Dear Troubled Heart

I heard the reason you won’t get professional help is that you feel the Lord has given you your anxiety as your cross to bear. You think this is just something you need to grit your teeth and barrel through like a battering ram, but beloved, let me tell you, you’re wrong.

Let me ask you this: Would the same God who invites you to “cast your cares on [Him]” and promises to “sustain you” (Ps. 55:22) ask you to carry all your anxieties on your shoulders? Would the same Father who tells you to “not be anxious about anything, but in everything, through prayer and petition, submit your requests to [Him]” (Phil. 4:6) ask you to be anxious? The Lord tells all the weak and heavy burdened to come to Him and He will give them rest. Would this God also ask you to deal with your anxieties alone?

Absolutely not.

In fact, in my own personal battle, I found that denying myself didn’t mean bearing my anxiety alone. Rather, it meant overcoming my pride and seeking help. It meant rooting out the lies from which my anxiety stemmed. It meant getting good, godly counsel. It meant choosing to deny my perfectionistic and anxious impulses and embracing my identity in Christ. My cross to bear is not living in anxiety, but denying anxiety.

Beloved, please don’t make yourself live in shackles when you could be freed.

Sincerely,

Another Troubled Heart

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Good Enough

Good Enough is the name of the tall shadow monster who follows me around. I call him that because it seems to be all he’s able to say, and it was usually more of a question than a statement. Maybe he’s a Pokemon or something. I don’t know.

He’s not always there, or if he is, he’s very quiet. Most times he sneaks up on me and whispers his name in my ear. It never scared me because he’s followed me since I was very young. Sometimes I wake up and he’s sitting on the end of my bed. Sometimes, when I still worked retail, he’d follow me around as I paced about the store. I walked faster to see if I could lose him, but his legs just seem to stretch to match my gate regardless. He loved it most when I looked at the numbers. He loved to whisper, “Good enough?” and watch the color drain from my face.

He used to be my security, my friend. When he was satisfied, I knew I had value, and when he wasn’t, I knew I was worth nothing, so I worked to keep him satisfied. I gave him whatever I could. He was a hungry monster. I fed him sleep for good grades. I fed him my sanity for wages. I fed him my time, my feelings, my all. Good Enough was my god, and he was carefully destroying me, bit by bit.

One can only feed a monster so much before one realizes something is truly wrong. Once I identified Good Enough as a monster rather than a friend, I became more alarmed by him and determined to kill him. But just how do you kill your own shadow? I want nothing more to bring this hateful creature to its untimely demise, but it’s proving more difficult than I would hope.

I am finding I can arm myself with as much positivity and prayer as I like, but there’s no way to instantaneously remove Good Enough from my life. He’s so used to me, and I to him. I’ve begun to starve him, but it only seems to make him angry. Some days he’s quiet and doesn’t show his face, but others, he finds me in a moment of weakness and chants his name over and over like some eldritch verse until I feel like I can’t take it anymore, and I have to face him and tell him that I will not give him that power over me. He doesn’t own me anymore. He cannot control me.

He cannot.

I know that one of these days his baseless claims will get the best of him, but for now I will hold tight to hope and stay alert. I never know when he will show up and ask, “Good enough?”

Jehovah-jireh: The Lord will provide

I took a walk in the dark around my snow-laden neighborhood the first night my family was away. I was bored and a bit lonely, and I’d been in the house lazing around all day and felt the need to get out. The chilled air bit at me, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to feel something. As I turned onto the stretch of road nearest to Lake Erie, the snow in my neighbors’ yards became taller–up to my waist–and almost like a pair of walls on either side of the road, boxing me in. It was strange and surreal to experience an area of the world I knew well like it was a completely new and different place.

The roads were clear enough, I noted as I padded along. My passage to work the following day would probably be fine. And it was. I spent the ensuing evening lazing around and wondering how I could contribute to society or the Kingdom Cause if I was just laying around the house, boxed in. I felt useless. Like I hadn’t done enough.

Yesterday, the snow started again, and it’s been like a heavenly dump truck is loosing a deluge of the devil’s dander ever since. I shoveled six inches off the driveway around four pm on Friday, and then asked my dad to tell me how to use the snow blower so I wouldn’t have to do that again in the morning before work.

I woke up early this morning, rolled out of bed, and used the snowblower like a champ. I got back inside and smelled like gas, but I didn’t have time to do anything other than spritz myself with some vanilla perfume and hope for the best. I changed, ate breakfast, bundled up, and ran out the door.

I pulled out of the driveway, quite proud of how clear it was, and I continued down the road. Not even ten feet from my house, I felt the car lodge on compacted snow and stop, refusing to move. I sighed, turned off the engine, and then started walking toward the house for a shovel when the inexplicable happened.

A neighbor I had never spoken to came over to help me, and called another one over too. They pushed my car and coached me through rocking it back and forth. They reassured me I was going to be fine.

We were in the middle of switching strategies when I called my boss to let her know my situation. She said the store’s power was out and we might not even be able to open. She said she’d keep me in the loop.

My neighbors started digging compacted snow and ice out from under my car, and I ran back to the house to get a shovel to help. In a few more minutes, they gave me a push, and I was able to navigate my car to the driveway before thanking them profusely. My family is miles away. Their kindness meant much to me. Several minutes later, I received a call. The store was closed because it didn’t have power. I wouldn’t have to drive in the weather after all.

It wasn’t lost on me, even as my neighbors were helping me, that the Lord was taking care of me. They happened to be outside when I got stuck, and they happened to be willing to help me. They didn’t even know my name, and yet they chose to stick with me for the better part of an hour. The Lord also let the power be out at my store so I wouldn’t have to go in. And I even got stuck near my house so I wouldn’t have driven all the way in only to find out I would have to drive back.

I write this almost on the verge of tears. Because Jehovah-jireh. The Lord does provide, even in the smallest of ways.

Grace

I started reading the Bible straight through in the beginning of 2017 not because I wanted the bragging rights to say I’d read the thing cover to cover, but because I knew I’d read most of it and yet somehow some stories just seem to fall through the cracks in my ever-human, ever-imperfect mind.

So this time I was reading 2 Samuel 9. David is the king of Israel. He has survived years of Saul hunting him down out of jealousy. Saul ran him out of his homeland, away from his family. Saul made his daughter, David’s wife, marry another man. David lost much because of Saul. Yet in this chapter, David decides to go out of his way to show kindness to any living descendant of Saul. Enter Mephibosheth.

Now Mephibosheth wasn’t just the grandson of the madman who tried to murder David on numerous occasions–he was also crippled. While I’m not a cultural scholar, the significance isn’t lost of me. I think of Hephaestus, the Greek god, who, within the mythology, was crippled, and considered damaged goods. He was the lesser brother. He was the marginalized one. And while Greek and Hebrew cultures were certainly markedly different and, in this case, not necessarily concurrent, I think something rings true between both. No detail is too small, and this one is mentioned twice within the chapter. Being crippled meant being considered lesser by other members of society.

David sent for Mephibosheth and declared that he would eat at the king’s table for the rest of his life.

It’s a short chapter. And when I was done reading, I wondered at David’s dedication to Saul, to Jonathan. And then God slammed me with the realization that this was a depiction of His grace and forgiveness. Saul’s family didn’t deserve forgiveness, and yet David didn’t wait for an opportunity to show kindness. He sought it out. He asked around. He found Meshibosheth, the crippled grandson of a dead king, and he lifted him up. Meshibosheth gets to eat at the king’s table, just like the king’s sons.

God seeks me out just like David sought out Meshibosheth. And like David, God doesn’t just want to forgive me, but He wants to give kindness to me. He wants to call me His daughter. He wants me to eat at his table. It is hard for me to admit this in writing, but I know it’s true. It’s grace I can’t understand. It’s grace I do not expect from the writings before the New Covenant. But I suppose it reflects on how constant the Lord is, how his personality never changes. I am just thankful that he pursues me even when I run from him.

Is that God calling?

Now in those days messages from the Lord were very rare, and visions were quite uncommon. 1 Samuel 3:1b (NLT)

It was during this stage of heavenly silence that Samuel began serving in the Lord’s temple. He was only a child, so the stories of God coming as a pillar of fire or booming words to Moses on Mt. Sinai likely seemed like far off folklore, much like they seem to me today. The idea that the Lord would speak directly to Samuel was so foreign to him that when the Lord did call his name, he assumed that it was Eli, the priest, who had called him. It wasn’t until Eli, older, wiser, and probably tired from being woken up in the middle of the night, explained it was likely the Lord that the thought even occurred to Samuel.

Sometimes I wish the Lord would speak directly to me. Or at least that someone older and wiser than me could help me identify his voice. At times it feels like I confuse his voice for other coincidences.

For example, my most recent job interview fiasco lasted an entire month. I had two phone interviews where the two people I spoke to more or less said I was hired. I traveled 400 miles in one day to interview in person with them. They said I was exactly what they were looking for. I felt at peace during the interview–something not normal for me. I was sure it was God’s peace. I felt like all lights were green, that God was giving me the go ahead. I was ready to move. I was looking for apartments. And a week later I received a slapdash email saying the job wasn’t mine.

Why, then, did I feel God’s peace? Why did I get a month into this thinking it was God’s will for me? Sure, there were bumps along the road, but should I have interpreted those circumstances as God speaking?

There’s an example in the Bible where Saul interprets a situation to mean the Lord was handing David over to him.

Saul soon learned that David was at Keilah. “Good!” He exclaimed. “We’ve got him now! God has handed him over to me, for he has trapped himself in a walled town!” 1 Samuel 23:7

Saul just assumes based on the situation that the Lord is giving him what he wants, but the Lord isn’t handing David over to Saul. David is the Lord’s anointed one. So basically I can’t use a magic 8 ball and say that it’s the Lord answering me because the Lord doesn’t speak through every situation.

Now by contrast, David literally asks the Lord if Saul will come to Keilah and if the leaders of Keilah will betray him to Saul. The Lord replies, clear as day: Yes.

How does David do it? How do you discern that voice? How do you understand what situations God is breathing into and which are just happening? It doesn’t make sense to me, and I can’t wrap my brain around it. I worry that times I felt God pushing me toward something, maybe I was wrong. Maybe it wasn’t God. Maybe it was my own desires. How do I know the difference? Or if my desires are my gods, how can I know the difference? I’m blind. I know he is the good shepherd, he knows his sheep by name, and they know his voice. But I can’t discern his voice right now. Does that make me not a sheep, or just lost?

As I write this out, I can only think of comparing my job situation to God telling Abraham to sacrifice his son, only to later provide a goat instead. Maybe it was a test of faith to see if I would be willing to move. Maybe it was God’s will that I go that far to see if I would do it, and now he’s waiting until I’m really ready. Or maybe I’m an idiot that just doesn’t understand how to receive calls from the creator of the universe.

I don’t know if any of this makes any sense–it’s late. My instinct is to edit the crap out of it, but I know I should probably just publish it and call it done. Hit me up if you’ve discovered the secret to reach the direct line to God. I’d love to know.

 

Writing about writing

I edited a family friend’s manuscript and met with him over coffee to talk about it yesterday. We sat down at a table with coffee and cookies and just chatted. It was the first time in month that I’d really opened my mouth to talk about literary concepts, and it felt more clumsy and awkward than it used to, but by the end of the conversation I was reminded of how much I enjoy[ed] writing and storytelling.

Recently, I’ve been having difficulties getting myself to write, and it’s a new problem for me. During college, I would write for assignments until my fingers fell off, and then summer or winter break would come along and I would work tirelessly on my stories. But then I graduated, started applying for jobs with no success, and six months later I’m here. My loans are getting ready to come out of grace, I am fighting through the mires of my depression, it’s going to be winter (I.E. Depression Session), and I still don’t have a job in my field.

It used to be that I could sit down and make myself type words even if I had no idea where they needed to go. Now if I sit in front of a blank document, I’m not excited or even motivated to move a story forward. I can’t even get any joy out of the one thing that I have always loved. Sometimes I have to wonder if there’s something wrong with me, or maybe I just don’t have it in me to write anymore. Maybe I actually don’t like writing anymore. Or maybe my depression is more severe than I realized. Maybe it’s more severe now than it was when it was born as a tiny seed of darkness while I was in school. Maybe now it’s a towering plant monster with gnarled fangs and knobby skin and pulsating veins.

I went to the beach again today, and the water was angry. So I stood with my hands in my pockets, feeling the cold wind sting my eyes, watching the brown waves crack with lightning white and wash up thirty or so feet, pushing debris toward me. I just stared out at the angry, undulating water and wondered why exactly I was on earth anyway if on my days off I just sat around and did nothing to contribute to society. Eventually I had to turn away and trudge back up the hill to my car, and as I did so, I knew what I needed to do today to feel like anything other than useless.

I needed to write.

And on my drive home, I launched into a litany of excuses. For example, I worked on a specific manuscript for over seven years, completed it, and then decided to scrap that draft and start over from scratch. I felt inspired by the blank page for several weeks, but then it faded. Now when I open that document, the blinking cursor mocks me. It tells me I don’t know how to get from point A to point B, that I’m not good enough. I have other newer projects that treat me the same way. And then there’s the elusive answer: Write something new. I don’t have new ideas in me right now. Everything is twisted and painful, and every day I fight to feel like more than just a waste of space. I overstretch myself to prove my worthiness, and I make sacrifices because I don’t feel like I am worth it to say no.

This is what I can write right now. This is all I can do. And I’ll try to open some document at this, and I will try to add to it. I’m afraid of that cursor, though, and that half-empty page. I feel like I’m set up to fail at it, but I’m at least going to try it one more time before I give up for the day. We’ll see how it goes.

On the Beast in my Brain

At times I feel I am simultaneously quick to trust and slow to trust.

It started with an inappropriate question from my boss, which didn’t strike me as completely out of line in the heat of the moment. It didn’t occur to me until after I spilled my guts that my personal life was absolutely none of her business, and she had no right to ask me what was making me feel the way I felt. I bring up valid points about management style, but what she fixates on is my depression and anxiety. She fixates on “crazy.” She fixates on “insane.” She fixates on “she’s not all there in her head.”

I had also made the mistake of being open about being on antidepressants in a gossipy and otherwise dramatic workplace, and at some point one of the more gossipy members of the team said that after I put in my two weeks because my boss’s management style consisted of tight-fisted perfectionism and constant berating, not to mention the gossip and drama, she placated our boss by saying something like, “She’s on meds, you know? It’s making her act different.”

Insert dramatic, irritated pause.

Yeah, different. Yeah, I feel less inclined to be in an environment that is eating me alive. Yeah, I feel more inclined to stand up for the health of my soul and my body and mind and allow myself to run from a job that is consuming me, because my medication and counseling and everything says that nothing has the right to consume me except for my Creator. It allows me to plant my feet on the ground, put up fists, and say, “No. I won’t let you abuse me.”

No.

I’m in a better workplace now, but I’m afraid to talk too much about my depression and anxiety. In fact, I don’t talk about it as best I can. I drop hints here and there, and sometimes I’m afraid they were too obvious, but I don’t talk about the medication. I refer to my counselor as a “friend.” I’m ashamed to mention anything, to talk to anyone about it. I can come in to work blinded by the fog of my depression, and someone says, “How are you?” and I smile and say I’m good. And then I think about what a liar I am.

I think about how hard fought for positivity and menial adages have little effect on me anymore. How I know what hopelessness feels like. But I’m an actor. I’m a character. No one knows about the beast in my brain–the one I fight nearly every moment of every day. And if they know about it, they don’t understand it, and they certainly don’t understand me.