My Friend

friends

This was a poem I wrote in summer 2013, for the friend who saved me from loneliness and isolation, and who has since saved me multiple times from self-hatred, possibly minor depression and, once, suicidal thoughts. I am forever grateful for having been given the privilege to know him.

My Friend

I still remember how we first met:
The patterns on the carpet.
I was feeling down, my life aground,
And then God put you in it.

I had no hope for close-up friends,
But I knew within a minute:
God put you there to hear my prayer
And my walls were broken down.

It’s hard to keep an open heart
When friends don’t stay within it.
Let separation strike again,
And slam! The doors pull shut.

So there I was, alone and cold,
Without someone to speak to.
But you just smiled and let me sigh
And soon my heart was living.

“Friends are forever,” so the saying goes.
Sometimes it’s hard to feel it.
But now I know we’ll always be friends−-
No matter what comes between us.

Remember

team avatarThis is a poem I wrote back in October 2013 about the nature of a well-developed friendship. Although we often speak of friendship as “having each other’s backs,” in a lot of ways a true friendship involves “having each other’s fronts”: taking and softening the blows that life deals to each of us, and sharing the pain and the joy so that no one has to bear on his or her own the weight of the darkness and the weight of the light.

Remember

Remember those days, those days of yore,
Those days of triumph and of trial?
Faced we the enemy; we fell and rose,
Conquering all with a unified mind.

Oh, those days and those years, so full of memories!
We stand upright, now, tho’ covered in scars.
Our weapons they rest in the coveted places,
Memorials grim of the darkness we’ve faced.

But, friend, where’s your shield? I see here your sword,
Your horn, and your arrows–but nowhere your armor.
Look at these scars on my hands and my heart.
It was I who then shielded you, I who protected.

Forget not those bygone days, dangers, and toils,
Lest these my love-rich wounds be all in vain.
Keep to the path, and I will yet support you.
All I ask, my dear friend, is us two together again.

Vincent Van Gogh

[Writing a sonnet for Shakespeare Festival Week has set me on a temporary sonnet-writing spree . . . here is one that began forming as a result of dealing with a bout of minor depression yesterday.]

Vincent Van Gogh

I walk each day through hallways in my mind,
And see the darkness twist and coil around
The many rooms in which my thoughts are bound;
By dusky mists them tied up do I find.

My deepest doubts before me swim and swirl
While fears and demons prey upon my soul;
As ’round my ankles now the smoke doth curl,
I start to feel oblivion’s cold pull.

But as through these deep shadow’d halls I go,
No sign of this can I let others see;
None of this nightmare shall anyone know:
A light of hope to them I must still be.

Thus out of pain must I joy resurrect;
And love from hurt and apathy protect.

Static

Yesterday was not a good day for me. For some strange reason, my mind was filled with what I can only describe as an intense, day-long burst of static that occupied my thoughts and left me unable to focus except with extreme effort. It was only late in the evening that it left me, after an intense hour of prayer following a half-hour of increasing agitation and anxiety due to the tenacity of the mental static.

After the static had passed, this poem started forming in my mind, echoing the contradictory and somewhat paradoxical nature of static, and reflecting the somewhat lack of point and structure thereof.

Static

The beauty and the ugliness of static
Lie both in its uniform variability:
That monotonous polytonicity of silent sound,
The ever-changing constants of one-note chords,
That noiselessly echo down electric corridors.
It invisibly shouts over words and thoughts,
Deafening minds with its swirling lines
Of substantial nothingness.
Fuzzy sharpness conquers all,
Imaginatively drowning reality
And replacing fact with fiction.
It buzzes in the ears and eyes
And drives one madly sane,
Clearing from the slate both
Ill and good, leaving naught behind,
Quieting the mind with racing stillness.
Exhilarating despair sets in,
As the mind haltingly hastes
Through distracted focus to uncertain ends.

Sunny Days and Long Thoughts

Today should be one of the best days of the week. It’s Wednesday, sunny, and not too cold despite this being Colorado. We’ve been making progress on our coding project and are more or less on schedule to finish it by end of week, including spending today as a kind of “vacation” day. Everything seems to be going well.

So why, as I’m starting to draft this entry, am I sitting on a log outside trying not to cry? Trying not to feel completely discouraged? Trying to ignore the feeling like I’m standing on a thin surface that’s about to crumble and fall apart underneath me?

Because all of my fears, doubts, and burdens are suddenly bearing down on me. Without anything to keep my attention, my thoughts are free to go spinning in whatever direction they desire, and right now that’s where they choose to dwell.

Many of my friends know how overwhelmingly busy I tend to be. Every time I seemingly overload myself, I always say I’ll take on less next time. But I never do. It’s because being swamped with activity is my way of running away from things. From thoughts that will noisily fill up the silence. From memories that will bring pain and regret into the present.

It’s easy to say that I should just hand my troubles to God. Even I tell myself that. But for me, at least, there is a major disconnect between saying it and actually being able to do it. I struggle to give to Him my burdens of loneliness, of failure, of anxiety, of shame, of sexuality, of pride, of self-hatred, of selfishness . . . all of my burdens that He is more than ready to take, but that I am unready to give Him.

That is why I will continue to keep moving, to keep running. Because if I stop, everything will come crashing on top of me like it did today. I don’t want that to happen. It hurts when it does. So I’ll keep making myself push forward, until I can’t do it anymore . . . or until I finally learn how to give it all to God unreservedly.

Faith, Snow Days, and Dreams

This Sunday, I attended church for the first time in, honestly, a couple months. I’ve been going to chapel and to Sunday evening worship, but I hadn’t actually made it to a church service in a while until then. It was not the East Texas church near my university that I “normally” go to, but instead a church in Colorado Springs. I was there with the members of my Spring Break missions trip team.

Two things stand out to me from that service. The first was that, during the singing portion of the service, I could hear a relatively young girl standing behind me and singing with all her heart. As I listened to her pouring her entire heart into the words she sang, I was deeply moved, realizing that she almost certainly has a type of deep faith that I have yet to achieve. Having grown up primarily in churches where doctrine and liturgy, rather than free-style praise, were the primary channels of worship, my faith has always been channeled through the filter of thought and logic. Mine is the lesson of having the faith of a child, not the lesson of having the wisdom of a serpent.

The other thing that stood out to me was the pastor’s sermon topic. Although I ended up frequently being distracted by reading the texts surrounding the Scripture passages he was preaching from, I definitely caught the principal point. The passages were from Ephesians 6 and Exodus 13 and 14, and the question he was asking was, “What prevents you from pursuing the dreams God has given you, and why do you let those things prevent you?”

Hearing the sermon was truthfully rather painful. Over the years, my dreams have slowly died one by one, and I have yet to discover what it is that God has given me to do (or if He has even yet done so). Maybe I just haven’t been listening carefully enough to see something that is painfully obvious to everyone around me. Maybe He hasn’t been telling me, biding His time until He has prepared me for whatever it is. All I know right now, though, is that I have no compelling dreams that keep me going.

This might cause one to question why I keep going at all. A few months ago, I was asking myself that same question. It was finding the answer that led me to draw the picture above. Basically, there are three reasons that I fight to keep myself from just letting go of everything and allowing my life to grind to a halt. First, because I have made commitments of various kinds, whether academic or moral, all of which need to be honored (in my mind, at least, this is how I see them, though some would say that they are not truly “commitments”). Second, because my family and my friends would be deeply hurt if I allowed myself to disappear into myself. And third, because I believe I have been told by God that I am not to let go. These reasons are represented by the three chains holding up the tree in the drawing. Should they break (as they have occasionally come close to doing in recent months), I do not know if I would be able to continue on, even with all the loving friends I have.

When I say “let go,” I don’t just mean disappearing socially into an introverted shell of depression and lack of motivation. One of the things God showed me recently (in the last couple of weeks, in fact, during a period in which a couple of unexpected snow days shut down my college almost completely) is that I have long been oppressed by a particularly malicious spirit of suicide. What makes it so specially malicious is the fact that there have only been a few times in my life when I have been actively dealing with suicidal thoughts. Most of the other times are ones that I only realized with God’s help upon looking back were encounters with suicidal activities that masked themselves as seemingly harmless youthful curiosity–how long can I hold my breath, especially past the point at which most people would admit defeat? What is it like being unable to breathe at all? What is it like drowning, or bleeding out, or dealing with toxins? These are some of the things that I often spent a lot of time thinking about when younger, and a few of them I actually tried–specifically, the ones having to do with holding my breath. Looking back, it is rather scary seeing how benign those thoughts seemed to me back then, and I can only attribute my lack of concern about them to spiritual blindness and/or oppression.

Now that I am older, and more spiritually aware, the attacks are no longer as subtle and seemingly benign. I have had clearly suicidal thoughts twice in the last three years, and the second time was prevented from ever acting on them by the presence of close friends who cared deeply about me and caught the warning signals. I was, however, reminded of all of those thoughts again yesterday evening, while swimming at a pool during a group dinner event at the house of a friend of our mission trip’s hosts. I have never been that good at swimming (and especially at floating or treading water), and while in the water I began thinking some of the same thoughts I had once had–only to catch myself and realize what was going through my mind. It was a shock and a sobering reminder that I am quite literally dependent every day on the love and mercy and grace of God to keep me anchored in reality and in life. Without His protective and strengthening work in my life, every single one of those metaphorical chains would by now have snapped and I might not even be here to write this.

I am extremely grateful that God has placed an injunction against suicide or social withdrawal on my heart. It is one of the things that keeps me putting one foot in front of the other, every day, even when I want to just stop and fall down where I am. It is what keeps me here with my friends, sometimes opening up to them about the things I struggle with and think about. It is what allows me to fall in love with songs like Stand in the Rain and Demons–both being songs that speak deeply to me. There is much that I do not speak about because it hurts too much, or because it is something I am afraid to reveal, or because I am trying desperately not to hurt others. But God’s command to me is what allows me to help other friends who are also struggling. Because I can never give up. Because I can never give in. Because even if I can’t be a warrior or a hero, I can at least try to be a healer. Because I’ve been given the gift of seeing how life is a mixture of good things and bad things, and how much it hurts sometimes. Because I’ve made a promise after being given a promise, and I’m going to stick to it because I believe God’s going to stick to His.

Will I ever be given a dream or a vision to follow? Maybe not. Maybe I’ll live the rest of my life feeling like I’m pushing through the fog only to find that God was leading me safely through a minefield I might not have entered at all had He not kept me dependent on Him. I’m sure there will be many times when I get deeply discouraged and the things that hold me up come close to failing. But He’s been there for me so far, and I don’t think He’s ever going to let me fall all the way. So I’m going to keep doing the only thing I can do–have faith and follow Him into the dark.

Centuries

Clara As I sit alone in a motel room in front of my computer, I can’t help wondering why on earth I’m here. Why I wasn’t, an couple hours ago, at a piano at college, providing accompaniment for a worship team as a group of 20-30 fellow students sing along. Why I am in Greenville driving a U-Haul truck that I’m not hauling anything with except myself and a suitcase and a backpack.

I can’t help pondering why, in short, I am doing something crazy and ridiculous. Why, in fact, I do any of the things I do.
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To say that I love John Green’s book The Fault in Our Stars is probably an understatement. It would probably be more appropriate to say that I am obsessed with TFiOS. Specifically, I am in love with the main characters, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters. I love Hazel because of her cynical yet insightful view of the world. As un-Christian and Hamletic as her view of the universe and its codependent relationship with human life might be, her insights into human nature resonate deeply with me.

Gus, on the other hand, I love because deep down inside, I understand him completely. His desire to do something that in the end is “worth it;” his wish to be Hazel’s hero; and his understanding that loving someone who has the potential to hurt you deeply can be the most rewarding type of love there is out there.
_______________________________________________________

So what does TFiOS have to do with my being in Greenville? The connection is that when I ask myself why I make the life choices that I make, I often end up answering the question the way that Gus does. No matter how often I try to indoctrinate myself with Hazel’s words about oblivion and just letting life be about observing the universe, I ultimately return to the point of wanting to know that, by the time I am called to leave this earthly life, I will have done something that was really changed the world for someone. I don’t care about going out in a heroic manner . . . but I want to go out having been a hero to someone. Yes, Hazel speaks out against that view, but I have come to take the stance that the world has both its Hazels and its Guses, and both are equally right. It all depends on who you are and what God has made you to be. Some of us were born desiring to do things and being given opportunities. Some of us were born desiring to just experience the world and getting to sit back and let it wash over us, observe us, and ignore us when it wants to.

And, to finish the comparison of myself with Gus, I don’t want to have a simple “love story” if I ever meet another person God intends me to join my life with “till death do us part.” I want to have a relationship that is marked by growing together through struggle and growth and tragedy and celebration. Honestly, I would be more than willing to embark on a story that is the story of Hazel and Gus in The Fault in Our Stars, of Sheldon and Davy in A Severe Mercy, or of the Doctor and River Song in Doctor Who. Yes, these are relationships that end extremely painfully and sadly. But they are also ones from which those involved learn greatly, and that is the kind of relationship I want to have.

So what is the point I am trying to make? It is this: I don’t care about making a name for myself that will go down in history. I don’t care about having people remember me for centuries, to quote the song Centuries by the band Fall Out Boy. I don’t care about having an easy time of it gaining the love of someone I love. Rather, what I desire is to live a complete life that, when I look back on it afterwards, I can be sure that I filled with choices that truly were worth it and people who changed my life, and whose lives I changed, for the better.

How To Deal With A Grenade

Clara

I struggle with depression.

Yeah, really. I do.

Admitting this fact to myself has been perhaps one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. (Not the hardest, but it ranks up there.) Not only was I afraid of making the implicit admission of personal brokenness, I was also afraid of the implicit admission that I’m not strong enough to help others effectively. Because if I’m so broken that I can’t help myself, then I’m definitely too broken to help others to my fullest potential, right?

I was also afraid that by being broken, I would start hurting others I cared for. That was, perhaps, the worst part of my situation. I was so afraid of hurting people that I wouldn’t admit to myself that I was in a position to do so.

So what changed things?

As much as I’d like to say that there was a sudden moment of realization and understanding, I can’t. It was more of an extended process, a string of moments of clarification bursting through like light through cracks in a crumbling brick wall.

The first sign that I was more broken than I thought was the slow decline in both physical and psychological health I suffered over 2014. I completely overworked myself–multiple classes in each semester and two year-long jobs, one of which became full-time over the summer. Despite continually telling myself I was doing fine, I slowly fell farther and farther behind in energy levels, and even now have yet to really recover. In fact, if I have developed a condition called hypoadrenia, it may take me years to return to full health. As the year wore on, I found it harder and harder to ignore the symptoms of tiredness, exhaustion, growing insomnia, and increasingly frequent mood swings, until I finally had to admit that I’d gone well down the path of breaking myself physically, if not mentally (I still can’t think as quickly as I could at the start of 2014).

The second sign that I was more broken than I thought was a growing feeling of a loss of purpose and direction that I had all of last year, and which peaked during December. This feeling had a twofold cause: first, I lost a powerful source of personal motivation when another friend was suddenly healed of depression. And second, I came to realize that many of the other motivators that had given me most of my drive to do anything did not originate from within me. In short, I lost sight of who I was as a person, and that played havoc with my mind and spirit.

The third sign that I was more broken than I thought was an episode that showed me just how hurt and in need I was. During a week of intense stress, I misinterpreted humorous comments from close friends as essentially insults and expressions of dislike. The main result of this misunderstanding was that, feeling deeply hurt, I became stolidly unforgiving and decided to cut off all contact with those friends. It was not until I was reading much later through an unrelated, but relevant, IM conversation with another friend that I realized just how wrong I had been, and how disproportionately I had reacted toward my friends. Once this epiphany sank in, I finally started to realize just how far I’d fallen.

These were the signs that told me I wasn’t okay the way that I thought I was. But they weren’t the ones that told me that it was okay for me to admit it.

What really made the difference (or, I should say, who really made the difference) was my best friend finally managing to hammer it into my head that he wanted to help me get out of whatever hole I’d dug myself into. Not because he felt some kind of obligation to do so, but because I was his friend.

And that was what helped me see the truth. That no matter how much I might be falling apart, it’s okay to be broken. That just because I’m blowing up doesn’t automatically mean that I need to hold my crap together to keep it from putting others through a lot of pain. And that if I do hurt my friends while trying to find my way back to the light, that they are more than happy to take that damage for me.

Because that’s what friends do for friends. And because no person is not worth enduring the pain for a while in hope of sharing in the joy at the end.

And I’m okay with that.

Is this year going to be easy?

No. The fact remains that I do and will continue to deal with depression, with compromised health, and with deep-rooted self-esteem issues.

But at least I don’t have to be afraid of dealing with them.

And I think that’s the important thing for right now. Being able to face what hurts me without having to fear it hurting others. And knowing that not only do I have people who care about me and are willing to stand up for and with me to help me get through, but also with their help I can continue to care about others and to help them in their difficulties.

Okay. I can do that.

And so can you. Whether you’re the one who needs help, or whether you’re the one who can help someone else . . . just look around. You are not alone. You might not recognize it at first, or be willing to accept it initially, but help is there ready for you. And there are plenty of people out there who need help. Just be aware and keep your eyes and heart open . . . and someday you’ll see the hurts that need the healing you can help bring.

Okay?

Let’s Talk About It

I agree so much with this.

Captivated

Reading this you might wonder why I’m up so late. I didn’t ask for insomnia, but it came. I didn’t ask for sores in my mouth and they came too. I didn’t ask for everything to be going great or to feel like all I want to do is cry. And yet, tonight we’re having a party. I might as well make use of them.

imagesFor a few days I’ve been listening to sermons on depression and related issues. I’ve also been listening to Ted talks on the same thing. It’s been pretty enlightening. So here are my observations.

Sermons regarding depression. They stink. It’s like pastors drew short straws and preached on it. I listened to one sermon called “Getting Unstuck from Depression.” All I have to say is that depressed people are not wagons stuck in the mud. The sermons I listened were from people who appeared to…

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Of God and Monsters

Powerful point made by a friend of mine. Definitely worth the read!

The Giant Sand Box

Consider this: A monster is made by a genius. The genius made the monster to be like himself or herself. The monster is not human, but it is close. The monster thinks for itself until it thinks of itself. Maybe a bolt of lightning hits the monster, or something outside of the monster persuades it to become self-aware. The monster thinks the genius is trying to keep it powerless, a slave to the genius’s will. Then, that monster rebells against the genius and sets out to destroy him/her, hell bent on eradicating the genius from this world. Then, at great cost to himself or herself, the genius sacrifices something to save the world and the monsters from their own destruction.

Replace the word ‘monster’ with ‘robot,’ and ‘genius’ with ‘human,’ and you have the makings for some of the best selling fiction in history! Terminator, Matrix, Frankenstein, Zombies, iRobot… The list of stories where our inventions rebel against, kill or subjugate all of humanity are prevalent throughout…

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