In This Way, I Will Always Love You

Someone asked what love is… It’s hard for me to explain it, but I think I’ve known love enough to try.
I’m certain love is different for everybody, but for me being in love is… Having someone in your life who makes you want to cry because you’re so happy that they exist. Like being so proud and happy that the world has this wonderful, stupid mess of a person in it.
It’s like realizing that it’s ok if you don’t get to keep this person – because you didn’t want anybody else anyway.
It’s finding someone who makes you more yourself, just by being around you. Someone who makes you better just by existing in your life.
Love is seeing the worst in someone – even doubting sometimes if you two are worth the struggles and confusion and pain involved in making relationships work – and still choosing everyday to trust them, and to remember that they are the only them you’ve got.
Love is the feeling of wanting to open up your chest and wrap someone up in your heart, so that if anyone cuts them down they’ll have to go through all of you first. So that this crazy stupid wonderful person that you love can feel your heart beating around them and know that they are loved and safe, and special.
Love makes you happy, frustrated, joyful, and… so many things.
Sex is a big part of it, but not because it’s about sex. Sex (after marriage in my case) is the deepest physical intimacy I can have with anybody. And this one crazy, stupid, wonderful person makes me want to be closer than I’ve ever been to anyone but God. Makes me want to wrap my arms around him so tightly that he thinks his ribs will break, and promise him that I’ll take care of him. And tell him that he’s wonderful. And stupid. And the bravest person I have ever known. If sex can move me closer to him then I want that. I want that so much.
I know that everyone is different. I know that not everyone finds the perfect person for them. I know that it is most important to be the person who takes care of you, and loves you, and is there for you – whether anyone else shows up and does those things for you or not. I know that Love is only love if that person makes you feel healthier and more like the you that you want to be. I know not everyone would love the person I love if they met him.
But I guess that’s the thing about love. Love is two halves of the same snowflake.
I realized once when I was praying, that I couldn’t prove that one day I wouldn’t stop loving God. (Bear with me.) I realized that most Christians believe their faith is forever, and that they will never fall away from a God they chose to love more than anything. I realized that if they believed that, and I believe that, and they still fell away and lost their faith… then maybe I would too.
I remember telling God “I cannot promise, in that fickle way that human hearts have, that I won’t stop loving you… but I can promise you, that on that day the me that I am most – the best me, that I truly am – that me would no longer exist. And in this way… I… will always love You.”
I was seven, but that thought stayed with me.
I think that to me… That is what love is. Love is knowing that the you that you are now – you’re best and favorite self – will not exist without loving this person.
Not long ago, my sister asked if she could use the conversation with God as part of her wedding vows. I think it’s true of the deepest kind of love for anybody.
“I cannot promise (in the fickle way of human hearts) that I will always love you. But I can tell you that on that day.. I would no longer be myself. And in this way I will always love you.”

The Shining Things

(I had forgotten that I had written this. I don’t know if I posted it before. I have now. I have very few followers. I’m sure that you will love me anyway.)

I saw, when I was young, a piece of shattered glass.
I thought that it was ruined, and at first I was quite sad.
But as I looked, I saw that something bright was glinting in the pieces.
When someone came to throw the rest away, I kept the little glimmer that I saw.
I did the same thing with the twinkle in the kitty’s water bowl
and with the tinsel that we threw away each year
The shine from every penny someone said was old and used
and all the light that crept in through my window
when my brother said he wished we could sleep in
I kept the light that cracked and sparkled in each
sequin
Bobby-pin
bottle
plastic cup
tin can
paperclip
mud puddle
glitter spill
quarter
plastic fork
and broken heart
that I have ever seen
Where everyone saw only dust that should be thrown away
I took the winking light from all the trash they didn’t want
The shining things; the unimportant, small, unwanted things;
the things I found too beautiful to be forgot and lost
I took them all – and built myself the sun

The Greenest Trees

There will always be a part of you in the ground with the people you have lost. But the great thing is that with them your broken pieces of your heart can slowly put out roots. They feel the earth a different way than any other part of you. You feel the sky on your face, but in your heart – though all you see is dirt – you can feel water, warmth, and (finally) just life.

The parts you buried, that you left with those you loved, will settle into something good. The broken pieces in the earth will dig their roots down deep, and they will ground you. They will keep you rooted, and firm when the wind tears you apart. The pieces that had hurt you more than life, the ones that you had given away, in pieces of trust, and late night kisses, in baby-sitting, and calming conversation; the pieces of your heart you handed off to relatives and friends, and people you had met just once… They’re not gone. They are buried. Grounding you and taking in the earth.

One day those pieces of you that you thought you’d lost forever – those parts of you will start to grow. They seem at first to have left behind a little green scar – no more than a pinprick on the soil… but soon you see them climbing, reaching, growing – and as they grow, they gain their strength. They get taller, and they find the sunlight. The pieces of your heart reach skyward, and they spread their arms like no other part of you has had the courage to do. They grow thicker and stronger, and they smell like home.

Sometimes they look like you… sometimes you keep thinking – oh that reminds me of my friend. But always, ALWAYS… they are something better. More familiar, and more green they stretch out leaves and leaves and leaves, until the world that once seemed harsh is green and glowing – dappled by the sunlight. In each breeze it blows more, and breaks less than all the other trees. 

And in that living, growing tree you see a piece of something half forgotten. It might be a smile – just a dimple, even – a phrase, or half a sentence, the words so familiar yet you had forgotten who had said it… In my tree I see pumpkins. I know a boy who saw a bear hug, and one girl who saw herself – so much younger, and oh, so loved. One man saw dog tags in his tree. I think my mother saw pianos, and some cinnamon cookies. Sometimes there is just one tree – sometimes there is an orchard: stone angels shaded by these giant, shining trees.

But in their diversity, all are the same in one thing – truly only one.

They are All So Alive.

One Day – Avenging Fear

One day we will see.

One day we will all see the kind of loyalty we could have shown to each other on this day. One day we will see the sympathy that we could have given to those who held our lives in their hands – those who could leave our children orphans, and our lovers widowed. We will see the graciousness and the kindness that we could have shown them. One day we will see how much of the pain we caused – and how much of that pain was caused by fear.

Because every man could leave my lover widowed, any man could leave my children orphaned. Any human any day could send my parents childless to their death. For all men can do the horrors that we fear. Any one person could bring down the death and pain and torture that we don’t allow to creep into our waking minds, and stumble on and choke on in our dreams. But they will do those things most who feel they have been endangered, or who feel that they are justified.

But who but God can justly sentence hell? And what but hell has any man to fear? We kill who are afraid of being killed. We kill who feel that killing is deserved. We hurt who are afraid of being hurt. We hurt who think that hurting is our right. We torment who feel we first have been tormented.

But all have fallen short, and every man is tormented alone.

Somehow, each one will face a pain that tries to take his life. If it is justice then to visit pain upon another, what will happen then? If all are justified in causing pain then who will not be flayed? When hands of fear take hold in hurting hearts what will those creatures then submit another person to? We are a broken and a fallen people. If we destroy when we fear our destruction, if we avenge another man’s vengeance, who will stand when sunset comes? and with it, who will rise?

No one. No one will live that day. Because when we are frightened – we become something to fear. When we avenge our actions will require avenging.
Someday… someone… somewhere… it has to end.
Some day we will all see. One day we will all see the kind of loyalty we could have shown to one another on this day. The sympathy we could have given to those widowed, orphaned, tortured fools – who held our lives in their hands. We will see the graciousness and kindness that we could have shown to them.

Glass Heart / My Chimes

When I broke my glass heart the other day

I thought that I was sad

I stared at them

– The pieces of my heart –

And pushed them round in circles with my finger

And tried to make them make sense

I tried to make the pieces into “sad”

But they were still, and lifeless

Didn’t beat

Or pulse

Or tremble in my palms

I thought it would be sad

But on the floor it didn’t look like sad

And so I picked them up and carried them away

 

I took the pieces to another room with me

A room with many windows

I poked and prodded the small shards of heart

Turned them this way and that

I poked a hole in each of them

And threaded them with silver thread

I tied them to the ceiling so

They looked like falling rain

 

They looked a little more like sad

But no

They didn’t move

Or tremble

Shudder

Moan

Or cry

Like sadness does

Or did

When my glass heart was feeling it

(How long ago was that?)

 

I thought that they were “sad”

Or would have been

Not just the chimes they looked like now

The hollow eggshell

Broken Christmas ornament

Clear broken thing

They looked like now…

 

I tried to make them look like rain

But they were still

So I opened the windows

And the air come in

And rattled all those pieces round like chimes

And rhymes

And crystal things

I lay down on the window seat…

And rained myself to sleep

 

But then this morning when I woke

Around sunrise I guess

I saw a dot of light glance off my hand

And then another

Two- No!

Three!

 

I turned around and saw the pieces of my heart

All spinning freely

Blowing in the wind like chimes

I saw the light refracted and reborn

I saw the morning hues

The blues like crystal waters and

The peachish pinkish morning light

All fires and crisp smooth nectarines

I saw the yellows glancing

Dancing

Prancing

Glinting

Glistening

Swirling chiming lights

The pieces of my heart all shining on their silver strings

Their little broken edges gleaming like ice

In the dawn’s light

When it’s clearest

Freshest

Best of all

 

And I saw that it looked like “hope”

 

Race You

I remember, when I was a little kid, I loved running.

 My family and I lived on a little dirt road, which dead-ended in someone’s house at the very end. Any time we went somewhere – to the store, or to church, or to lake Whitney which lay not two miles away – when we returned home, we would pile into the car (which was usually older than myself or my sister), and go trundling homeward.

Usually my father was driving, with my mother sitting next to him, and my sister behind her. I would sit behind Papa, and stare out the windows as we turned onto what we called “home road”.

I used to make my father stop the car, and let me get out. I’d step out of the door, and into the dusty road. In the winter the pale Texas dust was fine and chilly, and in the summer it scorched with heat. But no matter the weather, out I would climb, and shut the door behind me calling out “I’ll race you home!” Then I took off running as fast as I could.

It never really sank in that my father could easily have gunned the engine, and zipped past me – I think some part of me thought I could out-run the car, no matter what speed Papa drove. Part of me knew that he wouldn’t drive too fast – it wasn’t too wide a road, and he would never risk hurting me.

And when he pulled into our dusty driveway (there was no concrete anywhere near our house, the foundation was all dirt), and the car was enveloped in dappled shadows from the trees that arched over our land, I would run up to the window and ask if I had run faster than I had the last time. I always wanted to do a little better than I had the day before.

 

But every little kid grows up…

Over the years our house, which had very little structural support, began to collapse – and so did I.

First the floor of the house got weak, and then the ceiling. One corner after another gave way in our home’s foundations, and I will never forget the scratches we got on our palms as we used a jack to lift the corners of the building, so we could put more cinderblocks under the floors. Slowly a sense of helplessness grew inside each of us, as we fought to be the mortar that could hold our crumbling home together.

 

Our lives and relationships seemed similar.

My sister was diagnosed with depression, when I was about thirteen.

A perfectionist to the core, I made myself accountable for her emotions as best I could, and I made sure I listened to my mother when the stress began to weigh on her. I yelled and screamed in the family arguments, and sat and talked for hours afterwards with my sister, and then my mother, so they could each tell me their side of the story. I put increasing amounts of pressure on myself in the hopes of alleviating pain in my family – I think all four of us did… No matter the fights our family had, I tried to make a mental note of how to fix it next time, how to make it alright again, how I could be good enough that it wouldn’t happen again. I couldn’t afford to be less than perfect. If I could just stand strong, then somehow the family would be fine – if I could just be perfect. If I could just fix it myself, then everything would be fine.

Of course I couldn’t, and it wasn’t.

 

I was diagnosed with depression when I was nineteen years old. I had been fighting suicidal tendencies since I was seventeen. My health began to decline, and I gained a hundred pounds and eight dress sizes. I felt exhausted, physically and emotionally.

Still, I felt that I was responsible for the well-being of those around me. I felt a responsibility to give my family the life I felt they deserved – but I barely felt that I could survive long enough to give myself a life at all.

 

I remember lying on my bed, in a loose, white nightgown. My family had gone to town for groceries, and I was home alone. I could smell the rotting wood from the roof, and walls, and my lungs stung from the bits of tamped down fiberglass packing material that had gotten ground into the carpet after the ceiling had started to come down. It was chilly and damp outside, and the cold air swirled through the eighteen inch gap between my bedroom wall, and the musty carpeted floors. My mattress lay directly on the floor, and I had pulled my legs up, since my sheets were still slightly damp from the rain that had gotten in earlier. The blue grey light that filtered through the slats in the blinds seemed somewhere between day and night.

Then barking – loud, raucous barking, came piercing through the stillness, and I thought I could make out the neighbors kids shrieking.

The fear in my stomach was enough to make me scramble up to look out the window. The dogs had gotten out of the yard. If the neighbor saw them in his yard, he would shoot them to keep them away from his chickens.

Barefoot and sleeveless, I ran outside, and darted into the road, screaming at each of my beloved dogs by name. Loose stones bruised my feet, and the wind toyed with my nightgown as I chased our dogs back and forth.

As I raced down the road, with tears on my face, and pebble-shaped bruises on my feet, my family came trundling down the street in our car that was older than me, and my father carefully slowed to make sure not to hit me as he pulled into our shadow-dappled driveway.

 

What had happened? How had I come so far from the playful kid who chose to run down that dusty road? When did I stop racing for fun, and start running for my life?

 

Yet there was one part of the picture that remained unchanged. From the little kid in colorful shorts and a striped t-shirt, flip-flops smacking the dusty road as she raced her family’s old, beat-up van towards home, to the twenty-year-old figure, with tangled hair, and a white gown slipping off one shoulder, running while coughing, and screaming as though her life depends on it, while her family Oldsmobile slows almost to a stop behind her…

The car still slows down the same way. Behind the wheel, my father carefully eases off the gas, and waits for his daughter to go careening past him before he follows, sow and steadily, into the driveway.

 

My family has traveled through the pain with me.

The foundation of our house may have crumbled – but could I have only seen it, our home is built on much, much more.

Looking back, I think I had the right idea when I was young. Running – not from something… but towards something. Not struggling for control – but believing deep down that I can do the impossible. Fighting – not to be prefect… but to be a little bit better, and faster, and healthier, and stronger then I was the last time. Not trying to be the savior of my own family – but knowing that they will always slow down for me.

To everyday look at myself and think – I can do even better tomorrow. And even when I leave my family to say each time “I’ll race you home!”

Reflections

I hadn’t realized how far I had come until I looked back at my previous posts.

I know my life can be a mess now – but oh my gosh. I had forgotten, I think, what it’s like living from day to day without the certainty that you’ll wake tomorrow. I think I had forgotten what it feels like – how it feels not knowing what will kill you first: your health or yourself.

I am so grateful that I have come so far. in a strange way I’m so glad that it happened when I wasn’t looking. I used to fight everyday to get away from the pain I was going through… now it’s kind of like I’m being washed away on water; as though the choices I’ve made, and the life that I have, and the friends that have been here for me, and Christ (above all things, Christ) have swept under me a like a current I didn’t know I was feeling, and carried me away. I feel like I used to be so exhausted, just trying to keep my head above water. Now, somehow, I am being lifted away from the deeper parts of the water – swept up, instead of down.

I remember my fourth birthday, when I almost drowned. A dead fish was floating on the water. It was glittering, and silver-bellied, and pretty – but I wasn’t allowed to follow it unless I held hands with my sister. (That was often proviso of my young adventures.) When we followed the fish, we couldn’t see that there was a drop-off in the water. Suddenly all we knew was that there was no ground left under our feet.
I don’t remember my time under the water. Sometimes I think I remember weightlessness – or even breathing the water, somehow – strange, eery sunlight, maybe. I do know, from what I told my family not long after, that a fish swam under my foot. To this day that’s all I really know. To this day I love the water, and am afraid of fish. I also know that my sister kept her hold on my hand, and tread water to save her young life…. and mine. I know that, though I remember nothing, she remembers to this day, the feeling of screaming for help with water covering the lower half of your mouth. I don’t know how many people know about her that at the time, she hadn’t really figured out that we could both be saved: and when my aunt, who came to pull her out asked her “where’s Joan?” my sister said “I’ve got her!”… all the while somehow thinking that this meant I would be carried back to shore, and she be left in the deep waters. We haven’t changed much.

One of the nice things about having come out the other side of my depression, and of having struggled with it in the first place, is the chance to be there for others who are going through emotional issues themselves. A dear friend of mine – a fifteen-year-old girl – has been diagnosed PTSD after some awful experiences this past year. One of the things that has been helping her heal has been the opportunity to stay with friends who are protective, but have not been as steeped in the situation as her family. So she’s been coming to visit us on weekends and whenever she can, and eating home-made Italian food, and watching animated Disney films, and going to a nearby water-park. I think when my mother found out she had never actually been to a water-park before (and us living in the south – how did she manage?), there was no question that we were going

We mainly took turns between between the lazy river, and the wave pool, making the exception of a rather tall water-slide. The wave pool wasn’t actually in any kind of waving mood when we first got to it – so it was surprising once they turned it on, how high the waves reached over my friend’s head. Though she’s not too much shorter than me, she also wasn’t as strong a swimmer. After the first few moments of her laughter turning to spluttering, and without any conscious thought behind it, I reached over, and picked her up, lifting her shoulders up out of the water. Suddenly the water could lap at her neck, but it couldn’t lap over her face, and it couldn’t choke her. For the rest of the time in that pool, whenever she wanted go close to the deep end, I would pick her up, and carry her like a baby. (Fun Fact: you can’t manage to splash someone and carry them at the same time. I know this now.) Later on in the lazy river, she ended up on a float while I walked/swam/floated alongside to steer her away from the walls, and the people. There’s something very peaceful about a face tilted up into the sun, and trusting that you’ll lead them right.

I think that’s how I’m feeling now. There’s a peace, and a tranquility (not consistent – it’s the beginning of the school year – but it is there) that comes with trusting that God knows where I’m going, even when I have no idea. I feel like I’ve been lifted up, and carried away on gentle currents. I don’t quite understand them… but they seem somehow familiar. The way my life has been woven together since the pain of my depression has not been magically easy… it has been simple: and simple things are never easy. The path was difficult in the minutia: in tiny, recurring pains that I somehow thought would never end; in making the right choice, instead of the choice that might get me somewhere faster, or make me feel better for a few minutes; in being confronted with fears, and having to be good to people, even when we were both angry, and frightened. When waves lap up over your face, it’s hard not to flail – and when you lift someone out of the water… sometimes you forget that you might be helped too… sometimes it’s scary to help, when you feel like you’re sinking.

But looking back, I’m glad I went through all the things I did. I know how scary it can be to sink in the water… and I can look back and see that people were with me – holding my hand, even when I don’t remember it. From where I am now, the deep waters seem worlds away. Maybe I’ll get pulled back out to sea, and maybe not… but it won’t be those waters… not quite those waves, or quite those fish. I can’t help but feel comforted, having seen the underside of the waters’ surface, to realize that that same current carried me out, and up to the surface… and I can breathe again.

Thank God, I can breathe…

And when I look into the water now – the person I see reflected there, looks more like me… and more like who I wanted to become.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.