the year of letting go || pt. i

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— falling —

The spring semester of 2019 found me putting up a busy and smiley facade while plodding through one of the lowest lows I’d experienced to that point. After a couple years of thinking my only mental battle was generalized anxiety, I was suddenly also diagnosed with mild to moderate clinical depression. I’d only just started getting used to the anxiety label and here was another one being slapped in my face. I didn’t believe the diagnosis at first — didn’t want to believe it.

But I wasn’t healthy and I certainly wasn’t mentally stable. Any one of my friends could have told you that. I think I was just too proud to acknowledge they were right. I fought it by over-committing: I worked three campus jobs (that I loved but didn’t realize were draining me), took the maximum number of credits for a semester, filled my Friday and Saturday nights with socializing… anything to numb the gathering storm clouds in my head. Ironically, the very thing I wanted to fight was also the reason I was fighting it so unwisely in the first place.

The things that once brought me joy simply weren’t enjoyable or motivating anymore. I struggled to carry out normal one-on-one conversation with my friends and pretty much only intentionally surrounded myself with larger groups of people. Honestly, looking back on it, that should have been a huge red flag. I don’t operate well in large groups, and one-on-one situations are ideal for me to give love and/or receive love. But in my unconscious desperation to hide from my own intrusive thoughts, the silence and intimacy of quality time made me uncomfortable because it meant I had to be aware of how disengaged I was, how reluctant I was to open up, or how ill-equipped I was to listen and be there for people. At least in a large group the noise and constant stimulation eliminated any chance of my brooding or stumbling down these foxholes of bitterness and despair.

At the same time as wanting to numb myself from the bad, I desperately wanted to stimulate the good, however fleeting. So I drank black tea and coffee and soda and ate chocolate any opportunity I got. My mother’s warning voice rang in my ear and each time I ignored it. Certainly having anxiety and experiencing sensory overload all the time was better than feeling no sensation at all? But then the sensory overload caused me to dissociate which caused me to lose my sense of reality which caused me to panic. All of this contributed to sleep deprivation, and the cycle would begin all over again.

Spiritual attacks became scarily frequent, probably due to all the above reasons and various others. I was in a very vulnerable place, and temptation along with intrusive thoughts and self-hatred became Satan’s biggest tools. But God always had this impeccable timing. A friend would “coincidentally” text me when I was throwing a tantrum on my dorm room floor. Emily would be there when I had a panic attack at three in the morning. Psalms 42 and 121 clung to me like a cat that won’t stop purring. My professors that semester each had their ways of reminding students of God’s faithfulness: liturgies, prayers, moments of silence, and books that stretched our minds beyond ourselves. My friends faithfully stuck through the storm with me (and would continue to). God also miraculously gave me new friends in the midst of this mess, when I didn’t even want them or deserve them.

It wasn’t all bad. This isn’t supposed to be a series of essays about sadness, really. It’s about looking back over 2019 and realizing that I needed to be completely emptied of some heavy baggage before God could start replanting. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I closed out the semester with one of the craziest April-to-May moments I’ve ever had. My friend Maddie and I were offered the huge opportunity of being editors in chief of the student paper, and we jumped at the chance. But this meant that on top of our other jobs we also had to start training and slowly taking over various things from the current editors. This contributed inordinate levels of stress to my already overflowing plate. Campus was rolling into finals week (which usually feels more like finals month) and, consequentially, moving-out week.

Unsurprisingly, I got really sick and developed a blazing fever the weekend before exams. By God’s grace alone I pounded out research papers in the measly hours before they were due, barely studied for my exams and passed every single one… except for my history gen-ed. That day I felt so sick I went to Student Health Services (shout out to Davis and Cat for driving me back and forth multiple times). So I emailed my professor and asked him if I could possibly pass the class without taking the exam. Mercifully, he completely understood, and even offered to let me take it another time. But considering there was only a day and a half left before I had to move out, and I still hadn’t packed a single item in my dorm room, I opted to flunk the exam. I’m not sure what I felt more: empowerment or shame. My friends and family seemed to have mixed reviews whenever I broke the news.

By some crazy only-God-could-have-made-this-happen miracle, I packed up all my stuff and flew home for a week and a half of rest. I thought the worst was over. The semester was behind me, England was ahead, and I was ready to dive into a summer of being filled after being so drastically emptied (physically, emotionally, and spiritually). I thought the only way left to go was up.

No surprise here, but God was seeing something very different.

When relationships falter

A realization: Satan’s lies always target relationships and communication.

He targets our relationship with God, first of all. Satan would like nothing more than for us to stop speaking to God, to stop listening to God, to stop inviting God into our lives. Honestly, being actively mad at God and telling him so is better than shutting him out. As long as we’re mad at him we believe he exists and we believe he has some sort of role in our lives. Can’t be mad at someone you don’t believe exists or matters.

It strikes me how much worse apathy is than strong emotion one way or another. It’s scarily easy to go through a day and not give God a single thought. Without getting legalistic about quiet times and prayer and church-going, deep down it can be inconvenient or bothersome to invite God into our mundane activities.

By extension, Satan also targets our relationships with the people around us. If we are insecure in our relationship with God, we’re naturally going to be insecure about our relationships with everything else. Without a firm foundation on which to stand, everything we reach for is shaky. Comparison becomes the greatest thief of joy, truly. And with comparison comes doubt: doubt of our own self worth and doubt over other people’s intentions.

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“unsung, unmourned, undescribed”

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You create yourself in ever-changing shapes
that rise from the stuff of our days—
unsung, unmourned, undescribed,
like a forest we never knew
—rainer marie rilke, book of hours II, 22

Thanksgiving dawned gloomy. Winds berated the little house and whipped around corners, sending cars careening down the hilly roads and trees bending precariously close to electric wires, poles threatening to charge down upon innocent squirrels chattering about the latest and most nutty gossip. In the nearby woods, a wolf howled such a raucous seasonal greeting that the brown birds scurried to find other branches and the leaves rustled in pools on the muddy ground.

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Abra

Lord, show me my sin:
of when I have said too much
and when I have not said enough.
Lord, show me my darkness:
not so I can wallow in shame
but so I can fight for the light.

Lord, teach me love:
patience and kindness and trust
do not envy, do not boast.
Lord, teach me growth:
faithfulness and gentleness
exhibit grace and self-control.

circles

God speaks. Even when we cannot or do not speak to him, he speaks to us. He’s always speaking. He’s always recklessly pursuing, sanctifying, catching us in the grand fall, the grand turning away from his face in favor of some other false peace.

God meets us here. He’s not waiting for us to catch up. He doesn’t leave us behind. He’s not a tyrant God who’s impossible to find. He’s here in the fighting, the trying, the crying, the stumbling away and the desperate return.

‘Come home, child,’ he says. ‘Come home and rest, child,’ he says.

distracted living

The other day I found myself having to schedule a meal with someone two weeks in advance. I balked at the realization that I’ve never had to do that before. Something was wrong.

Something (someone?) convinces us that we need to be busy. There’s some inherent respect that comes from other people when we tell them we’re busy. Nobody applauds when we say we’re taking a Sabbath. Nobody applauds when we sleep in. If anything, they always ask why. But when we say we’re busy nobody even questions it. Ah, of course. Of course you’re busy. Why wouldn’t you be?

But when we’re so convinced that we need to be doing things all the time, where does that leave us?

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Sabbath

some spaces to cry:

the edge of a sea green bathtub
because they shouldn’t be texting you

Monday chapel
if the worship team makes you sing songs about ashes

a full-length mirror crudely stuck to the wall
you’ll think you look like a monster

on Amazon
while looking for a cheap, single-serve coffee maker

the kitchen sink where you brush your teeth sometimes
this is where all the best ideas are born and the dishes don’t get washed

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weekend fragments

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I remember getting mad at God when he asked me to obey and I did and I ended up getting my heart broken because I did the right thing. It turns out that happens a lot. Jesus called his disciples straight into a storm and asked them to trust him. In the end he calmed the storm. He’s still calling and calming.

We sing a new song in church I’ve never heard before called “Defender,” originally performed by Francesca Battistelli and Steffany Gretzinger (I guess? One can never be too sure with these worship songs that get re-recorded all the time). I almost cry because, as frustrating as it is to admit, I’m still struggling with lingering symptoms from the scary levels of depression I experienced this summer. Between this song and the sermon on Mark 4:35-41, Jesus beckons me to be still. He beckons me to trust my healing in his hands. He beckons me to surrender the lies and the darkness to his sword. He beckons me to give him all my broken pieces. It’ll be okay.

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the city is only beautiful when

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The city has never been beautiful to me.

When I was five years old, Detroit was a black shadow that held my father hostage at the VA Medical Center. When he had a night shift he didn’t come home until 3 in the morning. Sometimes my mother let my two little brothers and I stay up late and we ran, bleary-eyed, into his tired arms covered in wrinkled blue sleeves that smelled like disinfectant wipes and coffee. He came home with stories about gunshots and didn’t realize we could understand the fear in our mother’s eyes when he raised his voice.

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