To just keep going is the hardest thing there is in a depressive episode, in part, because there’s no indication of when it will end. It can be hard to believe that it ever will. And if you’ve weathered multiple episodes, there’s the added knowledge that this current ordeal probably won’t be the last. It’s exhausting and well, … depressing.
With that said, persevering is usually the last thing on my mind. Instead, escape, by any means necessary, seems like the only path forward. For different people that escape might be at the bottom of a bottle, a gummy-induced high, long periods of sleep, workaholism, meddling in other people’s problems or a million other distractions. I can admit that I’ve tried a few. Really, the possibilities are endless, but they don’t really end it. And to be completely honest, I’m not sure what does.
After years of working on my mental health in therapy, learning healthy coping skills, consistently taking anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication and every kind of vitamin, moving my body to boost the feel-good chemicals in my brain and building a relationship with God, I still find myself in depressive episodes. It makes me wonder if it’s just my cross to bear in this life.
Yet, even still, I know that it could be worse, namely, because it has been. There was a time in my life when the pain of depression wasn’t an episode, but an everyday, all the time, thing.
When I remember how little it would take to send me back to those days, literally just a week without my medication, I have reason to be grateful. I’m reminded that although I’m not where I want to be, I can still thank God, because I’m definitely not where I used to be.
Depression is hard. But what’s crazy is that it’s one of the ways that I’m reminded that there is a God, especially one who cares about me. Because I’d fail if it was all on me. If I had to depend on my own smarts and resources to navigate depression, I would have left this place a long time ago. So, even though I still struggle with this really hard thing, the fact that I’m still here, that I continue to keep going without even really knowing how, is evidence of God’s fingerprints.
What about you? Is there something that you want to escape, but can’t? How do you get through it?
A couple of weeks ago, if you asked me how I was, I would have told you, joyfully, that I am in the middle of a transformation – into what, I wasn’t sure. But in the end, I knew I would be altogether different, a truly new thing.
Around the same time, I told my new supervisor, who is sharp, thoughtful, and fairly self-aware, in a carefully worded email, that, in fact, I would not be attending a webinar as I had previously agreed. This webinar featured a panel of professionals in an adjacent field who would be discussing how they – as white people – can advance racial justice and “disrupt” white held spaces and power in the industry. Specifically, I was asked to attend and report back any key takeaways for the rest of our – all white (except for me) – team.
Why? I have no idea, except that I am one of very few employees that can be tasked with anything, since consultants make up nearly half of our very small staff.
What’s the problem? It’s not an issue of pay grade, title, or status. It’s not pride. In my retraction, I said that I wasn’t comfortable following through. But it’s not really even about comfort, not entirely. It’s more than that.
In a society built to serve whiteness in every way possible, it feels … wrong to also expect marginalized people to educate or spoon-feed anything related to their experience, even steps others are taking to dismantle an oppressive system, to those who still dominate that society. It reeks of subservience and plain laziness.
To those that expect this, I offer: Why not educate yourself for yourself? Do the work of investigating, exposure, and immersion that everyone else has to do in-order to navigate this society. Share the burden. Shoot, consider it a hobby (🙄).
That subtle sense of entitlement can show up in so many different ways. But I bristle against it in all of them because, to me, it feels wrong… And by wrong, I mean, unfair and insulting.
So why did I say yes in the first place?
And this is what I haven’t told you…
I’ve had my integrity, character, professionalism, and expertise attacked in the workplace. I’m not talking about dealing with ugly rumors, office politics or the juvenile antics of middle-aged mean girls, although that’s part of the package too.
I mean the kind of attack where someone tells a lie about you to the police that, if proven to be true, could land you in jail, not just ruining your career, but revoking your freedom. And while that’s bad enough, it isn’t even the worst part. The worst part is that those who were in a position to tell the truth and defend me publicly stood by and did nothing.
I could list a million reasons why the person lied about me and tried to ruin my life – bitterness, fear, jealousy, racist hatred. At least, that’s what I have been told. As for the abandonment of my supervisors, my only guess is that they feared being attacked themselves.
But in all honesty, I don’t know why anyone did what they did. I never asked. I was too busy trying not to commit murder (or assault). I was too busy trying not to be a walking stereotype. I was too busy trying not to make Jesus look bad because of his association with me. Because, while I don’t get preachy at work, I don’t hide that I rep’ Jesus either.
It took ALL of my energy to seek Jesus and do what I believe I was supposed to do in that moment, which was let him handle it. Ultimately, my name was cleared. But the whole thing was extremely hard and hurt like hell.
When I look back, I see the ease that I moved in, but didn’t feel in the moment. I see the instances where I could have easily made a different choice in one of a thousand critical moments and made things so much worse. I am sure that Jesus kept me, shielded me, even when it felt like I was taking all the blows. But years later, the pain of that experience still haunts me.
So when I am in a situation where I have to navigate white fragility, I find myself struggling to discern whether the fear, uneasiness and sometimes anger I’m feeling is a trauma response stirred up by my memories or because of a real and present danger.
So, I said yes because I was afraid to trust myself. I said yes because I hoped the pain of compliance would be easier to endure than the pain of rejection, abandonment, or being hated. I said yes because, after all I’ve seen Jesus do for me, I was still afraid to trust him to take care of me regardless of whatever happened next. But my body wouldn’t let me rest.
I couldn’t shake the sense that I had betrayed myself. So, I revoked my yes.
Via email, I said that I had changed my mind and pointed to the fact that the webinar would be recorded for anyone who was interested to review at their convenience. Period. End of sentence. No question mark. No smiley face pleading for understanding. No invitation to discuss (and possibly debate) it further.
I didn’t get a response, despite receiving a flurry of responses to other unrelated emails from the same person.
The next day, realizing that it may not have been clear why I wasn’t comfortable, I sent another email, clarifying that my retraction was due to the webinar’s subject matter. This time, I offered to discuss it.
Still, it’s been crickets over the roughly two weeks since. And I’m not sure what that means, aside from the realization that my supervisor is conflict avoidant.
Have I been ignored or accepted, if only grudgingly? I don’t know. I don’t have a lot of experience with this. Setting boundaries is new territory.
Anxiety has been knocking at my door a lot lately. Whether it’s been about the migraines, a troublesome lack of focus, the challenges of a new relationship, or really anything at all, anxiety found a way to slide in. Thankfully, I “stumbled” across an ad for an event that Joyce Meyer was livestreaming on anxiety and remembered to sign up.
Now people have different takes on Joyce Meyer and her bible teaching. But for me, she has been a God-send. She’s taught me and millions of other men and women how to know and honor God in practical ways. And her vulnerability about so much of her life, including the abuses and challenges she’s faced, have, I believe, helped save my life. So, whatever – I love her.
The event, called a Girls Night In, included worship, teaching from Joyce and a discussion panel all on the topic of anxiety. I soaked up every minute of the experience like a plant in dry, brittle soil.
The worship brought me to my knees. Snotting and crying on the floor, I was reminded of how good God is. The discussion reminded me that I am not alone in this struggle. Women all across the country who love Jesus, were also struggling with anxiety, and many, like me, were receiving help from God through prayer, therapy, and medication. But Joyce’s teaching made me realize why I had been struggling so much more lately. To my amazement, I realized that I hadn’t been doing two things: (1) avoiding worry like the plague, and (2) actively reminding myself of the times that God has taken care of me before.
Instead of running from worry, I was letting it run me ragged. I needed to cut those worried thoughts off at the knees by either focusing on what God’s word had to say about whatever I was worried about (or about “worry” itself) or focus on his faithfulness. And I had plenty of experiences with God taking care of me in matters both big and small. How could I have forgotten to do this? I was tempted to beat myself up about it. But I knew that wouldn’t help. So, this time, I skipped it and quickly, got to remembering God’s faithfulness in my life.
What about you? Do you have any memories of God taking care of you that could run what’s been bugging you off?
Water rises up to the edge of my eyelid, falls into my lashes, and dribbles down my cheek as I watch the screen. My mind is connecting with what I am hearing in a way that I don’t yet have words for, so the tears come. Tears of relief, joy, and hope. Tears for the end of a loooong trial that’s been hard to observe with the naked eye, but has been present all the same.
I’m listening to a nurse practitioner recount the many traumatic brain injuries she’s had through the years. Concussions in many varieties that, at different times, came with a fractured skull and cheekbone, inflammation, cuts and bruises, and debilitating migraines that shock her awake and make her throw up in the middle of the night.
I explain the evolving symptoms of my own migraines, the last remaining symptom of a concussion I suffered in a car accident a few years ago. They have improved drastically despite their lingering and, often, show-stopping presence. But when I describe the deteriorating focus and concentration that has begun to affect my work and scare the crap out of me, I point to depression. Do I feel depressed? No. But since when has any of this ever made sense? One hormone decides to call in sick, or my symptoms evolve unexpectedly, and the whole apple cart turns over.
“It’s not the depression. Your medication would’ve handled that symptom like it did the others. No, it’s the concussion. I think you have medical onset ADD – the predominantly inattentive type.” I have no idea what that means. So, I say some version of a “huh?” to the screen.
“It’s common to have worsening focus and concentratration even years after suffering a traumatic brain injury (TBI). I think the concussion has brought on the inattentiveness. Medication can help with that.” She asks me if I’ve tried “Wellbutrin”. “Yes,” I answer, and add that it made me have suicidal thoughts within hours of taking it. “I’m sensitive to medication.” She pauses, then suggests Adderall.
I listen in silence, letting it sink in. As it does, the tears come. In the next second, I wipe my cheeks, saying, “I’m sorry. I’m getting emotional because this has been so hard, and you’re telling me that there’s a way out of this?”
I don’t remember much of what happened next. I learn that there’s a national shortage and that some people can become addicted. “It wouldn’t be addicting if it didn’t work,” she says. We talk about dosage and my medical history as well as my extended family’s. We end the telehealth session with an agreement to meet again in two weeks.
When the call ends, I’m bowing, sitting on my bed, and then again with my knees on the floor. Warm tears still streaming down my face, I praise God for this, whatever it is. Deliverance. A breakthrough. A resolution to an old prayer that I had only recently begun to pray again. Confirmation that I should expect good things from my Father in heaven. Maybe it was all of the above. But whatever it was, I had to offer my gratitude in praise.
The next couple of days pass in a blur. There’s a hold-up with the medication because there’s a nationwide shortage of the exact dosage for my prescription. It takes another day for the nurse to submit a new prescription for a lower dose. But my hope helps me push through the struggle at work. On the day that it is finally ready, I decide to type “Adderall” into Google, and suddenly, my hope comes crashing down around me.
I see words and phrases like “Amphetamine,” withdrawal symptoms, risk of addiction, and effects similar to Meth, and my mouth goes dry. “What the…?”
“I can’t take this,” I say to myself. “I can’t risk addiction.” And immediately, the option was off the table. But the fears of losing my job because I can’t focus and deliver tap dance their way back into the forefront of my mind.
And this is the challenge that comes with navigating any illness, the catch 22, deciding which is worse, the suffering without the medical intervention or the suffering with it. “There has to be another way,” I think to myself.
By the end of the week, I had spoken to my therapist about it – who advised me to seek a second opinion from a neurologist, asked a mentor about supplements for focus and concentration, and most importantly, asked Jesus about it – a simple question in the journal where I write my prayers.
I also endured a rainy “migraine day” that sent me into dark room rest for most of the day. But when I woke up on that sunny Friday, I felt better, drained and tired, but much better. And on the roughly hour long drive to work, I returned to a practice that I hadn’t done often enough in the new year. I listened to audio of my own voice reading verses of scripture on health, healing, and believing.
Taken from a little purple book by Joyce Meyer called: The Secret Power of Speaking God’s Word, I have scriptures covering a few topics recorded on my phone. Why? Because when I speak God’s word out of my own mouth, things change. I change.
I needed my focus to change. So I listened to my voice saying those verses and to two of my favorite RnB songs that I’ve remixed in my head to remind me of God’s love for me… “So Beautiful” and “Yes” by Musiq Soulchild over and over again as I drove to work. All of which reminded me that my God is undefeated and that the “nickname” of Jehovah Rapha (God who heals) was given for a reason. What are migraines and concussions to an all-powerful God? Crushable ants, that’s what. And I said as much along the way, ignoring how insane I might look to the surrounding drivers.
I can’t say what for sure did it. The peace of an empty and quiet office. The joy of a sunny Friday. A grateful attitude. The remembrance of the power and faithfulness of my God. Or, more likely, in my opinion, the very words themselves. But I went on to have the most productive day that I’ve ever had at this job, probably in an entire year, if not longer. And my amazement remains.
I did the practical thing. I filled the prescription. In the off chance that the neurologist agrees with the nurse, I didn’t want to wait even longer due to shortages. And maybe that’s a failure of faith, I dont know. But do I expect to use it? No. Will I forget that it’s there? Probably not, especially if the focus of that Friday never returns.
But I do expect it to return. I believe it will and will say so every day if I have to, with God’s help. Maybe the threat of an addiction will spur my mouth into action, I don’t know. And if I have to throw the pills away, then so be it. But I have been amazed, tantalized by the power of God, and I want to, need to, see it again.
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?
“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.
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.
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?
In my imagination, I see you, my new friend, looking at me with wide eyes as you slowly walk backwards to the door. Noting a forgotten engagement, you make your apologies and are seemingly through the door and down the steps almost as soon as your hands touch the door knob. Now alone with my thoughts, I’m wondering, hoping really, that you haven’t come to the conclusion that I fear … that I am stark, raving mad – as my grandfather would say. It’s a reasonable conclusion.
What are we … seven posts in? You’ve just met me, but you’ve learned some (maybe) unsettling things. Your new friend (me) struggles with mental illness for which she takes medication, claims to have a relationship with God, and just told you that this God somehow inserted God’s own love of the world into her body for a whole day, allowing her to see everyone and everything through God-tinted glasses. Yep … that’s definitely a little strange. That’s the thing about opportunities to build faith, they often come in strange packages.
But let me ask you this … when was the last time that you created something? It doesn’t matter what it was. It could be a song, a cake, an IG post, an important report or even another human. When you look at that thing (or person), how do you feel? Do you find yourself returning to it again and again to either perfect or simply enjoy it? Do you watch, read or listen to it, in awe over the simple fact that it came from your own mind? Does considering its transformation from thought to a tangible thing excite, inspire or bring you pride? Does it bring you joy?
I’m an arts and crafts, DIY kind of person. So when it comes to making my house a home, I like to decorate it with objects that reflect my sense of style and imagination. One of my favorite projects is to add paint in rich colors, dazzling beads and other found objects to a canvas to add a splash of color and texture to an otherwise bland white wall. The final product may not look like much to anyone else. It may not be everyone’s style. But it’s not for everyone else. It’s by me, for me. To me, it is a masterpiece. And my guess is that, when it comes to your own creations, you might feel the same way.
So let me ask you, is it that far-fetched to believe that the one who created you might feel the same way about you? Would that really be so strange?
One of my favorite reads is a book, that was also made into a movie, calledThe Shack. It tells the story of a man’s journey through tragedy after tragedy and into an unexpected relationship with God – The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It’s a beautiful story that turned what I thought I knew about God on its head in a variety of ways.
One of the things that was so profound to me, in the book especially, was the unbridled interest and joy that God took in experiencing creation. Whether it was a bird on a windowsill, the music of a generation, stars in the sky, or in healing invisible wounds, this was a God who fully immersed himself in his own creation and took pleasure in it all.
Isn’t that a clear side-effect of love? Isn’t that what love does … bring joy? I had learned that God loved me and realized that I loved God in return long before I read The Shack. But until that day of unmatched joy, I hadn’t realized that joy figured so prominently in that love.
One pivotal point of the story (spoiler alert, but it’s still worth reading or watching) is when the protagonist, Mack, is forced to choose who among his children he will save and who he will condemn to hell because of their wrongs in life. Mack finds it to be an impossible choice and instead, because of his love for them, offers himself in their place. At that moment, it clicks and we see the impossible position that God was in when man fell. Here we see how joy, love and sacrifice are connected. And too, how it applies to us – how God sees us.
As for me, it put an exclamation point on the supernatural joy that I felt that day, years before, when my heart sang at every single thing around me. And because of that, as scary as it is, I’m willing to risk your rejection.
I want you to know that there’s a God who is interested in you, loves you, and takes immense joy in you just being you. Whether you are in your splendor or in a mess, this God loves you yesterday, today, tomorrow and forever. Believe me friend, there’s nothing crazy about that.
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.