Spoiler Alerts, Triggers, and Hearing from God

Does God speak to his children? I believe he does. I know a lot of people out there think the idea of hearing God speak is just crazy talk; that the thought of sitting down and knowing what God is saying makes one certifiable. And yet I believe.

I’ve never walked a trail and encountered a burning bush that called my name. I’ve never seen the sky open and heard a voice call down to me.  And I’ve never woken to an angel giving me a word of hope or encouragement. But I have felt my heart tremble at a song, and I’ve felt my skin jump up at the end of a prayer. And I’ve cried out to God from the depths of my sorrow when my heart was cracking in two, and I felt his answer seep into the crevice.

So for the last six months or so, you can imagine my despair, when I felt nothing. My prayers were met with stillness. My cries were followed by silence. I was frustrated and felt alone; abandoned. But in the days leading up to my recent trip to New York to teach at a women’s retreat, stories fell together, scriptures made sense, and holes in my work filled in miraculously. I knew that even though I wasn’t hearing God or feeling his comforting presence, he was there. He was there, and he was speaking and working in spite of me. I was praying over and over for him to speak through me; to use my words for good. I begged him to work miracles in the lives of the women I was flying to see because I wanted them to know his love and grace genuinely. So in spite of my inability to understand what he was doing, he did great things anyway.

I had made a terrible habit of avoiding God when I was sad or in pain. My head could tell you that he’s always there and that he would never abandon. My head would quote scripture to remind you of his faithfulness. My head would retell stories from my life when God carried me through the storms. But my heart, as of late, has been falling back into old habits of numbing my emotional pain. As I have battled depression, I have slipped back into a handful of chips here, a bowl of rice there, an extra glass of wine after dinner. I have bought things I didn’t need for myself or things my family didn’t need, but I knew they would love…all for the high of a smile, a thank you, a compliment.

In numbing my pain, I have been avoiding my Jesus, who is the healer of pain. I  cut myself off from he who is capable of cuddling me in my sorrow. And somewhere, in my recovery schooled brain, I knew what I was doing. So I started pushing back the people in my life who are most likely to cause me the most profound pain. Who are the people who can hurt us the worst? Why, the people we love the most, of course. So, I have put certain people at arm’s length, making sure not to feel their intense love, thinking it would protect me from inevitable pain.

Until this weekend, I let my guard down, and I allowed myself feel. And I felt all the feels. I laughed so hard and so loud, and I felt melt-your-heart joy. I felt butterflies in my stomach and sappy love. And then I went to a movie with my husband. We went to see one I’ve been waiting for months to see. One that everyone under the sun is talking about because it stars one of Hollywood’s most handsome and talented men and one of the music industries brightest and most intriguing talents. The movie was about addiction and codependency, and I knew that going in. I had prepared my heart. What I hadn’t steeled myself for was a suicide. A suicide in a garage.

Listen, this movie is very well-written. And it’s a remake…well-written remakes don’t happen every day! The foreshadowing was there and in place, and I knew something awful was going to happen but I didn’t know suicide and I didn’t know in a garage. So as I sat in the movie theater, the tears starting flowing down my face hard and fast. The immediate flashbacks of finding my mom in the garage, even though her suicide method differed from the character in the move, were flashing across my mind in technicolor. Heat rose in my face, and I was terrified to breathe because I didn’t want to blubber out a sob in the theater full of viewers who were managing their tears with dignity and quietness. I could feel the collar of my t-shirt soaking the tears, and I knew I would be a total mess when the lights came on, which they did. And I did. My husband looked at me and said, “How did you not know it would be like that?” I was dumbstruck.

I had read so many reviews. I had read people talking about this movie on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter. And yet not one previous viewer share a spoiler. I didn’t know. I was slapped in the face with grief that was so misplaced. The sadness of the movie directly triggered the pain from my past and ripped it from the deepest places of my heart and smeared it all over my face and neck.

And then I got angry. I was so mad at myself for allowing my walls to come down this weekend. I had let myself feel other feelings and taken down so many blocks in my fortress of protection. And when I allowed myself to feel all of the feelings, sadness waltzed in like it was welcome. So I placed an order from my favorite local Mexican restaurant and opened a bottle of wine. Let the numbing commence and the bricks go back up!

But this morning, I had to show up for an online class I’m taking. I had to read about detachment styles, and I had to discuss (openly with a group) how to effectively listen for God’s voice. After the discussion, we took a break for journaling and prayer. I shut off my laptop camera to shut out my group, and I took a deep, cleansing breath. And then he spoke.

“My sweet girl, you live your whole life in fear of abandonment anymore. You carry around assumptions that the people you love the most will hurt you, or worse, leave you. You tell children God is always with them and loves them forever. You tell women that they have no secrets from God, no places he can’t love. Your head knows it to be true for you, but your heart is struggling to trust me. Won’t you make a habit of sitting quietly with me? Won’t you let me fill your aches with my love so you won’t feel the need to numb yourself? Please don’t distract yourself from your pain. Let me stroke your pain with my hand of gentleness until you know my healing in the deepest part of your soul. I long for our relationship to be filled with your trust.”

So, I guess the journey continues. I continue down the path of learning and listening. This life of following God isn’t easy. I wish I could bring you along with me with such a promise, but I can’t do that to you. I can’t lie. Turning over my hurts and habits have never been easy. Allowing God in to heal my places is not as simple as it sounds. But he will never force me back; he will never coerce me. He doesn’t want to put a leash on me and train me. No, my God loves me so much, and he has given me the free will to love him back. He wants me to want him. Sometimes I drift away, and he lets me. And when I drift, I feel the longing to be comforted and healed but I have spent so much of my life trying to fill that longing with other people and other things. They never satisfy. Never.

I hope that the spoilers and triggers of this weekend, the voice I heard from him this morning will draw me back into his arms. I want to lay in his lap and feel his arms around me. And I want you to know that he doesn’t just want this from me. He has placed the same holes and same desires in you. He calls for us both; us all.

Psalm 138:8

“The Lord will fulfill (his purpose) for me; Your love, O Lord, endures forever – You do not abandon the works of Your hands.”

The Thorns of Suffering

I snuggle up on my couch last night with my laptop in lap. My kids were doing homework, Charlie Lexow was reading, and I needed to edit a piece I’ve been working on that I will present in a few weeks. I had turned the television on, mostly for noise, but I tend to be particular about my noise. I searched the TV Guide, looking for an old movie that I’d seen enough times not to need to follow along but pleasant enough that I could look up occasionally and enjoy a scene. I stopped on The Green Mile.

The Green Mile is a movie released in 1999, based on a Stephen King novel, and is one of those movies you have to watch to understand. Michael Clarke Duncan (God Rest His Soul) plays John Coffey. He always says, “Like the drink but spelled different.” John is on death row for raping and killing two little girls, and while I certainly feel the window for spoiler alerts closes long before 20 years, I won’t tell you how it turns out. I will say, however, that John has a miraculous gift which he uses to change the prison guards who care for him, in addition to many others. When faced with what to do in the end, the guards are trying to offer John a way out.  He tells them this gift that is bringing so much beauty to others, but it is like glass in his head. He says the shards of glass cause him hurt and he’s ready to be done.

As I watched the scene last night, one I’ve seen a hundred times before, tears started to roll down my face. I understand what it feels like to want the pain to stop. I’ve been there, and I’ve fought that demon many times before.

I saw a post on Instagram this week about depression. September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day and as I was scrolling through all the posts encouraging us to reach out to the sad and hurting around us. I was caught by one post, in particular, that spoke an impressive amount of truth about depression. I wish I had saved it so I would know who to credit. I wish I had said it myself so I could take credit because the words are so on point. She said that when you see a commercial on television for anti-depressant medication, the general theme is about sadness. The people are sad, they hold up smiley faces to cover their frown, and they talk about an overwhelming sadness. For the general public, who might not understand depression, they think that if their friends don’t act sad, they aren’t suffering from depression. The truth is that most people suffering from depression do not show their sadness to the world. They may not show it to more than one or two people if any. This is why the suicides of Robin Williams and Kate Spade were so shocking to so many. They were people who appeared to have it all together; they were funny, bubbly, successful. We only learned after their deaths of the people who saw what they were hiding from the rest of the world.

Even when we know someone is battling depression, we may not know the extent of it or how it plays out in their life. The person posting on Instagram said that depression often looks like doing the next thing. You might want to insert the word “hard” to that description, but usually, the next thing isn’t something most would consider hard. For me, when I am in the throws of the battle and depression is wearing me down hard, the next thing might be as simple as getting in the shower. Or after a shower, the next thing might be putting on clothes for the day. Sometimes the next thing is putting a stamp on the envelope that needs mailing. It’s sitting on the counter and I have the stamp, I just can’t make myself do the thing. I might go to work all day and smile at my coworkers and be entirely productive but go home and not be able to do the dishes. It’s too much. I may be able to cook dinner for my kids and help them with homework but not be able to change out of my day clothes before falling into bed. It’s shaming for someone who can function so well in most areas of life to feel so paralyzed in other areas.

I realize this makes zero sense to you if you’ve never been on the front line with this demon. You might even be thinking, “No. This is when you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and do what needs to be done.” Oh, how I wish it was that simple. Depression can be suffocating and it can be paralyzing, and it’s way past time for us to stop hiding from the conversation. There are people in this world with gifts and talents so big and so grand that we think they would want to show the whole world when, in actuality, they feel like they have shards of glass in their head. And while medication and therapy are both great tools, they are tools that take time. Neither one is an overnight fix or solution. Depression is a disease. No one would expect a cancer cure in a week. No one would ask a person with diabetes why they can’t just feel better or smile more. When someone has suffered a significant trauma or illness and the chemicals in their brain are out of balance, depression happens. Is it curable? For some people. Can it be managed if not cured? For some people. Is the same treatment plan good for everyone? No way.

For me, when I am suffering, I feel like a hedge of thorns has surrounded me. In almost the same way the thorns rose around Sleeping Beauty’s castle when she fell into her sleep, I feel them begin to grow and rise. Sometimes I catch them quickly, and they don’t cover me. How do I do that? I have to be on alert at all times. I have to watch what I eat, how much alcohol I’m consuming, the music I’m listening to, the sleep I’m getting or not getting. And then I have to reach out to someone to hold me accountable for repenting. I call my sponsor, my therapist, and a tiny handful of trusted friends, all people who will not judge me but help talk me through the steps of recovery. And I have to take my medication consistently. That means never missing a dose. When I catch it, I like to imagine myself wielding a sharp sword, swiping my way through the thorns.

When I don’t catch it, I wake up and feel the thorns covering me; smothering me. I may lay under them for days before calling for help. But when I do, my people swarm around me with swords of truth. They bring the Word of God swiftly and unapologetically to help me battle the lies of Satan; the lies he whispers in my ears when I’m trapped.

 

God loves us so much that He sent His one and only Son. He promises that whoever believes in Him will not perish (John 3:16). I believe. I believe that depression is genuine and I believe that I serve a God is so much greater. He is the King who comes in the end with the gleaming sword and saves the whole world. He’s the one who will slice away the thorns and take me home to live with Him where there will be no more tears, no more shame, and no more disease. I long for that day so much. But until we get there, I will keep beating this drum and putting my words out there in hopes of helping one person. I will keep typing and talking and shouting for people to take notice and get help.

He Paints Beauty

Next month marks twenty years since the hubs and I embarked on a crazy adventure of leaving my hometown. Only he wasn’t my husband back then; we were engaged. And it wasn’t his hometown. He had lived all over the country; well, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Illinois. He’d never stayed in one place for more than a couple years and I had lived in my little universe for my whole life. My parents and I moved there when I was 9 months old and it was all I knew.

Suddenly, I found myself to be 21, my family had dissolved, the contract on my job was ending, and we decided to set out for a new life together. My whole world felt tumped upsidedown. I was scared, I was nervous, I was unsure of what was going to meet me down the road but I knew – we knew – that if I was going to live, we had to make a change. I was drowning in grief and didn’t know how to take a breath. I rarely recommend running from your problems and I don’t believe that’s what I was doing. Although some might disagree, for me, I needed a change of scenery.

Everywhere I looked there I saw darkness. Everything I saw was a reminder of the loss in my life. I was grieving my mom’s suicide. I was grieving my parents split. I was mourning the loss of what I had believed to be true and discovered was a lie. I was at a complete loss of the dreams I had built, the plans I had made, and what I thought my career would look like. My future didn’t look bright. It looked foggy and scary.

I used to hate when people would tell me that God had bigger plans; that he could make beauty from ashes. I was sitting in ashes. No, I was buried in ashes. I couldn’t see the sun for the ash cloud that was hanging over me. So we moved far away from where anyone knew me and I started fresh. I began the journey of allowing God to wash away my ash. I started the steps toward healing.

Twenty years allows a lot of perspectives. I can look down the path we started on when we left that town with a box truck and a car crammed with belongings. I can see all the side roads, the bunny trails, the hills, and the valleys we have walked through together. I can see how, even when we felt scared and alone, God never left our side. I can see the people God brought into my life to teach me and I can see the people he allowed me to keep, from my past, because he knew they would later be a great comfort for me.

I’ve traveled back to my hometown only a handful of times since that big departure twenty years ago. Each visit has brought more comfort, more healing. Last week we went up, stayed with friends, and watched the sunset every single night. We laughed and talked and laughed some more. We talked about heartaches both old and new. And God allowed my heart to break over the beauty of the sunsets that were there all along. When I was covered in ashes of grief I was unable to see the sun, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. He opened my eyes to his faithfulness and goodness.

My daughter walked past the treeline every evening and took a billion pictures of the sunset. She loved the way the light changed and how the clouds reflected colors that crayons and markers could never create. She took the picture below and it’s my absolute favorite. It looks like God opened his paint box and swept magnificence across the sky.

God really has painted beauty in my life. He has brought so much healing, and while I may always have scars, I know that he has never left me. And I know he’s not finished with the masterpiece he’s creating. And honestly, I am so excited to see the colors he paints in me on the road ahead.