It started in the silence of good-bye on a lamplit midnight, travelling with me to curl up crying in my parents’ room.
Since then it has hovered: sometimes lurking in the back of my mind, sometimes wrapping its cold fingers around my throat, sometimes a cement pressure on my heart. Sometimes the fog is bitter, black: smog of wounded anger.
The moments pile up:
The sudden squeeze inside my chest, an unexpected thrill of panic, the whisper to myself: It’s okay; you’re okay. I promise: you will be okay.
The winding road home, an hour till midnight, talking too much, too fast, too tired: And then, if God doesn’t do it, maybe I just will. Yeah, I know that’s bad theology. Ha, ha. My laugh is too bitter to simply be a joke.
Sometimes I wonder: Is this me? Is this always—the always me?
Because this fog isn’t the first time. It’s thicker, heavier, lonelier—it’s a different kind of pain, a grief kind, a denial kind—and it’s so strong, holding me captive for weeks.
But the sadness—the doubts—the beating down anxiety, like cloth on persistent flames—the repeated OCD rituals of soap and light switches and sink handles and stove lighters—it’s my relapse when any sort of pain comes.
And isn’t it who you are in the darkest days that defines you?
“You’re always so sad.” The words prickle in the back of my mind. They come from the blind reasoning of someone who argues against my faith, yet they still echo, a ghost of fear.
Am I an always sad, always broken person?
– – –
It’s in the middle of theater rehearsal when I feel it. My throat aches. I swallow a couple times. Is it just in my head? Is it just anxiety finding yet another way to manifest itself in my body?
No… it’s definitely pain. Sick pain. I look at the clock: forty minutes to go. Can I endure? I let my lines slip out quiet, weak.
And this is how my moments slip by: quiet. Weak?
At home, I slide into pajamas and my warm bed, and I try to rest. Instead, I find myself reviewing everything that went wrong. Trying to understand, yet again, how so much of my world fell apart.
The words on the screen burn into my eyes, my soul. I cry. Again. How many times have I cried this month? Not every day, not anymore—but there is always the pain, and sometimes it overwhelms me.
And now, I’m only the tiniest millimeter, a bare sliver of strength, away from letting my emotions scream out—letting my words burn back.
The physical pain nudges me to the precipice of my emotional pain, and I stare down into the chasm. What now, God? I feel like I have been screaming this till my throat stings dry. Where are You?
She’s alone tonight with a bitter cup and
She’s undone tonight, she’s all used up,
She’s been staring down the demons
Who’ve been screaming
She’s just another so and so
(Don’t let go tonight)
– “Golden” by Switchfoot
I take a deep breath and I step back from the brink. This is my choice: wait on God, even just for a couple more days. Keep pressing forward.
And here is me: battling. The always me is a battling me. I may feel more often than not that I am losing the battle—but I am still standing.
“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” – Ephesians 6:12-13
I am proud of me. I know God is, too. No matter what mistakes I may have made, no matter what role I played in bringing my world down—
I get up in the morning and face my day. Even this is huge. I recognize my pain. I forgive. I seek God in writing, prayer, and art. I harness my emotions so that they don’t burn down whatever is still standing around me. They may nearly consume me—but somehow I have been strong enough not to unleash them on the one person I feel I desperately need.
I don’t give up.
There are moments I want to, moments when the words are a chant: I can’t, I can’t. I can’t do this, Lord. I can’t get up, I can’t face today, I can’t have patience, I can’t forgive, I can’t keep going. I just can’t. I can’t keep being silent. I can’t keep trapping the words inside me. I feel like I am going to combust, or worse, collapse—completely disintegrate—and blow away. Nothing and no one can fix this. I can’t fix it, I can only stand up and face it, and I don’t want to anymore.
And I just keep getting up and facing the day, every day, all over again: a new challenge, a new struggle, a new perspective, a new pain.
Sometimes this is just coping. It’s recognizing the OCD cycle and having grace for how easily I give in to it. It’s crying, confessing the emotions I’ve locked inside to those who want to hear me. And it’s getting up again—no matter what.
No matter how much I fury at God, no matter how much I weep, no matter how many times I scrub my dry, dry hands, no matter how many times I have to battle the anger or the panic—no matter how many times I get dirty and bloodied, fighting in the mess—
I brush myself off and stand up again.
It still hurts. There are moments where the pain of I miss you glazes me over to any happiness and leaves me a void. There’s still confusion and anger and grief.
The hurt isn’t any smaller, but standing strong through it is getting easier, a little every day.
It’s not that what I lost means less to me somehow, but that I mean more to me. I’m worth enough to keep standing up and fighting for.
It’s a slow, one-step-forward, two-steps-back acceptance—and an equally slow opening of my eyes to a God that has been beside me all along.
– – –
To be honest, I don’t understand how things fell apart like they did. It took me a long time to organize what I’m feeling, and I don’t think I have it all together yet. One song I hold close, the words becoming my own:
There’s so much that I would say if I could see you one last time.
But now I can’t ’cause you’re not here, but you’re always on my mind…
I look ahead, but can’t move on; I look back, but I can’t stay.
And I keep tryin’ to be strong, but this pain, it won’t go away.
And I hope this will heal in time ’cause I can’t go on like this…
– “Goodbyes” by Three Doors Down
I’m suffering. I’m not ready to move on. I can’t see the demons I’m fighting. I only know that I am still standing, and when I look up, things get clearer.
The water keeps on falling from my eyes
And heaven knows, heaven knows
I tried to find a cure for the pain
Oh my Lord! To suffer like you do
It would be a lie to run away…
– “The Cure for Pain” by Jon Foreman
Pain is human. God feels pain—and we were created in his image. He breathed his heart into us on that day that He breathed life into Adam. He’s a Creator, a Dreamer, a Lover. He feels deeply and loves deeply.
Jesus suffered as a human, too. We are not alone in this. Pain is not weakness. Pain shows the tender places in us.
And I have an artist’s heart—a tender heart. A heart with huge emotions, big questions, and a deep craving to give and receive love. To quote a friend of mine, the lovely artist Hilaree Robinson:
“Here is the thing that not everyone understands about artists—whether the artist is an actor, a musician, a novelist or a painter, the same interior place that produces startling light can also produce the deepest darkness, and many (not all) artists balance on that thin precipice. The depth of sensitivity required to produce art that connects with an audience is wearying. It is also exhilarating. The bottom line is: Art comes at a cost.”
So what now? How do I balance on this precipice without falling off the edge? How do I keep looking up, when all around me the demons are screaming for my attention, and it’s all I can do to stand firm against them?
The house built on the Rock will not give way.
How can I hope in a God who lets everything collapse around me? How can I trust him who, when I gave everything up to him, took away what I cherished most?
Ann Voskamp’s words opened my eyes, finally, to realize the only way to look up—is to fall on my knees:
“‘If God really works in everything, why don’t we thank Him for everything? Why do we accept good from His hand — and not bad?‘ …
“[G]iv[e] thanks always and for everything” (Ephesians 5:20 ESV).
To thank God in all is to give God glory in all. Is this not our chief end?
Murmuring thanks isn’t to deny that an event isn’t a tragedy and neither does it deny that there’s a cracking fissure straight across the heart.
Giving thanks is only this: making the canyon of pain into a megaphone to proclaim the ultimate goodness of God.
That which I refuse to thank Christ for, I refuse to believe Christ can redeem.”
Thank you, Lord.
Thank you that my dreams are shattered and I’m battle-weary. Thank you for every piece of my broken heart. Thank you for every raw emotion and bittersweet memory.
Here’s my real and my brave:
I don’t have to make my pain less than it is. I don’t have to justify it or excuse it or minimize it. It hurts and I’m broken.
But I can thank God anyway, and know that He will meet me here—because He has felt this pain, too.
And I whisper it to myself:
You are strong, girl, and you are brave. No matter how many times these demons say you can’t—I say, you CAN.
Don’t let go tonight.