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

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

Your “crazy” new friend?

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, called The 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.

©2021 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