Raw and brave and loud.

Sometimes a horrible thing makes you remember your own horrible thing and you find your mind digging into memories you’d much rather forget, and feelings best left buried. This happens to me on occasion. I don’t know if this is because my heart is learning a compassion that comes only with the passing of time, or if I am still healing bit by bit and the hurts must be squeezed out drop by drop, day by day, and filled with love instead. I don’t know.

What I do know is that my life and the living of it has presented some harrowing circumstances that swirl around mental illness. I know what I used to do to be silent. I also know what others have done to silence me.

I recently heard of an old friend’s mother’s attempt on her life, which made my memories of silence all too close and too hard. I saw the mother’s tight smile in an unexpected interaction, and I knew. I know the tightness of lips when one feels failed at life and then fails at death, too. It etches vile ruts in their faces, that tightness.

I have seen the look on my own mother’s face many times. I lost count of her attempts somewhere in my junior year of high school; I haven’t been able to keep up since.

I wish I didn’t know that look so well. But I do, and so when I see it, my heart breaks. And it breaks more when I see the faces of the loved ones around the hurting one. That ache, that unbearable ache of inadequacy and the inability to make it better. That hope that perhaps more love will draw someone back into life.

I wish I didn’t know the stigma of being a loved one of someone who succeeds at death unexpected. I was hit with this especially hard the night a student violently ended her days; afterward, those around me explained in no uncertain terms that no one should call it suicide. I wish I didn’t know the tears I held in my throat that night, aching for another family shamed into silence by a well-meaning community afraid of being raw.

I wish I didn’t know how a soldier who has returned home sleeps with a pistol and whiskey close at hand. I know that, too. I know how a sister falls to her knees in the middle of the night and prays hard for the tough nightmares to leave her brother because they have both lived the same hell years before and they are close enough that she knows in her heart something is terribly wrong. I know how the phone rings some twenty minutes into that anxious prayer and I know how tears fall when a brother tells you he is not okay. And every time I meet a soldier and I hear a bit of a war story, I remember that night.

I wish I didn’t know how an abusive and depressed and highly praised man can make depression and fear seep into every area of your life, and make you wary of any raised voice or hand. I wish my parents didn’t know how to worry about a daughter’s safety from two states away.  I think of this when I meet women in far more difficult and dangerous circumstances. I wish they didn’t know either.

I wish I didn’t know the enormous amount of shame that depression brings. Every time I meet a patient newly diagnosed with something I am slowly but surely clawing my way out of, I think of the brave day I walked into my physician’s office and explained with a tremble that I could not sleep at night and that the girl who rarely cried was sobbing without warning at any hour. I remember, too, the day I told the same physician that you are never sure of how deep you are in until you get out. I said that to him because I had cried with relief just that week when I heard my familiar quiet giggle bubble uninhibited from a place that had not allowed it to escape for many months. I see my patients and their aching hearts and I want to hug them and tell them it will be okay and they are not alone.

I wish I didn’t know these things. I really do. The past is the past and it is not my master by any means. Grace has paved the way for healing. But my story is still my story. And it still aches at times. I would be remiss to be silent about what I wish I didn’t know. Silent, though, is exactly what I have been.

I wish we weren’t silent. I wish we wouldn’t hear things like PTSD and depression and suicide and cringe inwardly and gossip in our fear.  I wish we were brave. I wish we were honest.  I wish we would take a deep breath and know that we are not alone and healing is possible. I wish we would offer a hand when someone hurting needs one. I wish we would listen. I wish we would tell our stories like they really are and in so doing, create space for individuals to find freedom in the honesty of struggle and to be rid of the shame unnecessarily heaped on aching hearts. I wish we weren’t so afraid of our own frailty, the failing of our own skins, the consequences of being honest in a world insistent on being false and good-looking on the outsides.

May we all be raw and brave and loud in the face of horrible things.

 

Clear the path.

My section of this Iowa place received a heavy snow yesterday, leaving all things still and quiet and white as only an early January snow can do. While I shoveled and salted all the things this evening, I noted the heavy boot prints across my yard where the postal worker had walked to deliver my mail and decided to clear her a path through the deep snow so she wouldn’t have to wade in it in the coming days. My neighbor shook his head. (I know he thinks I’m crazy anyway.)

When I finished my labors, I couldn’t help but think of other path-clearing stories I know:

John the Baptist cleared the way for Jesus.

The crowd sang “Hosanna” and cleared the way for the Savior to be seen.

Jesus’s death and love on the cross opened up the path for us to be reconciled to our God and King.

I see these stories not just in biblical terms, but in ordinary bits as well. I recall a friend telling me how her life is littered with moments of clearing the way for her husband to step up in his ministry after she established stable work, though they never planned for her to go first anywhere.

A professor I admire encourages her students to find their quiet places of rest where they may commune with the Lord and learn to bring those quiet places into the chaos of ordinary and in so doing, bring about peace. The path she clears for her students to examine their hearts is a gorgeous sight.

As a collective of fellow travelers, I encourage us all to clear the path for each other. Make a way for a missionary to travel. Create space for littles to explore their artistic abilities. Encourage someone you love to be brave in a new thing. Allow the colleague at work some freedom to be heard and known. Let your kid be a little wild sometimes. Above all, clear some space for loving and being loved. It is the best path, that one.

14 in 2014.

2014 proved to be a year for wild things. Some welcome, some not. All lesson and all gift. Some things I learned along the road:

14. People do not always have my best interests in mind.

This was a tough lesson to learn. So tough. I think I am still learning it even as I sit here writing on New Years’ Eve. I have experienced some incredible depths of human unkindness and dishonesty this year, even as I tend to still believe that all people attempt to do good. It simply isn’t so.

13. When it is time to move on, move. And don’t look back.

I moved three times this year. All in the course of two months. I grew very tired of packing and unpacking and trying to assemble a feeling of home amid the clamor. I’m still tired of it. But I knew each time when it was time to go. And though each move was hard, it was worth it and it was entirely necessary. Even better, the Lord was faithful to be my one certainty in uncertain times. (I am vowing to remain in my current wee house for at least two years. We’ll see.)

12. Old friends are the best friends.

Returning to the town in which I attended high school was something I swore I would never do. This was never home to me and it doesn’t feel like it even now. But…I also have some beautiful friendships here with people who knew me in my worst years and love me still. They encourage me and remember me and challenge me to be better. They are very best kinds of friends.

11. Do not take coffee shops for granted.

I spent the last several years of my life in a college town. Coffee ran like rivers and the places were open until the late hours to feed the addictions and stresses of my university students. I didn’t realize how dependent and appreciative I was of coffee house culture until I didn’t have it anymore. The few places that serve decent coffee here cater to the 80+ set, and shut down long before dark. I miss the big, old couches where I could curl up with a friend and chat for hours about life and love and dreams. I miss the dark lighting and being able to go out for coffee just short of midnight when I needed a break from a too long, too hard day. I even miss the hipster baristas and their wild latte art.

10. Saying “No” is sometimes the most loving thing you can say.

I didn’t learn this lesson by doing it; rather, I learned this lesson because I did not do it…and I regret that very much. Loving people does not mean saying “yes” to everything they do or say. Sometimes loving people means being honest and telling them “no” and choosing to love them despite their frustration with being challenged.

9. Christ-like love exists outside of the Christian box/bubble/dome.

I began this year much like the last five, caught up in the belief that the love of the Lord and genuinely honest and good hearts are only found in places professing Christ. I do not believe that anymore. Not at all. I have found more love and faith and kindness and joy and belief in the goodness of the Lord outside of the bubble than I ever found in it. I find this encouraging. Blasting the name of God from one’s lips and pointing fingers at anyone who doesn’t says a lot more about the blaster/pointer than it does about God. The people who live it out day after day and fail and get up to try again – those are the real lovers, the real faithful, the raw ones who speak God’s truth with their hands and hearts. I love those lovers, and I want to be more like them in the coming year.

8. Wisdom is not found in the pursuit of formal education.

I began working towards a Master’s degree in education earlier this year. It has involved a lot of late nights and hard work. I am so excited about graduation a year from now. I am practically drooling over the thought of wearing my Master’s hood at graduation. In spite of all of this, I have found that I am not wiser. In fact, the more I learn the dumber I feel and the more I realize there is to learn. Idiots have degrees – I’ve met more than my fair share. People without formal education can be absolutely brilliant. Wisdom is not gained from books; only knowledge is found in books. Wisdom is earned, really; earned in the working out of life in our hearts and minds day after day.

7. I kinda suck at this life thing.

Life is not easy. 31.5 years of living has shown me that. I just wish I could do it better. I’m not even looking at perfection here. I just want to do it better. This year has been one of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Finding myself with the wrong people and believing they were the right ones. Spending too much time listening to inappropriate guilt trips and not enough time listening the Lord. I said “yes” too much and “no” not nearly enough. Working too much. Sleeping too little. Holding my tongue when I should have spoken the truthful, hard thing anyway. I am just grateful I made it out of this year alive.

6. Tears are meant to be shed. And shared.

I have not made ample space for good cries this year, though I should have. I don’t cry often, and when I do, it is usually in the privacy of my own home, in my room, silently sobbing into a pillow. Even after all this time of living on my own, I still try to cover up my crying with a pillow smashed to my face. But I have learned that tears are important, even necessary. Weeping should be shared, too, with people who love us and will weep with us. I have had the blessing of two of those moments this year. Amen.

5. The Lord does not stop listening even though I stop talking.

I run out of words a lot. Speaking things aloud requires so much effort and thought for this introvert. Even journaling and prayer has become a chore at times. Never once did the Lord stop listening. On the days when I couldn’t speak any more things, He still listened. He knows my heart. He knows my aches and joys. He brought about comfort in 365 days of uncomfortableness. I didn’t know how very closely the Lord pays attention until I found myself at a loss for words to bring to Him. He still heard my weary heart and responded in kind.

4. Dogs are incredible gifts of love.

I wound up with a dog at the end of this year. It has been a wild ride in the short time he has been in my life and I don’t know where it will go. But he has taught me so much about selflessness and loving in spite of a hate-filled past and being okay with dirt. Even as I write this, he is asleep on the couch with his paw on my leg, dreaming his wild dreams. I’m glad we are both wounded dreamers, he and I. So many adventures to follow.

3. Being single has its perks.

I long to be married to an honest man and have scads of curly-haired babies and live in a cabin in the woods. I hope this will come to fruition in its own time, organically and beautifully. In the meanwhile, being a single thirty-something is pretty awesome. I can eat frozen pizza for any meal I want. I answer to no one about my time. Hikes with my dog are spontaneous and quiet adventures. I can write late into the night with no one telling me to go to bed. It is perfectly okay that I paint my nails in the kitchen and sleep only until 5 am on Saturdays and use all six pillows in the bed and occasionally sneak off to the Harley-Davidson store to sit on motorcycles and dream of a life on the open road. This is good stuff. Can’t wait for the other stuff, but I appreciate this stuff very much indeed.

2. Loving others is not a folly.

This year was a year of my professed love for others being tested in painful ways. From ex-boyfriends to old friends to difficult coworkers to total strangers, I was tested to my limits. And then some. I have heard over and over that I should not love as I do. And I will admit that I am far too easy with people who believe that being a lover means I am a fool. They could not be more wrong. I have heard their lies and their perceptions and their daggers of words best left unspoken and felt their wrath. I have had to turn away from some. I still love them. I still want the best for them. My entire definition of loving another has been flipped upside down this year, but I still absolutely believe that loving others is not a mistake.

1. God is still good.

This is the best lesson of all. God is still faithful. He is still loving. He is still kind. He is still merciful. He is still full of grace. He is still just. He is still tough. He is still good. Always. Without end. Amen.