I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2015 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.
. . . being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ . . .
for Ann Voskamp, a blazing lantern in my wilderness. Thank you for answering the call.
and for Lysa Terkeurst, whose honesty inspired me to believe change was possible.
Last Christmas, I chose “Forward” to be my theme-word for 2014. Without an understanding of why, I cradled this seed in my heart before I gathered the courage to plant it deep in the leeched-out, stripped-down soil of a soul I doubted still held enough nutrients to yield new fruit ever again. I’d been stripped down to the core by 2013: my feet had walked Samuel into the ER, his sats plummeting, as I counted gifts and stared at monitors. My arms gave him away to aenesthesiologists, held a pager that beeped shrilly when they’d put his tiny heart on by-pass. I never faltered in those hospital days, long and lonely, with fear circling like a hungry dog outside the room. But when it was all done? I couldn’t move myself to do anything. Forward seemed the least-likely place I would be marching any time soon.
His whisper has a way of persisting, and this Jonah heart has spent too much time in the belly to think her way is better than His anymore. So, I obeyed: forward with forward. Then Ann’s A Grace Plan: A Doable Life-Change Plan for a New Year, A New You: With Printable showed up in my inbox, a map for my Forward journey.
I wondered if I could be that disciplined? If that was even who I was? Because the coping had become my WAY, stumbling in circles and falling to my knees on the kitchen floor most days. The map spoke my language, somehow, and this old-piano playing girl–who’s spent her fair share of time on benches being critiqued by adjudicators and family members and most of all her own prickly heart–heard truth that unlocked a new Forward motion:
At the end, the adjudicator had stood there with all of their marks in hand and she’d smiled at Hope and asked it gentle, “Do you know what you did so perfectly right, Hope?”
Right? Hope looks down at the floor, shakes her head. Hope’s whole body is saying it: Right? What about any of this was perfectly right?
The adjudicator bends a bit to find Hope’s eyes, tries to pull her up with her smile.
“So you forgot some notes! Fear and old habits and people pressure and your own interior playlist can do that — to all of us. But! When the piece started to fall apart? You fell forward, Hope. You didn’t fret about the music behind you — you focused on the next bar.”
Hope had nodded slowly, like a dawning, smiling.
The adjudicator looked down the row of girls and budding pianists and said it with this steady beat.
“We are all going to botch it somedays. We all sometimes get the notes wrong. But the song only goes wrong when we keep thinking back to the wrong notes.”
“When a piece starts to fall apart — fall forward. Fall forward into the next bar. Moving forward is what makes music.” Ann Voskamp, When You Don’t Need Resolutions as Much as You Need Soul Solutions
When a piece falls apart? HOW ABOUT A LIFE?
Fall Forward?! Into new, into forgiveness, into the arms of my Jesus who loves me?
My illness has kept me circling dying fires and graveyards for as long as I can remember. I can’t recount the days and weeks and months of my life that I have spent crippled by this past I cannot change. I cringe to think of all the time I have relinquished trying to earn salvation from sins already forgiven. How many beautiful moments have I stared into the rearview mirror so desperate, so broken, that I had to stop moving forward as my knees buckled in disgrace?
Bipolars talk a lot about hating themselves. If you spend enough time with one of us, you’ll catch a glimpse of this slow-burn of self contempt. I’ve gotten really good at hiding mine, keeping that piece of me tucked into my jeans. We hide well our scars from the years of my self-inflicted pains: when Jack forced his arms around me so that I would stop banging my head into the ceramic tile of the bathroomkitchenhotelceramiclinoleum floorwallsheadboard I hate you I hate you I’m screaming at me, clawing marks down my face as I tried to rip my own skin off. What it is to hate your own skinbrainpoundingheart, to lose myself in the rehash of a fight or a drunken word spoken or social misstep for months! No jury executes punishment like I reign over myself; no judge serves a more bloody recompense.
When I could’t justify the head-banging and the face-clawing any longer, I still clung to slower methods of self-harm. Smoking awakened the deepest of my self-hatred, with every puff of delight my inner critic screaming you’re killing yourself what kind of a mother smokes herself to death hypocrite weak how f***ing weak you are and I made certain that even if I would go months or weeks without smoking, that I would ALWAYS smoke at every family party, every important social occasion. A self-inflicted public lash? Yes. And I held the whip.
So when I took my laptop upstairs and I printed out multiple copies of Ann’s Manifesto with FORWARDand stuck it every where I stare into the blackness, I didn’t know what would happen, really. There were no lightning bolts from heaven that day. I wrote FORWARD in 2014, and I opened my heart to change. Something had begun, and for the first time maybe in my entire life I knew He was going to FINISH it.
FORWARD stuck to me like a new tattoo, skin-deep with a sting. But one morning I felt more than sting, as it sunk into flesh, knot muscle, cutting straight through to my bones. I started looking at that paper every day when I opened the fridge, drinking my cup of coffee, saying the words in between sips.
Word in, Word out, Work the Plan.
Step on the Snake before Breakfast.
Stay in the Pool.
March arrived. I wrote I’ll take my Lent with a side of chocolate and chardonnay, thanks, but it didn’t sit right. Something about this entitlement bothered me. It stunk, and I knew it. It wasn’t FORWARD.
I argued with myself as I stood in front of the fridge sipping my coffee in the mornings,
Maybe some of these excesses in my life are just a symptom of Bipolar I must learn to manage? Maybe I was truth-telling a reality for so many who, faced with extraordinary circumstance, find ourselves outside the realm of religiousity? Half-hungry, unsettled, and blasé, I prayed for help.
April dawned, and I still didn’t feel alright about the Lent post. I picked up Made to Craveby Lysa Teurkerst. I wrote North: Starving my Own Appetites. I knew that what I needed was not to lose 30 pounds. What I needed was a new way to deal with my life.
So, I started to reaquaint my body with hunger. I threw out the sugar, and filled myself with good things. I exercised until I realized I had been ignoring a chronic pain building in my body for years. I realized I needed to deal with it. I began a journey forward, beginning with my chiropractor. They recommended acupuncture and massage. My acupuncturist recommended a sports medicine doctor, impressed that I wasn’t addicted to pain killers, and recommended physical therapy. It took the length of 2014 to learn how to deal entirely with the pain in my body.
I turned 34 in June, already feeling more in control of my appetites. Except, I was deeply convinced that I would never be able to quit smoking. Now, don’t get me wrong: I am never going to be one of those people that vilifies smokers. There are a million ways human beings cope, and many of them aren’t healthy. And, if I do say so, I tend to like the smoking porch conversation better than anything going on inside the party. (But that’s a post for another day.)
Smoking isn’t about smoking for me. Smoking, for me, is about being sick. It’s about self-hatred. It’s about me hurting me, and when I would wake up after binge smoking at a party to my heart pounding out of my chest, I knew I needed help. I knew I was shackled by this vice, this self-destruct mechanism. And I knew it would kill me. So, I just started asking:
Lord, I can’t do this anymore but I can’t quit by myself. I need you to do a miracle, break through, fight me for me.
And I knew that it wasn’t about being holy or loved. As I pressed in to Jesus, as I moved FORWARD, I felt a graciousness I had never been able to absorb before. I felt what the Psalmist talked about in Psalm 91:
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
I felt as if He had taken me into his robe, and I was pressed tight against his chest. Safe. Safe from me, even if I kept messing up, even if I kept binging on chocolate and chardonnay every time my grief overwhelmed, even if I kept smoking and cursing myself for it, even if I remained in this bondage, I WAS STILL LOVED!
And, my friends, I can’t even type this today without the tears falling because when He breaks through your fear and shame this clearly, when you realize you can run away from home and smoke dope and end up in a psyche ward and claw your face to bloody, bang your head into the floor, cut up your arms, break your husband’s heart and break your family to pieces,
AND HE NEVER, FOR ONE SECOND STOPS LOVING YOU?
He changed me.
In an ER on my birthday, God gave me what I needed to stop smoking (another post for another day). I crawled out of the ER with a prescription for liquid Vicodin and heavy antibiotics, unable to swallow–due to an egregiously advanced case of Strep–and knew I was changed. Praise the Lord. HALLELUJAH. I am free.
Everything did continue to change, and I wrote Reclaiming my Cinderella Heart. I stopped putting myself on timelines for weight loss. Instead, I focused on how my relationship with my body could be submitted to this Ultimate Love of mine, Jesus. When could I turn toward him instead of a chocolate muffin from the bakery? What was I stuffing down that really needed to be confessed or requested? I’m excercising and learning to care for myself physically, in a way I have never done before. I realized I was using food, booze, and cigarettes as my default self-care plan. The problem with that is that I was depleting, diminishing, and constantly trying to repair damage done to myself, instead of moving forward and improving myself. I couldn’t build up and tear down at the same time.
I gave up drinking in the fall for several months, and I will blog more about that in the months to come. I realized I was using wine to get me through a lot of situations I shouldn’t put myself in to begin with. I was numbing out where I want to engage, escaping into a glass when maybe I should have just run out the front door.
The most amazing thing about this word Forward is that every time I felt stuck this year, God used it to keep me moving. It wasn’t that I didn’t fall. I fell a lot, actually. But I fell forward, into the arms of a God who could handle me and my mess and my failings, and makes it all work together for good.
As 2015 begins, I am a free woman for the first time in my adult life. And I know that I am loved, and forgiven, and free to move forward with my life. He whispers, “Finish,” and I know what He means:
Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
And David said to his son Solomon, “Be strong and of good courage, and do it; do not fear nor be dismayed, for the Lord God—my God—will be with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you, until you have finished all the work for the service of the house of the Lord.
1 Chronicles 28:20
But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
And the finale, the take-it-to-the-bank for me this year:
And in this I give advice: It is to your advantage not only to be doing what you began and were desiring to do a year ago; but now you also must complete the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to desire it, so there also may be a completion out of what you have. For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have.
2 Corinthians 8:10-12 (NKJV)
I’m not certain of what God is going to do with “Finish” in 2015. But, I’m going to be running this race, building up instead of tearing down, putting stones on my wall, and falling forward into my Jesus’ arms. I’m going to mess up, fall down, bloody my knees. I’m going to say the wrong thing, think the wrong thing, hold sin in my heart until He reveals it to me. It won’t be all pretty. But I’m going to finish, Lord-willing, in 2015.
Here are two clips that you just have to see to get your day, month, year, begun with a tear and a bang:
Let’s not focus on how many times we fail, but on persistently falling forward into the arms of Jesus to finish.
God bless you all.
I would love it if you would share your “Word for 2015” with me below in the comments or on Facebook!