Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Benadryl-Induced Curbside Revelation

Today was one of those days where you wake up and everything is wrong. The world is not right. But it really started last night when I took a Benadryl so my head, the one that felt like a stuffed balloon, could sleep. I love colds. And I love Benadryl. I slept beautifully, so beautifully that I missed my alarm. My eyes squinted open and somehow I knew things were not right. There was too much light filtering through my window. I glanced up. The clock read 7:48am. I was supposed to have been in class three minutes ago. I faced the moment of panic: “I’m late.” Followed by the lackadaisical: “Well, I might as well not go.” Followed by ten seconds dedicated to the arguing factions within my brain. I opted to salvage the class. So I grabbed the nearest set of sweats, my notebook, a pencil, my keys and phone and dashed out the door. Running to class I felt awkward and ugly. I could feel sleep clinging to me with my ponytailed bed head and tired eyes, making me feel a spectacle. Then I became one. I tripped over the curb in my haste and sprawled on the cement. Everything within my grasp went flying. My cell phone landed in two pieces. I felt like I might have too. But there was no time to feel sorry for myself or dust the dirt off my pants. I picked myself up and finished my sprint to class just in time to take the quiz on grammatical verbs and noun phrases.

My day didn’t get any more dramatic than that moment, but it hasn’t really felt any better either. I never quite got myself together. The hours have felt both fragmented and blurred all at the same time, the disjointed pieces flashing by without slowing down. I don’t really want to be writing this. I don’t want to be doing anything accept closing my books and going to sleep so I can start over in the morning. But I feel that I need to be writing this. There is something important about sprawling in the parking lot at 7:51 in the morning.

Today was a reminder to me that I am human, that I trip, that I fall, that I can’t always hold it all together. I usually seem well put together, well-groomed, responsible, not someone to let things slip through the cracks. I try to present myself to the world as a model student, a model peer instructor, a model friend, a model Christ follower, a model you-fill-in-the-blank. Most days I fool the world. Or maybe I don’t. But a lot of days I fool myself. I get confident, even cocky. “Yeah, I can do this,” I think to myself. God chuckles. He sends me an extra potent Benadryl. He sends me a curb and clumsy feet. As I sprawled on the ground I remembered. My sense of propriety broke in two and my true self spilled out on the concrete along with my books.

The truth is this sprawled picture is a lot closer to my real self than the put together image I conjure up each week. Because the truth is I am a mess. I feel scattered. And I am incapable of picking up all my pieces and making sense of them on my own. I can’t pick the grime off my soul as easily as I picked the grass off the knees of my pants this morning. I need God to do that for me. And every day I don’t fall flat on my face it is because of Him. So I hope you can picture me sprawled on the ground at 7:51 this morning. And I hope you can laugh. Because I am laughing. I hope you find relief in knowing that we all have mornings when we fall apart. We are all human. You are not alone. And I am thankful that we have a big God who loves to pick us up. Here's to clumsiness.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Grief understood

Today I am grieving the absence of a friend. And I think I am going to be grieving for a while. She didn’t die. She just went home. But it was unexpected, sudden. Yesterday I had a roommate, and today I do not. The bare mattress and empty closet have stared at me every time I’ve come home since last night, reminding me of the absence in my heart. I need to rearrange them, but I haven’t found the courage to yet.

She is not permanently gone. She is just removed. There is still hope of being reunited in the future. But for the first time I am experiencing a taste of having someone near and dear to my heart being jerked away. There was no time to prepare, to accumulate the strength to let go. She was just gone. Maybe she will get to come back. Maybe not. But either way I am bereaved of her companionship for the months ahead. And the ache in my heart is throbbing.

In part, I feel guilty for feeling so strongly. There are so many in this world who are experiencing pain more acutely than I. In my heart, death has not called, only separation. But are they so different? Isn’t death just another level of separation? Today I can sympathize, albeit imperfectly, with those who are grieving from the worst kind of separation. On a small scale I can relate to those who never have the time to say goodbye, who are left unprepared for the gulf that an absent loved one leaves behind.

Barbara and I shared life together. We weren’t family, and yet we were. She became as a sister. We lived together, cooked together, ate together, sorted laundry together. We laughed and cried and shouted our frustration in tandem. As far as possible she knew my world and I knew hers. We shared a bond of loving common souls. She was the safest place for me to be myself, and I hoped I was the same for her. We were honest, with our questions, our struggles, our triumphs. We weren’t afraid to discuss hard questions and leave them unanswered. Every small joy we shared, things that if I told anyone else, they wouldn’t understand.

It’s the accumulation of all the small things that is hardest. I can cope with the fact that she is gone, that she needed to go home. I find it harder to face the million of small triggers throughout the day that remind me of that loss: the picture on the wall that is no longer there, the champagne glasses we bought together in target just to drink ginger ale, the fact that I am walking to class alone when she usually walked with me, seeing the q-tips in the bathroom drawer that she told me keep. And there are more. So many words I hear, words from friends, from strangers alike, my mind relates them to what I want to be present. No allusion is too vague for my memory to lock onto. There are stories hidden within each reference, each object, each empty space. I find her everywhere.

I don’t have any insights to offer on these feelings I am facing. I just want to state them. I just want to acknowledge that I can sympathize with grief. Someday I will realize what I am gaining through this experience. But not today. Today there is no explanation for the tears I am letting come at will.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


Tonight I don't have words... only tears. I wish they could penetrate this electronic screen and inscribe themselves in a way that you could understand, that I could understand. Grief is a strange thing. Just when I think I've shed the last drop of moisture in my body somehow a fresh dam wells up, burning the insides of my eyelids, demanding to spill down my cheeks. I have to let it. It's part of the process of coping, dealing with separation, something the human heart was never designed to endure. I can't hold the tears inside. They would accumulate, building into solid blocks of something-freezing the emotions within my soul. The tears carry my questions, ensuring I am still alive. They are searching. They pull my heart towards heaven.

"Why, God?"

"I love you," He replies.

"But, why?"

"I'm here."

He catches the tear that falls down my cheek.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Depth Dimension

As a child the challenge to touch the bottom of the deepest end of the pool could not be ignored. Some days I spent half my time in the pool exploring my limits of depth. As the water flooded over my head I fought to resist my body’s tendency of acting like an inflation device, pushing myself further and further down the wall. Could I make contact with the floor before my lungs reached their limit? Alternately I plunged down as far as I could force my body to go and clung to the side of pool sucking in deep breaths of air. Determined, I continued until my feet found the solid tiles of the pool’s surface buried under twelve feet of water. Then my muscles hurried to push off of the bottom with a thrust that propelled me to emerge, gasping but satisfied at the surface.

Most of my explorations occurred at the local YMCA pool. But the hot summer days Mom took me to the outdoor pool were the best. The outdoor pool boasted a high dive. Climbing the ladder to the top was frightening, but the plunge that followed never failed to be worth it. I never attempted the feat of diving or flipping from such a height, opting for the unembellished “pencil drop.” But I would stretch my body as long and skinny as it would become, aiming to pierce the water with the least amount of resistance. The increased span of air between my body and the water allowed gravity to pull harder, at least in my childish perception. I always plunged deeper into the water off the high dive than the lower one. The seconds spent under the water after a jump were my favorite. The noise of the people at the pool disappeared, replaced by the sound and feel of cool rushing water. I relished the moment, allowing my body to hang suspended in the water for as long as possible before floating to the top and making way for the next diving artist.
I didn’t realize it then, but I think I held a fascination with depth.
Two years ago I went spelunking in a cave in northern Tennessee. Along with nine of my friends, I went crawling into the bowels of the earth with nothing but a small flashlight strapped to my head. It was exhilarating. I crawled over rocks and squeezed through narrow passageways, traveling deeper into the ground with every movement. Face covered in clay, hands reaching to help friends who were less comfortable with the adventure, I was perfectly content. The trek ended in a cavern, a hidden gem of beauty half a mile below the surface of the earth where the slow dripping of water had crafted cascades of artwork in the clay. I stood in awe. After exploring the group paused to listen to the darkness, headlights clicking off, inviting the silence. The moment etched itself vividly in my memory. It felt like the depths of the earth were pulling something out of the depths of my being. I disappeared into the expanse of something so much bigger than myself. I wanted it to stretch on forever.
My friends tell me I have an obsession with deepness. Every once in a while it will crop up into a conversation. Then they stare at me as if depth is a novelty, as if I’ve stunned them. I wasn’t trying to. Their shock takes me by surprise. I never quite know what to say.

I won’t deny their assertions. I am fascinated by depth. Given the chance I will dive. What befuddles me is why people consider that distinctive. Does everyone else like staying in the shallows? I don’t. I can’t. It makes me miserable.
Superficial conversations haunt me. They haunt me like standing next to the ocean on a hot summer day. All I want to do is dive in, but for some reason I’m only allowed to wet one foot. I find making friends is difficult. It’s not because I don’t value relationships; I just can’t start them well. I hate wading through the meaningless questions about the weather the first ten times I meet someone before we finally make it to a conversation of substance. The result is that I have deep friendships, but I don’t have many.
Last week I sat on the couch with a friend, and I dove. I saw something beneath the surface and I went after it. My friend didn’t follow. It was awkward, trying to have a conversation with my head underwater and hers firmly planted on the shore. Maybe I should stop plunging where other people don’t want to plunge. Maybe I should start reading the ‘no diving’ signs. Maybe I should stop asking so many questions. Maybe I should.
There is something about depth that is vulnerable. Maybe it’s the element of the unknown, crawling into what can’t be seen or expected. Maybe it’s losing sight of the surface, worrying about what will happen outside ourselves while we are away exploring deep caverns. Maybe it’s both. Maybe some people are scared to discover what lies beneath the skin, scared of finding something ugly, scared of finding nothing at all. Or maybe they do know what is inside, but they’ve been hurt one to many times to let anyone else see. Maybe they’ve shut themselves up like an oyster, holding their pearls tightly inside.

I know diving is scary. I’m afraid of it too. I’ve experienced the sensation of throwing myself headfirst into a murky body of water, not knowing what I will find. I’ve faced the questions that leave more questions than answers. I’ve also watched a lot of people walk up to the edge of the diving board and slowly back away. Their fear is sensible, tangible. I’ve felt the thwack of landing on the water the wrong way.

Yet given the chance I will dive, despite my fear. I don’t know what is wrong with me. I don’t know why I remain stubbornly attracted to deepness when everyone else wants to stay at the surface. All I know is that I’m stupid enough not to change. I don’t want to change. Somehow I believe souls were meant to go deep. I believe that if I wait long enough I’ll convince someone else to be crazy enough to dive in with me too. So far the water has caught me every time.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

just as I am...

I was reading a prayer from the Valley of Vision this morning and a phrase caught my eye:

"Help me to honor thee by believing before I feel, for great is the sin if I make feeling a cause of faith."

It was a great reminder to my heart. Just because I don't feel fully in love with God on any given day does not mean that I am not in love with him. What matters is what I choose. Often times when I pause and consider my heart, I guilt trip myself for not dwelling more consistently in the throes of passion for my Savior. But the emotion isn't the most important. I hope it is there some days. It is sweet when it comes. But on the other days, the dull ones when getting up to have a quiet time seems more like a chore than a delight, its nice to know that my relationship with Christ does not completely hinge on the way I am feeling.

The real test of my faith is what I am choosing to believe, and hence, how I am choosing to act on that belief. If, by lack of passion, I mean a lack of obedience or neglect of vital disciplines of the faith, then that absence of passion should be a concern. But if I am merely referring to the ideal emotions that most expect to be there when they spend time with God, well, they are not indispensable.

I've watched so many people stay at a distance from God for years because they just can't "feel" Him. They are waiting for the perfect surge of emotion to push them into the kingdom. Sometimes that happens. But a lot of times it doesn't. Perhaps its healthier if the surge comes after. Then we won't come to God just to get an emotional high. We will come because He is God, because no matter how we are feeling at any given moment, He is worthy of worship, worthy of believing in, worthy of everything there is to offer.

Some mornings all I have to offer God is a groan as I roll out of bed as the result of not getting enough sleep. Some mornings all I have to offer is a plea of "just get me through this day." Some afternoons I would much rather take a nap than pour over the scriptures. There, I've said it. But every time I choose to turn my heart towards Him no matter if I enjoy it or not, those are the moments of my belief. They too are the moments of my worship. They are not often beautiful, but they are genuine. I think He understands that, and I think His heart smiles at any feeble attempt at being with Him, whether or not the emotional high comes attached.