemma: there’s nowhere to go. There is no escape or even respite. Racism is everywhere. And grappling with that reality is depressing in the literal sense.    

I wonder what my grandmother would think about my psyche’s reaction to that fact. Would she respond to my self-neglect and despair with contempt or a kind word? Would she think I was weak, lazy, or worse … not black enough?

Mental health and mental illness have only recently begun to be culturally accepted by Black people, at least, in the U.S. Back in my grandmother’s day, things like depression and anxiety were thought to be luxuries afforded only to whites. Black people were too busy trying to survive to be depressed.

The fact that most Black people were trying to navigate a country that was outright hostile was a traumatic experience shared by everyone you knew. Trauma was the norm, not an illness. And often, prayer, faith and worship were a remedy for a pent-up pain. The strong black woman stereotype is based on a real, hard-won resilience that both empowers and burdens Black women. In the here and now, it underscores my distress, while the dream of my grandmother’s fussing plays heavily in my thoughts.  

©2022 Creatorskind 

A grandmother’s legacy

My eyes swish in their sockets, moving left to right beneath my eyelids. I’m about to wake up.  My eyes open as I hear a door gently close and then the synchronized creaking of a banister and the heavy footfalls of worn house-shoes. Slowly, both sounds fade to the floors beneath me.

It’s still dark and, as my eyes adjust, I realize that the day hasn’t yet begun.  Though I am never willingly up this early, I find myself climbing out of the daybed in the large, converted attic of my grandparents’ house and heading downstairs. My bare feet move down to the homes second floor with a stealth usually reserved for Christmas Eve.

Two more sets of carpeted stairs stand between me and what I now see is a dim light emanating from the first floor. As I turn the corner to arrive at the last set, I see my grandmother sitting quietly by herself at the dining room table. The lights are dim, and a single candle is lit before her. Within seconds, she turns to notice me. I’ve caught her in an intensely personal moment, the only such moment I would ever see.     

Ma died a little over a decade later. But a few weeks ago, she appeared in one of my dreams. I remember walking through the front doors of her immaculate and richly decorated home into a living room that seemed to be edged in clouds; its duskiness a frame for the scene before me. My grandmother stands before me elegantly styled in a manner almost identical to a photo I’ve seen of her on my mother’s wedding day. In both, she’s barely smiling, yet a weighty joy covers her face and seems to emanate from every pore. Maybe it’s pride. Maybe it’s love.

She walks the few steps toward me and cups my face in her hands. And while this moment is not one we’ve played out in real life, it is one we fall into seamlessly. We stay this way for a long while. No words, no tears, just a silent and joyous greeting that could only happen on the other side of eternity, only in Heaven.

I love my grandmother, my mother’s mom, though I barely know her at all. My grandparents’ home – one that always welcomed and made space for children – was a place where children were seen, not heard, speaking to adults only when spoken to. She died just as I was entering a time when I could be both. As a result, I know more about her through watching her ways than by actually talking to her.

My wise-cracking grandmother – who had left Jim Crow and a family farm in rural Virginia for big city living and its resident chaos and hypocrisy in the North; married and faithfully loved my grandfather for over half a century; raised eight children, plus one in heaven; and nurtured countless others through fostering – didn’t have too many conversations with children.

But love was there. It was in the clothes on our backs, sometimes purchased, other times hand-sewn, ice cream and homemade desserts after dinner, dance lessons and a special room in the basement called the playhouse – a room filled with enough toys to fulfill any fantasy. Love was everywhere she was, though I would learn that much too late.

But there is one thing that I know for certain. My grandmother prayed for me. Though I only saw her in that scene once and never heard her words, this singular experience told me that she knew God and that one day, or perhaps on many, they would talk about me.

This realization, gifted only in the hindsight of adulthood, is a thought I return to often. In the years since, I have wondered what situations those prayers have covered. I’ve wondered whether they shielded me from harm, opened doors, saved me from myself or simply kept me sane in a world that she knew all too well was crazy. 

When I think about her story and where her life took her, I see a woman who trusted God – with her future and her family – despite rarely, if ever, saying a word about it in my presence. Sometimes I wonder if I owe my entire relationship with God, and its many benefits, to my grandmothers’ unseen prayers. Is this detail a key part of how the profound loneliness of my depression led me to God? Maybe. I may never know.

But one thing I do know, is that this simple example and my suffering combined to open me up to the possibilities of an intervening God; a God who was interested in what happens to me and what I have to say.

Hers was just one simple, yet impactful example; a small part of who knows how many other pieces that joined together to spark my faith in God – The Father, Son & Holy Spirit. For her role in bringing into my life even the possibility of consciously living in God’s passionate love for me, I will be forever grateful. She was one of many direction signs, stepping-stones and signals pointing me to an available and loving God. Yet, her contribution was vital and one that I stand on today as proof that God loves me. And it’s one of many reasons why I can look you in the eye and tell you that God loves you too.  

©2022 Creatorskind

What’s love got to do with it?

Last week, I told you that you are loved – present tense. You are and that will always be true. But I would understand if you didn’t believe me. I would understand if you were frustrated by those kinds of claims. When you look at your life or the suffering around the world, I would understand if you had a hard time seeing God’s love in it. I would get all of it because I’ve been there.

When I think of someone loving or taking joy in me, especially God, I expect to be rejoicing. I expect that same love and joy to intrude upon my circumstances and change the atmosphere. I expect it to change me. I do not expect to remain in struggle, pain, or fear. I do not expect to remain brokenhearted. Really, I don’t expect to suffer at all. Yet, we do.

There are times when my war with depression, anxiety and PTSD seems to be on the brink of a victory, though not in my favor. That rowdy bunch seem like they are winning on days when the dosage of my medication is no longer high enough, or when my hormones fluctuate and collide, or when too few sunny rays have penetrated my skin. On their own, this doesn’t sound like much. But in real life, they are a force pushing me to the end of my rope.

On those days, taking a shower or making a sandwich require a herculean effort. Just having the routine, a bit of an odor or a growling stomach aren’t enough. It takes more than a need. On those days, all I see when I look in the mirror, despite all the evidence to the contrary, is failure. It breaks my heart and holds me down.

On those days life is interrupted by painful flashbacks that disrupt the business of everyday life, at work, while driving or cooking dinner. On those days, even my dreams are no escape. There nightmares are the norm. On those days, any demand placed upon me makes panic flicker across my shoulders like lightning and all I want to do is run and hide. On those days, nothing around me looks like love. Nothing is joyful. It is all dangerous; a threat to my very being.

When I made the choice to pursue God and accept Jesus, I thought I was on the road to being fixed. I expected an end to my loneliness, correction of my flaws and protection from new pain. I hadn’t bargained for a depression that would dig its heels in, panic attacks or trauma. I hadn’t known they were even possible for someone that knew God. But they were. In fact, they are. We suffer with God and without God. So, what’s love got to do with it?

There are many verses in the bible that speak to our suffering. Among them, are these: “He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds” (Psalms 147:3). And “the Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed” (Psalms 34:18). My interpretation? When my heart is broken, I am not alone. God is right there in it with me. God helps me and rescues me from my grief.

Even though I would rather be saved from suffering all together, at least I’m not in it alone. I mean, if suffering will be a part of life in one way or another, then I’d rather not face it by myself. And when I think back, I can see it. I can see God in it with me, invisible, yet helping me along.

Out of bed, into the shower, ordering food, making a doctor’s appointment, putting pen to paper, or finding a quiet place to pray. It’s God’s strength making me strong enough to move through this episode of suffering, to survive it, though in my mind and body, I feel weak. God bears it with me, so that I am not crushed under the weight. Isn’t that how love is demonstrated – not in the absence of struggle, but in the help one receives within it? Isn’t that love?

©2022 Creatorskind

The Answer

As I write this, my heart is in turmoil. Have you ever been stressed out over something important that you had forgotten? Maybe it was your keys or where you set your wallet down last, or the time and place of an important event.  It could be anything really. But because it’s important to you, and possibly to someone else too, you rack your brain trying to remember it before something happens that is worse than forgetting.  Right now, I am having one of those moments and it’s a long one.  

What important thing have I forgotten? The moment when it all clicked. The moment when I realized the why behind God’s obsession with the hardheads of the bible and, by extension, me. I would love to lay out the order of every epiphany that I had, day by day, and build to the final day when it suddenly all made sense. I’d love to do that. But whatever I would come up with wouldn’t be true. And while a part of me cringes to write those words, another part shrugs in surrender, recognizing my limits as a mere human.

It’s a hard thing to accept. Even as I continue to search for a memory in the background of my mind, I am considering the possibility that maybe there wasn’t an “Aha moment” at all. Instead, maybe it’s a slow realization that I am still working out even now, as I continue to experience God’s partnership in my life. And maybe being certain about any of it will never be as important as knowing God’s why.

The why is a simple one. It’s love.  It sounds trite, I know. And maybe you’ve heard it all before. I’d love to have built the tension to a fever pitch and then, at its peak, dropped that bomb on you, bringing a sense of awe to your day.  But… life is already complicated enough. And when you think about it, doesn’t it just … make sense? I mean, for what other reason would anyone be so committed? It’s love in all of its simplicity and wonder. 

As I read about the humble beginnings of God’s chosen people and their stumbles toward maturity in a world that is still cold-blooded, I also saw a God of action. I saw a God who showed up, got angry and doled out severe consequences, yet stayed long enough to clean up messes and offer reassurances along with many promises.

I can’t say that love was ever the first thing that came to mind when I thought of God. I knew about God’s sacrifice. I knew the verse “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son” of John 3:16.  But I didn’t grow up thinking that God loved me.

Like many people, I thought God was to be respected and revered, if not outright feared. Love wasn’t part of the equation. I don’t know when it all changed. I don’t know the exact moment when I began to see God as a friend, a confidante or as someone who loved me. But when I asked God to help me remember so that I could write this post, eventually a singular memory rose to the surface of my mind.

I have lived in a handful of cities over the years. Their locations are often how I remember certain chapters of my life. Important memories are stored in my mind based on where I was living and what I was doing with my life at the time. But this memory is so fuzzy that I can barely place it. Yet, while I cannot remember the usual details that would add depth and meaning to the image in my mind, what I do remember, quite vividly, is how I felt.

For an entire day, out of nowhere, I was filled to the brim with what I can only describe as joy and an intoxicating feeling of love for absolutely everything and everyone that I encountered. In fact, I was bursting with it. Imagine a brown version of Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, preferably Audra McDonald, singing and dancing through the streets of your nearest metropolis. That was me, on the inside, at least.

I can’t tell you what day it was, whether I was in college or at a full-time job, whether it was winter or spring. I can’t even tell you the events of the day. Truly, what I remember is the feeling. It was like every person, every creature, even the sun above had a beauty and perfection that I had never noticed before. When I passed people on the street, I saw them as breathtakingly beautiful and full of promise. It was as if everything excited and inspired me and I relished seeing it all with new eyes. I was in complete, joyful awe.

To be clear, I had no idea what was going on. My analytical brain couldn’t produce reasons for the shift as it was taking place. But sometime later, long after the feelings of that single day had faded, I would come across this verse, along with many others, that would give shape to that unusual experience. “The Lord your God is with you, the mighty warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing (Zephaniah 3:17).”  Eventually, I would realize that on that fuzzy day, I had been given a gift. I had been given a brief glimpse into the heart of God and it was filled with love for absolutely everyone.

©2021 Creatorskind

Another kind of genesis

Sitting on the edge of my bed, I rubbed my fingers along the imprinted letters on the hardcover bible in my hand. Within moments, I moved down toward the floor, knees first. With my head lowered in reverence, I spoke some version of these words:

‘God, I don’t believe that you would lead me wrong. When I open this bible, I am asking you to steer me away from any part of it that isn’t the truth. Steer me away from any part of it that comes from the minds of the men who wrote it and doesn’t represent what you want me to know. Help me to see what is true and ignore what is not. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.’

Then I opened the book and started at the beginning.

By this time, my interaction with God had evolved from a desire for protection when I felt fear and help when I was running late, into a simple child-like wonder. Questions filled my quiet moments. From my first musings of the day to the fading thoughts before sleep, I pondered question after question and found exactly zero answers. These might sound familiar: “If God created everything, who created God? Does God have parents? Is God really a “he”? Why did Jesus have to die? And who sacrifices their own kid anyway?” I was cultivating a curiosity about God that was bordering on fever.

This curiosity wasn’t limited to Christianity. Along the way, I had learned about Christianity’s role in the African slave trade, and the various critiques of it as ‘the white man’s religion’ and a religion based on a book written by men. And as a result, I had become cautious, if not outright skeptical of Christianity. So, I did a little exploring. I made my way through some of the Quran in a feeble attempt to understand Islam and had a fleeting interest in other religions, like Santeria and Buddhism. But Sunday after Sunday, as I watched churchgoers in my neighborhood joyfully greet each other on my way to work, I felt a different pull. I wanted what they had.

In the smiling, sun-kissed faces of the people flowing in or out of that small church around my way, I wondered whether I was glimpsing the solution to my loneliness. I wondered if I was seeing a place where I could belong.

I didn’t ask my family. I didn’t know what their lives should look like exactly. But I saw their flaws up close and decided that they had missed the mark. I expected perfection.

My struggle with depression gave me a pre-occupation with perfection. I saw and was grieved by my own flaws and, somehow, came to believe that if I could fix them, happiness would swiftly follow. I didn’t know then that happiness was a fleeting feeling, not a permanent state. I fully expected to get to the bottom of this God-thing and amass the knowledge I needed to not only live, but live fixed. And so, the mingling of my loneliness, questions and judgments led me to that moment in my bedroom and that prayer.

Now free from the thee’s and thou’s of King James, I was quickly drawn in by the story-like structure of the passages in Genesis. It wasn’t completely new information, but in reading it from the source, and in common English, I could see nuances that I hadn’t understood before. Now, with firsthand knowledge, I could imagine the creation of the world and its inhabitants with a crisp realism that had felt unreliable before.

It all felt fresh and new, and I wanted to learn. Now I’d be lying if I said I read all of Genesis that day (LOL). But my curiosity would drive me to pick it back up day after day.

What I remember most about the experience of reading the bible with new, curious eyes was a sense of shock. As I read about Adam and Eve’s disobedience and subsequent blaming, Cain’s murderous rage, Noah’s drunkenness, and Abram’s cowardice, I was disgusted and perplexed that they would be written about in the first place. If you’ve ever seen the 80’s movie, The Never-Ending Story, you can imagine my puzzled expression as I looked up from the book to a God I could not see and said “What?!”

Again, I had questions. Why did God keep blessing these people? Coming face to face with these folks and their faults, I didn’t get what made them special. All I could see was how they failed most of the time. They failed at obedience, failed at being honest, and failed at holding themselves back from the ugliest inclinations, like jealousy and violence. At the time, I couldn’t see why God would want anything to do with them, much less actively intervene to make them prosper.

I didn’t realize that the story that Genesis was telling wasn’t really about them, at least not solely. Eventually, I would realize that what I was reading was God’s character on display.

I knew I was a mess. But honestly, in the moment, I thought theirs was a next level mess. LOL. I didn’t see myself in their problems, at least, not at first. What I did see though, was that I could never be God. I didn’t have the patience! I hadn’t even gotten to the midpoint of Genesis, and I was already through with the world.

God’s habit of patiently cleaning up their messes, picking them up and dusting them off, and blessing them again and again made little sense to me. But it wasn’t too long after this that my initial judgy shock blended with the mistakes and missteps of living in the world to birth a little empathy in my heart. Eventually, I would come to understand that I could look at how God treated the aforementioned folks as a lesson on how God could or would treat me. But then, I had another question, ‘Why?’

©2021 Creatorskind