My 2015

As I turned in my last essay, signifying the end of the semester, I felt the relief wash over me. “It’s over.” I thought. I now had five weeks of eternal bliss, reading books I wanted to read and crocheting while watching Netflix. I would not use my brain in any way other than creativity. The next morning I found myself waking up in a panic thinking of all the things I had to do before the end of break; a conference, research, job searching, applications, cleaning the mess that was my apartment. I finally settled on cleaning a little bit of my apartment, the weight of the unaccomplished pulling me down as I went.

I have tried to process a year that has passed me by in a blur, words failing me as I attempt to write it out. I debated whether I would write something in the New Year, thinking it wasn’t wise of me. However, here I am, writing. If anything, I have determined I am doing this for myself. If this helps others understand me a little better or even helps them in some way, then that’s a bonus.

It may not come as a surprise to you, but this year has sucked the life out of me. I left a place I called home for many years, not planning to return. I listened to and cared for many people in my life who were/are hurting. And I placed myself in environments where I was challenged to the core. I don’t regret a moment of it. I have made discoveries about myself that I would not otherwise. However, I was so busy trying to learn and challenge myself that I forgot to stop. I forgot to stop and listen, not only God but to the crying of my own soul.

This has been a year of complete uncertainty, my soul repeatedly being beaten down, the pain increasing with each blow. I powered through, ignoring it. Telling myself that I was okay with it. Convincing myself this was the price I had to pay.

When I finally allowed myself to stop, I began to write, the words flowing out in a cathartic mess. One night I sat absorbing the worship music I had once enjoyed and found myself crying uncontrollably, praying the words. As I prayed, I slowly felt the weight of the year ease off my shoulders.

For most of 2015 God felt distant. Not distant from me, but me distant from him. I had hurt for so long that I didn’t want to approach the mess I knew was deep inside. I refused to talk about it with anyone, holding onto the secrets with an iron fist. I needed to be strong and I needed to be compassionate. Yet the feelings I had were ugly… and I determined no one would want to experience that.

But… He was there the entire time, waiting… sometimes calling my name, pulling me toward him, only to have me back away, tears in my eyes, ashamed of what I considered to be dark.

He waited… waited for me to come to him, poised and ready to take on the burden that had been plaguing me for so long. Allowing me to continue suffering in the darkness as I stubbornly refused to let Him in. As I refused to look at what was happening deep within my heart.

I am so thankful for those moments when I do let go and let it be with Him. They remind me of a time before these 2 years happened. When my faith was much stronger than it is now. When I allowed the discomfort and mess into my relationships, into my relationship with God. When I had begun to experience peace.

I wish I could say that after all of this I feel better. But I am still tired… and feel the weight of the incessant expectations I place on myself. Perhaps that’s disheartening and you wonder if I’m attention seeking. If you do, I can’t stop you. But I think this quote from a friend could help. It captures how I feel right now, and I hope his words will seep in and help you understand me and where I am.

“This is the tale of my story through, and eventual healing from, a very long, dark night. One reviewer of this book suggested that I offer a light at the end of the tunnel sooner than I do. He wondered why I waited so long to introduce hope. One might ask the same of the biblical book Job. Why so many chapters before a resolution?
Because that is the way the story happened.”

–Matt Rogers, “Losing God”

At this point in time, I’m not at the end of this Part of my story. I’m not ready for the page break.
I wish it could be like the Harry Potter books where at the end of the year we have some sort of resolution or clarity but alas, this is not the case (I smile every time I read this sentence).

I enter into the New Year with a deep desire to be at peace with myself and the path I have chosen. I have been asking God, “What are some things I can do while I wait?”

And I have felt the prompting on a few things:

  1. Engage in Play. My life has always been a serious one. Darkness always seems to snuff out the light. Laughter has become a rarity. I miss that part of myself… I wish to engage with it a little more.
  2. Read fiction. I’m taking a break from the many greats in nonfiction and have given myself permission to read fiction. Armistead Maupin and Jane Austen being two I cannot wait to start. I want to read stories with characters who are real, not flawless. These stories, despite being in a fictional world, can help make our world a better place. There are lessons to be learned everywhere.
  3. Write daily. This was one of my goals last year and I just didn’t do it. Fear held me back. I want to have the courage to write and process my feelings. Even the ones that make me feel uncomfortable.
  4. Find a new church home. It’s time. It is time to move forward.

These are invitations to my friends as well. If you have gotten this far… then you probably have a real interest in my personhood and me. If you would like to provide recommendations or even engage in any of these activities with me… please, don’t hesitate to contact me.

And finally… I will leave you with a quote that has brought me much comfort as I wait:

“Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and let it be there. Until some light returns.”
– Anne Lamott

It wasn’t all bad though. Here are a few of my favorite moments from 2015:

My sister graduating college.

This sweet dog being in my life over the summer.

North Carolina beaches.

My regular Saturday breakfast spot in Raleigh.

The North Carolina Symphony.

Being reunited with this lady.

Just Hope. 

Having the opportunity to work for GCN.

Participating in many rallies throughout the fall. 

Citizen Jane Film Festival.

Visiting Duke gardens.

Playing with this pup.

Meeting Sharon Shattuck Eaves

This moment… This press conference. 

Seeing Nate Ruess, Michael Franti, and Third Eye Blind

Finally getting my nametag.

 

Seeing plays.

PRIDE.

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Visiting this guy in Fargo

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Poor quality picture of GCN Conference.

Healing Comes with Participation in Relationship

This is the next part of my series on my healing journey. Go here for the backdrop of the story.

A common response to depression is isolation. But when I isolate it’s not the typical recluse reaction people think of. I am very involved in my church and serve on a regular basis. I often see people almost daily. In my most recent period of isolation… I was available to my friends but I wasn’t present. I was at church but was disengaged throughout the service. I was praying, but with hollowness. People who care surrounded me, but I felt alone and empty.

For so long I felt that I needed to push down the cynical, irritable, angry, depressed, insecure part of me. The part that becomes ever-present when I’m going through an episode of depression. I thought of it as more of an annoyance. I hid it, fearful no one would understand and afraid I would hurt those I love. As I look back now I realize I feared being wholly known.

When I tried to share my depression with others, when I tried to be vulnerable, I felt like I had done something wrong. I felt ashamed for placing those emotions in others lives. Therefore I decided for my friends what part of me they wanted to see. Only sharing things that appeared to be vulnerable to others, leaving out the most vulnerable thing: my constant state of depression. Giving the false impression that I was engaging in the relationship and going deeper. Yet in reality, not being completely honest about where I was at and what was going on.

I think this is one reason why I love the movie Frozen so much. I saw it at a time when I wasn’t able to identify the emptiness I was experiencing. As I related to Elsa and reflected on the emotions I felt during the movie I began to identify what was going on.

Elsa lived in fear of the powers she had and as a result numbed and isolated from those she loved as a way to prevent them from being hurt.

These two songs provide a good backdrop for what I’m talking about.

Elsa attempts to isolate herself from her sister in order to protect her from the storm that seems to be stirring inside her. When she isolates she thinks that if she escapes she will be free from the fear of hurting others. It’s when she is alone she feels safe to let go and feel again. Seeing the beauty within her gifts and in all of who she is. When Elsa’s sister, Ana, reaches out to help, Elsa pushes her away. Fear gripping her again, the storm becomes stronger as she attempts to hold everything in. It wasn’t until she allowed those in her life to love her, as she is, that the storm began to lift. She saw her giftings as a part of her, a part that was worthy of being loved. Seeing a beauty within them.

Like Elsa, I lived in fear of what would happen if I were to share the depressed and angry side of myself with others. I feared hurting others and feared rejection. I saw my depression as a curse rather than seeing the beauty that can result from the state of vulnerability it placed me in. A place where my relationships can be strengthened and can build trust.

What I discovered was I still have a deep wound of distrust that I carry around with me. I found that in order to heal and grow, I needed to invite others into my pain. Not only my friends but my God.  I was hiding from God, ashamed and afraid of Him being disappointed in me. Disappointed that I couldn’t get my shit together and get past this eternal depression. I’ve struggled with this most of my life; I should have a handle on this by now, right?

A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor has been pivotal on this journey. Her authenticity as she pours her deepest concerns and worries out to God showed me a side to relationship I hadn’t fully embraced. This book helped me to start a conversation with God that I have never felt free to have. I began opening up about how I truly feel and allowing Him to into darkest parts of my soul.

As I no longer lived in in silence, I found that I needed to accept depression as something I will always struggle with. There are going to be periods in my life when I struggle more than others. It doesn’t mean I am weak or lesser than anyone else. It does mean I have a chronic illness and like any illness it takes some time, maybe some help with medication, and self-care to feel better.

To accept a part of ourselves that tends to be misunderstood and thought to be “cured” by a few pills or “praying it away” is what I would call bravery. To share this part of our heart with others is to be courageous and vulnerable. I have discovered the people I want to share this experience with are those who have earned the right to. They have dedicated the time to our relationship and love me for all of me, not just certain parts of me. They love my imperfections because they know these imperfections have made me into the compassionate, sensitive, and caring person I am. But to discover these whole-hearted friends means I have to take a risk: a risk to be known, to love, and possibly be hurt in the end.

I have slowly come to find these friends in the most unlikely of places. They are helping me feel the love of Jesus Christ in ways I haven’t in a long time. Slowly softening my heart and helping me see the beauty in the darkness. I know this has been the answer to many of my prayers over the past several months. I am truly grateful for those who have delighted in me, even as I struggle through the pain.

God created us to be in relationship. As we open up to God and our friends/family, it opens us up to be fed through the connection we feel as a result of our vulnerability. To feel connection means we have to participate in relationship. As I have participated in relationship with both my community and my Father, they have slowly redeemed the word depression for me. They have shown me the beauty that can be found within it and within me.

The Personality of Relationship

Relationships change. This is a statement I feel is common knowledge among many people. But for someone like me, who has a hard time adapting to change it can be a hard process to accept.
The way I have viewed relationships for most of my life is: if I am having regular heart-to-heart conversations with someone then that must mean we are close. Devoting time to relationships is very important to me, but it’s how I devote my time that has changed.
Over the summer I got to know several different people very well, I was hanging out and interacting with them pretty regularly via many social outlets. It was a season full of life for me. Then September hit and we all started to get involved in our respected ministries and organizations. My job became more demanding as my caseload began to grow while others had their own work to do. The people I had been running with were no longer available as things in their lives began to pile up. The friends I was communicating through social media were no longer posting or interacting with me as much. I started to feel insecure in my relationships, wondering if I was doing something wrong. Feeling guilty because I wasn’t able to spend as much time with those I cared about due to my own responsibilities.

As I dug into this in September I discovered a few things I would like to share as we begin to enter into the holiday season, a time when things tend to get busy and loneliness can crop up on us when we least expect it.

Relationships are malleable and adjustable.
Just as fall turns into the frigid winter, winter will turn into the life-producing season of spring.  I see relationships in much the same way. Sometimes our relationships go through a few rough patches due to things like insecurities or our own fears. There are times when we see some people more than others. Sometimes the role a friend once played in our life is something they can no longer do during the particular season they are in. Perhaps someone plays different roles during different seasons in our own lives. Allowing space for the relationship to grow and adapt can be worth the change if we let it.
The beautiful thing about relationships is you share memories together. As you experience each others’ stories throughout the years you receive a glimpse into each others’ lives and as a result the relationship grows and deepens. No amount of change is going to take away these memories.
A perfect example of this is my relationship with a close friend of mine. She is a constant encouragement and joy in my life, but our relationship has had its fair share of winters. These winters allowed us to get to know each other in a way that we never would have during a blissful summer. It’s the memories we shared that kept us together as we sorted through our differences and allowed us to move into the spring we are in now.

With change, there is a grieving process involved.
Even if the change is good, I think there is a grieving process. Usually when something changes, there is a loss in the mix. It is possible to grieve and experience joy in the change while acknowledging it is happening and giving space for the relationship to grow and adapt.
With this in particular I am reminded of a time when a friend of mine set some clear-cut boundaries with me. The boundaries limited the contact I had with them and meant our relationship was going to be changing dramatically within a short amount of time. It didn’t help that it happened during a time when I was transitioning churches and a lot of my current relationships were going through struggles of their own. In my own eyes, I felt I was losing yet another close friend of mine. It took some time for me to adapt to the changes and it took me a bit longer than normal to grieve the relationship that was no longer what it once was.
I wish there were something encouraging I could say about this…. But I think grieving and pain comes along with loving and being in relationship with others. It’s a risk worth taking in order to experience life giving properties that love provides.

Relationships are not black and white.
I have a tendency to live life as if it’s black and white. Either someone loves me or they don’t. If I spend time with someone we’re friends, if I don’t we aren’t. If I don’t have a heart to heart conversation with this person weekly then that means we must not be very close or they don’t trust me.
How draining is that?! I don’t want to live like this. And I don’t want to place these high expectations on my friends, let alone myself. There is no possible way one person can meet every need I have, and I wouldn’t want them to.
Some of my most life giving relationships are those where I can just sit on a couch with a friend and talk about absolutely nothing in particular, laughing together uncontrollably. Or perhaps a friend who shares my love for classical music and can sit with me as we allow the music to fill our souls. Some of these friends are not those who I would share my deepest concerns but that doesn’t mean I care any less for them.
We have many different relationships and they are vibrant and full of color. They serve different purposes in our lives and each are beautiful in their own personal way.  Each friendship has it’s own personality and that personality grows just as our own personalities do as we discover more about ourselves.

A friendship doesn’t need to be figured out, it’s the adventures you take together to do the figuring that make it it’s own.