The Old Thoughts in the New Life

The Old Thoughts in the New Life

I had an old thought last night. It was about ending my life. That thought does not fit in my today-life. It was part of an old story that was my life a long time ago. My today-life has become stressful and overwhelming. We are being hit on all sides and at every angle as a family. It is all that I can do sometimes to keep breathing and moving forward minute to minute, second to second.

I sent my husband to the ER with my poor sick three-year-old, and stayed home to tend to my also sick two-year-old.   Lily had collapsed in the hall. Croup and asthma don’t work well together. I collapsed with her. My husband swept her up, buckled her in her car seat, and barreled off to the emergency room while I sat with my youngest and wept in anxiety, fear, and inadequacy. She will be fine, but last night, neither of us was fine. My life became too heavy for a moment. As I cuddled with my youngest in my king-size bed, I felt my heart ripped in half. I wanted, needed, to be at the hospital with my eldest. Yet I couldn’t. I’m too sick. And my youngest needed me. We are at T-minus 48 hours until my husband goes out of town for a week, and I feel the crud that has attacked my children descending on my own vulnerable body. How will we survive this one? Will we survive this one?

Waiting for my sleeping medicine to kick in, that old thought assaulted me for the first time in years. You could end it all. Shocked, I guffawed at the absurdity of that thought in the context of my meaningful and fulfilling life. At the same time, a part of me leaned into its familiarity. Horrified at my inclination toward this suicidal thought, I prayed that my sleeping medication would kick in and knock me out so that I could wake up the next morning fully planted in the present again.   It did. I slipped into sleep, in that massive bed with a tiny two-year-old and no husband, next door to an empty room where my three-year-old should be sleeping.

Oh, the speed bumps in life are brutal.   When half of your family is not under your roof with you when you so desperately need them. When you are not under the same roof of the pediatric wing of the hospital with your sick child when you feel that she so desperately needs you. Someone told me today ,”It’s not fair,” when I told her the medical drama that is occurring in my family.   I know that fairness is just a construct of our fallen human minds that leads to nasty comparison, leading to either pride or envy. With that said, it certainly doesn’t feel fair at times. To move from hellish situation to hellish situation, squeezing in quick breaths every once in a while. To feel like you are standing on the tips of your tip toes in an unsteady ocean, with your nose bobbing in and out of the choppy water as you spit and sputter, trying to come up for air. It does not feel fair.

Suffering never feels fair. To pursue suffering would be utter insanity. And yet, suffering can serve as a sharpening tool, as a refining fire, burning and destroying any sense of self-sufficiency or pride in our own resources. If I ever thought I could do life on my own, that notion is snuffed out when I collapse on the floor daily, when my daughter is whisked off my husband in the middle of the night unable to breathe, when I come up against that same old thought that haunted me for years. I can’t do this. Not in my own strength. I’m at the end of me. I’m exhausted, spent, maxed out. It has to be God. Suffering is a quick trip to the end of ourselves, where we find at the end either despair or God. Out of those two options, I don’t know what inclines some people to end with despair and others to land on God. I do know, however, that I have had seasons of my life where despair seemed to be the clearest answer. This is not one of those seasons. Suffering is driving me to the cross. The old thoughts of suicide drive me not to actual attempts, but to my knees in confession of my dependence on my life-source. Thomas Merton states, “ Suffering becomes good by accident, by the good that it enables us to receive more abundantly from the mercy of God.”

It is no good to worship the actual suffering in life. In suffering and in abundance, we can know God. We worship and believe in a God who can transform suffering into mercy. This knowledge transforms the phrase “God is good all the time” into so much more than a mere cliché. It gives me the assurance that no matter what floods my life, even if the mountains give way and fall into the heart of the sea, even if I lose my own life, my Lord loves me and is for me. His presence is good, and He never leaves. Therefore, wherever I go, I am safe.

Psalm 46: 1-3

God is our refuge and strength,

    a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,

    though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam,

    though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

An Advent Lament

An Advent Lament

One evening in early December, our half-hearted dinner comes to a close. Few words have been exchanged, and the children have each taken about a half of a bite of mashed potatoes and drummed the table with their silverware for the ten minutes that they have been forced to sit in their seats. Jordan and I sit wearily, lacking the energy to even mutter a few words to one another. I stare desperately at the seven candles lit in the middle of the table, longing for them to speak peace to my tempestuous heart. My heart is an impenetrable fortress and refuses to allow the light in. Jordan asks me why I am staring the candles down, and I sigh and blow them out with extended effort. Their light falls short of my desperate soul’s need for comfort and peace tonight.

The heaviness in my chest and the thickness in my throat lingers. My head aches with the aftermath of the day’s panic attacks and fits of rage. The lingering failure of the day hangs over my spirit like a cloud. And the advent candles failed me. Or I failed them. The emotional and physical pain of this advent is palpable, oppressive, and I struggle to breathe through the smog of my carnality. I feel as though I am crying out to empty heavens, staring into illusory candles, reaching for something that isn’t even there. I know that this is just a feeling, and I know, on an intimate heart level, that God is indeed with us. I just don’t feel Him or hear Him right now.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Come, Lord Jesus. Break through the darkness and brokenness of my multi-faceted infirmities. Break into our family’s heaviness, and lighten our load. Bring illumination to our darkness. In your mercy, bring beauty and grace to the daily lives of my innocent children. This Advent season, I am beyond desperate for your light. I need a pin-prick of hope. I understand that my perceived needs are not always accurate, so I will accept whatever package in which you choose to deliver said hope. I just need something, anything, soon.

Trading darkness for darkness and a trip to the light

Almost a year and a half ago, I closed the door on my parents. I set up the most extreme set of boundaries: no contact whatsoever. I changed my phone number, email, and Facebook. Obviously, they could still make contact if they really wanted. They know where I live. My husband didn’t change his contact information. They haven’t tried, however, and I’m not sure what to make of that. 

I’ve written about this frequently, so this is not new, it’s just fresh at the moment. I truly believe that God called me to make the decision to set boundaries. They were intended to be avenues to further healing in my life–to create a place of safety and security to really explore my areas of woundedness, attachment injuries, and deeper, darker trauma. Those areas did not feel safe to traverse while feeling a sense of obligation to maintain contact with the sources of injury. I was barely treading water. 

The problem with cutting off physical contact, however, especially with primary care givers, is that they haunt you relentlessly. My guards are so strong in my waking hours, but in my sleeping hours, I am at the mercy of the internalized messages and billowing fears.  No one physically rapes me nightly. I am safe, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way when the demons of the past meet me in the darkest hours of early morning or the twilight stages of nap times. I don’t feel safe and protected from them, even now.

In addition, I have allowed myself to perpetuate the lie that I must pay astronomical penance for harming my parents by cutting them off.  The payment is something similar to chopping my legs off at the knees. I don’t know that I can articulate this in a way that makes sense because it is purely based on irrational beliefs.  When I sent my parents the “break-up” email, I also had to delete the first twenty years of my life. The lie that mandated this self-imposed consequence goes something like this, “if you hurt your parents’ feelings or injure them, you must pay exponentailly for the rest of your life.” Thus, I cut off everyone from the first twenty years of my life, created a rule that I could never return to my hometown, speak to or see the people I loved (some of whom kept me alive through hell), meet new nieces and nephews, or even think about anything positive from my childhood, adolescence, or teenage years.  It is gone. Compartmentalized. Packed in boxes a buried twenty feet underground. 

This payment is ridiculous. I know this on some level. It also only leads to a spirit of fear and denial, the very spirits that I was trying to counter in my decision to end contact with my parents.  The lies, brainwashing, and shame are evident in my subconscious reaction to this decision.  

So prayerfully, gently, and cautiously, I am beginning to step out past the caution tape in my life. I am going to pursue contact with those whom I love and miss. I will lay down this spirit of fear and allow the Spirit to cloak me with an identity that says “loved, accepted, forgiven.”  This is not as black- and-white as I once thought. I could explore the possibility to visiting my brother, his wife, and newborn son without terror of the consequences. The monsters hold no power anymore. It is time to step into the healing that was God’s intention a year and a half ago. I don’t have to pay penance for trying to protect myself and my family. We have a right to safety, and I have greater responsibility than ever before. 

Please pray that I can continue down this path of complete healing without unnecessary casualties and sacrifices at the altar of lies.  I don’t know what this will look like exactly, but I envision the breaking of the chains of fear through deeper love.

When So Much is Unknown

When So Much is Unknown

How do you know that you have a blind spot? That’s the problem, right? You can’t know what you can’t see until someone tells you that you should be able to see more than what you are currently seeing. And that is exactly what happened for me this past weekend.

In my medical journey, I feel like we are slowly collecting pieces of the broken puzzle that is my body. It is taking much longer than I would prefer, but we are finally moving forward with gathering information.

It was just an eye doctor exam. I expected nothing to come out of it. The doctor just wanted to make sure that my symptoms were not connected to optic nerve issues, and I expected everything to be fine (I always do).   Everything was panning out as I had anticipated, until the last test. The test is called an Automated Periphery test. It basically identifies blind spots in your peripheral vision, and somehow, that can point to problem areas in the brain. To my surprise and ultimately disbelief, I had an abnormal result that was consistent in both eyes. These blind spots indicated, according to the doctor, that I have something problematic in the middle section of my brain, in or around the pituitary gland. During this conversation, he cheerfully used the word “tumor” on several occasions. He also said that it could be benign, and he honestly didn’t seem too concerned or overly urgent. He seems to think that it is sufficient to follow up with the neurologist when we have the appointment scheduled in about five to six weeks at Mayo.

With this information, however, I have a couple competing and opposing reactions. My verbal response to him was something to the effect of, “Yes, I have been aware of neurological issues for some time, and this does not surprise me. I know that there is something very broken in my brain.”   A simultaneous internal response was, “Yeah right. Just wait. Everything is normal. He’s a quack. This, just like everything else, is a waste of everyone’s time and energy.”

In this moment, I am going to put aside the latter thought process so that we can deal with the seeming reality of this awareness. It has been difficult for me to assert the idea that there is something wrong in my brain. Maybe it is the fact that I have so many mental health issues that I cart around. How does one sort out what is brain structure and brain chemistry? What are blind spots and what are normal bouts of dissociation that occur within individuals with PTSD? What is normal? I have no idea, but I have something inside of me that screams, “THIS CANNOT BE NORMAL!!!” I don’t know how many times I have told someone that I think my brain is broken. But, really, who am I to say what a functional brain is supposed to be like? I’ve been on psychotropic medications for 20 years. So this is a tough issue, and I would not place myself on a platform as an expert on healthy brains. Evidently, however, based on my most recent medical feedback, it seems that I have more credibility than I initially suspected.

The other side of this “acceptance of reality” coin is that now I have grapple with the “c” word and the potential of a tumor. And I have to sit with this question for six long weeks. Fortunately, I am far from bored, and six weeks in my life zooms by before I can count to six. Time will fly, because I have two tinies to chase after and a wild pastor husband to keep up with. I have one Bible study to teach and two, maybe three others in which to participate. I have playgroups, music groups, story times, play dates, and crafts to do. I have choir and relationships to maintain. I will blink, and the end of October will be upon us. But still.. TUMOR. In my BRAIN. (Possibly). But still…

So this leads to me to my end of the world dreams. For months, I have been having dreams about the end of the world. I find myself in different but parallel scenarios where I am a protagonist in a fight to the end…the end of the world. I am trying desperately to keep whatever forces that be from destroying our planet. These bad guys are super bad, like aliens twenty times the size of planet earth, and they are out to wipe our species out from existence. They can snuff us out at any point, and for some reason, I am one of the few chosen to try to prevent them from doing so. The problem in this scenario is that I have no idea what the heck I am doing, and I am just a sitting duck along with everyone else. I am no hero. I’m just waiting around to be decimated, but I feel the weight of the salvation of the world on my shoulders. Fortunately, I wake up just as I see the fiery fury coming to consume the planet, including this powerless heroine. The key sense in these dreams is powerlessness. I can’t do one thing about impending doom.

So I wait, with one side of my consciousness (the one that comes out in my dreams) doling out heavy doses of doom and gloom and ultimate destruction, and another side invalidating every single step of this journey, unable to acknowledge a single ounce of my experience as real. Could there be hope, validation, and redemption in the midst of this battle? Could everyone lay down their weapons and surrender to the One who is in control, is the Author of truth, and has defeated death, making a spectacle of it on the Cross? I am powerless, yes. In a sense. But the one who is supremely powerful dwells within me. IN CHRIST, I am no longer a slave to the lies OR to death. Neither force will win in my life, no matter what happens. My Lord, the one who indwells me, is Truth Himself, and He is Life.   I will not shrink back or be consumed by fear. I am safe and secure, no matter what happens.

Death and a prayer

I am at a church caregiver training this weekend, and I feel sorely insufficient for this calling. I hear that God enjoys using all types of people, however, including those who feel like they don’t measure up. So here I am. God used unlikely people in the Bible, right? I think that He is good at that. I’m counting on it. If not, I’m screwed.

The training was going pretty well, as we have covered the basic areas of congregational caregivers, such as prayer, listening, boundaries, visitation, mental health issues, and organization. 

And then we came to a topic that scares me more than anything else: death. I don’t know if it is those few stubborn postpartum hormones still holding on paired with anxiety and my hamster-wheel runaway train thoughts of possible tragedies and losing my children, or if it is the guilt that if my parents died that I would exhale a sigh of relief. It could have to do with the sex games that people played with me when I was a child, seeing how close they could kill me without actually snuffing me out entirely. I imagine that being smashed against the pearly gates and raped would deter anyone from ministering to the dying population in the church. 

During the session, I persevered valiantly for roughly 45 minutes. The tears stayed balance like little champions on my eyelids. I didn’t allow them to spill over. I was also conveniently sitting front and center, so there was no means of a clandestine escape from the workshop. But slowly, I felt those child parts nudge their way to the front of my consciousness and take over ship. My feet carried me out of the workshop, and I quickly found what seemed to be a safe place to hide. I let myself cry and breathe for a while and looked at my feet. I saw bricks….probably a hundred or so, each engraved with memorial words for loved ones who had passed away, elderly, middle-aged, babies with only one date. I sighed. Perfect. I escaped the teaching session on death and dying only to be “rescued” by the memorial garden of this mega-church, with a hundred bricks screaming at me the reality of death. 

I asked God for a little favor. I’ve done that a lot lately. I just asked for him to show me that He cares and that I’m worth something to Him. Just then, a young pastor came and sat next to me. This church is so large that they have a pastor of prayer. Her sole job is to build and equip the prayer ministry of the church.  And I hoped that her presence was the answer to my prayer.

We started to chat, and I fumbled around, trying to communicate in as few words as possible the source of my extreme angst. This is a game that I often play with people. My belief is that surely I am a waste of peoples’ time, so I better see how few words I can use to communicate so that they can go on their merry way, liberated from my tedious presence. So I played my 25 words or less game, but this young pastor actually seemed to care. Better yet, she trusted me in that moment enough to share a vulnerable and honest part of herself as well.  She’s scared of death too. She and her husband are both pastors, and on Easter, they each had to do a funeral. Hers was for a baby born at 22 weeks gestation. On Easter Day. Then, she and her husband watched The Fault in Our Stars together that night and wept in each other’s arms, terrified of death. And they are pastors. She spoke to me of her anxiety and her own hamster wheel, her struggle of not knowing sometimes how to stop the wheel, and her difficulty in communicating it to her husband. Like we were friends. She just trusted me. 

And you know what? That’s what I needed. I needed a friend.

Not a pastor. Not a counselor. But a companion.  He cares. God cares. I’m still scared of death on so many levels. But so is Katherine, my friend.  And it is pretty clear that I am worth something to God.

Games We Play

Upon reflecting on my progress in recovery, I have come to a realization. My disorder-dance is kind of a like a whack-a-mole game. I clobber one of my issues with that little mallet and celebrate its retreat into its little mole-hole. No sooner does the victor’s smile creep on my face than one, no, two, no, three of my other issues raise their ugly faces. In the process of living, and whacking, I have discovered a correlation between my victory over my eating disorder and the resurgence of the depression and anxiety. Over the past twenty-something years, I have developed a pretty sound strategy of keeping the most issues under control at any given time. The only catch is that the eating disorder’s little lovely head has to be peeking out ever-so-slightly. My dietician said that I do an excellent job of “living with my eating disorder.” I remain sub-clinical and fly under the radar while continuing to maintain pretty solid negotiations with the eating disorder. To me, this has been survival. My little moles of anxiety and depression appear to be the more debilitating and even life-threatening issues, especially with my little ones to look after. Allowing the anorexia a tiny little spot in my life seems to be the lesser of all of the evils, and surely life is not so wonderful that I can avoid having to choose any of the evils altogether. The dance is tedious, however, and maintaining health while negotiating with an eating disorder can get tricky, especially while taking care of two babies under the age of two and breastfeeding and going without precious sleep. Maybe there are more options. Maybe I can figure out how to manage my other “moles” without having to use another one to hold them at bay. Are there healthy habits that I can grasp onto as I relinquish the habit of restriction? It may be a little bit more complicated to pursue better self-care and recovery-oriented behaviors in place of this clandestine relationship with the anorexia, but I am not so sure that it will be. It could be much more simple. Of course, I would love if my little horrible moles would just choose to never flash their hideous faces ever again, but history does not offer much evidence that they can be exterminated. I grow weary of this tenuous dance with anorexia, however. I long for a way to live free without having to use one disorder to hold back other more intimidating disorders. It all starts with following that ever-nagging meal plan. Simple enough. The complicated part comes when those dang moles start popping up. I certainly have the tools to deal with them without allowing anorexia back. Am I okay with “doing an excellent job of living with my eating disorder,” or do I really want to live free? Can I possibly live free of all of my disorders, or am I like Sylvia Plath, waiting for one of the bell jars to descend again? I honestly don’t know, but I am willing to step out to see.