Vulnerable is Real – Act Two

(Act One is Here)

ACT TWO

A guy came up to me to ask the same expected questions with the same manufactured concern as all the other people. I really was so tired of hearing the, “I’m so glad you are back, I was so concerned” statements from these people. I knew they meant well. I also knew that they were thinking about me when they saw me, but sincerely doubted that they really thought much at all about me and the guys I deployed with in their day to day lives. They needed a reminder or a trigger during the day, like a news report or a headline, to be reminded about us on the other side of the globe.

I don’t even remember hearing his question though I remember seeing his lips move. I had been playing my role, doing my scripted dance all day and I was tired. I remember looking at this guy who I didn’t actually know and thinking that he looked old enough to get punched in the gut and young enough to not actually be that hurt by it. I unloaded on him. I gave him exactly what Fred hoped I would give somebody. It took every bet of 30 seconds. Every word that came out felt like a little bit of water spraying through a mud retaining wall carrying a bit of dirt with it. Every word enlarged the hole, the dam was breaking, and there was less and less to restrain the tone and flavor of my emotions. Each word sprayed out and gave way for more words to follow. Thirty-ish seconds later and the that pool was drained.

In such a short moment, I had accidentally done what Fred had wanted me to do. I broke from the formation, stopped marching according to the rhythm of the day and told the truth.

This guy looked like he had been punched in the gut. His response was one of the most beautiful things ever.

“I… I have no response for that. I’m sorry. I didn’t expect that, but maybe I should have. I have to go… I want to hear more. I’ll cancel my evening and come to your place if you would let me.”

There are tears in my eyes as I remember that moment. He made good on his word too. He showed up that evening to the place I was staying and we stood out in a wood shop for hours. He became my friend.

He asked questions. Questions that a lot of people in our different cultures would say are “wrong” to ask. I didn’t get offended or hurt by the questions. Truth be told, I owed him the grace to ask the questions since I kind of demanded grace from him when I unloaded at church that morning. I listened to the questions he asked and realized more and more that this guy was drinking in who I am. He wasn’t hunting for facts or a fun story. He wasn’t looking for something to take away from me. He was taking his time to share in who I was, and who I was struggling to become.

He listened to me. He would apologize before his questions and I can now look back and see that he must have felt awkward, knowing he was walking in troubled waters and not wanting to create a messy disaster. His apologies and questions revealed his vulnerability. And then he listened. And listened. He would grimace every now and then, laugh from time to time, usually neither of those were at “appropriate” moments, but emotions do strange things when they are running high. I didn’t care.

He was humble and kind. Living in a vulnerable moment.

I was less humble and probably unkind. Living in a vulnerable moment.

We felt as though we were experiencing something real.

Vulnerable is Real – Act One

A friend of mine held a live Facebook prayer meeting a few days ago and spent some time talking about vulnerability in conversation and relationships. That reminded me of a story…

ACT ONE

After getting back from Ramadi in 2006 I was having a hard time relating to people and returning to a healthy state of mind. I was hanging out with my father in law talking about how hard it was for me to be around churchy people. My father in law was a pastor at the time. He was deeply involved with encouraging and shaping the Monday through Saturday lives and interactions of the people in the congregation by serving the small group leaders, coordinating a small group, and providing hours upon hours of counseling with different members. His love for people and his service in prayer created the very canvas on which those deep, intimate relationships were painted. He very naturally desired that I would share my story, the hard parts, the way I was really feeling, with those at church on Sunday morning. He actually wanted me to speak out on a Sunday morning!

“Why would I want to even be there?”

I posed the question to Fred, my father in law, but it wasn’t a question to be answered.

“The other people walk around and fire thoughtless, inconsiderate (or at the least un-considered), phrases around. ‘Hi! How are you?’ But no intention of listening.”

I unloaded on Fred.

“What am I supposed to say? Terrible! I’m angry and confused, I feel myself getting worked up over almost nothing, I don’t feel any affection to my kids and wife, I find very little value in much of anything that we are doing as a family or a people, and I’m tired of the crushing expectation of this kind of life that says I have to conform and comply in order to be considered acceptable and then I have to participate in your shallow, careless (or un-careful), world to be accepted. It’s not real. It’s painful and frustrating and I have enough of that in my life already. What… you want me to say that to these people on Sunday morning?”

Yes.

Fred said yes. He said I should say exactly that.

The next day was Sunday and at the beginning of the service, Fred actually asked for feedback from the congregation.

“Does anybody have anything on their heart that they would like to share with the church, something they feel God and his people should know?”

Well played there music man, well played. I didn’t respond, I didn’t move, I didn’t make a sound. Neither did anybody else. The moment passed and the people went about their rituals and routines. People came up to me before and after the service and I played my part. I told them the most untrue things. I told them I was fine, glad to be home, looking forward to more time with family. You know, all the right and good things that I was supposed to say. Nothing changed, the day continued to march along to the same rhythm as before. Expected call, expected response. The cadence was well established and we played our parts as the good people we were. Heads down, trudging along, in our smiley, happy shells.

Nobody being vulnerable.

Nothing feeling real.

Paused Life: A Short Stay in Ward 4 Alpha

It’s true.

I spent a few days in a psych ward in December 2020.

For several months leading up to me going to the ER, I was not in a healthy state of mind. I felt trapped by the things in my life. Things that I had to do that I don’t enjoy, but also things that I really enjoy began to feel like tasks that were taking from me when there wasn’t anything else to take.

I began day dreaming about being hurt bad enough that I didn’t have to go to work, that I wouldn’t have to interact much with my family, I could stop going to school, and there would be nobody to ask anything else of me.

I was so tired.

These thoughts started to creep in more often and I eventually found myself thinking through the physics of a car wreck. Those thoughts eventually grew into me letting my truck slowly leave the road and cross into the mud and dirt on the side or in the median. I never lost control. I just looked like a fool to everybody else on the road around me.

Some things happened at work that really shouldn’t have and, given the terrible state of mind I was in, I didn’t handle them well. After realizing what I had planned to do, and realizing where I was, and realizing that I was practicing what I had planned, I realized that I couldn’t keep going the way I was going.

I thought about just leaving work, but I knew I would get in a wreck.
I thought about going back to my office, but I knew I would explode on my junior Sailors.
As I continued to think through my options, I found myself in front of the check in desk at the Emergency Room.

Best. Decision. Ever.
(well… maybe not best ever, but really high up there)

I was embarrassed and ashamed when I got my paper pajamas. I was embarrassed and ashamed when they rolled me in a wheel chair up to the psych ward. There was a meal on the table for me in the middle of the ward. I didn’t want to eat it, but something in me kind of just resigned to being in that place.

“Well, here I am now. Might as well eat.”

And I did.
And it was good.

It was pretty late and I asked the staff if I could go to sleep. Bedtime was awkward.

It took a couple days, but eventually I saw people in the parking lot outside going about their normal routine. I recognized some of the cars that belonged to my Sailors. I remembered the work that they were doing, the things that had gone wrong in the previous days, and I imagined the stress and turmoil they were going through. I felt bad for them, but at the same time, I didn’t really feel anything about it.

I thought about my wife and kids and I missed them, but I knew that they were just fine. I thought about school and how, even if I wanted to do my coursework, I was not able to.

All of a sudden I came to this realization that all of the things; good, bad, and indifferent, had come to a complete stop for me.

My life was on pause.

I was still alive.

I was, in a way, dead to everything that had become my life, yet I was, in complete reality, fully alive.

Taking inventory of everything in my life I came to see that even the good, noble, encouraging things in my life came with a cost to me. That cost may have been time, or money, or physical difficulty, or loads of concentration. The cost was often totally neutral, not good, not evil, just a middle of the road non issue kind of thing. Over time, though, all of these little costs started to add up until my life was living me.

I wanted to live my life.

When my life stopped, functionally, in the real world, and I watched all of those other lives continue through the window of the psych ward, I started to understand that I really did need a break.

In my terrible short sighted natural understanding, I reasoned that the break from life that I needed was suicide.

I was wrong.

The break that I needed to take from life was actually a short pause. Some time to step back away from everything that was going on in my life and reconnect with what matters.

I returned to my Bible and found my way to the Psalms.

I returned to the source and essence of life itself and found deep encouragement in Psalm 27:13

Hope and Despair in a Single Sentence Written Thousands of Years Ago

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the Land of the living.

David, King of Israel (Psalms 27: 13)

One sentence. Reverberating poignancy.

I encountered this verse when I was an in patient in a psych ward after going to the ER with thoughts (and sad as it is to say, plans) of suicide.

That’s not actually completely true. I had encountered this verse many times over the course of my life, but I had never actually shared a cup of coffee with this verse like I would an old friend on a crisp morning.

I woke up for the first time in years.

For longer than I could remember, I would tell people that I sleep just fine and, in all reality, I completely believed that I did. There was something so strange, though, about closing my eyes in a world in which my life was paused and then falling asleep. When I finally woke up, something was different.

I slept.

Sliding out from under the blanket I was given the day before when I was taken to the psych ward, I grabbed my bible to spend some time with Jesus. This is something that I do more often than not. It is not something I do out of duty or a desire to be spiritual or religious. I do it as a way of connecting with the deepest love my essence has ever known.

I hoped.

Hopelessness and despair had gripped my life for a long time. I felt as though I was caught in parallax, constantly drowning but never dying. Everything in my life seemed to be taking from me and I had no more me to give. When I woke up in that ward, my head clear, my heart at peace for the first time in years, I knew something was different.

No more despair!

I couldn’t move my eyes past this verse. I felt as though I was reading words in a book that were explaining my own heart to me in that moment. I was full of despair and now I was full of hope. This sense of evaporated despair had to come from something. Sleep helped a lot, but it only allowed me to clearly connect with the truth.

I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

I had not committed suicide. I was alive. Fully alive! And in this sentence from thousands of years ago I am coming to believe that in this life I will truly see the goodness of the Lord.

The Goodness of the Lord.

In this life.

“Depression” – Lying label that doesn’t mean what it says.

Wrestling with understanding what depression is.

“I”m depressed?” I think to myself riding down the road, radio up, singing like the world is my stage surrounded by cars that arranged their day just to be in my presence.

“No way.” I think to myself as the sun’s warmth soaks into my shoulders and the chilly air brushes my face.

“I can’t hear you, I’ve never heard you, I won’t ever hear you, and I don’t want to hear you.” I hear in my head as the question I asked is answered.

“I don’t matter, I never mattered, and I don’t need to be here anymore.” I retort as the music turns into agonized noise, the sun bakes persistently, and the wind screams in my face.

It happens that fast. Life is good. Everything is right in my life. The smallest, most insignificant thing creeps out of some corner in my life and the lights go out. The fuse is blown and I can’t find my way to the fresh air.

I’ve started thinking about people like leaves on a tree. Leaves flourish on all sides, limbs radiating from the trunk, life flowing into each of them. As the prevailing east wind approaches, as is its steady habit, the leaves on the north and south side get a little sideways, the east leaves press securely and confidently into the trunk, completely ambivalent to the breeze. Those west leaves, though, cling for dear fragile life to the limb as the gale pulls them from the trunk, away from the circle of life.

What’s wrong with those western leaves? Good question! You’ve gotta know, those west leaves are depressed. The same substance as all the other leaves but because of their context, they are more susceptible to blowing away.

This is how I’ve been thinking about depression. I don’t live constantly under a dark cloud of hopelessness. I live on that side of the line, but the cloud is often far from me. I know there are others who live even further across the line than I do, and that cloud is often much nearer to them. When the wind blows, those of us normal, healthy people with a disposition towards depression get more quickly covered with the clouds.

What I find problematic with the diagnosis known as “Depression” is that the term fits the minutes and moments but not necessarily the major movements of life. When I am low, I am depressed. When I am low, I am very much in a hole of sorts, a depression in the surface of life, a pebble in the divot on the green. Those are depressive moments, those are times when I am fully covered by what the word means, says, and feels… I am depressed. All of the other times though, when I am living my normal melancholic life, I may feel more sad than the “normal” person, but I am not in the hole. I can laugh, connect with friends, enjoy life, and rest in the warm embrace of love… and I’m still diagnosed as depressed. In these moments, the word doesn’t fit.

When I’m down, it helps me understand that there is a legitimate process at work in my head, that I need to work in one direction to climb from the hole, instead of working in so many directions taking guesses at why I feel the way I feel. The label creates a target and gives me the ability to set up some lifelines before falling in, and some rigging to help me get out.

When I’m up, every time I take a pill, I am reminded that I am depressed, and that is when the label becomes an ill-fitting collar, has me on a leash, and invites me into a hole of hopelessness. Then there is Shakespeare, looking me in the eye, saying something about a rose that, by any other name, would smell so sweet. This thing in my head, this diagnosis, by any other name, would still be so depressing.

Anger, Sadness, Depression, and my Christian Faith

I read my Bible often, almost every day.

I am almost completely unproductive at work, almost every day.

I love being around my family and friends.

I stay at work for hours, even when I don’t have to.

I bring joy to our relationships.

I cause incredible moments of pain and silence.

I trust that Jesus makes all things new.

I believe that my life will never be better.

I help others to live in the light of life.

I would gladly walk quietly off into a never-ending night.

Jesus wants me to control my thoughts.

Without drugs my thoughts veer into terribly destructive valleys.

The grace of Jesus is sufficient for all my needs.

I need medication to sufficiently give grace to my family like they need.

That’s where I’m stuck.

Right after getting the news that I needed to be medicated in order to function like a healthy, contributing member of society, I began reading everything I could to help me grasp my situation. While the range of responses drifted along a scale, I noticed two camps beginning to form.

You are a delinquent Christian! Surrender, Submit, Stop Sinning, and the Lord will heal you!!

The old legalist in me felt this and readily agreed. Depression is a thing of the mind. Right thinking will produce right living. Likewise, wrong living produces wrong thinking. If I return to the Lord, surrender to Him, repent, and take refuge in His grace and glory, He will heal me.

Some of that is true. That full last sentence is true and most of that paragraph rings true. But I’m afraid it is woefully out of context. I am starting to wonder, and maybe realize, that God’s healing of me may have nothing to do with moments of depression. His healing may very well mean that I live for the rest of my life with a propensity to drift into a deep sadness. God’s interaction with my mental health is not primarily dependent on my submission to Him.

Oh my sweet friend, Jesus loves you (Kum Ba Yah)! In your weakness He is strong!! Embrace your depression, take all the drugs, go to all the therapies, and display your depression before the world.

The Jesus hippy in me feels like he found a sun dried wool blanket as he wraps himself up snug and sits by a spruce fire in the foggy morning. I love this! This makes it pretty clear that there really isn’t anything wrong with me. The sovereignty of God is on display in me. This broken man is exactly who God wants the world to see. I’ll take the drugs, I’ll do the work to control my behavior, and I’ll embrace the fact that I am who I am and I’ll never be anything other than who I am now.

The problem with this one is that, at some point, I will no longer be who I am now. That brings me a smidge of hope. I don’t want to be who I am right now forever, though I really don’t want to be any different than I am right now.

To be a little more clear, I know that I must live a life of submission to Jesus. I know that living a life of rebellion and hedonism will bring a load of pain and cold into my world. I also know that God is not ashamed of me (or any of you for that matter) in my broken state, weakness, and sickness.

The hard thing for me to wrestle with is this…

What does it mean to be healthy?

Does it mean to be happy, mostly, and be sad sometimes?

Does it mean that being melancholic and sad are symptoms of something wrong?

What if, as I am now, is as healthy as I will ever be, and as healthy as Jesus wants me to be? What if the redemptive work, the work for which Jesus is absolutely sufficient, is not a work for my happiness, but is instead a work for His glory. What if I’m supposed to trust that He will give me a family who will love me deeply in all of this, regardless of how hard it is for them sometimes? What if I’m supposed to trust that He will give me a job that provides for my shelter, food, and some fun things despite my almost crippling avolition.

To be sure, I don’t have many answers. This I believe:

God is real.

I am a Christian.

I am loved.

I am depressed.

I am ashamed.

I’m Not So Sure I Want to Know the Holy Spirit

I don’t think I really want to know the Holy Spirit.

At least, not at this point in my immature life.

I heard a guy talking today about people who spent time praying and asking for the Holy Spirit to reveal Himself to them. It was really neat listening to this man talks about these other people’s experiences. Nothing flashy, nothing wild. The crux was that each of these dudes spent time asking for a deeper understanding or experience with the Holy Spirit, they each got what they asked for, though none of the details of their experiences were shared. The take away for this man was that every one of those people lived radically different lives afterward.


After the conversation, I thought, “I want to do that. I want to do what these men have done and have a radically different life.”


Then I thought about the stories I have heard. Jacob had a great experience with the Holy Spirit and walked with a limp forever afterward. Paul had a major experience with the Holy Spirit and it left him blind for several days. John had an experience with the Holy Spirit and it left him sick to his stomach.


I think I’ve grown so comfortable in my life that I don’t give much thought to the Holy Spirit. I live in a reasonable, tangible, real world. As I wander through this concept, I wonder if my comfortable life has separated me from being sensitive to the Holy Spirit.


And that is where the first line of this comes from. If truly knowing, understanding deeply, connecting with the Holy Spirit results in shaking of life, a shuddering of reality, a limp, blindness, a bitter stomach, anything other than what I have now or what I want later, I don’t know If I am yet ready to know the Holy Spirit. I don’t know if I’m really ready to sacrifice the good that I have in order to move into the greatness of what God has determined for me.


I want to have an experience like these other men. I want to live a life that is radically different. But at the same time, I want to live the same life I am living now.


I guess the real question is what do I consider to be the ideal life. Is it the same that I have now? Is it radically different? To loosely quote Jim Elliot Am I willing to give what I cannot keep to gain what I cannot lose?


And more to the point…


Do I really want to know the Holy Spirit?

Aviate, Navigate, Communicate

I love flying.  I’m not a pilot, but I’ve flown a handful of times and absolutely love it.  I’ve been fortunate enough to see inside that world a time or two, and I have picked up some of the mantras along the way.  This is one of them.

Priority of tasks while flying:  Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.

What good is knowing where we are going, and communicating with other pilots, air traffic control, or passengers, if the aircraft has lost the ability to stay aloft and is plummeting to the earth?  Gotta keep the plane in the air first and foremost… Aviate!

Before spending time and energy communicating, we need to know where we are going.  There is only so much fuel onboard and we only have so much time to get on course, or to find a safe place to land, both of which require us to… Navigate!

Airplane is stable in flight and we are on a safe course?  Awesome!  Lets talk… Communicate!

Part of me wants to apologize for the silence, part of me wants to tell you that we just weathered a tremendous storm and so my focus was on priorities 1 and 2.  Sometimes just 1.

Most of me wants to detach even further, drift into the mountains with my family, and never speak of these years again.

Truth is, I know, even if I never speak of these years again, I will feel them forever.

It has been a very rough couple years.  By a “couple” I mean, all the way back from April 2014, that fateful day when we departed the paradise we called Washington State and the family we developed there.  Over the last 4 years we have been through almost 2 years deployed, a death in the family, Lyme disease, a cardiac emergency, a cancer diagnosis, a severely damaged house, sustained loss of rental income, foreclosure, a move overseas, and 1 hospitalized child in a Japanese hospital.  The job I am currently doing is rough…  we’ll leave it there.

The rest of this year is looking every bit as difficult!

Things got heavy enough on me that I would come home from work and sit in my van in front of my house for 45 minutes sometimes.  I felt a crushing cold detachment.  I knew that inside my house was warmth, comfort, solace.  I knew that my kids were a huge source of that warmth!  Their innocence and their love for me is palpable.  I knew that, as soon as I walked inside, I would suck the very life out of room, the very blood from the marrow.  I couldn’t do that, so I would sit in the van trying to get it together.  A couple times I would see window blinds shake and a minute later kids bursting forth from the house and running to the van.

I would paste on a peaceful face and I would smile at them while dying on the inside.  It never failed though, true love drives out fear!  Those kids love me so much!!  I’d go inside with them and would immediately drown in their stories from the day, questions about everything under the sun, and invitations to play.

Who knew that their innocence would save me?  And man alive do I need saving!! Every. Single. Day!

In the midst of these difficult times, I came to see that bringing the poison home, I would infect my family.  Love seems to be stronger than that.  Innocent love seems to work the other way.  I come with my broken heart, my head full of trouble, dripping the poison of the day, and walk into a realm of love, and I am healed, I come out clean, and the love is not diminished a single bit.

So that’s where we’ve been.  While the rest of this year is looking difficult, I am doing MUCH better and the family is doing awesome.  I am so glad I get to be a part of this family.

It got tricky… but we were able to Aviate and Navigate…  now we’ll communicate!

Thanks for reading and, to those who sent messages, thanks for encouraging me to keep my head up and to get back to writing.

 

 

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