breath

begin.

close your eyes
heavy they are
weighted by onslaughts
of
 beauty.
the splendor of sights
although wondrous
cannot lessen the load.
wait for a moment.

requiring no effort
no conscious choice
simply a gift
rivers of chilled air 
swirling up 
through nostrils freshly drained 
contents accompanied tears
on journey down 
cheeks flushed with fear 
wait for a moment.

do you feel that?
elastic stretching
within chest walls
accommodating life
diaphragm contracting
making room for sustaining wind
cells drink deeply
nutrients pumped within tissue
wait for a moment.

resurfacing rivers
from journeys deep within
each submerged
under weight 
of the world

rivers of warm air
swirling up
through nostrils freshly drained
contents accompanied
by hope

though faint
hope rises from depths
unseen by sunlight
far too long
wait for a moment

do you feel that?
elastic relaxing
within chest walls
releasing toxin and despair
making room for life
for hope.

close your eyes.
wait for a moment.

Please Remind Me 

It comes in waves. Seasons.
There will be times the tide is out and the water seems much more manageable. The breeze is blowing, the flowers blooming, the birds chirping. There are seasons where Spring seems to wash over my skin and breathing isn’t so difficult. I laugh, even. Deep from the pits of my soul laughter.
Seasons change. As they always have and always will. Clouds form on the horizon and the sky, in its fury, spits stones of ice, systematically crushing every flower so carefully tended to in the Spring. The tide comes rushing in, beating the shore with all its might, sucking out to sea the only life left under my feet. Spring is long forgotten and the breeze has turned hot, searing my flesh. 

“And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.” – John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Steinbeck had it right. Our human condition, I think. At least my condition, anyway. These waves – seasons – they seem to wash away every memory of the season before. My vision tunnels and my mind cannot, no matter the amount of energy I put toward it, recall or remember a time when it wasn’t like it is in this exact moment.

~ ~ ~

I bought into the lie, and it is a lie, that if I just prayed more, read my bible more, memorized the right scriptures, and joined every activity the church had to offer, then I wouldn’t be depressed and I would would be healed. Because Jesus wants me healed…right? 

Sometimes there are reasons for your sadness. Sometimes there are things you can point to that fractured and sent your heart reeling. But more often than not, there is nothing tangible to point to, you just know you are bleeding out from a million different places. You are unsure why your heart is breaking this way. You can’t figure out why you feel so sad but you are certain that somehow the shattered bits of glass have slipped quietly into your abdomen and sliced your insides all to pieces. Your sadness and the weight of hopelessness come out crooked. You are bleeding from all the wrong places. 

It comes out in angry, poisonous, words, flung toward the people you would never imagine. It comes seeping out in jealousy and rage, resenting the very ones who would fight the world on your behalf. It comes out in shouts and screams of pain, even when the source of pain remains hidden. It comes wearing bloody knuckles and broken promises. All this bleeding. From all the wrong places. 

No one would ever suspect you died of a broken heart.

~ ~ ~

Depression is like that. Swooping in from the fringes of life, giving no warning of impending attack. I often wonder where God is in all of this and to be honest, I don’t have any answers. Most of the time I am left scrambling around in the dark hoping to reach out and touch something solid. 

In regards to God, the Psalmist writes “clouds and thick darkness are all around him”. Somehow that verse is comforting to my weatherworn soul. While it is dark, part of me latches on to the “surrounding him” part. The bent inside of me that always leans toward hope {even when I don’t want to}, you know what that part of me hears? 

“You are getting so close…”

The darkness that threatens to overtake me? The clouds that seem to suffocate? I am getting close to him. Over and over in I am told that God is near to the brokenhearted, he saves the crushed in spirit. I am reminded that He is in my midst and a mighty one to save. There is a promise of God being near to those who call on Him. When I am not swearing at the darkness, that’s what the “prone to hope” part of me reaches toward.

Help me believe this. Remind me. 

~ ~ ~

So, what do I know? I know that seasons come and seasons go. Just like they always have and just like they always will. During the dry years I will have no memory of the wet years and during the wet years there will be no recollection of the dry ones. I will need help remembering. People who love me will remind me that it won’t rain for the rest of my life. They tell me there will come a time when the clouds will part and the sky will open up and before I know it, it will be spring. I am told the breeze will bring you to your knees and you won’t want the air to be still. Spring comes. It always does. 

If you need the reminding, ask for it. 

If you know someone who is stuck in the hard seasons, remind them – “spring.is.coming.” 

Please remind us. 

For my sister, on her wedding day. 

This was written for my sister and brother-in-law as my maid of honor toast. They were married in Mexico on June 15th of this year. In the middle of a tropical storm. I was so honored to stand with them. 

  

Good evening everyone. I want to thank all of you, friends and family, for riding out this tropical storm in order to celebrate Amy and Nathan. They say that rain on your wedding day is good luck. So I have a feeling that Amy and Nathan will out marry all of us. For those of you who don’t know me, I am Alison, Amy’s younger sister. I feel like I have lived most of my life walking in Amy’s steps. Teachers throughout the years continually referred to me as “little Amy” – because they had already taught her and honestly, I didn’t mind it too much. I have always, or mostly always, loved being Amy’s sister. 

Amy and Nathan attended high school together and grew up with a lot of the same people but never realized it. Then, they reconnected in college through mutual friends, Katy and Pat Seals. Amy and Nathan started dating in 2008 and as a little sister, it’s been such a fun thing to watch Amy fall in love. Nathan has been a champ and has found a place in our family and we have come to love his family as our own. Nathan, I am so grateful for you and I think I can speak for my whole family when I say that we are grateful for the way you love my sister. 

Amy. You look so beautiful. Stunning, really. And if anyone could pull it off today, it’s you. Today I think about the home video of my 4th or 5th birthday party. The video shows me excitedly opening presents and as soon as I get to a particularly good one, Amy loudly exclaims “oh oh!! we share that”. Parties ever since then have been filled with things that we “share”. Except for the time she got her first battery operated jeep and promptly ran me over on her first drive. But, Amy, today is all yours. We don’t have to share this. Today is your day. Thank you for the privilege of sharing it with you. 

Nathan. Welcome. Officially and permanently, to the crazy. So far you have dealt with it amazingly well. Thank you for being the new person Amy gets to boss around. Like I said earlier, I am so grateful for the way you love my sister. Seeing the way you love and care for her has been beautiful to watch.

Amy and Nathan. I don’t have huge words of advice to give you but I do have huge hopes. I hope laughter and love. I hope for a love that trumps fear and anger. People always say “don’t go to bed angry.” And I echo that. Let your love for each other win on those nights. I hope for amazing sunsets on beaches and sunrises in the mountains. I hope you continue to travel. I hope you see the world. I hope you stand in places that make you stand in awe, in places that make you feel small. I hope for Christmas videos and birthday parties. I hope for children that will walk in your steps and be proud to be yours. 

I think about those who can’t be with us today, those who have given us a legacy of love and laughter and joy. May you create a legacy like that. May you create a legacy that will outlive your years. And even then, people will sit around and talk about the wedding that went off with a few hitches but was washed out and wind blown with tons of laughter and love. 

These are my hopes for you. I am so grateful to watch them unfold. 
We raise our glasses to you, Amy and Nathan. Wishing you more love than you can stand. I love you.

  

and so we wait.

The sun has surrendered to the black of night and I find myself overcome by darkness again. It’s been awhile since a night like this has visited my bedside. 

My teeth are clinched and I can feel every muscle tense. Again, the weight of the world is masquerading as the weight of my sheets. I repeat, out loud, rules that I have set in the past, a way of keeping boundaries for myself. Tonight, I see them only as lines begging to be crossed and dares taunting with challenge. 

I can’t escape my own thoughts and I want to physically beat the lies out of my head. I want to turn my head to the side and pound and pound until the lies come dripping out my ear. Pipe dream, huh? 

The lies remain. And as much as I’d like to believe that I can “take every thought captive,” I’m just not buying it tonight. It’s a romantic thought, though. But right now it feels more like a simple self help tactic. “Just change your thinking, Alison.” That’s what I tell myself…”Just reason yourself out of this spiral, you idiot.” 

It doesn’t work like that. 
Self help rarely does. 

I don’t even have words to pray. I don’t have words enough to ask for the help I think I need. Rarely do prayers, real ones, look like the ones we were taught in Sunday School. Felt boards and finger puppets are of no use to me when the light is sucked into the crack under my door and only dark remains. 

And so we wait. 

We wait in darkness for morning. We sit and stare at the black horizon and anticipate the rising of the sun. The night cannot last forever. Morning after morning, for thousands of years, has shown up at precisely the right moment. It has come raging over mountaintops and swimming on the sea. It has come piercing through every tree in every canopy of every jungle in the world. 

And so we wait. 

We long for the moment to throw off our sheets, shedding the unnecessary weight of the world that is crushing down on us. We wait to swing our feet over sides of beds that haven’t seen sleep in far too long. And we wait for sleep. We anxiously await the day when our muscles are finished cramping and our teeth unclench. There is a physical ache that reminds us – none of this is as it should be.

And so we wait. 

We wait for truth to reign and we wait for righteousness to be the air we breathe. Our minds long for the day they are no longer torn between hope and despair. The constant pull to each is exhausting and suffocating. It’s no wonder many of us want out. But we don’t leave. We simply wait. Help will come bearing truth as a sword and will slay every lie that has held us captive. 

And so we wait. 

We sit in the floor and let others pray on our behalf. We resign ourselves to the fact that most often our prayers lack a beginning and an end. The prayers we find to muster are filled with a few more swears than we’d like to admit. And they frequently play themselves out in the raging of our fists toward the sky.

But still we wait. 

The waiting seems awfully heavy this advent season. And to be honest with you, I don’t know how much more waiting I have left in me. But one thing I do know, or at least I am reminding myself of, is this – darkness dissipates at the first ray of light. With one glimmer of the promise of light, darkness ceases to be. 

Light has come. 
Light will come again. 
And the darkness has not overcome it. 

Sticky Notes.

This is a post about sticky notes.
That was first completely written only on sticky notes.
9 of them to be exact. 

listen closely.
underneath all
clamoring
hear these
notes
steady and sure
something to mark
time.
all other notes
flutter about
in the wind.
but these –
these are constant.
a heartbeat.
pulsing life into
all others.
a baseline
on which to
create
this masterpiece.
beat strong,
foundation of notes.
beat sure,
your moment is
here.
we are counting
on you.
a day for sticky notes –
you’d think the
melodies they play
sound repetitive
and dull.
but give me that
yellow stack
and I’ll write you a symphony
of thoughts
words
phrases.
all belted out
in most beautiful harmonies.
just give me
a mountain of yellow and
I’ll write you a song.
high notes
mark good days.
trumpeting out
reminders
of victory.
these notes
sporadic
never lasting
more than a moment.
for if they did,
your ears would burst.
music would fall
flat
boring
predictable.
sing out,
notes floating on air.
your moment is here.
do not waste it.

sleeping with the light on.

Some nights you sleep with the light on. 

Some days are followed by nights that demand more than a metaphorical light piercing the darkness. So you leave the light on. A tangible weapon to defend yourself from the darkness that threatens to overtake you. 

Tonight I sleep with the light on. 

Bombs dropping. Children murdered. Cities in uproar. Lives being taken by hands of others and lives being taken by our own hands. 

Oh God, it’s dark. 

And as much as I would like to stand up against it all as a beacon of hope…tonight, I cannot. 

Headlines are one thing. Reminding you over and over how everything seems to have gone to hell. It’s a whole other thing to see the demons staring back at you in the mirror. Depression stole another {prominent} life this week. And you heard about it. Chances are your phone buzzed multiple times letting you know that a life was no more. And we wept. And rightly so. It is a tragedy. 

But. What doesn’t make the front page of your newspaper are the not so prominent ones who choose to take their lives each day. Your phone doesn’t buzz. Video montages are not readily available. No one dedicates a twitter feed. And you don’t see a slew of Facebook/twitter/tumblr/Instagram posts proclaiming that the world “lost one of its most beloved artists and beautiful human beings.”

I sat in my car tonight, alone, and I thought about my story. My name would never make CNN or Foxnews or your Facebook timeline. But my story isn’t that much different. Depression is a relentless bastard. Caring not of tax brackets or job title. He doesn’t give a flip about how many movies you have made or how well you manage your home. He lies and cheats and steals. He steals your hope. Your joy. Your sense of direction. He leaves you feeling trapped and suffocated and alone. And after he has whispered those lies for a good long while, he whispers that there is a way out and all too often we choose to believe him. Because, honestly, we just want the shit in our heads to stop. 

So. Tonight I leave the light on. 

It’s the only thing I have right now to combat the darkness.

It’s the only thing I have to tell the whispers – the lies – to stop. 

I leave the light on because the headlines are too much and the despair is so heavy. 

I leave the light on because, while I cannot be a beacon of hope, I believe one still exists. And this lamp is just a reminder. 

IMG_7614.JPG

pennies.

I like to be in control.

This surely cannot be a surprise to anyone who actually knows me.

My books need to be alphabetized by last name of the author and I have been known to pull every single one off the shelf only to place them back in the exact place they were previously housed. They need to be just so and I have lost hours upon hours making certain they remain that way. My DVDs are the same. They have a home and they need to live there for all their days. If roommates take one down, I’ll know. Then I keep a watchful eye making sure it’s journey ends right where it began.

I count things.

I know exactly how many steps it takes to get from one room to another. I know how many stairs led up to each one of my apartments. When I am reading, words jump off the page in groups of three. (So, that sentence, without punctuation, looks like this in my head – [when I am] [reading words jump] [off the page] [in groups of] [three] – so therefore, that sentence is not appealing to me. That dangling word makes me cringe inside.)

My shampoo bottles need to face north. The lock button on my keychain gets pushed three times every time I leave my vehicle. And I never set my alarm on anything that is a double digit, a multiple of five, or an even number. (Think 7:53. or 5:27)

Over the past several years, with the help of medication, these OCD tendencies have {externally} quieted down a bit. I remember when my counselor first asked me if I thought there was a possibility that I have OCD. I literally laughed in her face.

And then I began paying attention.

She said that often times people who self harm also battle OCD and that the two are usually linked. Mind blown. It makes sense though, doesn’t it? The need for and search of control.

~ ~ ~
10527364_601150245100_1133377610868784445_n
The first one to catch my eye was dated 1937. I quickly ran to retrieve a penny of my own so that I could buy this one for myself.

My obsessive collecting of pennies began that day.

Each day that I was charged with counting down the drawers I searched. I dug through hundreds of pennies just looking for the right dates and the lovely wheat that stamped it’s back.

I began keeping change in my pocket so that I could easily buy back any penny I found to be of some worth to me or add something of value to my collection. This quickly escalated and I found myself rummaging through the pennies any time I opened the change drawer.

It was slightly out of control.

~ ~ ~

Just weeks before my first penny discovery I broke up with the razors that had, for so long, been my companions. OCD or not, I knew that if I didn’t do something – if I didn’t stop trying to control things – I would control things straight to my grave.

At first I started counting days. Days of “sobriety”, I would say.
Then, counting days was just too difficult.
Each morning I was convinced that I would not make it until tomorrow.
So, without even thinking about it, I started counting pennies.

~ ~ ~

I can’t help but think that God collects pennies, too.

He searches out and buys back. 
He picks the ones marked and stamped and different. 
He digs through the mess and brokenness to find the ones forgotten by time.

I can’t help but think that God finds great value in the ones the world considers worthless.

And if I think that, I have to believe that it applies to me.

He searches me out and buys me back.
He picks me, the one marked and stamped and different.
He digs through the mess and brokenness and finds me, the one forgotten by time.

God finds great value in me, the one who the world may consider worthless.

~ ~ ~

So today, I am choosing to not be in control.
Because I believe God collects pennies, too.

I am not going to count. I am not going to rearrange. I am not going to attempt to work things out on my arm. I am not going to collect. I am not going to meticulously order and reorder things.

I am simply going to be found. 
I am going to be bought back. 

choosing to hold

“and I know God has not forgotten all that’s lost and broken”

photo-4

My heavy heart can’t hold those words tonight. 

The sky was singing and the corn fields passed my window at 75 mph and I yelled at God. It wasn’t what I expected to come out of my mouth, but when those words played over my stereo I couldn’t stop myself from spitting them out. 

“I DON’T UNDERSTAND YOU AND I SURE AS HELL DON’T UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU ARE DOING IN ALL OF THIS MESS!!”

Since we are being honest, or at least trying to be, there were several expletives thrown in there as I pounded my fists on the steering wheel. The tears came and, no matter how hard I tried, I could not stop them. 

~ ~ ~

I painted those words onto a dark green canvas sometime last week. I painted them, confident and sure, resting in the promise they held and the reassuring trust they spoke to my heart. 

“Good news and bad news, Al. Pop does not have Parkinson’s. But he does have Alzheimer’s.” My aunt called just two days after the painting to let me know that the doctors figured out what was slowly stealing my Pop. 

That was a Tuesday. 

 ~ ~ ~

“Hey, Al. Pop is okay, but I have some bad news…”

On the following Tuesday morning my cousin took his own life.

It is no secret that I have battled my own mental health issues and this has hit me particularly hard. I don’t know why some people are able to walk away from the darkness and why others are overcome by it. I don’t know why God would let me survive my own attempts and didn’t save him. I don’t know why that wasn’t MY funeral today. I don’t know the why’s or how’s of a lot of things. All I know is that my heart is broken and I am left slamming my fists into the steering wheel as I cry on empty roads. 

~ ~ ~

“God, you have got to remind me…I need you to remind me that you have not forgotten all that is lost and broken because right now, I DO NOT KNOW THAT!! Okay, well, maybe I know it…but I don’t feel it. Maybe that’s why the song doesn’t say ‘and I feel like God has not forgotten all that’s lost and broken.’ But really, God. I need you to help me with this…because WHERE ARE YOU?!

Where are you when people are taking their lives?

Where are you as this BRUTAL disease steals my Pop?

Where are you? Where are you? Where are you?”

~ ~ ~

My cousins memorial service was today. And I decided not to go. 

I am not sure if that was the right decision or not, but I do know that I need to take care of me. His death has been triggering for me in a lot of ways. I do feel guilty for stepping back and not attending. But a friend of mine said this – “love is more than weddings and funerals…” and I am choosing to believe her. 

Today, I needed to feel safe. 
Today, I needed something to feel tangible and real and steady. 
Today, I needed to feel home. 

I drove three hours to sit with my Pop. I drove three hours to make sure he had dinner and company. I drove three hours to remind him that he is loved and seen and important. I drove three hours because, while he may be forgetting, I wanted him to know that I am not, that I am remembering for the both of us. 

I drove south to attend a church, that someday I hope to call home, with the ones who have chosen me to be their family. And, I have chosen them to be mine. I stood and sang and lifted weary hands and bent weak knees. I was prayed for and I was prayed over. I was held and comforted and loved.

And God reminded me that He sees me 
and He knows me 
and He desperately cares for me.

~ ~ ~

So, while those words may be hard for me to hold tonight, 
I am going to choose to hold them. (even if it looks like angry)
Because whether I feel it or not, makes no difference. 
They are true.

He has not forgotten. 
He is not forgetting. 
He will not forget.

 

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“safe”

This was written shortly after one of the most traumatizing experiences of my life. I am finding I am just now able to post them and talk about it. Let’s drag this shit out into the light. It doesn’t get to own me anymore.

“Safe. Protected from or not exposed to danger or risk. Not likely to be harmed or lost.” That’s what the dictionary says anyway. For me, it seems like a more relative word. Open for discussion and always open to change. Things that were once safe, suddenly, in the blink of an eye (or the flashing of police lights), change and become unsafe, unprotected from and exposed to danger and risk.

My safe place here in my current hometown was, in one night, turned into something completely foreign to me. The details don’t matter too terribly much for this part of the story. I know there are some of you who would disagree and say the details matter very much indeed. But for the sake of time, since I have no idea how long I will be able to sit here and write this, and for the sake of my sanity, I will leave the majority of the details out for now.

For as long as I can remember the places that seem so safe for me have been near large bodies of water. Now, I was born and raised in Texas and have never seen the Pacific or Atlantic. So, for me, good ol’ central Texas lakes have had to suffice. And, honestly, they have done more than that. 

In my childhood hometown, it was the dam. I would go there when I was a little girl and lay out on limestone rocks with my grandfather. We would lay back, watch the clouds, and with one arm protecting our eyes from the hot Texas sun, we would fly kites until the day was done. When I was older I would drive out to the dam and sit for hours. I would sit there on that 50 foot high piece of fortified concrete and stare at the beauty and nature on one side and notice the city skyline in my rearview mirror. All the possibilities before me, and everything I once knew resting uncomfortably in sight behind. 

When I first moved to Dallas I was afraid that I wouldn’t have a place to call my own. I moved into an apartment surrounded by cement streets and way too many strip malls. One afternoon of exploring led my car to the edge of a pond right off one of the busiest streets in town. Man-made, of course, but there were ducks and fish and it was beautiful. It was safe. It was the place I ran to gather my thoughts or emotions. It was the place I went to “cool down” after arguments with roommates. It was the place I would find myself after just buying new music. It was almost as if I wanted to hear it first in a place that would mean something in the future. “Yea, I remember where I was the first time I heard that song…” 

After a series of other moves I would find a spot, usually under a tree, near water. It always happened that way. So when I moved to the suburbs just north of Dallas I was not surprised to find that I was quickly drawn three minutes north of my house to a boat dock nestled in a small cove on the lake. This was it. I had found it. It was beautiful and quiet and alive and safe. 

One night, after a series of somewhat poorly communicated events, I retreated to the lake. It was night. I parked my car and quickly put on music that somehow resonated deep in my soul. Somehow, all the words that could not be said out loud came streaming through my speakers. The weight in my soul began to seem not so heavy. I felt that my breathing had resumed and I was in fact singing along. The spotlight and flashing blue and red lights stopped my breath again. My safe place had been violated. I was thrust from that safe place into a place of anger and confusion and hurt. That was one month and nine days ago. The place that I visited at least three times a week hasn’t seen my face since that night. Until tonight.

For some, probably insane, reason I thought that tonight was the night I needed to go back. With my seatbelt fastened, just the right music playing, and my “TAKE BACK THE LAKE” attitude, I drove the three minutes north. With a knot in my stomach and shake in my fingers, I flipped the turn signal. Left. I was turning left into the parking spaces that sit directly in front of the water and the docked boats. “Put it in park, Alison.” I had to remind myself because for some reason this driving thing was no longer second nature. My second nature was telling me to get out of there. “Run. This isn’t safe. You are not safe here.”

I did run. 

But not right away. 

I was able to “take back the lake” for exactly 12 minutes. 

I want my safe place back…for MORE than 12 minutes.

I want to feel safe again.

Part of me thinks maybe I shouldn’t have gone there tonight. After all, it just served as a trigger for all those memories and fear and hurt. Maybe I was foolish to think it was a good idea. But you know what? Maybe I was saying, “no more. you don’t get to win this one.” 

Maybe I was just beginning to fight for me.