Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Problem with Pain

It hurts... what does? Everything. Where? Everywhere. And when people ask if they can help, you just gasp, "No." 

That’s the problem with pain. You can’t tell it to go away, you can’t ignore it, you can’t make it evaporate, you can’t make it leave any sooner than it wants to. It will stay as long as it desires, and it will wreak havoc inside. It will tear around however it pleases. It’s messy. It’s bitter. It’s ugly. And it’s unfair. It’s unjust. It’s pain… and it’s pain that overwhelms. It disables. It blurs your eyes from tears, with tears, through tears, and with every drop, you feel like you’re being torn apart. Every bone in your body is screaming, wanting to dislocate itself, because whatever is in place, in alignment, it doesn’t seem right anymore. How could anything be right? How could anything be good, when so much seemed bad? How do mere words describe pure anguish? Can words do it? Can they envelop this feeling of breathlessness because the tears can’t come quick enough? The breathing, the gasping for air can’t come in time. You're left breathless, exhausted by the idea of breathing. Forget seeing. Your eyes couldn’t focus even if they wanted to. They’re glazed over by the asphyxiation. Words don’t come to mind. You're not even thinking. You're in standby mode while your body takes control, tries to make things work even when your brain is telling you that nothing should work. None of it makes sense. 

That's the problem with depression. Outsiders don't see it like they do a broken leg. There is no cast, no outward sign of pain. It's all inside, and it's a jumbled mess, difficult for even the finest doctors to understand. Chemical imbalances, emotional abuse, physical abuse, bad habits, genetic or not genetic, changing of the weather, broken relationships, loss of a loved one, anxiety, seasons of heightened stress... the list goes on for what causes depression, but perhaps the cause of it doesn't matter as much as how we treat it and those who try to cope with it. Sometimes it visits for a time and then leaves. Sometimes it comes and goes in waves. And still, sometimes, it's a daily companion, never taking leave.

I cannot pretend to know what full-fledged depression feels like as I haven't been clinically diagnosed, nor do I suffer with it everyday... but I do know what those moments of darkness feel like, what they taste like for a second, the reality of it is terrifying.

I struggled with depression for four years after my family moved to another town. I was 13 and my world, my comfort zone, changed when I moved. Making friends was hard, I didn't know who I was and I didn't feel pursued. I didn't feel wanted or desired by others, so hurt and neglect ensnared me in a web of doubt, despair and ultimately depression. I just wasn't good enough, pretty enough, smart enough, outgoing enough, hardworking enough, funny enough, popular enough... enough. I wasn't enough and for some reason, no matter how much encouragement I got from people, or how much some people tried to love me, there was this block that wouldn't allow any light in. Pain and feeling sorry for myself became my identity, and it almost hurt more when people tried to cheer me up because that hurt, that pain, had become so integral to my being, that I didn't know who I was without it. The moment when I was most depressed was when I kept putting off going to bed every night. I would stay up until 12, 1, 2 and then 3... wondering why I was still awake, and then I would realize. The longer I'm awake, the more I can put off facing tomorrow. Because in my head, I knew that once I fell asleep, tomorrow would be here before I knew it and I would have to wake up. I would have to get out of bed and I would have to face the day, regardless of my wanting to hide from it. And if you've never struggled with depression before, or known what it feels like... that's a depiction of what it can look like for some.

This is what depression does. It seeps in, sometimes without our even being aware of how it happens. It's a poison that slowly percolates into our brains and makes us sick. Yes, sick. And some of us have to live our whole lives with this sickness figuring out how we're going to wake up every day.

But friends... this isn't the end. I'm not writing this for others to feel sorry for me or for those who struggle with depression, because if I'm being honest, I couldn't be more thankful for my depression. The darkness is what brought me to Christ and the darkness is what keeps me coming back to Him, day in and day out, needing His compassion. Because the insidious thing about depression, the problem with pain and despair, is that they strip away hope. The future becomes dark and bleak. The isolation and silence is deafening. There seems to be no end in sight.

But the Gospel gives us hope.

John 16:33 explains that we will have pain in this world. Jesus didn't sugarcoat it, but he did say to "take heart, for I have overcome the world." That's the beauty of Jesus.

John Mark McMillan once said, "It's like, it doesn't honor God to pretend like everything is OK. That's the beauty of Jesus that so many people miss. The beauty is that He died on the cross for our sins, but also that he existed the way we exist. He understands what it's like to lose a friend. He's not unfamiliar with those emotions. He's not unfamiliar with the difficulty of human life. To me that's what makes Jesus as God beautiful. He totally understands. He went out of His way to prove to us that he understands our situation. So when He has something to say, it's not coming from this high and lofty standpoint. It's coming from this person who understands intricately the perils of human existence."

He knows the pain of depression, the taste of despair, and yet He overcame it and He gives us the strength to overcome it by WAITING for the day when we will be perfected and united with Him, and our HOPE will be fulfilled. Our hope for freedom from despair, from bitterness and sorrow... our hope will be reality. Because through His death, by His wounds, we are healed. 

 So... while this is the problem with pain, with depression - that it hurts, that it is very real, numbing and gut wrenching - this is also the breathtaking beauty of pain; that Christ would come embody human form, to understand our pain and take our struggle upon Himself so that one day we could live in perfect holiness, unity and joy with Him.

This is our hope, if we only wait patiently, day by day trusting on Him with our pain.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Decluttering the Heart

One of my classes this past week had an assignment to write a detailed description of our room and then attach photos with our account. Simple enough and a great exercise for what we've been studying in class... only I didn't want to take photos of my room because it was a wreck. 

I remember being relatively organized as a child and pretty good about tidying my room the moment it got messy. But somehow, over the years, my attention to order has greatly decreased.

So I stood there in my doorway on Monday afternoon, trying to decipher the best way to start organizing. 
How did it get this dirty? 
I survey my prospects. 

There's a pile of clean clothes in front of my closet that I have yet to organize and put away. 
Oh yeah, I did a load over the weekend while in Staunton. Forgot to put those away.
My bed is a tussle of sheets, blankets and pillows. 
Danget, I'm always in such a rush in the morning that I don't make time to make my bed.
My dirty laundry basket is overflowing.
Oh, right. I tried to do it the other day but someone else was doing their laundry and I forgot to try again.  
Multiple pairs of shoes are jutting out from under my desk, bed and chair.
Why...? Ah, I took them off and didn't make it a priority to put them in the right place. 
There's a massive pile of random papers on my desk, a coffee mug half full that's been sitting there for a number of days, bills, checks, stamps, notecards, my retainer and it's case and random samples of Proactiv skincare.  
Gosh... how did this happen? Actually, come to think of desk has looked like this for several weeks, hasn't it? I just keep putting off going through what I need to throw out and what I need to organize. 
My side table with makeup is the worst. It's dusty from all the cover up powder that has coated it over time. Make up brushes, pencils, perfume, skincare products, moisturizer and deodorant lay in a perfect catastrophe. 
Seriously, Sarah! How does it get this disgusting? I'm sure if I cleaned it a little each day it would never get coated like this. 
Each outfit I wore last week has found some spot on the floor, claiming its own territory. 
Scarves are interspersed with a random jacket, purse, in class handout, book I've been meaning to read, my journal, sweaters, gum, candle lighter... it's a mess. 
I guess... I guess I just haven't taken the time to declutter.

And why? I ask myself, Why didn't I make it a priory? Because now it's an incredible mess. 

I go about cleaning, organizing, throwing out, decluttering... all the while still rhetorically asking myself why I waited so long. 

But I know why. 

It is so darn easy to be careless, isn't it? It is so easy to come into my room after a long day and fling all my clothes aside and rid myself of the day. It is so easy to keep piling clothes on top of clothes and say that "I'll do it tomorrow" so as to shirk myself out of work in the moment that I don't want to do.

It's easy to be lazy. To be thoughtless. To numb our present worries. To be careless. To allow everything to pile up and say, "I'll worry about it later."

But later always hits you like a sucker punch.

Isn't this what we do with our lives?

I don't want to deal with that relationship. I don't want to have that conversation. I don't want to reconcile. I don't want to think about the situation. I don't want to try to change. I don't want to listen to what God is trying to tell me. I don't want to deal with life.

Why? Because it's painful? Because it makes you uncomfortable? Because you don't know if the outcome will be good? Because you don't know if you'll be happy in the end?

Sooner or later, it all piles up when you don't deal with it. The hurt, the misunderstanding, the conversations in your head that you wish you could have had, but didn't; the frustration, the stress, the anxiety, the depression, the pride, the bitterness... it all gets messy.

And when it gets messy, we blind our eyes from seeing Gods vision for us, and we plug our ears to His promises for us in that vision.

Sometimes, especially now as school is coming to a closing and finals are piling up, we find our identity in business and decide to deal with the real problems later. Life can wait... but the turbulence of school can't. Sometimes this seems easier to deal with, even though in our minds we say it's harder.

"Studying is so hard. School is so hard," we say.

But I promise you, it's nothing short of easy when compared to dealing with problems of the heart. When we listen to God and His plans for us, it is indeed harder because it's often not what we planned for ourselves, but it is so much better and truly worth our attention.

Although this season may be busy, although all hope may seem lost, although we may feel incapable on our own, we cannot ignore the messy rooms in our lives and we cannot allow them to keep collecting dust and filth. God uses these messy things to draw us closer to Him, not push us further away. He wishes to show us His plan, so don't use business as an excuse to not have an ear for His purpose.

Friends, during this season of exams, finals, tests, caffeine highs, long nights and weary bodies, let's not allow our souls to grow weary too. Address the issues at hand, pursue resolutions, declutter your heart, draw close to Him and seek His plan. He desires to bless us so deeply, if we would only uncover our eyes and unplug our ears to witness His grace.

For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’

Jeremiah 29:11-14

Friday, April 8, 2016

dear mom-mom

Dear Mom-Mom,

I keep trying to think of ways to begin this letter to you, but all I can think of is, "When was the last time I wrote something to you?" 

I remember mom always had us write thank you notes when we were younger. It was common courtesy after a birthday or Christmas, a good time or a present. You gave us lots of those growing up. I guess the note thanking came from you, too. You taught mom well.

I remember her sitting down with me to help me write notes because I never knew what to say and my spelling was always atrocious. You remember that one card I sent you? I was rather proud of it because it was the first note I had written where I wasn't ashamed of my handwriting. It was on pink card stock, a whole page, because I knew pink was your favorite color and at the top I glued a photo for you. I think dad took it? We were outside on the patio for lunch. Pop-Pop was sitting in the background in the black rod iron porch chair. Chris, Mom and I are seated around the table. We were eating off of your bright yellow plastic plates - you remember the ones with the dividers? I see them at antique stores every once in awhile and they always remind me of you.

So there we are, all seated, you serving us. I think you had a blue shirt on with pink flowers, glasses on and hair curled just so around your face, flashing a mega watt smile.

That's how I remember you.

Summers day, cheeks flushed. Serving others, selfless. I can just hear your pleasant laugh, because that's exactly what it was - pleasant. Everything was pleasant about you. Everything was lovely. If ever a being embodied the meaning of the word woman most acutely, it was surely you. Never too loud, never too quiet. You had mastered the way of being present in an oddly calming fashion. I remember writing about you in 2010, when your 1942 portrait caught my attention and I realized how utterly breathtaking you were. It's wasn't your 1940's glam, though that was stunning. It was the warmth in your eyes radiating from a vintage photo.

"The second portrait was shaded almost with a pink tone, as if the person inside had been radiant and the photograph was able to capture the gleam. The woman inside had an oval face, a subtle smile with easily seen dimples on either side of her cheeks. That smile shone with something akin to the Mona Lisa, as if she knew something that you didn't. Her skin looked like porcelain, almost like if one were able to place their hand inside the portrait to touch her they would feel silk. Her dark hair was simply, yet elegantly displaying a short bob that settled on top of her shoulders. Like the man, the photo cut off and contained only a small portion of her upper body, but just enough to show that she was wearing a white, clean cut suit; something typical of the 1940's. She looked like the perfect example of what and who a lady should be. She was beautiful."

Aside from being pleasant to be around and personifying charm, you were one of the most humble people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing. Others were always more important, and you made them a priority. Whether it was taking someone a meal, donating and making clothes for the needy, participating in community events, watching grandchildren, being faithful to your husband or always having a hot meal on the table - you served others well and you did it without complain. But you also didn't crusade your good acts... that was just a way of life, that was apart of your upbringing. Others just mattered more. 

Being a lady didn't mean being silent, it meant being heard with the least words possible. It was having a quiet strength and resilience that made you dignified and resolved. It was correcting and guiding in a loving voice. It was being strong enough to temper the tides of frustration and respond with words that edified rather than demoralize. It was being able to roll up your sleeves and get dirty planting flowers, tending children and running a home whilst turning around last minute to wear pearls and red lipstick for garden parties and charity events. It meant being able to wear a million different hats in one day and still maintain your sanity. But it also meant being vulnerable, soft - the epitome of empathy and grace. It meant knowing when to let your guard down and be silly, yet understanding the appropriateness of every emotion in every situation. It meant knowing how to control your emotions and actions, and making the connection between the two. 

Being you meant setting an example for young women around you. It meant loving others without abandon. It meant being artistic and using your hands for beautiful crafts and projects. It meant being the best gift giver and always having a present each time you saw someone. It meant cooking without recipes and rather with a "pinch of this and a pinch of that". It meant an adoration for holidays and the coming together of family, but especially Christmas, which was always your favorite. It meant your tradition of cinnamon rolls and your incredible chocolate eclair cake. It meant your infectious laughter followed by a thickly southern accented, "Oh shyoot". It meant a love for classical music and the ballet. It meant staunch respect and fidelity to your husband. It meant seeing Christ as your Redeemer. It meant a love for chocolate and random stashes around the house in case you got a craving. It meant wanting desert and coffee as soon as dinner was finished. It meant planting beautiful flowers, gardens and loving spring. 

Perhaps that's why this spring is hard... It's the first one without you. I'll never go through another spring without thinking of you. I'll never see another Redbud bloom on 81 without thinking of you taking rides in the country with Pop-Pop to see the Redbud blooms. 

I hope one day I can live to be half the woman and lady that you were. And I hope that I can pass your grace to my children and grandchildren, because your legacy didn't end on Sunday, January 3rd, 2016. It will always be present as long as real women like you exist. 

Mom-Mom... it hasn't even been that long and I miss you horribly. I love you. I love you so terribly much. 

With all my bleeding heart, 
                               your granddaughter