choosing to hold

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

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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. 

today is day one.

The key stuck a bit in the weather worn door. As usual it squeaked a bit as the hinges extended granting me access to my house. Today had been a long one. Some ass hole at work decided that retail employees serve one purpose and today that purpose just happened to be him. And then there was that lady who shit all over the floor and in doing so took a big ol’ shit on my day. I mean, really, there isn’t anything more humbling than sticking your hand into someone else’s shit in order to unclog a public toilet. But, that aside, I was home now. Rest, or something similar was bound to await me after this hellish day. My room, which is nestled between the two other bedrooms, is always the coolest in the house. I love this. So I drag myself into my bear cave room and sling my over stuffed bag onto my bed, I notice the mail has come. There is a stark white envelope lying ever so neatly on my bed. Just as everyone who has ever received a letter, my eyes immediately darted to the upper left hand corner in hopes that this was something good. 

“Medical Center of _______.”

Fuck. This was it. The involuntary trip to the hospital last month wasn’t just some horrible dream. It wasn’t this imaginary event that I had concocted in my head. This shit was real. It really happened. The promises were made. The threats ensued. The police were called. My words were twisted. The night was sleepless. The morning came all too quickly. More threats. The car ride. The call to my therapist. The 8 hours – the 8 hours in the cold emergency room that stripped me of any dignity I thought remained in my personhood. The most humiliating night and day of my life were tallied up in a series of line items and totaled out into a bill that I would never be able to foot. But then…then I remember their promises. “Don’t worry about the money. Your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health is more important than money. Don’t worry about the money. Let us take you somewhere; we will take care of the money part. Just accept this help.”

Except now, their offers of helping “take care of the money part” are no where to be found. Only silence.

Then the help was forced.
I was manipulated.
And now the price is here, and I still can’t pay.

love drives you home

This post was originally part of a blog series called “When Love Shows Up” by Leanne Penny. I am including it in this series of posts because it is the only way I have been able to tell this part of the story. 

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I found myself, maybe not so unexpectedly, stretched out on a hospital bed in the emergency room of the local hospital. The night before was left littered with despair and confusion. As I looked up at the ceiling and felt the paper gown that wrapped my tired body, I wondered how I fell into this hole and how the hell I was going to get out.

There was a babysitter sitting in the corner. He was reading his book. I knew his sole purpose in this room was to watch my every move. The nurses and hospital staff had already taken everything I owned and tucked it safely away so that I would not be able to harm myself.

“Do you know why I am here?” he asked quietly.

In my defiance and anger I told him that I knew he was there because it was his job to babysit me. “I choose to be here, honey. You deserve to be safe. And so I am here. I am with you.” These words, words of love, were the beginning of hope peeking through.

~ ~ ~

Depression threatened to overrun me that night.

My faith was crumbling, my hope fading, and Love seemed to be sitting on his hands.

About three months before, I started questioning everything. I didn’t know why I believed what I said I believed or if it even mattered. Is Jesus who he says that he is? Did he really do what he said he did? And if he is and if he did, what does that mean for me, right now, in this moment?

And to add insult to injury my own body was betraying me. I was depressed. Depression seems to be the demon that continuously haunts me. For the three months leading up to this night I wanted out. It wasn’t necessarily that I wanted to die, I was just so tired of living.

~ ~ ~

The night before, the police showed up and I was put under close watch. Sleep was impossible. The dark hours seemed unending and the morning came reluctantly. With the arrival of dawn, I received an ultimatum: the back of a police car or the nearest emergency room. Seeing no other option, I chose the latter.

With heavy eyes and weary bones I asked the nurse to turn off the light. The curtain was pulled to shield my face from the sterile fluorescent lights in the hallway. The babysitter even decided to give me a few minutes to myself and settled in his chair right outside the doorway. After a few minutes I woke up to voices, a familiar voice, outside the door. A shadow appeared on the curtain and a hand pulled it gently back. The face I saw immediately shattered my defenses and the room, once drained of breath, was pumped full of oxygen.

On my way to the hospital I shot a text to the couple from my church that I live with. I didn’t know which hospital I was headed to but said I would contact them as soon as I was able. I told them not to worry. Lindsay was out of town but that did not stop Scott from searching me out. He searched until he was able to find me, tucked behind a babysitter and crisp hospital curtains.

“Hey, Ali. I am really glad you are safe.”

In that moment, I felt both immense shame and immense relief. It’s almost as if, because he could sense the shame, he spoke out against it. “You have done nothing wrong. You are not in trouble. You have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Warm blankets were brought in and Scott sat down. He didn’t pry. He didn’t push. He didn’t ask me open-ended questions. He knew I would never be able to answer them anyway. He assured me that Lindsay was thinking about me and praying for me. He assured me that I was not in trouble and there was no need for shame. When he did ask questions, he gave me options and I just had to pick. Picking was easy compared to conjuring up an answer on my own. “I am going to get you something to drink. Do you want coffee, tea, or water? When we leave, I am going to make you some lunch. Do you want this type of sandwich or that type of sandwich?” I didn’t have to come up with any answers. I simply had to choose.

After nine hours and a psychiatric evaluation that seemed to last forever, it was decided that I would be allowed to go home. Because the hospital had to release me into someone’s care, Scott talked with the nurses and made plans for my discharge. Clothes changed, belongings gathered, I began to prepare myself for the “walk of shame” out of the hospital. The shame I imagined was quickly extinguished after I realized I wasn’t walking alone.

~ ~ ~

Sometimes love searches you out.

Sometimes love shows up in your hospital room.

Sometimes love shows up with warm blankets.

Sometimes love shows up to remind you that you are loved,

that you are safe,

that you are wanted.

Sometimes love shows up and sometimes love drives you home.

details wrong.

“It would be easier if someone else told the story of what happened last summer. But then I would probably just hate them for getting it all wrong.” So, dear reader, take her telling of the story in your hands. Sit with me. And let me tell you where it went wrong.

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She keeps getting the details wrong. You would think, out of everything else that went wrong, the details would at least be kept intact. I thought that asking her to write this would be easier. Maybe it would help you understand all the things I don’t think I can say. But really, I just hate her for it. You see, I couldn’t find the words to tell you. Hell, I couldn’t find the words to tell myself. So I asked her to write it for me. Maybe that would be easier. But, shit, now you have it and you are reading it and ALL THE DETAILS ARE WRONG!!

It’s so frustrating, she couldn’t even start the story right. It hadn’t rained when I showed up. Of course it hadn’t rained. Everything was still calm; the wind hadn’t even started blowing. It didn’t rain until after we got back to the house. I remember. I remember because I wanted a drink and I wanted to smoke. Not that I wanted to get drunk, I just wanted something to take the edge off all the shit and hurt and confusion.

But, like I said, it definitely hadn’t rained when we all showed up.

No no no…the storm was just about to begin.

Ok, so we’ve established that it wasn’t raining. And then that part about it being some super intense and really interesting bible study? That’s not right either. It was, in reality, a super rushed overview of the Old Testament. You know, the “way too much information in such a short amount of time” type. It was that. And, since you want me to be honest, it was boring as hell. Maybe I shouldn’t compare bible studies to hell, but you get what I’m saying. And…and…she couldn’t get the details about the bible stories right either. I kept filling in the blanks and explaining back-story. It’s easier to do that sort of stuff when you grew up using felt boards and popsicle sticks to act these stories out. Also, having a photographic memory doesn’t hurt either. So there I was, right, pointing out errors in the stories and being so good at knowing all the right answers and who did what when and how much so-and-so loved the Lord and walked with him and what prophet said what to whom. It was magical, really. I am sure my 3rd grade Sunday school teacher would be immensely impressed with how much I have “grown in my knowledge of the Lord.” If only my knowledge was enough to sustain me right now.

See. See right there, that line, that sentence. She did it again. I shouldn’t have let her tell my story. She butchered the details. Why do I even care so much about the details? I really just think that I want something, out of all of this, to be right. To be the way it actually was. But even in the bible study, she wasn’t talking about Micah, or Job, or even Isaiah or Jeremiah. She was talking about the Israelites being in slavery in Egypt. Apparently, I was the only one in the group who had any idea how the Israelites even got to Egypt. Remember, Joseph? The guy who was literally sold into slavery by his brothers? And then was thrown into prison and eventually rose to the second highest position in all of Egypt? Yea…that guy. (Is it just me or when things are hard for you do people tell you to go read that story like it will automatically fix stuff?) So when he interpreted the dreams of pharaoh about the seven years of plenty and the seven years of famine and told pharaoh to stock up on the goods, he was right. Anyways, that’s how the Israelites got to Egypt, cause his brothers had to come and ask him for help cause they were starving. And if you are going to try to teach the Old Testament, get it right. So it wasn’t the prophets. She was talking about the Exodus. You could tell she was frustrated that I kept correcting her. But really, is it such a bad thing to actually know what you’re talking about?

None of that matters, though. That wasn’t really what I asked her to write and that is surely not what you were wanting to read…was it? But somehow I feel like it still matters. Isn’t the outcome of all of this because of the details? Details are important. Details matter. Right?

And just for the record, I didn’t hijack the conversation like she is making it seem. I didn’t just throw all of this shit out there. It was after the lesson was over, when everyone is sharing prayer requests. I knew that I needed prayer. Why? Because I didn’t really know what was going on with me. About three months before I started questioning everything and I didn’t know why I believed what I said I believed. You know, just a lot of questions…that’s got to be normal and ok, right? It wasn’t like I was running off and joining a cult or participating in ancient pagan rituals, I just had questions. Is Jesus who he says he is? Did he really do what he said he did? And if he is and if he did, what does that mean for me, right now, in this moment?

But apparently, questions scare people. Doubt “isn’t from the Lord” and so obviously it should have no place in our lives. “Don’t give the devil a foothold.” But there I was with all my questions and on top of all that, my world simultaneously fell apart around me. Relationships failed. My mom walked away. People got sick. Grandma went to jail. MY GRANDMOTHER WENT TO JAIL!! I just want to make sure you caught that. After her stint in the big house, or really it was just one night at the county jail, she called to lecture me on my relationship with my mom. “Don’t make the same mistakes we made. Don’t not talk to her for too long. I am speaking from experience.” But it wasn’t even that part that threw me for a loop. It was the part where she admitted that she “had a feeling” my stepdad was more than just an asshole and actually abusive. And then, to add insult to injury my own body was betraying me. I was depressed. Depression seems to be the demon that continuously haunts me. Depression cares not of your socio-economic status, your job title, your skin color, or personality type. He is a ruthless bastard giving no reasons for his torment. And so there I was. Haunted. For three months (yea kind of a long time) I had wanted out. It wasn’t that I wanted to die. I just didn’t want to be alive anymore. It was like I was standing on the top of a skyscraper, on the very edge, and I couldn’t step backwards off the ledge. I either had to stand there or jump. It’s not that I wanted to jump. I just was so fucking tired of standing on that damn ledge.

What? Yea, I told them all of this. That’s the part you just read. “…she kept saying that she wanted to die. She said something about thinking about killing herself.” I didn’t say that!! I think I even told them something along the lines of “I am not saying that I want to kill myself. And I don’t have a plan, so please don’t freak out. I am just really sad and really tired and really confused. And honestly, I just want Jesus to show up.” Damnit. It’s almost as if they didn’t hear what I was saying. They heard what they wanted to hear. Stuck on themselves. Do you see that? I mean, I’m not saying they don’t care about me, but they heard what they wanted to hear and they wanted to do what they could do to keep me “safe”, even from myself.

Suggestions were made. Lots of suggestions. They really wanted me to go check myself in somewhere for a “rest”. What the hell does that even mean? Seemed like a line straight out of “Girl, Interrupted”. The scene where Brittney Murphy is trying to explain to everyone that she is okay, when it is blatantly obvious that she is not. She tells them she is just there for “a rest”. Wouldn’t that be me if I just went somewhere for a rest? Me thinking I was really okay and everyone knowing I wasn’t and the storyline revolving around how messed up I actually am? Damn, that’s depressing. And, who can even afford to go somewhere for a rest?

That part is true. They did pray for me and asked for hope and healing and rest. So I got up to leave. I needed to get out, to clear my head. I needed to drive and I needed air. This is the part where the wind started picking up a bit. A storm was coming, you could tell. I left. Thinking nothing more of it. Well, except for the fact that I was still sad and confused and tired and in desperate need of answers. I drove through Sonic to get a sweetened iced tea and headed for the lake. Yea, I told you that was my safe place. Seems like I can think out there. The sound of crickets at night and the glow of the moon on the water does something to my soul. The place I park my car usually smells like cedar; a fresh, “this is alive”, sort of smell. You can see the stars out there. If your arms were long enough, you could just reach out and touch them. They are thrown against a dark sky and the man in the moon smiles down in approval. These are the details that I wanted you to know. Not the depressing and mundane ones. But maybe these are mundane too. Maybe that’s what makes me love them. They are so simple and so seemingly insignificant and yet they hold the depth of life and breath for me. Maybe it’s these brief moments of hope and faith that Emerson was talking about; the ones that hold such depth that they cause us to “ascribe more reality to them than to all other experiences.”

The bugs attracted to the light annoy me. Constantly flying straight into my face, but it is calming and assuring to see that life is happening all around me by no effort of its own. Somehow it is all being sustained. I don’t know how, but this place is safe. A refuge. A foundation that I can come back to knowing that it is sure and that it will always be level ground underneath my often unsteady feet. This place serves as a sort of “calm the hell down, soul, hope in God.” Pretty sure that’s my paraphrase of the verse in Psalms that says something about being downcast; the one where he is talking to his soul. I was in the middle of a pep talk.

Then everything changed.