Because we hurt.

Sometimes we leave our wounds open for a bit before we even reach for the first aid kit. Sometimes we let them fester.

That blow that we took, that fall that we fell, that slash that cut us open, sometimes it’s worth bleeding for, at least for a little while.

Sometimes we honor the blow and let ourselves hurt, because ibuprofen only masks the pain. We say Yes, that hurts. Oh, how it hurts. LET IT HURT. I HURT. I HURT. because it’s the only way to eventually heal.

Because if we weren’t wounded, then we can’t heal, can we?

No one needs a band-aid when there was no paper cut. You don’t put a cast on an unbroken arm. You keep your antibacterial ointment sealed when there are no gashes.

We have to acknowledge our wounds, to say you’re here. You hurt. I ache because of you. Something about validating the hurt, of feeling deeply the pain of an open sore helps us accept treatment and heal properly the first time.

You can’t treat a wound that you won’t say you have.

We have to feel our wounds, to cry into them and hold it where it hurts, to see our lives spilling out and want to keep it inside of us. We have to want to heal, don’t we?

We do. It’s the process of healing. We hurt, acknowledge the depth and magnitude and effect. We get sick of hurting. We seek treatment and dutifully apply ointment and shower with a plastic bag over our casts. We use our crutches and lean on our friends. And, in time, we heal.

All because we hurt.

Therefore, we have hope.

Sometimes counting on Truth and Hope feel like drinking cough syrup to cure our cancer. Or they seem somewhere far away in the back of our minds like something we knew once but can’t know now, and there’s a cloud raining gloom and grief over our present thoughts.

It doesn’t make the Truth any less true. It doesn’t mean there’s no Hope. It doesn’t mean that Love failed.

Because Truth and Hope and Love and Grace do win. They aren’t cough syrup to cure cancer.

They’re holy touches into our dead hearts that bring them back to life.

Because God brings us to life in the greatest capacity. He brings life that goes beyond mortal life. He brings hope that our salvation is sure, tells us the truth of who we are to Him – his beloved children. He pours out grace when we forget that.

We surely remember our hurts and our wandering, the bitter feelings and the bad taste it left in our mouths.

Yes, we remember them, and our souls feel heavy.

Yet. [what a hopeful word]

We have pulled a truth out of the deep wells of our minds, and because of it, we dare to have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed by that darkness, those fears, that grief, our sin, our past, our present.

His mercies are new every morning. Every single one. 

Great is your faithfulness, God. [hope, hope, hope]

‘The Lord is mine, everything I need, my inheritance,’ says my soul. 

Because he’s all that I have and all that I need, I will hope in Him.

(Paraphrase of Lamentations 3:19-24)

And this is the song we listen to on days like today.

Only everything

This morning, I didn’t want to get out of bed. The day loomed before me, dark and intimidating. No hyperbole here. The only things I have on my agenda today are ballet class, packing, a bit of reading, a bit of editing, and going to my friend’s apartment to sleepover (because we’re leaving for Budapest early the next morning).

But I might as well have been heading for a big presentation or a scary, confrontational conversation or my own execution for all the enthusiasm I felt about getting up.

I’m trying to be honest about my journey through depression and anxiety, partly because it’s a good way to heal and explore how I’m feeling and partly because there’s so much shame involved with these disorders that I want anyone who has felt this to know they aren’t alone. And that there’s hope.

Some days it’s much easier to get out of bed, and the world seems bright and full of smiley people. But many days, my bed feels like the only safe place. And I’m not just talking about that deep love most college students and other nocturnal folks have for their pillow and blankets. This is a very different feeling, a feeling that once you leave the safety of your bed, anything can happen. Things like conversations loom before you as daunting exercises in social interaction, and the thought of going to a group event or walking outside might as well be walking directly into the line of fire at a shooting range. Or at least, that’s how it feels for me.

These are the days that I have to breathe really deeply. Bryan and Katie Torwalt’s music has been particularly healing for me during this past year. Words like I breathe you in, God, for you are thick all around me and Now nothing is holding me back from you, Redeemer of my soul; now nothing can hold me back from you. Your love will never let me go. Jesus, you make all things new  have breathed life into my soul.

The only stability I’ve found in my life is that Jesus understands me, knows how deeply I feel and exactly what causes those feelings. He is always working for my good, always showing me how to get past those struggles and to live in a healthy relationship with my emotions.

My only peace is when I live in community with God.

My only joy is in seeing the things He’s doing in my life, the ways He’s working, and the beautiful things He’s created in the things and people around me.

My only life is in breathing Him in every time my lungs feel tight with anxiety.

My only security is in His affection and his incredible love for me that never fails or gets tired of reassuring me of who I am to Him.

And that’s not just me. Though I don’t easily find stability, peace, joy, life, and security around me, those things truly only come from God. The best thing to come out of my depression is that I have had to cling to closely to God, the only one capable of truly satisfying those needs. Otherwise, I sink and can’t breathe.

He’s the only thing I need, yet He’s everything I need. Only and every.

Pipes and dreams

Where do dreams fit into our lives on earth (read: the lives that you and I are living right now)? I’m not talking about your vision for the rest of your life, the things that you hope to do and will put all your efforts into doing.

I’m talking about pipe dreams. I’m talking about you-got-your-head-in-the-clouds thinking that makes you sit at your desk and imagine life with that dream fulfilled, starry eyed and blissfully unaware of life around you. What do you do with those?

Our hope in Jesus is our anchor for the soul. That’s good, and we don’t have to question that right now. What I want to know is, what do we do with the hopes that are floating high above us, barely visible – in fact, so far away that we have to imagine what they look like at times? Do we let them float away and concentrate on the things within our reach? Do we focus on all the realistic, hard truths that make it obvious that we’ll never hold those things in our two hands?

These dreams are like soap in the bathtub, eggshell in the cake batter, gnats in midair, paper on a smooth countertop. We can feel them – or at least part of them – and have an idea that they’re tangible, but it’s hard to fully grasp them. And sometimes they’re even less graspable because they have wings or engines – actively moving in another direction.

What do we do with our lofty hopes?

Can we be dreamers and still live happy, productive lives on earth? I’m probably going to come back to the idea that it’s about balance, keeping an eye out for dreams and holding onto the things that are concrete right now. Why do I always come back to balance? Balance is hard. You have to do two things at once and have the perspective to know when you’re getting lopsided.

I’ve been remembering some poignant lines from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory today, and this one’s coming to mind now:

“We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” – originally from Arthur O’Shaughnessy

Perhaps it is in our identity to dream, to reach for the possibly unreachable. And perhaps the only way we can ever grasp it is to keep it in view.

On days like today, where I wake up and the sun shines and I successfully mail another 7 postcards, and I’m on a train to Vienna to catch a flight to Paris, my dreams seem within reach. Or maybe my heart just floats higher than other days.

Journey to the hope of Christmas

I drove for three hours straight on Saturday, which probably isn’t a big deal for you, but it was a small victory for me. I say small victory because I tense up a bit when driving over 65 mph on a two-lane highway, so after a while I get cramps in my shoulders. Plus, car butt is an even greater reality from the front seat when you have to keep a foot near the gas pedal. It’s something about not allowing myself to stretch for three hours.

I know; this is whiney. I promise there’s a point to all this.

I decided while I was driving through the snowy, barren tree-lined highway of Wisconsin that I like road trips. Maybe I need to add a qualifier to that: I like road trips post-finals. I let my mind wander – not too far, mind you. I’m a good, mindful driver – all over the trees and the road and the snow and the other cars and passengers and the destination and the journey. It only went to my to-do list for a few minutes, in between thoughts about existence and Christmas and journeys.

I’ve written before that I’m a fast walker. I walk for the destination, not to pass the time. While that’s definitely true in winter, when the wind is threatening to remove my outer layer of skin, I’m learning to love the journey. I’m learning that driving in Wisconsin – where there isn’t any cell reception and you can’t stay on a radio station for long because you get out of range in fifteen minutes – promotes curiosity.

You know how a train of thought goes: you start by seeing a farmhouse, then you wonder who lives there and why they’d build a farm so close to a highway, then you wonder if maybe the highway came after they built the farm. Actually the farm was there for hundreds of years (not those buildings you see now, of course), when the city built the highway running through their neighbors’ land (who had to sell so they could move their ailing great-grandma nearer to a hospital). It’s affected how their cheese tastes (because it’s a dairy farm, duh), and now they’re struggling to make ends meet. Or maybe they’re not dairy farmers. They just raise cattle and try to ignore all the cars. Or maybe they like the cars. They put out signs by the highway and sell lots of jelly in the summers and meet all sorts of interesting people.

Then you think about how Jesus was probably born in a barn like that one you’re passing by now. You wonder how Mary endured it. Poor girl: no epidural, no clean sheets, no nice nurse to tell her that it’s going to be okay – just keep pushing. Really, all the conditions were about as bad as they could be. Jesus was born at exactly the right time to exactly the right people, right under the star that would eventually lead the wise men to him, but it doesn’t seem optimal, does it? For one thing, what can a baby do for a people who’ve been oppressed by the Romans for so long? Didn’t they need a strong political leader or a military man?

But then Jesus grows in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man, and He eats with sinners and heals the diseased. He calls the pious, oppressive religious leaders of the day snakes and washes His disciples’ feet. He tells people to go and sin no more, provides good wine for a wedding, and loves people who were quite certain that they were unlovable. He shows us how we are to live, what a life in close communion with God looks like, and how to bring the kingdom of God to earth.

It seems like enough. It seems like Jesus could have just done that, but we know that God didn’t just put on skin to change the way the world works and to show us how to live. He put on skin and plopped Himself in a manger so that one day He could die and come back to life to repair the broken relationship that we had with Him. He said, I want to be close to you. So close that I’ll do something that no other god has even thought of. I’ll put on flesh. I’ll lower myself to the point of serving those I created. I’ll lower myself even further, to the grave.

But then, three days after I’m dead, when you think all hope is lost, I’ll come back to life to show that I can restore anything. I can fix what is broken and be in communion with my people. 

That’s the hope of Christmas, that Jesus came to us, in the lowliest way possible so that He could redeem and be in relationship with those he created – all of them.

I’m going to stand in awe of that this Christmas, to rejoice that my Savior didn’t ask me to complete a list of tasks or play a spiritual game of chutes and ladders to get to Him. Instead, He came to me.

Just call me a plant.

Sunny days come at a maximum of two in a row in Minnesota this summer, apparently.  Just when you finally breathe a sigh of contentedness because it seems like nice summer weather is here to stay, the sun retreats and lets humidity have its way with the world.

It’ll be a treat when the sun decides to grace us with its presence again.

The weather this summer has probably been so confusing to our plants.  The long season of snow and ice that stayed far past its welcome delayed their re-enty into life.  Dormancy became the norm while frozen precipitation reigned on the surface.

Then came a week of warm weather followed by a couple of 80 to 90 degree days.  This was their cue to spring forth into new growth.  This was the time to stretch out of the soil in which they had lain dormant for so long.  It was time to dig their roots in deep and push toward the sunlight.

Just as they got the strength and energy to get up through the soil, however, Mean Old Man Winter whisked back into town like a villain from an Old Western movie, on horseback in all black.  He cackled and waved, and brisk winds and chilly temperatures  (though not as intense as before) threatened the poor little plants.  Those buds on the trees, the flowers, insect life (though I’m not totally opposed to a decreased mosquito population), shivered at the oppression thrown their way.  They longed for the sunlight, to reach beyond the chill of the winter to the sunlight and warmth of the environment where they could grow most easily.

Those poor little plants hoped.  And they didn’t retreat back into the ground, because then they’d have to start all over.  They stood their ground and waited for the sun to come back.

I think I’d like to be like those plants.

Rouge projectiles.

I didn’t play softball long enough to experience curveballs or to even know if that’s really a thing that happens in softball.  We had barely mastered underhand, 10 mph pitches when I quit.  I’ve been to Twins’ games, so I know it happens there.

I’m more familiar with the figurative curveballs.  The ones in life.  You aren’t even in the game.  You’re on the bench.  You haven’t even stepped up to the plate.  You don’t have a bat in your hands, but then a curveball comes and hits you right in the stomach.

The depth of my understanding of curveballs are pretty limited, so this metaphor might be botched.  Either way, I’m sure you understand what I’m saying since you’re all intelligent folks.

I’m not the biggest fan of getting hit in the stomach with anything.  And, since I’m extremely ticklish (do NOT use that against me), I actually react if anyone puts their hand within 6 inches from my midsection.  Don’t test that.

Back to the point, though.  Is there anything to be gained from getting the wind knocked out of you?  Do rouge projectiles serve any purpose?  Is it really good if they hurt you and send you to the hospital?

I’m hoping that when things surprise you by going badly, they turn out to be the best thing that could have happened to you.  And me.  I’m hoping that’s true for me, too.

Happy note: it’s sunny outside today.  So there is much hope for everything.

Hopes and fears.

I hope, I hope, I hope that I’m not getting sick.

I fear that I might be.

I hope, I hope, I hope that I’ll get lots of sleep tonight.

I fear that I might lost track of time.

I hope, I hope, I hope that I’m not forgetting anything that I should be doing at this very moment.

I fear that I’m forgetting something key.

Today I’m trying to hope three times more than I fear.  It’s so much better to have hope than fear.  As you all know – if you have been reading for at least a couple months – I have an extremely wild and malicious imagination that tells me that disaster is impending almost every day.  Yet, I remain an optimist.

My imagination told me today that this teeny tiny sore throat and hint of fatigue is actually Equine Flu (I made that up… even if it’s real, I made it up.  We’ve had bird and swine flu, so I’m guessing horses are next.).  I’ll be down for the count for weeks, and if that wasn’t bad enough, I’ll get behind on everything.  And I won’t get to see my sister this weekend – which I need to, I just need to.  And I’ll have to spend my entire Thanksgiving break doing makeup work, and I won’t get to eat mashed potatoes and Challah bread and that amazing meringue cake that is always at our Thanksgiving meal.

As I’ve mentioned before, my imagination is quite cruel.

I’m teaching it a lesson today by drinking lots of water and tea.  I’m sucking on vitamin C drops and washing my hands a lot.  I’m eating dried apples and mentally combating sickness.  It’s not going to get me.  No monstrous Halloween virus can take me down.

I have hope, hope, hope.  Jesus is still good today, in case you were wondering.  I woke up this morning and found that He was still here and still loves me and still redeems me and teaches me something new each day.  He’s still faithful.  It’s amazing, people.  I’ve never had a friend like this.

Enter: Robin Williams singing “Friend Like Me”, but modify the words to fit Jesus.  Just try to picture that.

You are more.

Today, I have a story that’s not my own, but before I tell it, click this link and listen to the whole thing and read all the lyrics. Ready, set, go.

Now, I’d like you to picture yourself inside a women’s penitentiary.  We’re in the room where they have church, and there’s a guest singer today.  A group of women are before him, and that song is the one he sings to them.  Not an eye is dry in the entire place.

I heard that story on the radio months ago (a true story), and now I can’t hear that song without picturing those women, hearing from a stranger that they have hope in Jesus.  I get shivers thinking about how powerful that moment must have been.

This is not about what you’ve done but what’s been done for you.

This is not about where you’ve been but where your brokenness brings you to.

This is not about what you feel but what He felt to forgive you

And what He felt to make you loved.

You are more.

That’s the kind of language that sets Jesus apart.  The heart that tells the sinner “You are more than what you’ve done, because of Me” is the one that draws us to Him.

I’d like to be like that guy – who went into a penitentiary and sang hope and love to them.  He didn’t sing condemnation or threat.  He didn’t preface the song by saying, “Okay, ladies, so I’m going to sing a song that says you are more than what you’ve done, but don’t get too prideful.  You’ve still done bad things.”  He didn’t give them the guilt trip, and did he really need to?

Sick people know that they’re sick.

People in jail (at least the ones who actually are guilty) know that they’ve done something against society.  I doubt that what they need is a reminder.  Sure, if you went to a middle class neighborhood picnic where people go to church and live nice lives and don’t think they sin, you might need a different song.

But this, this picture of offering hope and restoration and a love beyond anything they’d ever known, is beautiful.

It leaves me in awe of how Jesus operates.


Not in me, in you.

I lose things all the time.  Partly because my typical place to put things is on my floor.  And when you put everything on the floor, not only can you not walk around well (there’s this thing called a bed in the way too), but you lose things.  Or step on them and break them.  Or they just get swirled in with the rest of the mess.

I’m getting better at not putting things on my floor, because that’s not where they belong.  They get lost, because I’ve put them in the wrong place.

I do the same thing with my trust and my questions.  I ask myself the questions that I have no ability to answer.  I put my trust in my own abilities, thinking that I will be able to work everything out and put all the pieces together.  I entrust important things to my incapable self and important things to my  cluttered, undiscerning floor.

I find peace when I’m confused.  I find hope when I’m let down – not in me, in You.

Switchfoot gets it. The place where confusion and hope is found is not in me.  Nope, things get more confused and more unrestful there.  In You, Jesus.  That’s where the peace and hope is.  And maybe there still aren’t all the answers, but there’s peace in the confusion.  Peace to just be confused.  Hope that I won’t always be down.

That’s what I’m resting in today.  Not answers, not in having all my ducks in a row.  Not in being all that I want to be, but knowing that there’s hope.  For me, for the circumstances around me, for the world at large.