Monday, July 10, 2017

Planning a Wedding with Divorced Parents

"God's not finished with you yet...he will never forsake or leave you." 

It has been a beautiful and a tough year of life.  So many wonderful things have happened.  I am preparing to marry the most wonderful man on the planet who is more patient than a saint, my sister and her husband had a handsome and healthy little boy, my medical school journey is progressing and has been encouraged by so many, my brother graduated from college with honors, my other sister got an amazing job...

And in the background of it all, my parents officially divorced after more than 30 years of marriage. 

Some people don't think divorce affects kids as much when they are adults.  Maybe they're right, but I can say it has been the most heartbreaking thing I have had to process so far on this life journey, even beating out the loss of my whole church community a few years ago when my dad had to publicly confess why he was being fired to the congregation he pastored, followed by the foreclosure and loss of the home I grew up in, the one I imagined I would bring my children to when we visited their grandparents.  

Some people have wondered why I have been engaged for a whole year without getting married.  I guess in the Christian world, that signals a red flag.  What people can't see, the behind the scenes stuff, is that for someone already prone to depression, grief has a way of taking me out for quite a while.  My fiance has spent many evenings holding me when I couldn't stop crying because of the way my family dynamic has changed, the way so many dreams have changed, including the desire I once had to help my parents in ministry.  Now there is nothing to help.  Rebuilding a life requires a lot of patience with yourself.  

I started going to a professional counselor to help me dig out of the pit of hopelessness, and she is incredible, but that doesn't change the fact that healing takes a whole lot of time and doing pretty much anything, much less planning a wedding or studying for the MCAT, can feel impossible.  There was a time when I had to literally make a pact with myself that I would keep living.  If you've never dealt with mental illness, this probably seems dramatic, but for those who have, the compassion I have for you is so huge.  

The unraveling of my family and the loss of community has caused me to realize just how much my identity has always been wrapped up in what others think of me.  Now, slowly, I am working on building my sense of self, developing my own thoughts on things, instead of being a stereotypical co-dependent pastors kid whose job is to make others happy.  

I hope that by the end of this 30th year of life I will be in a stronger place, that I will start to notice the beauty all around me again, and that I will start writing again with honest words. I want to live authentically without being a victim, and above all, my hope is to be a friend and warm place to all those who have felt the sting of rejection and being misunderstood.  


Friday, February 19, 2016

Ending a Decade

This is the last year of my 20s.  Some days I still feel like I am 10-years-old again, climbing trees and daydreaming.  Other days, it feels more like I am well into my later years of life, skipping several decades with enough story and adventure and loss to fill a lifetime. Most days I wake up aware of the ticking clock of my existence, yet by the end of the day I look back on how much time was wasted on ridiculous escapes like social media and fear and wishing I was someone else or somewhere else, instead of  showing up to my own life and treating the time I've been given on this earth as sacred and something that matters greatly.  It's really quite sobering.  I wonder what it takes to be consistently intentional. I wonder if there is a mindset that is deeper than laziness that often causes me to give up or underestimate my own worth-- deep down maybe the struggle is with codependency and people pleasing, which is an exhausting battle.  I often give into my deep fear of failure, of being exposed as someone who is incredibly lacking, and instead of fighting I go and I hide.  

Yesterday I was putting on a pair of jeans that have grown tight in this new year.  In the midst of an intense move, job changes, applying for medical school, trying to sort out where I will move if Trump becomes President, I have gained weight.  All the fluctuations and how I feel out of control when it comes to my own life got me thinking about how to rightly motivate myself to want to eat well and exercise again after an intense year that has left me apathetic towards my own health.  One thing I know--wanting to be healthy in order to fit a status quo and look good externally to a world that changes its opinion like the wind changes direction is not going to get me into a good head space.  Americans seem to find so much status and worth in things that are temporary-- where we live, what car we drive, the job that consumes all of our time, the size of our pants, the clarity of our faces.  Things that we think are so secure, yet can be lost in a second. We feel superficially good when others notice and applaud our outside success. Soul sucking is the best way I can describe that grind.  The freedom comes when actions are the product of an internal place that knows its true worth, recognizing that material things should be held loosely.  Lately the loss of the last three years have had me confronting my own motivations- -the way I so often get sucked into living my life for others.   Do I want to be healthy in order to get an applause for my figure and discipline, or is my motivation more long term-- wanting energy for the kids I hope to one day have and for the mountains I want to climb and for the clinics I want to start and for all the learning I want to keep doing, which requires a healthy and clear thought life.  Do I want to become a doctor so that the people who have spread rumors about my family will see that I (we) are actually somewhat functional-- or is it because I feel called to be a healer, moved by the realities of medical care inequalities, heartbroken but hopeful for the future of medical breakthroughs and the care of the vulnerable and forgotten?  

  There are a few things on my list of "what I want to do before I'm 30".  Some are adventurous, others practical: take the MCAT, start medical school, go hang gliding, start writing a fiction book (something I've always been scared of), but the biggest thing I want to confront is my own heart motivations.  I want to walk into a new decade with a sense that my life is not defined by how the world measures success, and I want to end this decade that's been so full already with an overarching theme of these 10 years teaching me so much about the need to prioritize caring for my own heart and keeping that space uncluttered and free. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

New Keys

Dedicated to the lovely Lily Chi, who always encourages me to keep writing.


No man, no land, no task for my hand ever soothes
I stay restless for you
All I am was made for you and no other will do
So I stay restless for you. 
-My Epic


I’m typing from an almost empty room in the home where I grew up, staring out into our backyard as the family dog, who we all believe is practically human, chomps away at a bone.  He’s in his happy place and I am glad.  That backyard has been his paradise and the only existence he’s known-- he’s been the king of its white fenced borders, making sure in his sweet Golden Retriever way that all who enter know who is in charge.  

This is one of his last nights to roam this particular plot of land.  It’s my whole family’s last night to walk through the halls and up and down the steps that lead to the rooms that we’ve all grown to know so well-- the weird light switches whose quirks we know without even thinking, the layout that we could walk through with eyes closed, the secret hiding spots we carved out as kids playing hide and seek.  We moved in on my 10th birthday, all six of us curled up in sleeping bags and warmed by the fireplace, settling into a beautiful new part of the story. My mom loved the gas stoves that worked even in the worst storm.  My dad loved the pool.  I loved all the trees I could climb, where I could make believe and read and dream.  It was this home that I returned to after my first trip to Nicaragua.  It was where I journaled about all the love I felt for the people I met and this country that somehow felt like home, even after just one visit.  It was in my room in this house where I first started experiencing the presence of God and where my heart started to feel a deep desire to be of some use in the world, bringing at least a little light and laughter into darkness.  

I didn’t know that my own heart would first have to experience darkness and a sense of homelessness--losing the things I'd grown to know so well over the years. 

I moved away for the first time at 17, but it was still home--still the place where my friends could come to play and the church family my parents pastored could come to connect and fellowship.  These walls hold so many memories.  They contributed to the making of so many friendships...and sheltered the tears of sadness over those that didn’t last.

I didn’t know as a young child that my parents would both lose their jobs on the same day, causing the house to go into foreclosure.  I didn’t know that something in their hearts wouldn’t stick together like they planned when they started out thirty-one years ago.  I didn’t know then how addiction could change brain chemistry and personality, impacting everyone. I didn’t know how ministry, however noble, could create unhealthy and oppressive burn-out.  I didn’t know that church would become a traumatic place instead of a healing place in my heart for a time. I didn’t anticipate not being able to one day bring grandchildren to their grandparents’ home,  where I would show them all the secret spaces in the place where I grew up while telling them about all the grand adventures of my childhood. 

My reality is so different than what I imagined at 10, yet I believe that in the midst of the loss, the unnecessary is slowly getting stripped away.  One thing I don’t want to lose is my child-like wonder.  Depression has a way of grinding away at awe. I don’t want to lose the hope that the earth is just waiting for majesty to be discovered and unearthed, like a treasure hunter out on the beach with a metal detector, knowing that somewhere on the endless miles of sand there is something incredibly special and worth the search.  

I’m now 29 and a little more aware of loss and grief and struggle, but also of unexpected new starts with nothing left to lose. There’s a lot of courage available in that particular set of circumstances.  There’s a lot more comfort to be found now in all of my questions not always having answers and sometimes just leading to more questions, and hopefully, ultimately, a sense of peace and surrender.  

Soon the last of the items will be cleared out and the door will be closed and the locks changed.  Our keys will no longer work. Our dog will get used to a new home that has no yard, forcing his family members to explore the surrounding area. And we will embrace the new and live in awe once again, basking in the incredible faithfulness of a Father who catches every tear and is present in every hard thing, cheering us on into a new place of abundance and joy unspeakable. 

Cheers and onward march to this new chapter-- to infinite grace and kindness and deep wells that sustain.  There are hard and sad things I am still processing and that need to find their way onto paper, but I trust that the future is one of freedom. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Closed doors and open doors and right around the corner doors, each encounter filled with a lesson, an experience that grows and perfects.  The strain and the backward glances and the questions all start to dissolve as a heart encounters the Love that tears down walls and burns up boundaries, where every door feels like a blessing, even the closed ones, because they are framed inside of a love unconditional.  Where even the tears feel important because in some way they cleansed and left the heart open again to beauty.  

The forgiven much love much and there is nothing like a hug from the truly grateful.  There’s something about their eyes, how they shine deeper than the sorrow encountered on the journey.  How they let restoration and new dreams fill their hearts with a sensation beyond words.  A hope beyond all reason.  A joy unspeakable that takes hold and doesn’t let go.   They teach you something beyond words.  Something that they carry in their very being, their very DNA, that echoes loudly that loving well is what it all comes down to in the end.  

Sometimes I don’t know how to fight for another’s heart other than with words.  Other than with a poem, a phrase, a quote, a song.  Sometimes my heart feels the injustices around the world, and in searching for a way to show up and change things, all I find myself able to offer today is a prayer.  A prayer and a plan.  A plan that may take years of preparation and sacrifice, but the end is worth it.  Someone once told me that the freedom of many is on the other side of a singular person's obedience.  How obedient must I be to change a nation?  To turn the tide of history?  To turn back time and see the slave set free.  And again my heart feels the cry, “Whatever it takes.  It’s gonna be worth it.”  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Home to Unravel

I'm not sure if it is due to growing up in a christian environment where joy is more acceptable than sadness, or if it is just simply due to being human and avoiding vulnerability, but talking about depression is difficult for me.  The admission of such emotions always feels like defeat, where the only safe place to feel anything remotely broken is on journal pages that no one will ever read.

My view is changing quite rapidly. Depression scares me.  And I don't want to avoid talking about things that have me scared anymore.  It’s like your brain is stuck in darkness and you have no idea how to get the lights back on in there.  I need a brain engineer and mechanic.  Someone to go inside and figure out the faulty wiring and why all my neurons seem to be angry with me right now.

 As I hear stories from friends and acquaintances who have experienced large amounts of loss over the past few years, I realize that until there are safe places to be honest about feelings of deep sadness and grief, the healing won't come as naturally as it could and should to bring people to the other side, where they experience both joy and fresh perspective again.  And when I think about being honest about feelings, I don't necessarily mean using lots of words.  Just being given space and time to really feel all the feelings and not be viewed as forever weak.

Home seems to find a way of uncovering things I always run from with the next great adventure or idea.  But maybe I always return home because out of all the billions of people in the world and the hundreds of major cities where I could live and find community, there are only three people out of those masses who understand my story down to the gritty detail (those three people are my siblings).  Maybe they’ve interpreted things differently than me, but their experiences and mine are known to each other on a different level than when I try to get to know a friend.  And the truth is, all the friends I knew growing up knew me when my life was in survival mode and included an instinct to hide.  So whoever I am now is not the person I was then, and as much as I wish I could take those friends with me throughout life, it doesn’t seem probable or even possible.  

Maybe to survive I need to make peace with this place and with who I’ve been up to now so that I can become something new.  Which is why I don't want to run into the next adrenaline rush adventure until I know the tears I need to cry have been cried and the healing meant to come in this season has come.  

When I close my eyes, I want to again see open fields and smiling faces in all the nations where I want to one day travel.  I want to wake up wanting to be here.  Wanting to embrace a new day.  I want to feel again the passion of being alive and the fierce courage in waking up every day believing that my life matters just as much as the billions who occupy space and time with me.  That all of our lives matter.  That we aren't just organic chemistry and atoms strewn together.  We're the ones who get to breathe and feel and remember.  There must be a point to it all.  There must be a point to me.  To you.  To us.  Something powerful and wise and strong in the big picture of it all that includes us.  

So to those bordering the land of the living and of the dead, who have discovered the place called grief, may we be met with strength and vision to keep going and to find meaning while also feeling the missing.  Feeling the morbid and the unknown and the unfinished.  Feeling the lack of closure and hearing the questions that yell loud yet often remain in the heart, mind, body...unheard.  And may we start to realize that grief unprocessed is often heard in chronic disease, in stress, in depression and insomnia and panic attacks.  As a culture, I hope we begin to recognize the great need and strength found in giving people moments to be weak, to be honest with what hurts and let the healing come.  

May we give ourselves permission to sit down for a second (or as long as it takes), take a breath, regather energy at the cellular level, and regain hope.  

"Pry it open with your love/ it is steep, it is stone, such recovery/it has found what we orphaned/
...your love is known, I'm standing up on it."
 -Bon Iver

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

October, Welcome Back

After my birthday month, this may be my favorite month of the year.    There is something crisp and alive in October, especially as the mid-eastern part of the States begins to feel fall again.

The winds are welcome to blow through this whole place, through my whole heart, shaking off all the dead leaves so that new ones have a chance to grow after the cleansing freeze.

Ah seasons.  How much hope I find in the change.  In the fact that the earth rotates and the sun gets further and closer and we get the chance to find poetic meaning in it all.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Cheap wine, dessert made from a chocolate bar stuffed inside a day old butter croissant, a bed scattered with Rumi and my Bible that has barely been opened over the last few months and a journal with few entries even though its purpose was to document the past few months of life...

 and a billion thoughts firing all over the place in my brain, seeking for some sort of stilling.  That is what makes up my evening.  What's been making up my evenings for the past few months.

Some people disbelieve me when I try to tell them how depression has been a foe and friend of mine since before I hit my teens.  It's like a fog and a clarity all at the same time, and in a strange way its arrival at moments of my life feels like a dysfunctional comfort.  I've battled and surrendered often to an existential angst and sadness more often than people tend to believe, and I'm still learning how to ride the wave when it hits like a hurricane and no one seems to know how to reach me out in the water.

If I knew the pursuit of medicine was going to be such a challenge, I wouldn't have started the journey. That makes me grateful that the initial decision was made without seeing the future.  But reality and my track record pretty much convince me that even if I stuck with journalism and filmmaking, I would still be hitting depression turbulence.  It has nothing to do with my career choice.  It has to do with me and how I feel everything and how I go through the highs of wanting to change the world met with the lows of realizing how broken everything feels.  

There must be something good that comes out of all these thoughts.  I even want to believe that there is a reason for disappointments and dashed hopes.  Still waiting for that revelation and transformation.  In the meantime, thank God for Langston Hughes. And I'm sorry to all my friends to whom I have been unresponsive and absent.  I just haven't had any energy to even look at my phone on days.  I will return soon.  I can't promise that, but I feel it to be true.  Hopefully my sense of humor and wonder are on their way back as well.

Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die,
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams.
For if dreams go,
Life is a barren field
Covered with snow.
~ Langston Hughes