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.

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Mental Health and the Church

I step into this post cautiously because I do not, in any way, want to rank suffering.  Suffering is suffering, and pain is pain. Each person experiences it in his or her own way, and each person’s experience is valid and real.  Some may experience physical illness as the lowest point of their lives, others may experience the loss of a loved one as the bottom of the pit.  Others may say that betrayal and rejection has been the most agonizing experience.  I am simply here to share my experiences of suffering and God’s presence through those seasons.

As people have approached me in sympathy, compassion, and pity for my physical suffering over the past few years, primarily the past couple months,  I have felt a rainbow of emotions.  I have parts all over the place clambering about with different responses to the compassion and care of others.  Some say, “This is what I deserve. If you knew how terrible I am, you wouldn’t feel sorry for me.”  Others say, ” Oh, thank you. Please sit with me and hold me while I cry.”  Others say, “What are you talking about?  I’m not really sick.  This is all going to wash over soon when the doctors realize that all of these numbers and tests are wrong.  I’ll be fully functioning again before you know it.”  Still others say, “Do you have any idea where I’ve been during my 34 years?  This suffering doesn’t even seem like suffering compared to the torture and pain that the first 29 years of my life held.  Please don’t feel sorry for me.  My life is glorious.”

While some of these parts are legitimate voices coming from different broken pieces of me, I believe that some of them are a little bit more grounded in truth and healing.   I’ve addressed several of these parts in previous posts, but there is one that has popped up more frequently over the past week.  It also seems appropriate for this day when we open up awareness to suicide and suicide prevention.

In public, I do not respond to the sympathy of others with statements like, “oh, this is nothing compared to what I’ve been through in the past.  Living through severe physical, emotional, spiritual, and sexual abuse, 20 years of anorexia, major depression, anxiety, and three suicide attempts really took the cake. Being on portable oxygen, needing a wheelchair to get around, and getting infusions twice weekly while still not really knowing the cause of my life-threatening symptoms is kind of like paradise compared to what I’ve lived through.”  For some reason, that doesn’t feel appropriate.  But it is tempting sometimes.

This is an aside from this particular post: As I have reflected on my last post about God’s healing,  I have explored my resistance to praying for physical healing.  I believe that indeed through my suffering, God has shown me a deeper, more intimate form of prayer than I have experienced before.  I believe that while it is important to pray for physical healing, it is easy to miss the more soul-level healing that God longs to perform in us.  I see Him working that soul-healing in my life every day.  I also think that I have some issues of worthiness of healing. I struggle to believe that my physical body is worthy of wholeness and healing.  This belief is based in my trauma-brain and messages that I learned through the years. I am having to sort out what are messages from God about healing of mind, spirit, and body, and what messages are lies imparted by the enemy through the voices, actions, and inactions of primary caregivers in my life.  This gets tricky, because they are tangled up like a mess of necklace chains that have been shaken around in a jewelry box for way too long.   There are some really valuable pieces of jewelry knotted in the mess, so I can’t just toss it all out.  Please bear with me as I painstakingly untangle my mess of necklace-chain beliefs.

What I really want to communicate in this post is that emotional, mental, and spiritual agony is real, and it is terrible.  Those who suffer with these difficult issues desperately need community, support, unrelenting love, and pursuance, whether they act like they want it or not.   I needed it.  I needed people, and I didn’t have them.  My issues terrified people.  There were no easy answers or easy fixes.  There was no fool-proof medication or one specialist who could take my case and find a cure.  It was so easy to blame me, the one with the mental illnesses, severe trauma, and brain on fire.  I was so desperately incapable of helping myself, but I was considered untouchable.  That was a disastrous recipe.  My unspeakable trauma was the blackest darkness of my first 15 years, and my suicide attempts housed the blackest darkness of my second 15 years.  There is no possible way that words can capture the darkness of suicide, and there is no possible way to explain the impact that surviving three suicide attempts has on your heart and mind.  I needed community, love, and support.  I was utterly unable to care for myself.  I found massive amounts of judgment and condemnation.  No one knew what to do with me as a suicidal person.  So they stayed at arms length and hurled accusations.

“You are so selfish.”

“You let everyone down.”

“We can never trust you again.”

“You must not be a real Christian.”

This was the bottom of the pit.  I. failed. everyone.  Or so I thought.

Being physically ill is rough.  There are days that I think I might die.  Sometimes this is a legitimate thought.  There are days that I have to squint really hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and even then, I just have to imagine it being there.  But I am surrounded by love.  I am so well cared-for (when I allow people to care for me).  God is bringing me higher up and deeper in.  This is not a black pit.  Too many people are bringing light into it.  Somehow, my soul has been awakened to the comfort that God is bringing into my pain.

The church is great at caring for the physically ill (at least my church is). But, friends, do we know who is looking into the abyss of ending it all?  Do we know who is up all hours of the night, dancing on the edge of sanity because of severe anxiety or OCD?  Do we know which mamas are facing postpartum mental health issues alone because they are too embarrassed to share the thoughts that are going through their sleep-deprived, hormone-imbalanced brains?  Are we even making eye contact with those who teeter on the edge of psychotic episodes on Sunday mornings?  Are we too afraid of them because we can’t fully understand what they are facing?  They don’t understand it either, and they desperately need community, love, fellowship, and flashlights in their pits.  I needed all of those things.

Some people are caring for those suffering from mental and emotional issues like champions.  They make it their mission to shine light into their darkness, and they often even climb into the darkness, huddle next to those suffering alone, and offer their humanity, which, ironically, is where we see so much of the Divine.  I pray that we can jump on board.  Celebrate Recovery is incredible.  Support groups for sufferers and family members are great.  Please, please, lets not add to their shame and self-hate and isolation.   I am thankful for where I am, and in retrospect, I am thankful for what I have been through.  As a voice from the other side who has been through quite a bit of suffering,  I just want to advocate for those suffering from mental illness, and in particular, those who struggle with suicidal thoughts or actions. Unless you have been there, it is difficult to imagine the torment, and what do we need more than people to show us the face of God when we can’t catch a glimpse of His face on our own?

Wonderfully Made

Ten years ago, On the evening of my first suicide attempt, I drove home from work to the house that I shared with three other roommates, rehearsing an apology. I had no intention of ending my life at this point; I just felt the need to apologize to one of my roommates for living it poorly. I felt that I had mistreated her, been unkind, and unfairly judged her. I wanted to make it right. Assuming that I was in the wrong, I planned to approach her and beg for her forgiveness. Surely, if I grovelled enough, she would relieve me of my guilt and accept me, the offender, back into relationship.

My schema that informed all of my interactions was this: I am in very nature wrong. I was not meant to exist. I am a mistake and have to pay for my life. I cannot earn my right to exist. The only thing that I can hope to achieve is some form of damage control.  

I have learned that this is the deepest, earliest, most core damaging belief from attachment abuse. It permeates into the heart of a person’s existence. It precedes the lie that I am unlovable (usually established age zero to one), and the lie that the world is not to be trusted (age three). This lie is what programmed me for self-destruction. 

Generally, the vast majority of the population may feel compassion or at least pity on the poor, beaten, grovelling dog. They would at least dismiss the pathetic creature while trying to avoid doing further damage. Others, for whatever reason, find some sort of fulfillment in beating the weak creature. My roommate fit the profile of the less compassionate portion of the population. 

I sat down with my roommate that evening,  three hours before trying to end my life, and she cut me off before I could even fully ask for her forgiveness. The venom that spewed from her mouth I can see now to be her own self-hate. That evening, I saw her accusations and hateful names as proof that I was unredeemable, a blight on the earth that needed obliteration. I retreated to my room, and decided that I needed to extinguish a fire that was doing irreparable damage to the planet. It seemed like the only choice. It seemed noble. It felt like my responsibility to right the wrong that I had started 24 years prior when I shoved my way inappropriately into the universe. 

At that time, I didn’t have words for this process. I couldn’t entirely conceptualize the belief that drove my actions or identify the source of my fatally flawed thinking.  I only felt that it was my duty to die. I was wrong, of course, but I was convinced that my place on this planet was one that really didn’t belong to me and that I had to give it up before I did more damage. The funny, infuriating, and utterly tragic thing about suicide attempts is that they are labeled selfish. I have no idea how many times I was told how selfish I was being. I was dumbfounded by this statement. In my deepest heart, I believed that I was loving everyone the best way that I could–by removing myself. I was only trying to help.

It took 34 years to come to the place where I could say that my life has value. God did not say “oops” when He made me. He never looked at me and said, “this one is evil.” My parents said that, not my God.  To believe that I am wrong to exist is entirely inconsistent with my theology. This is not a new cognitive realization for me. What is new is the experience of being valuable. 

For me, it took looking into the eyes of my children, bearing my DNA, flawless, beautiful, beloved, so unbelievably beloved. I carried them inside my body for almost ten months each. That body that I thought was too evil to dwell among humans was the body that housed the cherubic cherished humans, so obviously knit together by the hand of the Divine, loving Father God. I can’t be all wrong if they came out of me.

This is truly just the beginning of my re-orientation. I would love to see myself the way God sees me, or at least the way my husband, children, and friends see me. I still wade through self-hate daily. I still wrestle with my grovelling beaten dog syndrome, but even in my worst moments, I cannot be convinced that I am a mistake.  My heart is just softened enough, through scripture, prayer, healing relationships, and motherhood, to the voice of a loving God who whispers that He made me well and cherishes me more that I can even imagine loving my own babies. 

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; You formed me in my mother’s womb. I thank you, High God–you’re breathtaking! Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration–what a creation!”

Psalm 139:13-14, The Message

Come, Lord Jesus

It is interesting how the Advent season seems to amplify the pain and brokenness in the world. Folks drink cider, put up colored lights and trees, sing songs, and go to church. Businesses are shut down.
Christmas Day.
Christ-worship Day.
Children are molested. People are murdered. Homeless ignored. It is bone-cold and dark. Evil is profoundly present. In fact, in light of the “glow” of Christmas, the darkness appears that much darker. To me, one of the greatest tragedies and let-downs of Christmas is the increased awareness of the agony and ache that remains–that all of this feels like it shouldn’t be present, not on this supposedly special day. Not on Christmas. Not on Jesus’ birthday celebration. That name, Jesus, that name that is supposed to dispel the darkness, doesn’t yet seem to be powerful enough even on His own celebratory day. What a sham! What a travesty! What a slap in the face!
Magical? Hell, no. It always seemed more cursed than magical. On a night in mid-December a few years ago, I had my second of three attempts at my life. On the second week of Advent. Of the coming. Advent couldn’t save me from my destructiveness, could it? My world remained hell on earth through the Christmas season. I was still sentenced to suffer. I particularly did not get a day off on Christmas. Not when you are in treatment centers, psych wards, hospital rooms, the prison of your corroding consciousness.
No, evil and its consequences don’t honor “Holy-days.” They actually just rub salt in the wound just that much deeper. They hold themselves up to reinforce just how screwed up I am. I can’t even embrace joy and celebrate for 24 hours, let alone 24 days of Advent.
Hell on earth doesn’t honor “Holy-days.” Abuse doesn’t honor them. In fact, it seems to lord itself over them.
And all the more, we cry, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Weeping, we cry it. With all of our desperate hearts, we wail it until our voices crack and we crumble. “Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel.”
That name.
Lord Jesus.
Emmanuel.
Prince of Peace.
Wonderful Counselor.
Be those things. FOR ONCE. FOR ONE DAY. Is that too much to ask? ADVENT.

And yet….
Maybe this is why we have Advent: To make us yearn that much harder. Let His kingdom come. To make us hope, that there will be a day of PEACE.