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This morning when I meditated, God came down and talked with me on the veranda.
I was repeating after Hillary McBride of the Liturgists, softly, words that felt ridiculous to me:
You are a unique being. There is no one exactly like you. All the courtesies, love, and energy extended to any other human, you can also give to yourself because you are a unique being worthy of appreciation and high self-esteem.
First it was in third person, which wasn’t too terribly difficult. But then she shifted into first person and things got increasingly uncomfortable. Several interesting things seemed to be happening in my body as I reluctantly whispered the words over and over again, after Hillary:
I am a unique being. There is no one exactly like me. All the courtesies, love, and energy extended to any other human, I also give to myself because I am a unique being worthy of appreciation and high self-esteem.
I tend to swing from end to end of the self-esteem spectrum–sometimes feeling almost suicidal self-loathing and other times feeling like I might have narcissistic personality disorder like my biological father or maybe some clinical form of grandiosity. Both of these ends of the spectrum make me feel like a total CRAZYPANTS, which sucks. It really would be nice to have some revelation (or brain surgery?) which would set my self-esteem straight for good. But for me it’s just never been that simple so far. Saying the affirmation over and over again set off a civil war inside my soul, I swear, right there on my veranda. Often when I am praying like this, I am aware that I must look and sound like an actual crazy person, the way that I talk out loud to God as if He were really there. I have been told more than once that I appear schizophrenic while in this vulnerable state. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to pray in complete solitude. But God sure seems to love it when I pray this way because more often than not, He breaks in and it sure does seem like He is actually, physically there and talking with me. Sometimes His invisible presence is so overwhelming that I buckle to the floor in a heap.
I began to cry out loud for a deeper, richer understanding of agape love and of my own belovedness in Him. Of course I don’t want to be arrogant and grandiose but neither do I want to wallow in self-pity. Neither are admirable or efficient ways of being for a saint. I’m so exhausted from this constant back and forth, never settling into who I am in Him…what is it that holds me back so, Lord? I need for Him to make me understand my belovedness, to cause me to take Him at His Word and to live that out in my life every day, in spite of all my weaknesses.
I imagined holding each of my babies, these children that came from my body, and I felt the transcendent, all-encompassing agape love of God as I marveled at each of their tiny faces and their hands and feet. For several weeks after each of them was born, I wandered around in a euphoric state, overcome by agape. There’s absolutely nothing that any of them could do to make me love them even one iota more or less than I just do because I am their mother, because they are mine. That’s just how agape works, I know. It’s unconditional.
So for the entire third time I repeated after Hillary, I tried to suspend my regularly-scheduled disbelief and imagine that the Creator of the Universe really did knit me together lovingly while I was in my mother’s womb; that He gave me exactly this voice and exactly this temperament, even this fiery temper and too-sharp tongue; that I really am fearfully and wonderfully made; and that there’s nothing I could ever do to make Him look at me with any less agape. For just a few moments, I even imagined that I might actually be absolutely one-of-a-kind, created just as I am and for just such a time as this in history, with stories and songs and gifts that only I can write and sing and cultivate and give away. At the very end of the third time I said the affirmation, I heard Him clear as today’s October sky sing joyfully over me:
“They ain’t seen nothin’ like you yet, kid.”
Sang the God of all creation, just grinning so huge over me that I could feel the heat of His smile. I instantly erupted into joyous tears of relief, rapturous that He would bother to break in like that to help me understand. I am so beloved. Oh my God, I am beloved. A revelation I have had many times before, but that I keep forgetting over and over again, like a woman who has just seen her reflection in the mirror and then walks away and immediately forgets her own appearance.
But this time I basked in it a little longer than usual and let out a full-bodied exultation in the form of a laugh so large and loud and musical and beautiful, it somehow sounded and felt just like embodied Love, Love, Love coming out of my mouth. It is these such precious golden moments with God that assure that I could never, ever convert to atheism. The future of Christianity belongs to the mystics, I believe it.
I suddenly realized that, once again, I probably look like a crazy person here. But either He is real and actually bothers to talk with me or I am insane, a possibility I have seriously considered over the past few years, I confess. The minute I let myself go there, wondering if maybe it’s just that I’m crazy as a fox, the shame broke in:
Who the hell do you think you are, kid? Remember what you felt? Remember what you did? Remember what you said? Remember who thinks you’re too far-gone of a mess to even stick around? Remember all the people you’ve told to fuck off over the years? Remember where you came from and who you are, little girl.
That right there is what a classic shame storm looks like for Lisa Cash. The Devil on my left shoulder, the Spirit of God everywhere else around me. But I’m so easily distracted, especially by all this shame still trapped in my bones. I usually crumble pretty easily too. It’s embarrassing that I still haven’t figured this shit out after all these years walking with Jesus. But there is a lot of trauma and shame trapped inside me still. I need so much healing, so much agape.
He’s the only one who could ever reach me, even for a second, and even possibly persuade me that I’m not too much of a far-gone mess that some of this might be able to be redeemed and used for good somehow. I started to despair right there on the veranda, already forgetting what it felt like just a few seconds ago–when I laughed Love, Love, Love with God singing over me, but today something entirely new happened in the next moment.
Today I saw her face: one of my dearest, oldest friends, whom I have loved since girlhood. I saw her sweet, ruddy face just covered with the exact same brand of soul-crushing, dream-damning, life-interrupting shame that has been my bane these last seven years. I saw her clothed in same goddamned garments of shame that are in my closet, just heaping ashes and dust upon herself, hopelessly paralyzed by it. And then I heard Him say words that felt cruel for their piercing truth:
“What about her? Does she deserve this?”
My thoughts swirled as to what He meant.
If I won’t believe Him and be loved (because clearly I feel that I don’t deserve it [because obviously I don’t!]), then the conversation is over, right? That is that.
But He just keeps looking at me this way when I steal away with Him and He just keeps calling me beloved anyway and I don’t understand it and I feel like I can’t even take it!
But if I will not take Him at His Word and somehow miraculously receive and embody it, this impossible blessed belovedness, then what about her over there with the same shame-stained face???? Is there no hope for her either?
And then I let out one of my famous guttural wails, another barbaric yawp at the Rock of Ages, my God who meets me on the veranda. I felt His righteous anger rise at the shameful lies we have built these notions of ourselves upon.
No, we don’t deserve it. But He gives it anyway–forgiveness like a crown; beauty upon beauty instead of ashes; healing oil right on top of our heads and flowing down our backs. He keeps telling us over and over and over again but we keep forgetting.
So gently, He says:
When, my daughters, when will you believe?
Lord, I believe! Sure as heaven, I believe it for her, that she is wholly, irrevocably beloved! I swear I do! Every time I let myself go to shame, let me see her face from now on. It is unacceptable to me that either of us should stay in these nasty stinking garments of shame any longer! Lord, help us to see ourselves as you see us.
Lord, help me to believe! Cause me to believe! I am so stupid and stubborn, Lord. Break through until we finally comprehend, until we embody this belovedness, Father God. God help us, my precious friend and I.
Your father and I were having pancakes at IHOP. We had just left the ultrasound appointment at the brand new Southcrest Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma where we found out that you would be a girl. Our firstborn child would be a daughter. I had never been happier in my entire life. I had three different baby name books on my person that day. Always with the books, this lady. But as soon as I happened upon your sweet name in the C section of 10,001 Baby Names, I was a goner. My mind went straight to Claire Danes’ exquisite performance in Baz Luhrman’s Romeo & Juliet (to this day my favorite movie of all time—it’s brilliant. There’s a radiance about her in that film that I see in you now.) The book told me that Claire is a given name of Latin origin via French; the name can mean “clear” or “famous.” The word still means clear or transparent in modern French in its feminine form. There was also that peculiar order of nuns called the Poor Claires, whom I had been enamored of just recently. As I whispered the name under my breath, I felt mysteriously confident somehow that it was yours, that you would embody transparency in your very being, sweet Claire. I felt it somehow that you would be translucent almost, bright and clear and maybe even famous—because you would let the gorgeous, glorious light shine right through you, like a beautiful piece of glass. And so we named you Claire.
You always had a special connection to the divine, sweet girl. You’re just not ever gonna be able to get away from God, I hope you know! So don’t run like Jonah! Just stay close! It’s all Love anyway, nothing to run away from. Lean on in, even when it seems that you have mighty fine reasons to be a chicken. There are always going to be things to fear, but maybe that’s why He says “DO NOT FEAR (because I am with you!)” more than any other thing in the Book. You’ve got yourself a Jesus freak of a mama who sang and prayed over you like it was her paying job for a significant part of your childhood. I did NOT see it coming—how fiercely I would love you, how joyously I would long for you to know and love Jesus. And you did. It was honestly the most beautiful, organic thing and you just loved Him. From such a young age, you just loved him. You would be drawing or coloring and you’d get this far off look and say, “Mama, I just love Jesus so much. He is just everything.” You would just say things like that and my own faith and love for Jesus would just explode into something even bigger in that very moment.
Claire, you are such a precious, precious girl. When I look at you, the way I feel about you (still, even more now)—it makes me know for sure that God is a good God, not just some keeping-score kind of God. You have experienced some really weird things for a young woman. We have been through some hard stuff. But we made it. We’re still standing. We’re through the roughest parts now, I can feel it. And if I know God, He will not waste a single thing. He brings beauty from ashes, turns mourning into joy. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight, my daughter.
Even when you were an infant, the way that you would sing and dance with us as we worshipped all over the tatami mats and in the house of the Lord. Your little lungs were filled with praises from the time you were an infant! I remember reading those Scriptures about how God prepares praise in the hearts of infants and being so moved by your joy. You came OUT singing, girl. I’ve got the videos to prove it too! I don’t know why on earth I was singing such a sad song to a baby, but you particularly adored Patsy Cline’s song “Crazy” and cooed like absolute crazy through the whole dang song every time. It was practically a party trick! (That’s real country music, by the way, and I sang it real pretty once at the Tulsa State Fair when I was just about your age. Wearing hot pink, skintight Wrangler jeans and Justin cowgirl boots. Bless.)
And your voice. No one’s voice moves me like yours does, my darling. Every song you sing, I feel it through and through. You have a gift. You have many gifts. I know He will lead you and He is already showing off with you. But allow me to plead with you, mother to daughter, to put your trust all the way in Him. Nurture your connection with the divine. You need that holy space in your life, I promise. In that golden time with Jesus, you can bring anything at all to light and just bear your naked soul to Him and He will always, always come through for you Claire. I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death, my daughter, and I know it for sure—that everything you need, everything you will ever need, it’s in Him. Seek Him first, as early and often as you possibly can bring yourself to do! I know it’s hard. I fight it too, living in that place of surrender. It’s gut-wrenching sometimes being this vulnerable. But the sacrifices of God are a broken heart and a contrite spirit. These He never ever despises. Now haughtiness, on the other hand, haughtiness and certainty He will oppose. But come to Him as often as you can with all the broken things and all of your questions. He will put everything right somehow. He will give you the peace and joy and strength you need to get through. I don’t want you to be legalistic about it or to beat yourself up when you don’t or when you can’t. But just understand that if you’re willing to just admit you’re thirsty, Jesus has got exactly what you need every single time. Go to that watering hole often. He will meet you there.
Having a daughter is one of the most precious gifts of my life. I am connected to you in a way that is unlike any other connection I have with any other human being. It’s insane how we can read each other’s minds. It’s exhilarating to be across the room from you (but hearing the same music or the same sermon) and the zimzum between us is so loud that I feel like I can hear your thoughts and that you can hear mine. I only have that with a few other humans on the planet, and the force is STRONG with you, young Jedi. It’s hard to keep any secrets from each other, honestly. That must be super annoying for you sometimes. It’s such a crazy connection we share. It’s like nothing else.
You are turning sixteen today. I think you really have a shot at being absolutely anything you want to be, Claire. I can see some wicked awesome wings coming in, girl. Can you feel them? They are gonna be spectacular and oh, the places you’ll go. I think you are absolutely extraordinary. And I’m not the only one who sees it. I don’t want you to get a big head or anything, but I think you’ve got something really special happening. I know you feel like a weirdo. (Because you are.) But you’re the very best kind of weirdo. The kind that makes a mark on every human she will encounter.
I love you with every fiber of my being. Happy Sixteenth Birthday, sweet girl.
i saw your ad
i am so mad
my Langston, Maya-scrabbled pad
is clenched in weeping praying hands
i would like to join the band
i roareth like a buffalo: change gon come
yet another righteous man
making grand and best-laid plans
oh GOD how can
the white man comes
all he does is hold his nose
he takes too much
he knows he knows
wait, why doth thine eyes roll?
in this black room
your fury fumes?
your boredom looms
your paleness booms
we simply do not buy your gloom
who are you
to sing the blues?
you cannot cannot understand
you do not wear these shoes
far far too white and
far too blond
to possibly diffuse
the pipe bombs that your people placed
not even if I choose?
to lend my voice
lay down my life?
what’s with the i’s and you’s?
can you not see?
i have to sing
you are my muse
(the ones who look and talk like me
i feel them not as mine
and so I beg, I beg of thee
please let me in as thine)
you haven’t heard my stories
my tragedies, my glories
i know why the caged bird sings
with languid wings
no apron strings
and so like acid rain your excise stings
you must reside
on the other side
your eyes are wide
but we have our pride
please see me
please hold my hand
please let me in the goddamned band
please see the colors that i am
i too have been underneath the white man
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
There she lay, my weary-boned Nanny Verna, looking uncharacteristically peaceful, on her presumed death bed. I had literally just flown 6,300 miles—from Tokyo to Tulsa— because I needed to see her once more and tell her thank you and I love you and you really mattered to me. Everyone back home was messaging me that it was finally going to happen, that she was stubbornly refusing to eat or drink or do anything they told her to—that she was ready to go Home and digging her heels in. Any day now, the doctors said.
So I got myself on a flight from Tokyo, childless (which was glorious), flew thirteen hours, and went straight to the hospital to say my piece. When I arrived, disheveled but impassioned (basically my normal state), my Nanny was passed out from her morphine drip, of course. They said she’d been basically sleeping for weeks and then pretty pissed off when she woke up intermittently. I know the feeling. I had written her this beautiful letter, which I then realized she’d never be able to read or comprehend. She was alive still, but that sharp mind of hers was warm and fuzzy for her own good. But selfish me was melodramatically devastated that I’d waited too long to tell this spunky, ever-loving saint what she had meant to me. I just needed to say my words to her for my sake really, for closure, if we’re being honest. I never got to say them.
But a funny thing happened while I was there. Everyone in my family wss there. They all live there in T-Town still, which is good and fine for them, but it’s not the place for me. I’m the traitor, the misfit who left the Oklahoma Sky to see the stars from other corners of the world. And no one there understands why we on earth we would want to live our lives on any other side of the ocean. But that’s a whole other story, I’m getting distracted. It was a little awkward, saying all these tearful “hellos!” and “I miss you toos!” while trying to fight my way up to the front of the line to her, the one I needed to speak to. She had barely woken up at all for days, they said. Naturally disheartened, I took my place at her bedside, and I held her bony freckled hand gingerly. People everywhere. I couldn’t say my piece in these conditions. What to do! I was really in a conundrum when quite suddenly, without any warning at all, mind you, my Nanny Verna squeezed my hand hard, looked suspiciously around at all these people who loved her the very most, and made that face I’d seen so many times—that face that warned us that she was vexed to no end. Then she lucidly spat out words I’ll never forget,
“Well SHIT, what the HELL am I still doing here?”
My Nanny Verna loved Jesus, but she cussed a little. Is it terrible that as I’ve gotten older and wiser, something about the every-once-in-a-while cussers inspires affection in me? Not that you can’t be real without cursing, but come on. Sometimes there are just no other words. And that’s coming from a girl who loves her Thesaurus as much as her children.
We were all in quite a shock, but as you can imagine, nervous laughter threatened the somber atmosphere, for certain. She didn’t stay awake for long, just fidgeted uncomfortably and asked me, “Don’t you live in Japan? What are you doing here?” I was barely able to begin to tell her why-of-course-I-did, when she drifted back into euphoria. (That’s where I wanna live.)
But her exclamation needed no explanation. We all knew exactly what she meant. You see, Nanny Verna was ready to go to Heaven, that lady. She knew she was done here. She’d been suffering for so long. Her body had quit on her, but I sensed that her mind was still as sharp as ever underneath that morphine fog. And she was downright pissed off that she was still alive and in that hospital bed. Turns out, she took a temporary turn for the better and didn’t die that week (or for a couple months). I never got to have that conversation with her, but I got to say goodbye at least. I had to fly back to Tokyo to tend to my husband and four young children. She died a couple months later and I wasn’t able to return to Tulsa for the funeral, so that sucked. Such is life.
My Nanny Verna was a spitfire of a lady and she was one of my favorite people in the world. She made the best fried chicken. She taught me how to mop a kitchen floor. She was actually my step-grandmother, not biological, but she always treated me like her own—which means I incurred in equal parts her matriarchal wrath and some of the tenderest moments of my childhood with her. She was a straight talker, and I always loved that. It was the summer after third grade when my mom finally left my alcoholic, abusive father for good. It was my Nanny Verna and Papa Sam who took us in. I can’t recall exactly how long we lived with them, but it was long enough to do something pretty special for me. You see, Nanny had an enormous library. Books piled everywhere, all over the place. It was the most beautiful mess I’d ever seen. She was a voracious reader, and as far as she was concerned, that was the only way to be. She was either kicking me outside to play in the sun or making me read a book all summer long, any book I wanted to from her collection—no censorship! It was exhilarating! For a child whose life was punctuated by deafening tornado warnings left and right, those books gave me a shelter from the storm. Years before I learned that glorious name that would forevermore be my strong Tower (JESUS!), my Nanny’s towers of books gave me refuge. I needed that holdover and I’ll forever be grateful to her for that.
Plot after plot, character after character—one of the greatest secrets of the universe became mine at the ripe old age of nine: there’s a whole big beautiful world out there, with all kinds of adventures to be had. I reveled in the reverie that I could someday make a life for myself that looked nothing like this.
I was doggedly determined that I would do my best at school, that I’d get into a good college and that I would survive the next decade the best I could with whatever resources I could muster up. I would survive this family and then someday I would choose my own family. I remember the smell that filled my senses every time I slammed shut one of those old books of her, but as I whomped closed my Nanny’s second-edition, falling-apart copy of Gone With the Wind, (which is now one of my most precious possessions), something clasped shut inside me too. My heart snapped tight as an angry fist. I remember the searing tears as I uttered promises out loud to my own young soul, a covenant I could barely comprehend: I resolved with bitterness and gall to be my own girl, not anyone else’s, especially not theirs. My soul was mine and they couldn’t have it anymore. They were frankly not to be trusted, like Rhett. I was at least observant enough to notice that when it came down to me or them, they’d choose them every time. And I wouldn’t cry about it anymore. I would be an ox, because I had to be. I would be my own lawyer, judge, and jury–and theirs too. I would do whatever thing I thought was right, whatever I had to do to make it out alive. I may never be happy, I thought, but I would at least survive like Scarlett, come what may, and make something of the plot of land I’d been given.
I counted the years in my head (a little less than ten) before I could smartly start my own life. I decided that I would essentially block out my home life as much as possible; stay away from my house physically as often as possible (which entailed entering any/every social or community or church activity available); But I would survive.
When you decide to live that way though, even if you’re just nine and doing the best you can with a crap hand, there’s a price. There’s a debt that runs deep into your soul, a predator’s loan with sky-high interest rates and trick-clauses that ensure you’ll never, ever be able to pay it off. But how was I to know? I was just sure that I had no other choice but to be unapologetically self-seeking simply to survive the war. I would burn it all down to make it out alive, if I had to. Come what may, I would survive. Like Scarlett. Right? I would survive this God-forsaken land and get the hell out of there to try and become my true self. I would go to a new place and become the me I wanted to be. I would build my own life with my own blistered hands, in the scorching sun and all by myself if I had to. These heroic delusions got me through for a few years, until I unfortunately discovered that I am just as untrustworthy as any other. Actually, strike that, I am the chief of untrustworthy. I do the things I want not to do; I fail to do the things I know I must to thrive. I can want to do something with my whole heart but still not do that thing and for no good reason at all. But that’s another story.
Lo and behold, the bitter resolutions of my nine year-old self got me through at least the absolute insanity that was the next few years of my childhood. It seemed like such a good plan at the time, a perfectly plausible plot device to ensure that I could someday be the hero of my story. My Nanny Verna’s books gave me a sort of hope—even if it was not the eternal kind— that worked for a little while at least. Until I was about fourteen. But I’m so grateful to her for that very good gift she gave me.
Nanny had been living with chronic and debilitating back pain for over thirty years. I can’t remember her standing up straight or ever bopping around the house cooking or cleaning, only hobbling around, hunched over or in her special room reading and chain-smoking. She’d had three children and two of them had died tragically. Mike had died of AIDS when it was brand-spanking new and Cheryl died in a horrific drunk driving accident. Unsurprisingly, Nanny was severely depressed and probably agoraphobic, in hindsight. The only time she came out of the house was for the Christmas party, as far as I know. I don’t think I ever saw her anywhere besides her house, come to think of it. She was always in a tremendous amount of physical pain and always, always, always cranky and on edge. I don’t remember her smiling much or laughing much at all. But she wasn’t mean like my dad. She was pointy-edged, but not mean. There was always love underneath it, I sensed. There was something unmistakably affectionate when she yelled at us to, “Scrub behind your disgusting little ears!” or “Turn off that damn television!” There was always love beneath the surface, and it felt more familial to me than most any other thing I had going on back then. I think she was just in so much pain. It’s hard to be nice when you’re in pain. It’s hard not to curse when you stub your toe for the third time today on that same corner of the footboard. I know that now. It’s hard to be kind when you’re all twisted up inside and out and you’re limping, sometimes crawling just to get from one room to another.
I am now thirty-eight years old as I write this, and for the past seven years, I have struggled almost daily with major depression. With all of my childhood trauma, this should not have been a shock to me, but it was. For the entirety of my twenties, I impersonated Superwoman and I really kind of had it going on. Sure, my daddy issues came up every once in a while, but it didn’t put me down like a taser. It seemed to come out of absolutely nowhere when I was thirtyish, like a stealthy bullet shot from a sniper’s gun that got lodged in some secret chamber of my heart. Irremovable. Insufferable. Inoperable. It literally feels unbearable to breathe sometimes, and I wish I could just disappear. Stay asleep.
Some days are easier than others, but to be honest, most of them aren’t. Most days, I wake up like my Nanny Verna did that day and think, “Shit. I’m still here. I have to wake up and breathe and talk and eat and live now. Shit, shit, shit.”
This is what depression feels like, people. Literally paralyzed in my bed, unable to make the first move. My soul at a stand-still, death-match with my body. My body is begging me to live, to move, to breathe, to exercise, to eat. But this daily duel with despair, first thing in the morning. Before coffee even, it’s just a ridiculous, grueling existence.
But I am still here. Still standing. Still lifting my hands as high as I can when I sing His praises, even though I feel like a fraud. My God is REAL, and the blood of Christ is what makes me worthy to enter into His presence, so no matter how I feel, I’m gonna praise Him. It’s literally the only thing that makes me glad to be alive–singing to Him at the top of my lungs and telling Him how much He’s worth to me. It’s the only prescription that works every time, being in His presence. But it takes so much energy to get out of bed, to put my clothes on and brush my teeth, and find socks that match. I do it here too, but it’s incomparably more powerful to worship Him in communion with other believers. So I go and I cry through entire services, like the emotional wreck that I am. Because I’m still here.
Unlike my Nanny Verna, my body is still strong enough to carry on and probably to bear a whole lot more than I can imagine right now. Unlike my Nanny Verna, I am not finished. Most importantly, thank God, His Word says that HE will be faithful to complete what He started in me. He is not finished with me yet. All my towers of self-help books and spiritual memoirs and theological discourse, they help. They really do. But I don’t doubt for a second that it’s the strong arm of the Lord alone that can pull me out of this pit.
`I kept that covenant with myself for years. Defiance as my fuel, I survived my parents; I went to college and walked the line between being a good and honorable daughter and staying emotionally detached from the never-ending drama. I didn’t do it well, most of the time. But I did it. I got out. I studied hard and became a high school English teacher and pursued a Masters in English; I prayed hard and waited even harder for the right man to start a different kind of family with than the one I experienced; I lived in Japan for nearly a decade and I’ve lived in Germany for four years now. I’m living the dream, man. What do I have to be depressed about? First-world problems. Shouldn’t I be ashamed of myself? And then shouldn’t I be ashamed of my being ashamed because I have access to the Great Physician, do I not? Oh no, He bore my sin AND my shame. I’m not built to bear shame. It’ll crush me. It even crushed Him, all our sin and shame.
But here we are twenty years after I “got out,” but in so many ways, I’m still under them. It keeps coming back to me. All the ways I didn’t want to be? They’ve crept up like poison into my thinking and into my demeanor and into my very way of being. My life might seem to shine with the veneer of happily-ever-after. But the happiness part is not-so-much. Maybe this is just a “dark night of the soul” and my joy will return someday. (Please come shoot me if I write a book later about 21 Ways to Beat Depression.) The truth is that when you are suffering from depression, you are often in excruciating emotional pain for seemingly no reason at all. I have a wonderful husband who loves me and four gorgeous, healthy, happy children. I live overseas, and not just because I wanted to get away from my roots, but because God planted that dream in my heart as a teenager through Isaiah 49, speaking to me as clearly as can be that I would spend my life going to the ends of the earth. And then He made it come to pass. All things considered, I have nothing to complain about. I SHOULD NOT BE DEPRESSED. His mercies are new every morning, so why does my soul awaken to instant despair? What is this unbearable affliction? The pain seems too much to handle for a mere human. And I can’t even begin to diagnose it! I can’t find the bullet. Neither can I find the self-help book that will make it go away. I can’t find the psychiatric surgeon! I can’t find the pill that will take it down even a notch.
And the ghosts of my childhood, and a few from my adulthood, taunt me mercilessly. But really that’s just ME taunting me, isn’t it? So why can’t I just freaking STOP it? All the over-thinking and over-reacting and over-feeling and over-sharing. Are you wondering if I’m crazy yet? I sure have. I’ve checked into it.
But of all those ghosts living in my head, my Nanny Verna is not among them. I can hear her laughing from somewhere not too far above, among that great cloud of witnesses, cheering me on: “Keep going, kid!” she exhorts. “Sing some more, child!” “And don’t forget to floss between your molars!!” Such a bossy-pants.
P.S. The photo is my newest tattoo. Perhaps you can surmise its significance on your own, due to my chronic oversharing.
I just spent an hour untangling a cord of multi-colored Christmas lights. In May. Because I need me some multi-colored light action on my balcony, yes I do. It was quite an experience, surprisingly, untangling the lights. At one point I almost cried a little because I so miss the family who gave us the lights. They just left Germany and were the closest friends we’d made in many years, somehow closer than family. Living overseas is strange. You bond with friends in a way that supersedes the kind of friendships anywhere else. But you see, we are the stayers. I am she who stays. Because of the transient community my husband’s line of work serves, everyone I love in my here-and-now life eventually leaves. It’s a difficult theme to live out year after year. For the first decade of this gig, I did pretty well. I just doled out my soul’s lifeblood over and over again to precious women of faith, who became my sisters, in turn. I was so richly rewarded with that incomparable communion among believers that promises heaven is real.
But somewhere along the way, I got seriously wounded. An actual earthquake completely rocked my world. I lost my mind for a good long while (really) and then I lost a whole nation. And it broke my heart. So then I got scared. And basically I haven’t stopped being scared since. Scared to love again. Scared to go anywhere because I know I can’t help but love again if I do go anywhere.
I have loathed myself for years for only knowing this one way to love. For my complete lack of boundaries. I only know how to make this blood-sisters covenant with you that no-matter-what, I will still love you. I will not give up on you. I will continue to encourage you and have a lifelong conversation with you, even if there are arguments or disagreements or extended silences in between. No big deal. I’m in this for life. I honestly don’t know any other way to love than deep and wide, but to a fault, I’ve started to think. Other people, the normals maybe, don’t seem to love like that, I’m just now noticing. You can absolutely piss them off one time too many and then they just ghost you and haunt your dreams. There have been a few people I loved so fiercely that hot tears burn my face every time I think of them—of how they just gave up on me, on us. And how I didn’t see it coming. I never see it coming.
Now that it’s happened a few times, I’ve retreated farther and farther into my own mind and I’ve slowly become an emotional recluse.
I’m really trying now to claw my way out of the pit. God is the only one who can get me out of this pit, but I’m getting antsy down here now. And I’m crying OUT to the Lord, and I feel like He’s coming soon. I’m trying to get out of the house (sometimes just the bed) every day; to move and eat and drink water; to read things that enrich my soul and memorize and meditate on Scripture every day; to write out my gratitudes and cry out in my grief; to engage with the world in some way daily. But it’s so, so hard, you guys. I don’t want to do these things. I want to stay in the fetal position in my bed and cry all day long. I wake up most mornings with a grievous, audible gasp that I have to do it all over again. It has been this way for too long. Most days, tears fill my eyes within moments of awakening. Today is Mother’s Day, and I woke up to my sweet seven year-old Sam asleep peacefully in my arms. So instead, I contorted my face and groaned inward and silently, letting out my morning’s mourning against being awake again today.
So obviously, I’m depressed. Duh. It’s embarrassing, but it’s real, dude. And I’m the one who has to live in my head, so I’m done trying to say the right thing all the time. I’m done waiting on whatever before I talk about it. I’m just doing what I have to do. The last thing a depressed person wants to do is freaking chronicle their chronic heartbreak. But for years I’ve felt like I need to tell my stories—maybe just for me. I don’t know. I don’t have much wise to say, in my estimation. I haven’t figured out much. You will not find the answer to living with depression in any of my esoteric, egocentric essays. All I know is that if I don’t tell these stories, they’re going to rise up against me from within somehow. They’re already threatening complete mutiny. My entire being is screaming at me: “Tell them or die!”
So fine, I will do this. I’m ultimately doing this for me, the writing part. Because I know I need to process a lot of crap. This is some good therapy right here. I have to untangle some things and the process of writing is the best way for me to do that. It always has been.
But the publishing part, I’m doing because He is making me. There are exactly three people on the planet I feel comfortable disclosing my soul to these days. I don’t know why He seems to be insisting that I make this public, but He is. So that’s what’s we’re doing. I do not, however, want to hear your opinions or advice so much, no offense. If I start getting patronizing, super-spiritual emails, I might hang myself and it will be your fault. Kidding. Sorry. Too dark?
I have a lot of mess to untangle and it is intimidating. I have no idea where to begin. Chronological is just laughable–if only it worked that way! So I’m just gonna go with whatever comes up. Crap comes up all the time, so that shouldn’t be too hard. I’m terrified to live out loud, but I’m doing this thing because I believe these lights are worth untangling. I remember how beautiful they can shine (especially the pinks and purples) and how they can light up a room, a heart. And I remember what that feels like when He radiates right through me to lavish someone with Love.
Don’t be looking for bow-tied resolutions or happy endings either; in fact, you can just move right along please if you’re tempted to give me theological advice. Now if you wanna get down in the mud with me and share some war stories, I’m in. But I seem to be right smack in the middle of some pretty essential lessons, and I want to learn them straight from Him. Besides. anyone who thinks they’ve got it all figured out is suspicious to me at this point.
So I’m starting where I’m at. I have no ambition other than the sincerest hope that the glory of God might be revealed somehow in the pieces of my stories–that maybe, just maybe, my one little life, with the most earnest imaginable dream of bringing Him great honor, might do just that. Bring Him honor. For one of the only things I know for certain is that He is worthy.
I sure hope you’ll pray for me along the way.
I am a woman of raucously good faith, I am. I am thirty-seven and I have pink hair. Not exactly a scaredy-cat. But this ISIS stuff has got me spooked too. Or maybe I’m the worst cynic and bigot of all and the night terrors are mine alone to carry in grey buckets of shame. The dream is this:
My entire precious family is in deep dream states except of course for my nine year-old special child, the boy who never breaks (or eats). Benjamin has crept into our bedroom lair, laughed ornery at the bluegrass duet-snoring, and then he has brazenly stolen my iPhone from my bedside table. It is 3:00 am and he is playing MineCraft under his Super Mario Brothers comforter, and he has plans to return the phone to my charging cord just before the battery dies. He does this often and has never been caught. But then he hears the snapping, crackling, popping noises, like firecrackers in our house. He’s only confused for a few seconds. We are under attack!!! He understands instantly. He needs a weapon, and thankfully he has thought about this before, so he grabs his wooden paint easel and snatches hard the back strip of wood off it, successfully ripping the wood briskly enough that the wood had become a jagged spear, as he had hoped. Only Benjamin among his six family members would have jumped to the correct conclusion at the sounds of these foreign, well-armed men outside the front door. And then inside the house. Only Benjamin would emerge from his bedroom and put up a fight. The rest of them went down like lambs to the slaughter, but not stupid little lambs. They knew this was the way Jesus had gone down, gently. Mom had talked about this a few times, not fearfully, but of the very real possibility that jihad could knock on their door someday. Everyone knew Ben could never go down without a fight, and that was the hardest part. The rest of them could see the prize, the Christ, and held His gaze until the end, even little Sam. They went down well and beautifully, but then so did Ben, in his way, raging all the way down against the dying of the light.
So there I am—the horror of my blatant racial, religious prejudice exposed in Technicolor vulnerability. I too am afraid of the dark. I’ve been so careful all my life not to flinch at the dark men, not to lock my doors or change my tone or clutch my purse. But I am afraid too, dammit. It makes me so mad. I am so ashamed to say that as I think about the black men I love so much and have prayed with and worshipped with. Or maybe this has nothing to do with skin color or race. But then doesn’t it? I don’t know. Do you? Can someone please explain it to me? I can’t imagine waking up at 6am and needing to write about such a thing even 5 years ago. But I’m too old to hold back this telling-of-the-truth any longer.
My dream could really happen. We cannot truthfully tell our children that they are safe. And we don’t tell them that. We don’t lie to them like our parents perhaps lied to us—that everyone will be fine as long as they do everything the way Jesus says. The Word came and walked the line no one else could walk, straight to his execution, saying all along the way of suffering that many of us will go down like Him, if we’re LUCKY. No one’s safe. God’s not safe. Stop telling that lie, for the love of Holy Scripture please. He’s not safe, but He is good. And He is sovereign at least. Completely good and completely in control—it’s weird but how bad could this be if it’s really true? There is peace in that if you can find it in the tension. It’s a lasting peace too, like water that quenches your thirst for a lifetime. Not like most things.
There are ISIS intelligence agencies and rogue individuals alike attempting to target powerful Americans and soldiers in Western Europe, and they are encouraged to our assassinate infidels (that’s us) in our own homes if necessary. My very worst nightmares could very well really happen in my own community in the near future.
For some of us, it is not possible or smart to pretend anymore. It’s too close. This is actually real. There is a group of people who wants our group of people (Americans and/or Christians) either killed or subjugated to slavery. They are playing a long game, people. But Jehovah God’s is longer. The one true God, whose name is not Allah, is infinitely wiser and more strategic than the most mind-blowing thing we can even imagine. Obviously, Christopher Nolan’s got nothing on the mind of God. Christopher Nolan and Leviathan are God’s playthings. Our God’s got GAME. He knows what He is doing and this thing is indeed winding down just as He intends. And we need to accept that. This is what the end looks like, people!! This is it! Embrace it and let’s do this thing. All of us are afraid, for we are human. We fear, therefore we are. No, I don’t want to be shot or have my head cut off, thank you very much. But if I do, I hope and pray that my eyes will be fixed on Jesus and that His name will be on my lips, that the Spirit of Christ will rule me.
These refugees will be moving into our neighborhoods and schools and restaurants, and then into our churches and social clubs and even our families eventually; and some of them may not have good and prosperous plans for us. It is true. Someone could be scheming right now to steal a local soldier’s wealth and destroy his family for the honor of Allah. This is really not even radical Islam. It’s the moral equivalent Biblical Christianity. This is Koranic Islam—if you are truly an obedient servant of Allah you might just consider committing the ultimate act of honor and killing an unbeliever (particularly if you have already committed some carnally-motivated and atrocious sin for which Allah has little mercy or compassion, only penitence). Christians, we’re always encouraging each other to be “radical” because we yearn intuitively give ourselves to something or someone. Don’t we get it that there are Muslims who are both immigrating and migrating here with a genuinely-felt missional purpose? Albeit starkly different from the Christian mission, which is to garner worshipers for Jesus Christ and then all live together forever, theirs is to establish a Muslim-led kingdom (caliphate), wherein all unbelievers, in particular Muslim apostates and Christians, will be cut down.
Frankly, don’t we have to give them some kind of credit for actually following through and going all out for their faith? They are hardcore in the only way they know how to be. They don’t know about Love yet! But I feel an eerie respect that they are maybe trying harder than most Christians to give it all to their god. Doesn’t that say something noble and beautifully desperate about their hearts that they are so willing to give up everything for what they believe to be true? Can’t you SEE why Our God must have them for His own?????? Can’t you see how beautiful they are, how beautiful they will be if they behold and embrace Christ? Can’t you see how that will change the world? Can’t you see how He has sovereignly positioned His Kingdom-people all over the globe to these places where the refugees are headed? Church, can’t you see it??? He wants them, and He will have them! Pray and He will fill your heart with His dreams instead of your own nightmares.
And He will use us to love them. If we will not go to them, He will bring them to us. Ninevah is coming to Jonah. Some of them will go back someday to tell it to the nations there, new and old, and the missionaries will someday hail from their lands to the ends of the earth and remotest islands of the planet. “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:14).
So what now, Christians? Should we build our walls up like Budapest and fortify to keep the evil out? (Oh! Did you forget that the Bible says the evil is IN YOU??) Or MUST we grin and bear this penitent burden regardless. Or do we let them in the borders but never really inside our lives, building wise and temperate boundaries, like mature Chritian soldiers. Can’t we just put them into their own little areas or islands (wait, those are called ghettos) and keep them as separate and as far away from our lives as possible? What shall we do with these refugees?
What if we LOVE them? What if we put our families at utterly foolish risk and love the hell out of these people, whomever God brings across our path? A wise woman of God I know shouted from the City Mission hilltop yesterday, “Ninevah is coming to Jonah!!!!” and I shouted back at her from way in the back because I believe it too. I didn’t see it coming, but I felt it coming, if that makes any sense. It was like her words activated something secret agent-like within me. He has been preparing my soul and my husband’s and children’s souls for this our entire lifetimes. And we’re gonna love them. Me and mine are sold on Love. It’s insane when you realize that He really does have a plan, and you are a tiny person on a speck of it, but it’s plenty enough reason for living. It feels so, so good, those moments when you know that. It’s so much easier to love on those days.
We Christians have been so afraid to go THERE, to minister to THEM. You really kind of had to be either an adrenaline junkie or a real bleeding heart to even want to be a missionary to the Middle East in these Days. So we just went other places mostly. Truth. We didn’t even need to feel bad because we have to obey the government anyway, of course. That’s Scripture, right? And the Government says we’re not allowed to go there. So there’s really nothing we can do. That’s that.
But God has a plan, and it is a beautiful plan and He will finish it! He is finishing it! In case you are not familiar with what God’s ultimate dream is, allow me to put this both authoritatively and humbly: He will inhabit his throne room with human beings from every tribe and tongue and every nation and people; from every shade every human being He created; every tenor and timbre and tone of voice, and all to proclaim jubilantly in a choir of holy harmony:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and glory and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!”
That really is the dream. That is where this thing is going. If you’re not on board with that, I don’t know what to tell you except GET ON BOARD. This is not about you or me. The Bible is VERY CLEAR that this is where we’re heading.
So back to the Refugee Crisis, can we not see how beautiful this is what He has orchestrated? I can’t believe how it took me by surprise! I’ve read about this! He has done it before in history—more than once even—misplaced a huge group of people who formerly had no access to the Gospel and planted them somewhere where they could have access to the Good News and/or the freedom to worship Him. It’s just one of His many ways, but it is indeed one of His ways.
If we want to be a part of this thing (and we do!!), we must own our ugly white history: abhorrent injustice (rape and murder to be counted among them) have been inflicted by the receiving, too-often culturally imperialistic Christian community—far, far too many a time throughout “missional” history. We must mourn with weeping and gnashing of teeth that this has happened, and we must stand and demand that it absolutely will not happen on our watch. And we must simultaneously bow down with awe that even in the midst the worst imaginable affliction and oppression, God’s Gospel does not fail. He had prepared the soil of African men and women and childrens’ souls so they could become greenhouses for beautiful Gospel lives. It is offensive to me to learn that African slaves might have first heard of Jesus from the white lips of their crooked abusers; nonetheless they heard of Jesus and then held onto Him tight. Many times throughout history, in fact, God has brought Ninevah to Jonah. He is bringing in the nations, Christians, just like He said! This is ALL OVER THE BIBLE. He is bringing in the nations!!! Hear the bells?? I am actually laughing out loud right now as I write.
So what do we do?? Love the hell out of them, that’s what! Without suspicion or cynicism, the way He loves us every day and fueled by that kind of lavish love, we do this thing. This is our moment. (The only tricky thing here that loving like THAT requires for us to be daily and hourly and momentarily empowered by the Holy Spirit of Christ! Do not try this at home if you cannot concede to spend much of your day in prayer! Too-tender knees will not survive or thrive in the coming world.)
Loving the hell out of them is going to look a whole lot different for each of us—young, old, spritely, disabled, single, married, childless, mother, father, doctor, lawyer, engineer, speech pathologist, teacher, preacher—YOU DO YOU. Oh my gosh, if we could each just really sink the fantasy island where we have to somehow supernaturally curate with the blood, sweat, and tears of tedious lives this freak of a human being who is the compilation of the twelve best characteristics of the twelve best people we know. CAN WE STOP THAT PLEASE?? Serious props to Jen Hatmaker for sticking words on that yearning for me. Thank you, sister.
So again, what do you do??? YOU DO YOU. You do YOU, flaws and scars and all; you love God the very best you can; you love your family and your friends and your neighbors and every stranger who comes across your path; you be sure and take new paths often. You lavish love on people in the way that is just uniquely, awesomely YOU, empowered by Christ within you. If you haven’t figured out what that looks like yet, maybe drop everything you’re doing to fast and pray until He show you. Is that crazy for me to suggest that? I’m totally serious. Like stop your life if you need to.
It’s GO TIME. Either feed the faith or feed the fear. Whichever one you feed is the one that’s gonna show its face in crisis time. Choose you this day. As for me and my house, we’re gonna love the hell outta them.
Read Mark 15:33-41
At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”
Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joseph, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there.
If you believe it is true that Jesus was torn, just as the curtain of the temple, for you… then what? What is your response?
Read John 19: 1-17
Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.
Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”
As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”
But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”
The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”
Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”
From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.
So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. carrying His own cross, He went out to the place of the skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).
Question: How can you rest in God’s redemption for you through Jesus today?
Read Mark 15:1-15
And as soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. And they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him over to Pilate. And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him, “Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed.
Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.
What do you learn from Jesus not defending Himself?