Courage Is Not The Absence Of Fear

Courage Is Not The Absence Of Fear

Ever since I was little, I’ve wanted to do big things.

I was that kid who would watch American Idol with my family on a Tuesday night, and then quickly steal upstairs and practice singing in front of my full length mirror until mom came to tuck me in. I would practice introducing myself to the judges (Randy, J-Lo and Steven Tyler at the time), and I would pace back and forth, singing and using up the space, putting on a real show to my 10-year old self in the mirror.

I would do this partly because I liked to sing, of course, but mainly because it was a big thing, American Idol, and I wanted a part of it.

I’ve always wanted to be a part of big things.

My mom would get me snuggled in bed, and by the glow of the dim lamp I would dream about what my life would be. And I would think that I would do just about anything and go just about anywhere. I would audition for crazy singing shows and fly all around the world and write best-selling books. (Don’t even get me started on all the rough-drafts I had going of achingly-bad teen novels…)

My head was full of big dreams, because I wanted to be a part of big things.

As I grew up, those big desires began to change a little. Not entirely, and not overnight, but I did realize that there were bigger things than trying out for reality TV shows. I would fantasize filling up my passport and playing my oboe so well that thousands would come and see.

I would dream so big, and I wouldn’t feel any fear. Partly because I hadn’t actually done any of these things, but also because the world was consistently good at patting me on the back. I was cheer captain, principle chair in band, worship team leader in youth group. I had a loving family, a comfortable home, an exciting life. I had friends that had stuck by me for 10 years, and I was looking towards an excellent college education at the school of my choice. I had never experienced real pain, physical, mental, or emotional. I had never had my heart broken, never been hospitalized for more than a day, never tasted bitter panic.

I didn’t view myself as plagued by anything that would stop me from filling my life up with everything that would make me happy. As I write it now, I recognize how ridiculously skewed this way of thinking was, and also how painfully naive.

I took mission trips in high school, to Mexico, Burkina Faso, Mali, China… I prided myself on my ability to go on trips that I wanted to go on, saw myself as so brave to jump on a plane, selfishly see the world, give what didn’t hurt, and then come home. (Now, I don’t want to make myself sound too awful in high school, but if I’m honest -and I try to be- my heart was a selfish muscle. I was in it for me, and I passed it off for Christ-like.)

I thought courage was the desire to do big things and the ability to carry them out un-fazed, happy. I saw the courageous people as those who made big moves, and the scared, lazy people as those who lived normal lives.

I was sickeningly wrong.

 

I got lost in the Shanghai airport the last time I flew home from China. The story is long, and though I like to tell it to anyone who will listen, I will spare you the details here. All you need to know is I got lost, I got freaked, and then I finally found my family just in time to jump on a metal tube that was about to take me over the Pacific Ocean for 17 hours.

Something weird happened in me that day. Something cracked. I was scared. Suddenly, it was all too much for me, and I felt that I would never jump on another plane again. I practically kissed the ground when we touched base in Seattle.

My little ghost began to follow me around. I was a sophomore in college at the time, and suddenly I was afraid of things that I knew shouldn’t scare me. Dark clouds began to find me on perfectly normal days, and I couldn’t see past them. I began to doubt everything – my faith in God, my ability to make it through the day breathing normally. My chest was tight. I couldn’t make it through a work shift without reading scripture or taking bathroom breaks to breathe.

I had my first panic attack about 6 months after the incident in Shanghai. I gripped the chair, didn’t tell a soul, and couldn’t believe there would ever come a day I wasn’t afraid. My fear was irrational, most of it, and yet it was so real. It became my closest companion – it wouldn’t leave me alone.

Those big crazy dreams of mine were put somewhere deeper than I could see them. Nothing mattered but getting through the day. And besides, I couldn’t imagine boarding a plane, let alone doing something worth mentioning on the other side. Suddenly courage meant something new to me – seeing past the fear and finding life somewhere else.

 

I write this today because I spent my whole day packing, anticipating the first big trip since the incident in China, since the fear began, 3 years later. I am coming off an intensely fearful season of my life, and I am no longer the happy-go-lucky high school girl I was as I stare down this adventure. She has been replaced by reality, by a girl who knows hurt, and joy, more than she thought she would.

Yet she has never been so courageous. I have never been so courageous.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the knowledge that there is Something bigger than it. Someone bigger than it. In fact, I believe no one is truly courageous unless they are utterly afraid. Courage is acting in faith when the task at hand terrifies you, knowing that God has ordained these steps and will provide a way through them.

I never knew my need for God until I walked through a season afraid. I have never loved Him more.

Now, I view no one more courageous than the quiet soul who dispels fear with scripture, who wakes up daily and says, “God, what’s next?” Because that’s hard to do. It takes real faith.

It takes a heart of bravery. Of courage, in its purest form.

So I’ll jump on a plane this Friday a little afraid, and a lot excited because I get to be brave.

I never had the chance before.

 

 

 

You Will Change, And It Will Scare You.

You Will Change, And It Will Scare You.

18 months ago, my horse hit a wall.

A metaphorical wall, of course, and the horse: also a metaphor. This is one of those “metaphorical posts”, and if you hate metaphors, feel free to back out now. But I just completed a bachelor’s degree in psychology, emphasis in counseling.

Home girl loves metaphors.

 

This is about the day I realized I was changed for good.

 

18 months ago, the same month my precious horse met her doom, I sat in a downtown, upper level office building turned counseling office. Feeling crazed and substantially lopsided, as going to counseling often makes one feel, I tread a skinny stairwell, shed my mom in the lobby, and took a seat on a ridiculously comfortable couch. (Note to the reader: counselors own REALLY comfortable couches. Seriously. Go set up an appointment JUST to sit on the couch.)

Although, to be fair, I don’t remember sparing much thought on the furniture the first day I visited that office. I was grieving, hard.

My horse…

I couldn’t believe she was gone. For 21 years… 21 years of her companionship, of her steady walk, the way her leg muscles leaned and stretched into bumps along the way, keeping me upright. I felt naked.

If I’m honest, I was there to bring her back. She hit a wall but she wasn’t gone. Surely. She was just hurt, ready to be repaired, ready to be mine again.

I needed her to be mine again. 

My crazed eyes glanced up to sound. The counselor walked into the office. 5’8″, salt and pepper, with a kind face. Greetings, then he took a seat across from me, yellow legal pad in hand.

“So, Maddie.” Crows feet aside gentle eyes met me, telling me it’s ok. “What’s going on?”

My eyes met my hands, gripping each other, hot tears stretching forward. Ugh, not yet. Why can’t I get through the story in one piece? Where was I supposed to begin? The first day I felt the cold fear? The hospital visit, so fresh I could still smell the stale sheets?

Really, though, I knew it began long ago, and must begin there again. Blonde curly hair, hand in mom’s, the day I first met her, the day I first rode her.

My horse…

I began to talk, rambling about childhood, about what I believed, about what was mine. About what was lost. Trying to put into words what is invisible but so, so real. In my heart, I knew that she was seen only by me, and my words pleaded with him to understand that it didn’t make her any less real.

His eyes coaxed me on. He was beginning to see her too.

I cried under that gaze, allowed myself to feel what had been chained, scared to exist.

Finally, from between swollen eye lids, I saw him lean back into his counselor-chair, eyes on me. Letting me be a little crazy. I couldn’t believe how good it felt.

“What was her name?”

A clock ticked somewhere, counted down the money filled seconds, time to put my life back together even a little bit.

“What?”

“Your horse. What was her name?”

Her name. How could I never have given her a name? He stood up, began writing on a board. My eyes searched the room for some answer. It was like trying to recognize yourself in a picture, but you can’t.

Her name… 

I didn’t know.

My head raised as he stepped away from the word he had penned.

Control”. I stared at it. Inky black on the once white canvas. It seemed foreign. I didn’t understand.

He took my silence as reason to explain. “I think that’s her name. Control.” He sat back down, shifted his legs. “That is your loss. That is what died. A sense of control.”

I stared at him.

“You rode her for 21 years.” He went on. “She was like a horse, a steady one. Every time the road got rough, she was there. You may have suffered losses here and there, yet still you rode on, holding tightly to Control.”

My eyes itched from dried, salty tears. The road seemed so long.

“And now, you have watched her die.” I glance at the word on the board, distinctly aware of his words. “She finally broke, she finally fell. And this… well, this is the first mountain you have to climb without her.”

the first mountain you have to climb without her…

 

I didn’t lose control of my life that day, not really, for now I know that all I lost was an illusion. Sometimes we live under those, though. And one day bandaids are torn off and skin is exposed – scared, vulnerable skin that has never breathed.

My invisible horse was a worldview, a way of thinking, a trust. The story can come later, how I was thrown off, how that worldview hit a boulder and never got back up.

I learned that day that I never actually had control of my life. I thought I did, but I didn’t. Sometimes things happen to us that change us completely, irreversibly, and we find our selves sinking into counseling office couches trying to figure it all out.

 

16 months later, I sat in a different chair. Not as plush, but just as welcoming, and just as important.

A mentor of mine sat across a large desk, papers pushed to the side, letting me invade an hour of her busy day. My tears reminded me of that day in that downtown office, and in a way my grief was the same.

I had come a long way since I first hit the gravel. I painstakingly buried that horse, though it took much longer than I had hoped. Things in my life began to take a ground-up attitude, broken to whole, and I had learned to walk on my own, without Control leading me.

Or, without needing it tucked under me.

I know now that God has always had control, and I never have, and I don’t need it to drive me as long as the reigns are in the right hands.

But it was finally time to buy a new horse.

And I want to leave you with the words that were spoken to me that day, because they were good ones:

“Stop reaching back for her, Maddie. Stop reaching back to the girl you were on that horse. You’re not her anymore. You’re someone else, and that’s ok.”

Yeah, it is.

 

 

 

 

 

Dealing With Mind-Fatigue

Dealing With Mind-Fatigue

My mind does this thing when I’m overwhelmed: it shuts off.

I’m not brain dead, of course. I can still brush my teeth and make a pb&j. But it becomes numb, in light of the stress and anxiety, to the point where I walk through my day and don’t remember much of it when I lay my head down at night.

It’s a coping mechanism, really. Have you been there? When the fear and anxiety are just too much and so you opt to shut your mind and emotions off instead of feeling them. I didn’t realize I was doing it until it had become a habit in my life, and by that point the mind fatigue and emptiness were almost as painful as the anxiety itself.

I don’t have much wisdom on this topic, to be honest. But I do have thoughts. Thoughts on my fellow over-thinkers and feelers, and maybe a few tips on how to live within a mind that works overtime for no pay.

 

I’ve always been a feeler. I cry during movie trailers and get sucked into hilarious YouTube videos because I’m laughing like a maniac. It’s up or down for me. Not a lot of grey.

So my ups are great, but my downs… they can be pretty painful. My thoughts and emotions can be so difficult to deal with that, without realizing it, my mind goes into survival mode and learns how to feel nothing at all. Which, in the midst of crippling anxiety, is reasonable, but what about when the anxiety is over? Where is life when your mind is numb?

Maybe you’re like me, and you’re ready for something else. Mind fatigue is a pain, but it is not unbeatable. I’ve learned a few tips and tricks along my journey that help me be present, in the moment, and clear-headed.

  1. Give yourself grace. This one’s important. If you are dealing with mind-fatigue, it is because your mind is fatigued. It’s tired. It’s had a long go. Whatever it is for you, your journey put your mind under a lot of strain and it had to fight hard in the moment, and now it’s simply pooped. Allow yourself to be human and give yourself some grace. It’s ok. What your mind is doing is simply its own way to get you through your current season.
  2. Prioritize. Prioritize. Prioritize. After my season of deep anxiety, I was so frustrated that I couldn’t just use my mind the way I used to. It would zone out if I tried to read too much or do too many things. The more busy my planner was, the more “out of it” my mind was. So I have learned: skinny down your schedule. What is most important to you? Do it. Then add one more thing to your schedule (to keep life interesting), and be done. Don’t try to do everything you used to do before your mind was so tired. You won’t be able to, and it will only frustrate you. Prioritize what is most important, and do only that.
  3. Focus on physical health. It is incredible what exercise can do for a tired mind. It brings it back to life, breathes vibrancy into it. If you’re not an exerciser, I challenge you to learn to get a sweat on during this time. Exercising releases endorphins, which literally gives your mind and emotions a little “happy kick”. Even if you don’t have much time, and have to sit down and write a paper, do jumping jacks for a minute first or hold a wall-handstand for as long as you can. Just that little amount of exercise can go a long way in clearing your head. And to go along with exercise, eating well can do wonders to your mind. You feel good, and real food gives your mind the ability to work better.
  4. Schedule it out. Something that really helped me rest my mind was writing out a detailed schedule of my day, focusing on what has to get done first, and then actually writing in rest times, or “free-time”, so that I am guaranteed some rest for my mind, which is such a crucial element to overcoming mind-fog. It may sound a little silly, and you won’t have to keep the schedule forever, but for a short amount of time it is great because you don’t have to waste your precious mind-juice on figuring out what you’re going to do next. You can just focus on what you’re doing, in the moment.
  5. Let yourself rest. This one is so crucial. Your mind is tired, so give it the rest it needs. Don’t feel like a failure for shutting your eyes and allowing your mind to get some much needed R&R. This doesn’t have to include sleeping, but instead can be “mind-naps”. I have learned to love audio-books because I am able to lay down and close my eyes and listen to a story without the strain of reading it, which usually makes my brain pretty tired. Another great “mind-nap” is yoga, which gets a good stretch and allows you to be quiet. Mind-naps are a time to simply purposefully give your mind less stimuli to deal with and let it heal up a bit.

 

If you are dealing with mind fatigue, remember that it is ok. Your mind is just telling you that you’re doing too much and telling it to do too much. Slim down your schedule. Get some rest. Think a little bit less. Exercise more.

And be patient with yourself. Over time, it will heal.

To The One Happy to Kiss 2017 Behind

To The One Happy to Kiss 2017 Behind

“You’re not alone”, she says to me, warming me with her presence and comforting words as I sit in front of her in tears.

It’s the week before my senior year of college, and my Resident Director and I sit in the corner of a room to pray for the year ahead of us. As a Resident’s Assistant, I arrived early on campus to undergo a week of training, and to say it left me weary would be an understatement. Hours of training and little amounts of sleep will do that to you, but for me it had been more.

I came into the week weary.

So when my RD asked me how she could pray for me, the tears cascaded from my eyes, uninhibited, urged on by the amount of pressure built up in my head.

“I had… a hard year,” I began, urged on by her understanding look, comforted by the fact that she knew my story, “and I allowed it to build up in me false beliefs about myself, lies that are so far from the truth,” breathe,” but they follow me like a dark… cloud…” Wiping from underneath my eyes, choking back a sob. “And it’s exhausting…”

It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to forget what God says about me. It’s exhausting to make Him small.

It’s exhausting to try and make everything in my life fit into my little box of “OK”, even when it doesn’t.

That moment was one of many, cherry-topping the season of confusion and doubt and humiliation I had lived.

This past year has been hard for me, the hardest of my life. I’m not afraid to say that. I allowed Satan to grab hold of my vulnerabilities, I allowed him to make me scared. And anxious. And that anxiety led me to doctors and anti-depressants and prescriptions and suddenly sadness was depression and depression was sadness and I couldn’t figure out which was which and what was up and what was down.

And I began to take everything anyone said about me, anything that happened to me, and put it on my own shoulders, let it fill in the dotted line under “identity”.

I’ve learned something about things that happen to us. They tempt us. They tempt us to believe things about ourselves that simply aren’t true. And those beliefs grow into thoughts and those thoughts grow into patterns and suddenly the only voice we hear is the one that brings us down.

This December, the year is unfolding before me more than ever before.

2017.

The year I turned 22. The year I started my senior year of college. The year I ran a 10k. The year I laughed my eyes out and finally put a futon in my dorm room. And the year I cried more than ever before, doubted more than ever before, felt deep sadness more than ever before.

Which will win?

It baffles me that sometimes I want the sadness to win. Or, maybe “want” is not the right word here. Allow, maybe? One thing I have learned: it is so much easier to let Satan steal the show. It’s natural, isn’t it? To follow the sin nature and darkness that is in our own hearts?

It is a rebellious act to follow Jesus Christ with your life. Rebellious and gutsy. It takes courage to wake up day after day and say “Yes, Jesus, I will fight the sin inside of me.” Or, more accurately, live in the victory that is already ours. The addiction or the anger or the deception and lies that our tender hearts believe.

Author Shauna Niequist once said, “Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful”.

Bittersweet. In all things there is shattered glass and a rainbow of light reflected colors.

Nothing describes my year better than that. I sit here, nearing the end of it, and I am baffled to know that I wouldn’t change a single moment. In all of its hardships and tears and acne and pounds gained and tests barely passed. Because I am learning that life is so much more than Instagram-worthy years and bullet-points on my resume.

This past week, I attended my grandmother’s 95th birthday party. Let me say right now, nothing will give your 22 year old heart a reality check like hearing the tear-felt prayers of a woman who has left the years of youth behind her, and who holds the secret to what is real and true in this life. My family, her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, sat in a circle around her. And we watched her eyes well up and listened as she named each one of us, in turn, and simply said that she prayed for each of us everyday.

And there was nothing small about it. She knew: it is what matters most.

I realized more than ever that I don’t want to be indoctrinated by this world. It tells me so many things: I must be successful, physically fit, married, happy (always happy). It puts no value on the quiet strength of the heart and still voice of prayer. It sees no point in hours spent on knees. And sometimes, I don’t either.

But as 2018 comes closer, I realize that my heart has a lot more growing to do. And, in a twisted and crazy way, I ask for a year as dynamic as this one. Because I want to know my Lord, and I won’t see Him in the comfortable version of Christianity I have created for myself.

I hope that I can begin to see, more and more, that the bittersweet is just as much bliss as it is pain. And what would life be without the pinch?

Who would I be without the pain?

I urge you, fellow wish-away-er, to think. Who would you be without it all? What matters most to you, and should it?

To you women, what do you want a man to see in you? An ignorantly “happy” person who knows God as the flannel-graph version of himself from your 3rd grade Sunday school? Or do you want to know the Lord, your Lord and Savior, from grit and sweat and life? Do you want your “adorning to be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit”? (1 Peter 3:4)

I propose that wrinkled faces and bruised knees are more beautiful than we have been taught.

I mourn the prosperity gospel of this age, for it makes us think there is something wrong when hardships come. May we all have more 2017’s. May we, the bruised and beaten, celebrate it all. May we rush out of our “prisons”, dancing and celebrating, as the apostles did, overjoyed to be counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ, who gave it all for us.

May my heart be so molded as to rejoice in it all. And may yours, too.

May we embrace 2018 and all that it will bring. May we pray more than we ever have before, and may we cultivate beauty in ourselves that is undefiled and imperishable, precious in the sight of God.

 

 

 

 

 

Life On An Anti-Depressant: The Lies We Cannot Believe

Life On An Anti-Depressant: The Lies We Cannot Believe

Negative thoughts and beliefs are just that: thoughts and beliefs. They are not facts, and they do not need to be true.

Tricia Lott Williford

As humans, we do this thing. When someone tells us something about ourselves, we tend to believe them. We take their opinions upon ourselves and stamp labels on our chests.

We’re undesirable. Stupid. Ignorant. Unstable. Incapable. Unworthy. Sick. Lost. Why? Because somebody, at some point, in some way…

said we were.

Those thoughts have power. Power like I never could have imagined. Power you may understand way too well.

For me, those lies have come in the form of doctor’s prescriptions and sticky paper-plastered beds.

I never knew the power a doctor with a bottle of pills could have until I sat on the rumpled up paper of a doctor room bed and was handed a little orange bottle. Reading the label: Escitalopram. Lexipro. Antidepressants.

And in that moment, I wasn’t just Maddie, someone who has been sad lately. I was Maddie: doomed.

Maddie: unstable.

Maddie: incapable.

Maddie: sick. Forever sick.

Was I any of these things? No. Did I feel like I was? Yes, I really did.

It was like the depression I had been feeling was not only an imbalance of chemicals in my body, but it was an impenetrable diagnosis, one that consumed all of me and made me feel ashamed and humiliated.

And let me make one thing clear: depression is nothing to be ashamed of, nor is it a sin. It is a real thing – me of all people should know that. But it is also not an identity – never make it your identity.

You are not depressed. You may have dealt with what we call “depression”, but it is not who you are.

Because mental health does that to us, doesn’t it? It makes us hide. It uses shame in uncanny ways to make us think that we’re less than who God made us to be. It is the fertile soil for lies to grow into sprawling trees in our minds.

And we hold it in our secret places. We give it all the power to scrape us hollow from the inside out.

And so came the crushing blow as I did nothing to stop those lies from sinking deep into my pores, not knowing the earth-shaking power they had. It had nothing to do with what was happening in my body – I’m sure the pills actually helped – but it had everything to do with the way I began viewing myself. From that moment, those lies planted seeds deep into my mind and heart. I didn’t know how desperately I needed to uproot them.

I didn’t know what to do with them at all.

As I drove away from that doctor’s office, I let another’s opinion of me consume me. And when I say consume, I mean drop me to the ground, curl me into a ball, shatter all that I believed about my self consume me. Should I have felt unbearable shame at the thought of being on antidepressants? No. Did I? Oh dear, yes. I felt stamped, categorized, labeled, doomed.

Unstable. For the first time in my life, truly unstable.

I have learned a lot about negative thinking in the past 20 months of my life. It’s powerful. And when I say negative thinking, I am not referring to the sit-cross-legged-on-the-floor, think of birds and trees and clear your mind from all “negative thinking”.

No, I mean the kind of negative thinking that steers you on the track of ignoring or denying every Truth that has been spoken of you. I mean negative thinking that alters the way you live, implants lies deep into your mind, makes you believe you are far, far less than the capable, beautiful, upheld Child of God that you are.

Because you are, my friend, capable, beautiful, and upheld by the hand of the Lord. You are.

It’s a fact.

No questions asked.

No jury necessary.

I lived in fear for a long time. I thought I had to. I thought that as long as I took my daily “I’m-Weak-And-Doomed pill” (which I still do, by the way), that fear was a simple side effect. Because… doesn’t that mean I’m that girl now… the one who is depressed. “Oh, be careful with Maddie! She struggles with depression.”

So what? I’m not perfect. You’re not perfect. Isn’t it time we accepted that fact?

Why should we be ashamed of being the “sick” that Jesus came to save?

It took me a long time to realize that I was the only one who had decided that my life had dissolved into a million pieces. Shame kept me locked up inside my own head for too long, but once I finally spoke, finally uttered those “horrific” lies I had come to believe, I realized that I was the only one that believed I was anything but brave.

“Why are you giving so much power to that doctor, Maddie?” My mom. “Take it back. It’s not his to have. You know who you are, now start living like it.”

You know who you are, now start living like it.

Start living like it. 

There comes moments in our lives that we have to choose who we’re going to believe. The first thing my dad said to me last year when I was at my worst: “I think it’s an identity problem.”

Identity problem? Come on dad, it’s a depression problem. It’s an anxiety problem. I can’t help the way I am. I’m sick. I’m trapped. I’m the victim. 

And God just shakes His head.

“Why do you live like you are less, daughter?”

Why do you live like you are less?

 

Life on an anti-depressant is just that: Life. You are not your medication. You are not your diagnosis. Those things are beautiful parts of your story, for the Lord redeems and uses all to build up our character and increase our hope.

But they are not our identities. They never will be.

Take the power back.

 

 

The Moments We Would Change

The Moments We Would Change

Things happen to us in our lives here on Earth.

Things that don’t make sense, things that hurt us in the deepest and most real ways. Things that unravel us and scream at us, telling us we’re something that we’re not. And we find ourselves one day, partaking in a conversation about life and fate with blue haired ladies at church or in the burrito line in our college cafeteria and the question is pondered,

What would you change?

“Nothing,” you hear someone say, “nothing at all.” And in some way, somewhere deep down, you admire their apparent acceptance of this turbulent life, but in another, very real way, your stomach drops

deep

down

into your gut as you think, in full assurance,

“I know exactly what I would change.”

I know the very moment.

And you see it. That moment. Those words. That accident or accusation or mistake. And the hurt poisons you as you stand in that line in the very same way it saturated your veins all of those days or months or years ago.

Yes. That is exactly what I would change.

Because these things happen, don’t they? We may not believe it, the power a moment can have, until it becomes a part of our story. I never knew until I found myself in a hospital room, identified as broken by the doctor with the fancy pen, back chilled by the unfortunate architecture of those gowns they make you wear. “Self-harm” thrown around like it was something that actually pertained to me. And yet I was there. I can still smell it.

Ask me, and I’ll say nothing makes you feel more broken than a hospital room. Nothing makes you feel more misunderstood than a diagnosis, especially a false one. And. Well, nothing makes you more vulnerable than allowing those moments to redefine who you are.

Forget the buckets of resiliency I possessed for the first 20 years of my life. When I left that day, I was weak. I was broken. Forever broken, if you asked me.

I gave the power to someone who didn’t deserve it, to someone who didn’t know me at all. To someone who called the ambulance in the blink of an eye, led me to it, and believed he was saving me from myself.

And I forgot, I completely forgot, who I was. I began to walk in fear, forsaking opportunities for adventure. I slept in on Saturdays so I didn’t have to get out of bed and face whatever terrifying thing existed in the world. I would walk by the array of fall colors on the trees and find some way to deny who they were.

Because after all, who was I?

I was broken, remember? I was weak.

Because he said I was weak. He said I was a quitter. And above his head, that fancy certificate proving that

he was right.

Right?

 

I’m done giving the power to liars – to The Liar. There are things that happen to us, friends, and they give us a choice.

Will we believe them?

My fingers shake as I write, fighting the good fight. Choosing to not believe them.

There are innumerable voices in this world. I used to think I was immune to the heart-stopping, life-altering affect they have in the lives of people. But we all are formed and altered by the voices we choose to believe.

I chose to believe that I was broken, doomed to that hospital bed, ruled by the woman that lay there. I believed that that was who I was, and that changed everything about every moment of my day since. I put fear on the throne of my mind and he took charge and I became exponentially less than who I am in every way.

I came back to school, convinced the people around me that I was “fine”. But the hardest person to convince was myself. Those people weren’t there, after all. They didn’t feel the utter panic of that moment, the one that painted my past with darkness. They didn’t stare blankly at the white hospital room walls. They didn’t wear the one-size-fits-all socks.

But it’s not them I have to convince. It’s me. I’m the one who decided that everything from that moment on was downhill. I’m the one that, for the past 10 months, has made residency in the false-claim of that day.

 

Because the truth?

The truth is that that day has made me more of who I am than I have ever been before. Forget flimsy pats on backs. I know what it is like to be wheeled in a gurney, treated not for a wound in my body, but for what they saw as a wound in my mind.

Was I hurting? Yes.

Should I have been there that day, marked as “unstable”, greeted by the friendly neighborhood crisis worker, and handed the red envelope on the way out?

Does it matter?

The truth is that it happened, and for better or for worse it is a part of my story. I can choose to dwell forever on who I was marked to be, or I can remember who I am. I can allow the trauma to swallow me whole (as it tempts to do), or I can remember that I have been given eyes I never believed I would possess.

This isn’t the time to go into the mental health system in our country. That may be for another post, at another time.

But I have learned, and choose to live, that no little orange bottle, no opinion of another, no doctor’s diagnosis, no trauma.

No thoughts.

Not even actions.

Nothing in this life can steal my identity away from me. I am a child of the King, a Christian, one who has chosen to follow the Lord of my Heart, the Savior who came and died so that I may have life abundant.

I am brave for He makes me brave.

I am strong for He makes me strong.

I am who He says I am, full of purpose and abounding in joy.

 

So what would I change?

Nothing. For I am more today than I ever imagined I would be.

 

God Amidst The Chaos: A Memoir To Thin Places

God Amidst The Chaos: A Memoir To Thin Places

When we find a thin place, anytime, anywhere, we should live differently in the face of it, because if we don’t, we miss some of the best moments that life with God has to offer us.

Shauna Niequist

I’ve learned how easy it is to hate any moment of darkness, any difficult season in our lives.

When we are walking through the fire, there is an image in the front of our minds of the moment we walk out of the “furnace”, isn’t there? The time when it ends. When we escape the tortious moments we’ve lived. We all have them, I’m sure.

Don’t we?

We imagine ourselves out of the hospital, clear-headed, at peace. We’re skinny and healed, our bones in place, our mind at rest.

Nine months ago, I was home from school, battling what the doctors like to call depression. I like to call it sin nature. Or the effects of a fallen world on my earthly mind. Either way, I was sick. I will never forget those days, no matter how desperately I wish I could sometimes. I will never forget the night I first got home, how I laid sideways on the couch, head on my mother’s knee.

She stroked my hair. Something played on the TV. Dishes clacked in the kitchen. But I was somewhere else, fighting a battle in my brain that I never imagined I ever would.

No one ever told me how distant reason can be in a fighting mind. Or how your eyes can be every bit open but it’s as if they have forgotten how to register light. I tried to wave my hand in front, but the fidgeting of my fingers was lost amongst the midst of my pain.

That’s the way I describe those days. Painful. And terrifying.

I couldn’t hold the tears in that first night home. I had left my friends at school, my notebooks, my sense of purpose, and a waning stream of my dignity.

They streamed past my face.

“I can’t do it, mom.” I whispered. The floodgates of my raging emotions finally let loose as I let myself feel the slow fall of the past months.

She looked at me.

“I don’t know how to do it.”

 

It. This. Life.

Fighting a battle that is beyond myself. I have always been confident and purposeful, long strides and head high. But that night, for the first time in my life, it was more than me. It was swallowing me. It: the doctor’s diagnosis, my present circumstances, the sadness, the singleness, the disappointments, and every small moment of my story that had lead up to that night.

It is a terrible and frightening lesson to learn, the one that we are human. We are fragile. We are weak. And there are days, many days, where we run to the end of our own chain.

 

I learned this week about thin places.

It’s an old Irish tradition. Thin places are the spaces on earth, or the moments in time, where the sacred meets the secular, the holy kisses the ordinary. They’re places where God is close by. Where you can see Him, more than you could before. That something lined up, and two moments met, and something special crashed together in order to allow you to have even the smallest glimpse of the Most Holy.

That month I was home last year? That was a thin place.

I see it now. At the time, all I wanted was out. I hated the diagnosis, hated being called depressed, hated the pain and confusion and darkness. I hated being viewed as less than whole. I hated leaving the doctor’s office with a small orange bottle in my hand.

But every morning, out of the burning desperation in my heart to find light out of anything, I would rake the Bible, demolishing pages at the hand of highlighters and ballpoint pens and tears. My decaf coffee would cool as I could do nothing but cry out to my God. I learned how to cry that month. And there are a million other stories I could tell about that time, a million lessons learned, but today I want to speak of only one.

My thin place.

I found God in those days. The tan sectional in the living room of our Pennsylvania house transformed from my prison to my homecoming. I could be nothing there but myself. I wasn’t a student. I wasn’t a peer. I wasn’t a resident’s assistant or intern. I was hardly a friend, as I had left them in Ohio.

But I was God’s. And He was mine, in that thin place.

It was the most painful time of my life, that standing in the Holiest of Holies. Being nothing but Forgiven, not a fragment more than Grace.

 

I still find my thin places from time to time.

I couldn’t make it through class today. Sometimes, in the midst of moving forward, out of that season of last year, I am catapulted back to the girl on the couch. Sometimes it is the emotions of others or the minor chords of a song, or the conversation that the professor chooses to dwell on during class.

Sometimes I’m brought back. And I have to move. I have to do something.

And today that meant standing up, out of my squeaky desk chair, and taking a walk. I needed Jesus. I can tell because I get that same feeling I had as I curled up next to my mom.

The ache of sadness, the heaviness of life.

And today it found me crouched down near a wall, phone in hand, Bible app opened, reading aloud amidst the cavernous staircase of the academic building.

2 Corinthians 12:9 – “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Voice echoing off of the cinder block walls, tears coming to the front of my eyes. The unstoppable, undeniable Truth of my precious Savior began to do its work, transforming every part of me and comforting the restless, childish soul that I own.

And I realized. A thin place. There, in my least favorite building on campus. Breathing the same air that desperation blew out only minutes ago.

But that is exactly where God loves to find us, isn’t it? When we’re finally quiet enough to hear Him? Finally blind enough to see Him? It makes me rethink. What is good? And what will be made good, building up into one of the greatest blessings we could ever ask for?

A glimpse of the Most Holy, the Prince of Peace, my Savior and friend. Jesus.