Hurry Up and Don’t Die: Life, Death and Lessons on Self Compassion & Forgiveness

MO 2005

MO 2005

I fell asleep at the wheel when I was 18 years old, shortly after graduating high school. Friends and I woke up at the wee hours of dawn to go to the Live 8 concert in Philadelphia. After an energetic 95 degree day focused on music and ending poverty, I drove friends home tired and dehydrated from the summer sun. After dropping off my last friend, I woke up at 12:15 AM with the caustic blast of an airbag flying into my face, quickly discovering that I ran into a telephone pole, splitting it in half, the upper portion now dangling from the telephone wire. I immediately called 911. Police came and asked if I had been drinking. “No. You can breathalyze me!” I called out, “I fell asleep!” “It’s just that this is a lot of damage for just having fallen asleep,” the officer retorted. As the ambulance came, I glanced heavenward in prayer, my soul in chaotic communion with God, and made a promise that I would live it right. Not take a breath for granted. I took my heart by the hand in firm grip. “You’re going to be passionate. Keep your complaints to a minimum. And above all, you’re going to take this life, love it, and love others,” I declared to myself, releasing my flexed, pointed finger and gritted teeth. I then proceed to cry, turning my fuming fingers into open palms, and slowly rested my tear-drenched face into them, learning a lesson on self-compassion and how absolutely compulsory it is.

MO 2005

MO 2005

I arrived at the hospital, where my dad met me bedside in an exam room. “I am so sooo sorry,” I apologized, leaning in for a hug. He reached back immediately. “I’m just glad you’re ok; I’m glad you’re ok.” The x-rays showed no broken bones, so with gauze and a pain prescription, I was sent on my way. “I’m sorry to wake you up, Dad. I’m really sorry for doing something so stupid.” “It’s ok; I’m glad you’re ok,” he persisted.
I fell asleep (in my bed this time) and woke up to a raw, scraped chin, fresh tender skin scattered among hardened scab. In the days to follow, I had loving support from friends and family. Two ten-year old girls that I coached came to my house with handmade cards that still hang in my room today. I remember telling them that I was afraid parents wouldn’t trust me driving their kids anymore as a babysitter. “Don’t worry, they’ll still trust you,” their little selves promised me. They gave me hugs and walked back to play at the neighborhood pool. A few days later, my name appeared in our local newspaper under police reports. Ashamed and embarrassed that the whole community could see my recklessness, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of love I received. Family gingerly encouraged me to slow down. To stop doing so much; to simply do what I’m doing, confident that it’s more than enough. I listened. For a little while at least. But over the past 10 years, this experience developed an impulse to “hurry up” and “do more” because I learned that we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow, tonight, or the next hour. I didn’t realize the promise I vowed to myself—to never to live out of step with my values, to always live with passion and bring life into the world—would be a tall order, an impossibly high standard that turned into “I need to do and experience everything as quickly as possible so that I don’t waste time.” 

I overextended myself in too many activities the next few years, developed an anxiety and depression disorder, and shamed myself for living in this anxious state when I “should” be living it joyfully to the full. Through therapy and medication, I got much better, but was still lusting after experiencing everything.

This turned into cutting corners trying to breeze through seasons of pain, confusion, and suffering because hey, we could all die tomorrow, right? And if I might die tomorrow, I certainly don’t want to waste today in sadness. So rather than allowing myself to fully experience difficult “wilderness” seasons, I tried to skip that part altogether. But that’s not how growth works, turns out, and no one is exempt from sadness, anger, and pain just because they might die tomorrow. 

Sometimes I rushed through conversations so that I could talk to that person, only to rush through that conversation to talk to this person, in hopes of developing rich, meaningful relationships as quickly as possible, wanting to meet everyone on this planet that I possibly could, forgetting that people aren’t penciled in items on a to-do list; we’re chock full of emotions, stories, things to learn and teach each other, and these deep connections take time. And time never seems to be on your side when you’re living like you might die tomorrow. Life never seems long enough when you act like it stops the same minute as your heart, forgetting about all I’ve been taught about life after death. I guess I’m a little scared of it turning out to be fallacy, but I know in my darkest moments that I need this hope of heaven. 

The “do more, quicker” mentality caused me to live erratically rather than learning something about patience, about seasons, about the beauty that comes from living the questions, the uncertainties. It caused me to search for answers now, which has some perks to it, but often has downfalls of arriving at wrong conclusions in a harried attempt to maximize time. We can’t know how things will turn out. We don’t need to, either. As Rainer Maria Rilke once said,

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

I guess that’s it- that’s where I want to be right now. I want to live the questions, live the uncertainties, live the risks and searchings and yearnings. Live that now. The answers will come in their own timing. We have 24 hours a day and I can loathe that they aren’t enough or I can assert the fact that this is all we have, so enjoy them and be fully present.

The accident that I thought was supposed to teach me about “living life to the full,” I realize 10 years later was actually a lesson about grace, forgiveness, self compassion, to be gentle to myself and others. To learn that “living life to the full” is a fluid experience— sometimes it means pondering the Pleiades, tracing its outlines with your finger toward the sky, feeling the edges of each star from 50 million miles away. Other times it means identifying the thing you’re actually afraid of and conquering it. For me, that fear was wasting time. It meant reminding myself when I felt stuck as though getting nowhere, that I was indeed not wasting my life. It meant giving myself grace when I felt like a let-down, when I was working in a job I hated, stuck in a cycle of anxiety. And other times, living life to the full meant looking up at the sunset no matter the latitude or longitude, and finding it beautiful.

I’m also learning that although we’re not guaranteed tomorrow, there is such a thing as adulthood, and older adulthood, and retirement… so if my things aren’t crossed off my bucketlist by the time I’m 30, that’s ok; in fact that’s great-each of us might have a lifetime of adventures to look forward to, maybe, just maybe…

So may we live today like it could be our last and may we remember that we have a God who has a home for us even when that last day comes.

May we savor sweet conversation, taking our time through each word, hug, tender kiss.

May we realize that we will always want more time in the day, but even on our death bed, our time really hasn’t run out.

“I’ve told my children that when I die, to release balloons in the sky to celebrate that I graduated. For me, death is a graduation.” -Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross
One of the girls I coached, who gave me the angel figurine featured in this picture shortly after the accident.

One of the girls I coached, who gave me the angel figurine featured in this picture shortly after the accident. It still hangs in my room today. July 2005

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Finding My Voice (and a little pep talk for the young girls out there)

keep the earth below my feetI had a professor in college who taught us about the “principle of leaving and entering,” i.e. one cannot move forward to the next [life stage, opportunity, job, city, destination, you fill in the blank] without making peace with what you’re leaving behind [be it college, your hometown, you get the idea]. At the time, I was dreaming about volunteering abroad after college, and ready to leave behind the America I knew. But what I didn’t realize at 22 is that the next stage of life would be just as much about putting things behind as it would be about pursuing new things.
A couple years after college, I burnt out.
I. simply. Couldn’t. keep. Up.
I lost myself and become bitter and cynical towards much of what I saw around me.
It wasn’t until 2011 that I realized just how many voices of the past were still lingering in my head, like flies in desperate need of a fly swatter. Voices of a spiritual community that said women were to be submissive, to “let their husbands lead.” Churches that said males were to be “pastor, provider, and protector” of his wife. Voices that said being a female pastor was a sin. Voices that made sure everybody knew what Christianity stood against, but left the world puzzled as to what we actually stood for. Voices that tried to rescue souls from hell, while ignoring the literal hells and Gehennas in the world going on right now. Sexual slavery. HIV/AIDS. Extreme poverty. Orphans without homes. Should I keep going?

In 2012, I began a journey towards freedom- freedom of religion, of dogma, of other people’s demands, of paved paradises- into a personal journey of development and enrichment. It’s looked like lots of open spaces, lots of gathering ’round the table over wine and sweets and savories, lots of finding and losing myself on bicycles. In this freedom, it’s as though God took me by the hand to lovingly, but firmly, (because the lesson was too important to miss out on) teach me that the thing about the past is just that. It’s in the past. It cannot hurt you again. It cannot continue to hurt you or frustrate you unless you let those voices zap your energy from the present moment.
For far too long, this woman’s listened to voices of the past that were squelching life, joy, zest for the moment. Alas, I looked myself in the mirror, a good ol’ stare yourself down, straight-up-talk, with a little bit o’ lovin’, and a lot of bit of firmness. I looked in the mirror, and noticed a cynic. Ugh. I hate that word. To me, it’s synonymous with a passive, complaining, do-nothing-to-change-anything kind of persona. So I asked God to silence those voices, the ones that were slowly, painfully, hauntingly taking away my joy, my peace, my resolve, and silence them one and for all, to free me from the people and places and noises that were no longer helping me become the person I want to become. I asked God to change me from cynicism into activism. Hurt into compassion. Bitter to better.

Somewhere in the process, I learned that I don’t need to fight anymore.. not against those voices, at least. A little whisper breathed into my heart,
You’ve been freed.
Let your load feel lighter, your burdens from heavy rocks to little pieces of shiny yellow sand.
Put the boxing gloves down.
Breathe.
You no longer have to defend, nor strive, nor try to make yourself understood.”

I thought it would feel easier. But then I realized that that’s not quite the way it works. The moment you stand for something, there is something you are implicitly standing against. The more and more you become the person you want to be, the voice that isn’t God’s will try to steer you off course. When you become YOU, not someone else’s version of you, you will disappoint people. But let me tell you something, you will become the person you were made to be. The more you will realize that the very people still standing beside you are there because they really do love you, they really do care, and they really do desire God’s peace and love and blessings upon you, not out of pity, nor spite, but out of a selfless kind of love that has found its way through the broken chains of redemption, giving voice and beauty to the very fact that you and I are both humans, composed of flesh and blood, and you and I have both been created in the womb.
I am freed now from what’s been zapping precious energy, and I can’t wait to learn, and love, and do, and grow, and experience with this new found freedom what God can finally place in my life in the thoughts and corners and crevices of my heart that were once holding onto hurt, bitterness, and a seemingly endless desire to be understood. I am free. I can only imagine what will go in those pockets of my heart now. I can love without mountains of expectations or fears of being hurt.
I can express bona fide joy—my smiles will no longer be a veil, hiding a voice that’s afraid of being mistaken as impolite, too afraid to speak up.
I can operate out of a place that points to the horizon and feel alive in my soul, and my bones, and my eyes; to live the story, full and raw, not dependent upon things be one way or another, but ever confident that this risk of living a better story is so much better than living in the choking weight of others’ voices that try to drown out the one true voice of who you want to become.

Go point to your horizon.

MOVE.
You don’t have time to respond to your critics.
You simply don’t have time.
Be you, the REAL you, ALL of you… that’s what the world needs.
Go seek.
Go ask.
Because what I hope that the girls of new generations come  to realize is this: that if ever there was a time for women to rise up and unite, the time is now. Oh yes, I’m thankful for my sisters who gave me the ability to vote. For women who went to college and challenged typical professions. But there is so much work we still must do.

Advocate.
Preach.
Lobby.
Dream. Louder.

May you listen to that one constant in your heart.
May you give voice and flow to all that longs to leap inside of you.
May your songs be peace, may your dance be love, and may your love bring freedom.

Because you have a voice that’s no one else’s.
We’re ready to hear it.

Hurry Up and Don’t Die (Re-learning lessons from life/death experiences)

I fell asleep at the wheel when I was 18 years old, summer after graduating high school. I woke up at 12:15 AM with the caustic blast of an airbag flying into my face,2005 corolla crash phone pole quickly discovering that my car was halfway on the sidewalk, the other half still on the road. I ran into a telephone pole, splitting it in half, the upper portion now dangling from the telephone wire. I immediately called 911. Police came and asked if I had been drinking. “No. You can breathalyze me!” I called out, “I fell asleep!” 2005 corolla crash“It’s just that this is a lot of damage for just having fallen asleep,” the officer retorted. The arrival of the ambulance ended our back and forth. I was brought to our nearest hospital with tears in my eyes, shocked but relieved that I felt ok, and quite scared of what my parents would say. Someone had already notified them and my dad met me bedside in an exam room. “I am soo. soooo. sorry,” I tell him, leaning in for a hug. He reached back immediately. “I’m just glad you’re ok; I’m glad you’re ok.” After the x-rays came back showing no broken bones, I was handed some gauze and a prescription for pain and then sent on my way. “I’m sorry to wake you up, Dad. I’m really sorry for doing something so stupid.” “It’s ok; I’m glad you’re ok,” he persisted. I fell asleep (in my bed this time) and woke up to a raw, scraped chin, fresh tender skin scattered amongst hardened scab. In the days to follow, I had loving support from friends and family. Two ten-year old girls that I coached came to my house with handmade, colorful cards. I remember telling them that I was afraid parents wouldn’t trust me driving their kids anymore as a babysitter. “Don’t worry, they’ll still trust you,” their little selves promised me. They gave me some hugs and went back to play at the pool for the rest of the day. One of the moms on the swim team I coached gave me a hat. “You’ve got to keep that chin exposed to as little sunlight as possible,” she said, patting my shoulder. A few days later, I found my name in the police report section of our local newspaper, ashamed and embarrassed that the whole community could see my recklessness. All of that was countered, though, by the love I received. Family emailed me and gingerly encouraged me to slow down. To stop doing so much and to try just being me, doing what I’m doing, confident that it’s more than enough. I listened. For a little while at least. But I often think of that memory now and feel an impulse to “hurry up” and “do more” because I learned that we aren’t guaranteed tomorrow, tonight, or the next hour. And I’ve been driving myself crazy ever since.

I’ve cut corners trying to breeze through seasons of pain, doubt, confusion, and suffering because hey, we could all die tomorrow, right? And if I might die tomorrow, I certainly don’t want to waste today in pain and sadness. So rather than allowing myself to fully experience pain or difficult “wilderness” seasons, I’ve tried to skip that step altogether. But that’s not how growth works, turns out, and no one is exempt from sadness, anger, and pain just because they might die tomorrow. I wish I would let myself go through painful processes without white-knuckling my way through, trying to control my emotions, my circumstances, rather than let God do God’s thing God’s way. In the process, I end up seeing my dirty fingerprints all over my life when I could have seen even more of God’s tender fingerprints implanted on every scrapbook story page day of life.

I’ve rushed through conversations so that I can go talk to that person, only to rush through that conversation to talk to this person, in hopes of developing rich, meaningful relationships as quickly as possible, forgetting that people aren’t penciled in items on a to-do list; we’re chock full of emotions, stories, things to learn from others, things to teach others, and these deep connections, the ones that mean the most and are savored the deepest, take time. And time never seems to be on your side when you’re living like you might die tomorrow. Life never seems long enough when you act like it stops the same minute as your heart, forgetting about all I’ve been taught about life after death, the hope of Heaven, etc. I guess I’m a little scared of it turning out to be fallacy, but I know in my darkest moments that I need this hope of heaven; my soul would die without it. I can live as if life ends at the grave or I can dare to dream that there is something bigger, something larger, something longer, something that will never, truly ever end.

The “do more, quicker” mentality has caused me to be erratic rather than learning something about patience, about seasons, about the beauty that comes from living with the questions, the uncertainties. It’s caused me to search for the answers now, which has some perks to it, but often has downfalls of arriving at wrong conclusions in a harried attempt to maximize time. We can’t know how things will turn out. We don’t need to, either. As Rainer Maria Rilke once said,

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

I guess that’s it- that’s where I want to be right now. I want to live the questions, live the uncertainties, live the risks and searchings and yearnings. Live that now. The answers will come in their own timing. We have 24 hours a day and I can loathe that they aren’t enough or I can assert the fact that this is all we have, so enjoy them and be present for them.

And I’m also learning that although we’re not guaranteed tomorrow, there is such a thing as adulthood, and older adulthood, and retirement… so if my things aren’t crossed off my bucketlist by the time on 30, that’s ok, in fact that’s great-each of us just might have a lifetime of adventures to look forward to, maybe, just maybe…

So may we live today like it could be our last and may we remember that we have a God who has a home for us even when that last day comes.

May we savor sweet conversation, taking our time through each word, hug, tender kiss.

May we realize that we will always want more time in the day, but even on our death bed, our time really hasn’t run out.

“I’ve told my children that when I die, to release balloons in the sky to  celebrate that I graduated. For me, death is a graduation.” -Dr. Elisabeth Kubler Ross

One of the girls I coached, who gave me the angel figurine featured in this picture shortly after the accident.

One of the girls I coached, who gave me the angel figurine featured in this picture shortly after the accident. July 2005

“This is the only time in your life…”

“This is the only time in your life when you can focus on your sport and your sport alone,” his stolid words echoed through the natatorium while writing today’s workout on the whiteboard. Sounds like hell, one side of me … Continue reading

26. (I’m Still a Dreamer)

I had a conversation on a plane last week with a woman who lamented, “I just feel like I haven’t accomplished anything and I’m 65 years old.” This woman, mind you, runs her own business, volunteers with her Church, has raised 3 daughters, is active in the lives of her grandkids, and has poured out her painful experience of divorce to support other friends who’ve walked the same crestfallen lines.

“I thought I’d be married by now,” I heard another friend say.

“I thought I would have been more successful at this point in my life.”

“I thought I would have accomplished more by now.”

Do you hear voices you know in those sentiments? Have you ever felt that way?

I turned 26 a few weeks ago. From the get go, I knew it would be a hard number for me. Throughout college, I talked non-stop of serving in the Peace Corps in Africa post-college and then attending grad school immediately after. “I kinda know what I’m doing with the next four years, or so, at least,” I shared with a friend a few weeks out from college graduation. “I’ll spend two years overseas and then two years in grad school, and by that time, gosh, I’ll be 26!” I remember exclaiming, and wow, did 26 seem much older then.

Peace Corps was my dream. My passion. The thing that drove me to put all my energy into swimming Division 1 athletics now, because one day I would be on a plane headed off to Africa. I saw the faces of women and girls I met on a short term trip back when I was 20 in Botswana. I dreamed of meeting more of those animated smiles. I scribbled “Peace Corps” all over notebooks, especially my senior year, when I was tired of learning about people and just wanted to be out in the vast, wide open world with people. I’d dream about which country I’d get selected for. I poured over University of Denver’s Masters in International Human Rights program with vigor, glancing on their website when I should have been writing papers. Life seemed big, seemed open, seemed exciting and filled with possibilities and wonder.

Until that stopped.

It was January 20, 2010, 10 minutes before the close of business on the day before I was supposed to leave for South Africa with Peace Corps. I had knots in my throat all day and stared at the phone until 4:50 PM, pacing my room with trepidation, sadness, loss, fear, and most notably, uncertainty. My mental health had taken a downward turn. During my sophomore year of college, I developed anxiety for the first time in my life. I began to withdraw from my daily activities, including friendships, then entered in anxiety’s menace counterpart: depression. Throughout college, I attended a couple of clinical counseling sessions (but couldn’t afford to do a series of consecutive sessions that would have enabled me to really address my issues) and relied on my anxiety/depression medication and prescription sleeping pills. It was something I hoped would get better, would go away. I didn’t think it would turn into something that would take me away from the dream I’d been building.

But it did, and I made that painful phone call to say I wasn’t going to be leaving tomorrow. After receiving a few minutes of condolences and logistical instructions (“You can expect your passport to be mailed back to you in approximately 4-6 weeks”), I bawled my eyes out. My dream lie crushed, broken, smashed on the floor, like a million photographs shredded into one thousand pieces, all within a matter of a 5 minute phone call.

Now what?

First thing was to schedule an appointment to see a psychiatrist. It was the best gift I ever spent on myself. Through medication and  counseling, I began to gain new footing and spent my days writing cover letter after cover letter, wondering if anyone would even read the text over which I labored.

But sure enough, I had a job interview one long month later, and within two weeks, was hired as an HIV research assistant for a start date in April, giving me one whole month to re-focus, re-gain strength, and most importantly, breathe in the beauty of the spring air around me underneath the solace of Magnolia trees.

So many wonderful things have happened over the past four years; things I could have never foreseen at 22 when I said “no” to my Peace Corps dream. I spent 10 days in Cambodia with a women’s advocacy group. I began weekly therapy sessions, finally able to crawl out from underneath the rubble I felt like I created. I began writing and even got a few articles published. My family celebrated my grandmother’s 90th birthday party, bringing together all of my cousins who are scattered across the US.

But I knew 26 would still bring back memories of realizing that I never accomplished the life goals I had for myself at 22.

Which begs the question…

What do we do when our dreams get smashed? When your dreams are taken from you? When your dreams become trampled upon, left for dead? When that gaping whole in your heart where your dream once was pangs with emptiness and longing for the dream to return?

To find that out, I went back to water, my first love.

I headed out to a reservoir with one of my best friends on my birthday, gathering small rocks and stones scattered along the shoreline. We wrote each of our regrets, fears, worries, and uncertainties on the rocks with a sharpie. All of the things we needed to make peace with. The things we thought we would have done by now- the way it was “supposed” to turn out– and we tossed each and every one in the water. Sunk them. Skipped them. Hurled them like a shotput, letting all of the shame, disappointment, and fear of the future go with the rocks we now released into the water.

It was a holy moment.

A freeing moment.

To acknowledge crushed dreams and to affirm that my dreaming spirit never died; it just got revamped.

The thing I’m learning about dreams is that they are changeable, moldable, adaptable. They are resilient, yet flexible. True dreams offer life, not shame. They guide you but don’t harness you in. True dreams don’t immobilize. They recognize the wind and waves, and move with you, not against you. A passionate current that allows you to be washed over and over again with hope.

It’s that hope I think about when the Bible talks about “turning swords into ploughshares.” I’ve always been fascinated by the symbolism of taking something negative and turning it into something positive, useful, something better and more beautiful. I think that’s what God longs to do with dreams that never came into fruition. To take our crushed spirit and set us on a new trajectory, one that is more open, and free, and ever-passionate. One that accepts that things change, and don’t turn out the way we think they are “supposed to.” Ones that don’t feel too heavy because we can hold onto them tightly enough to put in our blood, sweat, and tears, but loosely enough to let the light in, let in air, let in matter, creativity, open-mindedness, and acceptance.

Right now, I say I want to get married sometime in my 30s and adopt a child in my 40s. But I hear a little bit of my obstinate, so-sure 22 year old self in there. I’m learning that dreams change, including timelines, and to not get so hell-bent on insisting things turn out the way I want them to right now, because who knows, that 22 year old girl who was sooo sure of the future has learned a thing or two now.

And so what about you?

It doesn’t matter if you’re 26 or 36 or 96 or too afraid or too scared.
Your dream is still there.

Oh sure, it may have changed shape since you first dreamed it up, but there’s still something tugging at your heart, calling you into life each day.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve said “no” to opportunities that you just weren’t ready for.

You still have the heart of a dreamer and that can never be taken from you.

May we have the fortitude to express our disappointment in not accomplishing what we thought we would, without shaming ourselves.

May you have eyes to see the amazing things you have done, though perhaps not your main dreams, the things that have shaped and molded you, and given meaning to your life.

May we come to understand that dreams shift, dreams change, and may our hearts be open to new directions, confident that there is something bigger going on here, things that if we were to see ahead of time, all at once, we could hardly contain ourselves in joy.

I’m 26 today…
IMG_1498

  
  

… and I’m still a dreamer.

                                  

   

     

          Have you ever lost a dream? What was that process like?
             How did you gain a new vision for your life?

Therapy is not a Four Letter Word

It’s been 2 years since my first visit back to my counselor’s office. And, thanks largely in part to health insurance, it’s the best $15 billing statement I ever receive.

I remember the first friend I told my “dirty secret” to. “So I’m going back to counseling…” (crickets.) “Good for you!” (awkward smile). I remember telling them how scared I was to tell my boyfriend. I thought if he knew, he might think he was dating a psycho and want out. I thought if he didn’t know, I wasn’t being honest and transparent. You’d think I was trying to tell him I had herpes or hemorrhoids or something painful like that. Anyway, I told him (over the phone, too scared to do so in person at the time) and, lo and behold, we’re still together. He’s either ok with dating a “crazy” person or perhaps he’s “crazy” too. Or maybe he’s just human, and recognizes that this is my way of dealing with my own depravity.

I’ve learned a lot during my sessions since that first drive up 695 East, one chilly evening in October 2010, praying, hands gripped to the steering wheel, repeating mantras of, “I’m not crazy.” “This is money well spent.” “You’re doing the right thing.”

I learned that I’m still “crazy.” Just not in the ways I once thought.

I learned that I’m not as bad, as powerless, or as “wrong” as I used to think, and, in the same breath, that I’m more self-centered, self-focused and controlling than I ever realized. Maybe that’s the beauty of grace. We don’t ever maintain an accurate perspective of ourself for more than a minute or two before we’re either beating ourselves down or puffing ourselves up. And God comes in and shows us who we really are, and that, no matter which side of the self esteem see-saw we’re currently teetering on, S/He really does love us and will never give up on us.

I learned to laugh at silly Christians and the stupid things some say and learned that I’m a silly Christian too and need to watch my mouth. I can be stupid too. Even more stupid when I don’t fess up afterwards.

I cried. And the first time I cried in that office, it was painful and I felt like I had to hide my face behind my tear-and-snot sodden tissue, but really the tissue was translucent and crumpled and wouldn’t hide me anyway, nor my tears, so I might as well just show both of them, unadulterated, and experience God’s love through the smile of a patient, gracious LCSW-C with an excellent sense of humor, reminding me that I’m on my way to healing and growth and wholeness.

I learned to be open and vulnerable and real and learned to stop telling people that I’m “meeting with my mentor” when in actuality I’m about to have a 50 minute couch session with a counselor. I’ve been humbled and amazed at many of the responses to that statement (with the occasional awkward moment where the person fidgets and wonders how to respond in which case we usually just switch topics altogether). Such responses have opened doorways for people to share experiences ranging from “well, gee, I’ve been thinking about that too. Where do you go?” to, “You too? No way!!!” Instant connection.

I learned that the past will carry you into the present by default unless you do something about it. It doesn’t just go away. Nor do I want it to. Because growing up has been an incredible joy for me, with some really painful moments in between that have been used to grow and strengthen me. I don’t need to forget about such moments and pretend they never happened. I just don’t need to let them paralyze me.

I learned to recognize and not run from my feelings and how to eschew the voices of certain Christian spheres that re-iterated week in and week out during my college years that “faith is not a feeling.” They’re right. It’s not a “feeling,” per se. But feelings are Biblical. God experiences grief (Genesis 6:7), anger (Deut. 1:37), joy (Zephaniah 3:17), and love (Jer. 31:3). We know from the shortest verse in the Bible that “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Just open up the book of Psalms- from the lament of Psalm 13:— “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?  How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart?” —to the zeal of Psalm 92: “You make me glad by your deeds, Lord;  I sing for joy at what your hands have done!!!”  You can call it “Biblical Bipolar” if you want, or better yet, maybe it’s just an accurate reflection of what it’s like to be a spiritual being on this side of Heaven.

I’ve filled journals with phrases like “guilt,” “shame,” “enabling,” “adapting to change,” “choices” and other things ‘therapy’. I’ve written “God, fix me, God help me, God change me, tell me what to do (NOW!), thank you,” prayers. I scribbled to-do lists (to go along with my type A, ADHD, task oriented personality) that could be summed up in six words: “do more, be more, be better.”

I’ve mapped out Thought Records, made my own “searching and fearless moral inventory” of myself, annoyed people I care about by asking them questions like, “So how do you feel about that?” and, “Where along your childhood might you have picked up this message?” Then I annoyed myself with Bible verses, taping them to my wall or writing them over and over again in my journal until they practically would bleed from my head, quoting them with my eyes shut, shouting in the dark, “Do not be anxious about anything!!!” “Take every thought captive to Christ!!!” “Cast your cares upon Him, for He cares for you!” Oh sure, these verses are beautiful and encouraging; I won’t minimize that. But they’re not a panacea, nor are they a replacement for doing the dirty work of staring your junk in the face, your past, present, and future, dealing with your feelings, your struggles, anxieties, worries, and fears. And, if you’re cowardly like I used to be, such verses can be used to hide behind (memorizing scripture earns brownie points with Christians, after all) instead of womaning or manning up and forcing yourself to grow up in your faith and grow in maturity, break, be broken, be remade, be renewed, be made whole.

It’s been a journey. Who knows. I might be in it for another two years. I don’t care. Bring it.

Because I’m tasting a life in which depression is fading fast and anxiety is slowly lifting, much like the kite I flew on my 25th birthday back in March. It was the first time I touched a kite in 10 years and felt like I couldn’t quite remember how to make it fly, but sure enough, with barefoot feet firmly planted on the green grass, I gazed upward, amazed as this piece of plastic wiggled upward into the sky, suddenly dancing in the early spring wind. I feel changed, from the inside out. I’m whole…ish. And that’s ok for now. I’m growing. It’s messy. It’s beautiful. It’s the best investment I’ve ever made on myself. And I owe it to God, health insurance, SafeHarbor Christian Counseling, the patience and grace of friends and family who support and encourage me during my most anxious days…

but most of all, I owe it to the “dirty word” therapy.

_____________________________________________________

Did you know?
-Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population).*
-An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year.**
-Approximately 40 million American adults ages 18 and older, or about 18.1 percent of people in this age group in a given year, have an anxiety disorder.**

None of us are as “crazy” as we think we are. If you’re struggling with an area of your life, feel stuck in your personal growth, question faith and life and existentialism or wonder if life is just some big joke, kick yourself in the…. rear… and come join us. You might find us on couches, in offices, or in support groups, but come on in. There’s room for you. The table is big, the couches are soft, and the judgments are gone. All that’s left is love, love and more love. And some growth. And talking about feelings. But I think you knew that was part of the package anyway. 🙂

To find a therapist in your area: http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/

If you are interested in faith-based counseling (beyond paying someone good money to say “just pray more”) and you live in the Mid Atlantic Area, I highly recommend Safe Harbor Christian Counseling (don’t worry, they don’t even know I’m writing this.) http://www.safeharbor1.com/

If you don’t want to have anything to do with therapy, but are hurting, in pain, struggling, or depressed, just do one important thing: talk to someone. Life’s too big for anyone of us to handle by our lonesome. Reach up, reach out, and don’t stop reaching until you’ve got the hand of someone you know you can lean on.

*Source: http://www.adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics **Source: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml

The Journey, Not the Destination.

Photo credit for each picture in this post: Kim Meagher

This gallery contains 4 photos.

September 23, 2012: I’ve often heard it said that it’s about the journey, not the destination, that counts. I’ve also heard that the journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step (or in this case, pedal). Keeping the two … Continue reading

I’m trading in my box. (A reflection on letters, hula hoops, and being the person God has created you to be.)

I received a letter in the mail today from a well-intentioned soul encouraging me to buckle down, get married and “procreate” (their words, not mine). I don’t think it’s prudent for me to share who the letter was from, but it was someone from whom I love receiving hand-written notes. I held the lined yellow paper closer to my face, but cautiously further from my heart, and continued to read. “Please stop and think outside the box.” “You should reproduce yourselves in children…” “You can help the world by producing several more children.” Warm tears made rivulets down my face. A deep cry ensued. Not a weepy cry, but a hemorrhaging cry from somewhere deep inside you that knows you will not be tamed, not succumb to the expectations of others, will grit your teeth and persevere to become the person God created you to be, no matter how hard the growing pains it will take to get there.

I continued to read words from pages to which I could find no visceral attachment. “You are in your best childbearing years. Please don’t waste them… You’ve always gone to our Father in Heaven for guidance, so open the door to your heart and let the light shine…”

I continued to cry. I mourned the loss of, apparently, young adulthood, because all of a sudden someone’s talking to me about creating life. A very adult thing to do.

I cried because I think God has called us to serve the least of these. And what I believe that looks like for me is not having a family right now. And if I do one day, I wish to adopt.

I cried because I heard from many influences how “good” it is for women to be Mom-my and wife-y. I haven’t heard as many say to go chase after the thing that gets your blood moving, that gets oxygen to your brain, that says to be contraire, to go another way, to try, to risk failure, to travel, to live with wreckless abandon the story you wish to co-author with God, not the life that someone else has scripted and wished-up for you. No. I’ve heard plenty of voices remind me to multiply and fill the Earth, to be pro-family, but not as many voices remind me that we are already family. One day last summer, I met a gentleman at a volunteer event whom I will never forget. In conversation, he mentioned his wife. I asked if they had kids (mostly because I had moved back to Baltimore and was looking for more friends). He responded, “No; we didn’t wish to have any kids. We wanted to have more time available to serve God in other capacities.” I was amazed. Why did his story seem so shocking? Have we such narrow-minded a view to think we can’t be a family without having children?

Pent up energy, passion, righteous anger, and tears continued outpouring out of my soul. But of all that I was crying about, I cried most of all because I was being encouraged to do something that God has not called me to do.

The biggest disservice we can do is to take someone away from God’s calling on their life simply because you think you know what their calling is or should be. God is wayyy more original and bigger than that.

God may very well call you to family. You may be impassioned to create and raise children in the home. You may be equipped to be a president, a CEO, a full time employee serving God with your forty (or fifty or sixty) hours a week. We, especially women, need to get past this and link up. We don’t have time to tear each other down with who is “doing it better,” “doing it right,” or “doing it wrong.” We only have time to encourage each other to be the best person we can be– the best teacher or doctor or pastor or construction worker and/or Mom we can be. We only have time to respect one another’s decisions and simply observe such choices as that person’s way of following through with what God has placed on their heart. Enough with the comparisons, the critiques, the should’s and the should nots.

You see, the problem with boxes is that they’re secluded. You pack things in boxes. You tape them shut. You store up old papers and things you don’t really need inside of them. They’re not permeable. What was that song we used to sing when we were kids? A circle is round and has no end? I say, let’s trade in our insipid boxes and jump in the circle of global sisterhood that affirms and encourages your other sister no matter how similar or different your lives look. Better yet, let’s not stop there. We live on a circle called Earth. All seven billion of us. It’s time we leave our boxes by the curb for recycling and become the men and women, sisters and brothers we were meant to be, doing our best everyday to create Heaven on Earth, no masks, no masking tape, no boxes, just all of us, anyone who wants it, inter-connected inside of one big, brilliant, beautiful, never-ending hula-hoop circle of love.

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Living in the Tension of the “Now” and the “Not Yet”

3.14.12.    Living in the Tension of the “Now” and “Not Yet”

Welcome to the fallout
Welcome to resistance
The tension is here
Tension is here
Between who you are and who you could be
Between how it is and how it should be… 

It was the next time in as many times that I was going on and on to someone passionately about another example of social injustice, pulse increasing, inflection rising, my hands probably moving about frantically in some direction (that I was of course unaware of).

It didn’t go so well.

I think I might have just been making noise because I talk about these things so frequently. The person I was talking to called me out on it, pointing out to me that essentially, my life had become unbalanced and I wasn’t embracing the abundant life Christ talks about. He didn’t have to convince me. I knew it.

The past five years have challenged, refined, and shaped me, for better and for worse, as I learned about, cared about, and took action about global suffering, human trafficking, social inequalities, racial polarization, poverty, the realities of war and America’s contributions of bombings in more countries than I’ve ever realized, people being mistreated for their sexuality, etc.

I met people living with HIV who shared painful stories, like how their one and only life partner never told them of their status, or stories of not being able to leave the house because their current medication regimen causes awful side effects. I listened to the stories of people who are gay. I moved to the inner city, where I can no longer deny white privilege and racial polarization. I worked with patients who told me the realities about SSI, Section 8, and food stamps from personal experiences. I went to developing countries and saw inhumane poverty. I read books about refugees, microfinance, and women’s health. I watched documentaries that horrified me. I raised my voice. I sent emails to my senators supporting everything from anti-trafficking legislation to commitments for global HIV funding. I tried my best to live out Jesus’ prayer for God will to be done on Earth as in Heaven.

My life felt full, active, alive, and like I was living out the priorities of the Kingdom.

…And then things got ugly.

In the past year and a half or so, I became angry. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that if each person truly knew the realities of what was going on in this world, like many are choosing to do as they’ve watched Kony 2012, they too would experience what Lynne Hybels refers to as “righteous anger.” But unbalanced, this turned into cynicism. I became critical of people who don’t volunteer. Who claim to know Jesus, but don’t know the poor. Who prioritize “saving souls” to “get” people into Heaven after death, but who cared little about the hells on Earth- where poverty, disease, violence, and trafficking are rampant.

I grew resentful of Christian circles that told females that being a good Christian woman meant respecting your husband, having lots of babies, being nice, and constantly telling girls that they are beautiful, as if every Christian girl struggles with that the most. Believe it or not, some actually don’t. 

I traded in “Captivating” (woof) for “Half the Sky” and “The Irresistible Revolution.”

I traded in Bethany Dillon’s, “Beautiful” for U2’s, “Get on Your Boots.”

I spent less time pursuing deep relationships and more time trying to serve and learn and do, do, do.

I had less and less patience for those who claimed to be Christians but didn’t care to learn about, talk about, or do something about the suffering going on around us.

I muttered things privately and publically about the Michelle Bachmans and Rick Santorums who claimed to know so much about homosexuality and how deplorable it was, but never bothered to listen to the story or struggles of someone who is gay. There are people, with faces, feelings, and dreams, behind nouns such as “homosexuality.” We do great harm when we forget that.

I laughed less.

In summary, my life had become quite uncomfortable and being totally honest, I wanted other peoples’ lives too as well.

It hasn’t felt good. Learning about the harsh realities of life on this planet in which excess wealth and destitute poverty clash; where one kid gets raised with two loving parents, while the other grows up precariously in the projects, wondering who or where his dad is and when mom will stop getting high. One kid drops out of school, while a girl in rural Africa is denied education. None of this is supposed to feel good.

But it’s not supposed to lead to burnout, cynicism, bitterness, divisiveness, nor criticism.

But slowly, ever so slowly, that’s all changing. Luckily I’m learning from a few great friends and family members (who may not even know that they are teaching me this lesson) to stop taking life so seriously. Sure there’s a time to be serious. There’s a time for action. But there’s also a time for rest (Matthew 11:28), Sabbath (Psalm 23:2), and yes, even laughter (Eccl. 3:4).

When you mix enjoyment of God and standing up to action, I believe you rise up in the dare to move.

I’m trying to get there. But if I’m honest, sometimes, often times, I feel stuck in the tension. The tension of how the world is and how it should be. The tension of where I am and where I want to be. The tension of the now, and the not yet. And accepting that that’s how it’s going to be, because I’m only on this side of Heaven. But one day, I won’t be. And I’ll want to look back seeing where I merged my life to create Heaven on Earth as much as possible, filling my days with grace, love, action, serving, hope, and endless, unstoppable, contagious joy.

I find myself waking up to where I’m getting it wrong. Desperately wrong. In clamant need of forgiveness. And asking for it, pleading for it.

All of these human experiences, when put in balance, aren’t meant to lead to exhaustion. They’re supposed to lead to grace and mercy.

So I’m making this my desperate prayer, to be “reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy in the next,” as Reinhold Niebuhr put it so eloquently in the serenity prayer. Today, I’ll say thank you to those who have been patient with me and return the favor to the next soul who needs me to be patient with them. I’ll learn to appreciate the passions, giftings, and talents of others. Not only will I be thankful, I will learn to celebrate such diversity alongside that person.

Today, I will pray for grace. That I would humbly receive it, and, even ask for it at times that I’ve been over-zealous and flat out wrong. I will say thank you to those who’ve so readily supplied it and ask God for more so that I can readily distribute it.

To the cynic.
To offer it lavishly and freely for the doubter.
To offer grace to the do-er, do-more-er, and for the courage to stop “doing” and start “being.”
Grace for the inquisitive, who have more questions than answers.
Grace for the on-the-fence.
Grace for the scared-to-start.
Grace for the I-don’t-want-to-start.
Grace for the rich. Grace for the poor.
Grace for the fearful. And the fearless.

And grace for all of humanity just trying to live life as best we can in the tension of life on this side of Heaven, on this stumbling, spinning, persistent halfway home called Earth.

On Unspoken Goodbyes and New Hellos

I often find myself thinking about this twenty something stage of life and how, from a billion different angles, people, places, and things are changing rapidly, like the wind, and I feel like a little wishie dandelion in a big field wondering why I’m no longer yellow, hoping I don’t get mistaken for a weed, and also hoping my seeds won’t blow away all at once. But I am not a dandelion; I am a human being, capable of eating, sleeping, and breathing and reflecting on what’s going on inside these skin and bones.

Ready to journal some of these feelings, I climbed into bed one night recently for a little quiet time. And, as I do like so many nights, I quickly checked facebook and noticed an old friend’s status change from “in a relationship” to “engaged.” I laughed, thinking back on pages in prayer journals from a few years ago, acutely aware now of the answer to that prayer. And that’s when a twinge of melancholy flooded in. I realized that now that this friend was getting married, reality was I would never see him and his family again, and we never got to say “goodbye.”

In that moment, I saw the faces of other friends, mostly from college, swirl around in my mind. Friends I no longer see or spend time with, pining to experience that amity all over again in the present. I’m sure you have those people in your life. Those people who are simply unforgettable, perhaps because of the way imago dei emanates from their soul, overflowing with rivulets of life, life, life, incandescent and uninhibited life.

I thought about the last time I spent with each of these life-giving people and what I would have said or done differently had I known we were going to lose touch and this would be the last time we would see each other face to face.

These changes of lost relationships stung, a hurt not easily pacified, and for the first time, I allowed myself in that moment to grieve their end.

I didn’t know that my twenties would have many times of unspoken goodbyes, unintentional “see ya laters,” only the “laters” never came.

I didn’t know just how absolutely painful it can be to let go of people who have influenced your life in some way, shape or form, knowing that they left an everlasting impression, having influenced your journey into who you are today.

I didn’t know just how often some people will just slowly fade out, like a setting sun sinking beneath the covers of the horizon. You can watch that sun retract behind the silhouette of the city, moving almost imperceptibly, and then sure enough that ruby red ball of fire is visible no more, leaving you with the beckoning of night, the closing of a day, the sunset just a memory stored away in the cells of your brain. And much like those sunsets, those memories with old friends slowly dissipate; your only connection left to such people being their status updates on Facebook or their phone number that you used to text, now dormant in your cell phone contacts list.

I’m not really looking for people to leave my life. Baz Luhrmann* once said, “Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few, you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.”

Feeling imbued to move beyond grief, I promised myself that from that night on forward, I would start treasuring and hugging those precious few. And to the rest, I would tell them how much I appreciate their influence in my life, or share with them something they taught me, or say thank you for something they did. Though you may end up being friends forever, you also can’t guarantee that you too won’t have an unspoken goodbye and the people around you now may one day in the future, however near or far away that may be, a page you click on Facebook and smile at from a distance.

Looking back on the past and ahead to the future, we’re left with a choice for today. May we speak words of gratitude with the people right around us. To lift someone up. To say thank you. To say something you’ve always wanted to tell someone, but were too shy or scared to do so. This is the time. This is it. There are no second chances. This is the present. This is all we ever have. So may you make the most of it. May you risk feeling awkward or that the other person may think you’re emotional, because you just might touch their life, like they touched yours. May you love well. May you let go of whatever it is that needs to be let go of with peace and courage, a departing coda to a particular journey of seasons and reasons. May we bind up past regret and celebrate brave, unfettered surrenders as we are tied closer to new unforgettables: of friends, of love, of laughter, of glimpses of Heaven on Earth and the face of your Maker in the most unexpected of places. May we accept life’s fragility and the passing of time, treasuring past memories, and then, in turn, may we make many, many more, because life doesn’t stop when the picture is hung in the frame, but rather, needs to constantly be explored, trampled upon, danced upon, cart-wheeled upon, and “whooped up!” because the story is being written and I don’t want to read the same jejune pages, scratching my head, wondering, “gee, where was I all of those years?”

Surely we can learn to make peace with change.
We can trade in rote conversation for beatific communion.
We can be grateful for every single person God has brought into our lives. Even if you no longer talk anymore, you can deep down appreciate how they have shaped some part of who are.
We can learn to say the words we’ve always wanted to say, ask the questions we’ve always wanted to ask, because we haven’t been offered unlimited chances and opportunities.

We can greet the cashier behind the counter by name, converse with the couple who just moved in, new to town, and we can actually listen to someone’s response when we ask, “how are you?” Much like Jesus with the woman at the well, we can take these seemingly ordinary tasks and interactions and recycle them for something better, something beautiful, something more compelling then the status quo.
And together, we can celebrate, that the God who brought such treasured people into our lives in the past can surely bring new community and deep relationships into our lives today.

So with unspoken goodbyes must also come new hellos. Today may you say, “hello” to the stranger who sits next to you on your morning commute and try to learn just one thing about them. May you say “hello” to new opportunities, to new friends, faces, fellow wanderers and travelers, to new risks, to new dreams, to something undiscovered, to something on your bucket list, to the deep end, to dares, to rolling down hills barefoot and unafraid…

Yes, get those hands waving hello, palms wide open, prepare those handshakes, click “register” for that race you’ve always wanted to do, get your camera out and take insanely beautiful pictures and as you do, may you smile with the morning dawn, grateful to be alive in no matter what season of life in which you find yourself.

*If you’ve never heard Baz Luhrmann’s “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen,” I highly recommend it. I listen to it every couple months for wisdom and inspiration.