When We Were On Fire: A Link-up with Addie Zierman

Addie Zierman is probably one of my favorite people I haven’t met. Most everyone on that list is a kindred spirit, whose heart or story parallel my own in some way. Addie has a brand-new book out: When We Were On Fire. It has not yet made its way to my mailbox, but I am so excited to read it, because when Addie writes it feels like she tells my story: of being “on fire” for God, of the fire going out, of wanting and not wanting to get it back, of trying and not trying to relight it. Only she’s a step ahead of me, and so her words coax me forward.

Anyway, she had a link-up on her blog for others to share their stories of when we were on fire. I’m a tad late for the link-up, but couldn’t resist putting my own story in words. This is probably just the beginning of writing about it; my story has been complex and the words come slowly. But here is an initial attempt to put it into words.

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I remember the Sunday School classes: the felt board, the cut-out Bible characters, the memorization of the little orange catechism.

I remember the Jesus Freak youth group days: retreats and conferences, pranks, loving Jesus more than anything, getting up early to read my Bible. I was hungry for it and it fed me. We passed notes in the hall at school: Bible verses to encourage.

I remember the Christian college: my honest-to-goodness deep passion for discipleship and community and missions. The floor Bible studies and encouraging notes I found clipped on my dorm room door. The holy conversations with professors and friends, in offices and dorm rooms and out under the stars. I remember the incredible growth, the deep pain of depression, the healing and providence and sustenance of a good God.

I remember moving across the country to intern at a church: fresh out of college with a ministry degree, full of excitement and anticipation to be back in the church community I fell in love with during a summer internship.

I remember the depression and anxiety starting to creep up that winter, the jealousy and fear. I remember the moments of panic and claustrophobia, needing to get out of the situation, to run away from a church service up to the foothills of the Sierras.

And then–oh, then.

I remember that day. I remember going to a friend-family’s house for dinner to join in late on takeout boxes of orange chicken, beef and broccoli, fried rice.

I remember stopping with a fork halfway to my mouth, an elementary school girl asking, “Did you know that the pastor committed suicide?” I remember glancing, mouth open, to her father, my eyes questioning what on earth she was talking about. I remember his nod, the words, “It’s true…We just got a call…”

I remember the next few weeks, a nightmare of trying to go through the motions and put one foot in front of the other, just trying to survive each day. I remember thinking that if he was so strong and couldn’t beat depression, how on earth would I do it?

I remember the memorial service which I probably shouldn’t have gone to; the people saying nice things; the preacher’s reminder that spoke straight to me: just because he did this and people are saying nice things, doesn’t give you permission to do the same.

I remember going through the motions of Sunday School and children’s church, teaching tinies that God loves them and saves them. I couldn’t ask the question heavy in my heart, so I pushed it further down.

I remember finishing my internship and my other job, miraculously, because I don’t remember much else about work.

I remember leaving my host family and going to intensive therapy at a center for Christian workers. I remember the relief and terror at being alone and not having to meet anyone’s expectations. And after that, the anger.

I remember exhausting hours of counseling. I remember the art supplies strewn across the floor as I tried to process what words couldn’t explain.

I remember not going to church. It felt good.

I remember the shock and sorrow and anger at the situations that brought others to the counseling program: abuse, affairs, depression, burnout, doubt, rape, anxiety, manipulation, divorce.

I remember learning to drink and cuss and be angry with these broken, honest, seeking, hopeful missionaries and ministers.

I remember going to church again. One church new, a beautiful place that welcomed a group of us from the counseling center, broken and angry women. I cried at every service while they loved on us and spoke true things. The other church, “my” church; still reeling and trying to recover, a flock of sheep without a shepherd.

I remember leaving the counseling center, on unsteady legs, to re-enter the world. I remember living with a new family, and then another. I remember endless, fruitless job searching; hours spent in libraries or coffee shops.

I remember venturing out to the Christian Science Reading Room, a place that promised quiet and space to hold my broken pieces in peace for awhile.

I remember not getting there; the ditzy man running a red light and T-boning my car. I remember my car smashed on the street, looking dead; only a scratch on my foot, wondering why it happened like this. I remember thinking that God was punishing me for the blasphemy of attempting to go to the Christian Science Reading Room; a spiteful, mean Sovereign.

I remember the awful things that some Christians said to me. Not annoying Christians who I didn’t like; Christians who I knew and loved. They said doubt was wrong; get it together; you know better than this.

I remember Christians telling me “encouragements,” that God had plans to prosper me, to give me a hope and a future, that everything was in his hands. I remember not liking his hands. I remember people telling me that I was like Jonah, that God was letting me be tossed in the ocean because I wasn’t doing what he wanted.

I remember the intensity of pain and anger and confusion.

I remember a panic attack borne out of living from a duffel bag too long, and realizing that I needed to move home.

I remember the goodbyes, trying to piece things together enough to have closure. I remember being reprimanded and rejected by some, embraced and encouraged by others.

I remember trying to find a church at home, and not being able to make it through services without crying angry tears. I remember trying to read my Bible, and shoving it under the mattress, never wanting to see it again.

I remember the new church plant near my house, pastored by my Jesus Freak youth director. I remember going, feeling angry, defensive, and wary; leaving with hot tears yet not able to stay away.

Then I remember a long time of silence and space. I worked, I lived, I did what I needed to do. Slowly, painfully slowly, my heart grew less tense, less bitter, more soft. I tolerated God on the periphery of my being. He tolerated me being pissed at him. Slowly, ever so slowly, the tolerance turned to acceptance, and then to a tiny smidge of desire.

I remember when we were on fire.

I remember when I was a wet, smoldering pile of ashes.

Then a soft breath warms the ashes like bellows, keeping it alight.

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Stand

lead zeppelin

image credit: @notnixon.flickr.creative commons

You said I was grounded like a lead zeppelin, a lead balloon. This was funny, because nearby, the red hot air balloon was taking people for “rides,” letting them bounce gently on the ground but never taking to the sky. Funny, but we weren’t laughing.

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image credit: K_Gradinger.flickr.creative commons

Across the darkening lawn of the campus, the carnival was loud and whimsical, bluegrass music drifting over on the breezes along with scents of buttery popcorn. We had wandered away from the noise, the activity, the people, for a more serious and weighty conversation than the festive atmosphere allowed for. Now I was crying, the deep and heavy tears of Depression that would not lift. We sat; I cried; you simply were, with me, like Job’s friends sitting shiva. There were no words for this.

I felt like the “dead man” that marked the sidewalk nearby, more symbols of the light-hearted college traditions continuing on around me. And I felt stuck, buried deep, weighted down beneath the waves of random, reasonless sorrow.

We couldn’t get up from our dark corner of the grass, not yet, even though night was coming on. I was wiping tears and snot on my shirt for lack of a better remedy, looking like a hot mess and unwilling to face the crowds with such a downcast face.

My tears have been my food
    day and night…

My heart is breaking
    as I remember how it used to be:
I walked among the crowds of worshipers,
    leading a great procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and praise
    among the festive throng!

My soul is downcast within me…
Deep calls to deep
    in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
    have swept over me.

Psalm 42, excerpts from NIV and NLT

Finally the wells of my tears seemed to have run dry, and you suggested we bake cookies and color pictures to comfort the Sad. I picked myself up off the ground, body heavy, still reluctant to risk human interaction. But we stood and walked the short distance back to my apartment, stumbling into the light past the cozy and holy prayer chapel. Finding a box mix, we trooped over to your dorm, the one that felt friendly, and baked cookies in the lounge while various friends of yours stopped over to see what we were doing. You brought coloring materials from your room and as the cookies baked, we doodled in bright colors, tracing song lyrics onto the page, words of hope not yet realized:

The enemy has been defeated
And death couldn’t hold You down
We’re gonna lift our voice in victory
We’re gonna make Your praises loud

Shout unto God with a voice of triumph
Shout unto God with a voice of praise
Shout unto God with a voice of triumph
We lift Your name up
We lift Your name up

“Shout Unto God” by Hillsong United

I think you walked me back home that night, and I slipped into my apartment hoping not to be seen by my roommates’ boyfriends. You gave me the picture you drew, with my name on it, and I hung it with mine above my bed. I fell asleep looking at the colors, remembering the promises, wishing and willing the hope to be true.

It’s been five years since then, but when I think of the support I had during Depression, that night is one of the first to come to mind. You sat with me in the incurably sad silence, a show of solidarity when many would give up. But just as importantly, you stood with me and gently prompted me back towards the land of the living, baby steps of crayons and cookies. You helped me stand on unsteady legs and didn’t leave me to fend for myself just because the worst was over. You stood with me through the long darkness and patchy light, and for that I am so incredibly grateful.

for Jess

linking up with SheLoves Magazine for their July theme of Stand

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different kind of quiet

I’ve been a little quiet the last few months. Of course as an introvert, I’m pretty quiet normally; and quiet seasons are good from time to time–especially in the summer when you just need to get away from it all. But there are different kinds of quiet, and as I’m coming out of one kind, I’m realizing that it was a smothering, desperate quiet–not the settled, calm quiet of a healthy me.

Sometimes it takes entering a new season to realize that the past season actually was a season, not just a new-normal, inevitable, forever-time. This summer I’m coming alive again. The quiet of being out in the country, alone with some books, space to be away from all the crazy-making of this past semester is helping me to wake up again. The vibrant life of our yard and garden and my friends and travels is bringing me back to life and helping me see that who I am, truly, is not who I was this past semester. At the time, I felt that I was just a silent, awkward, sad and confused person by nature; that there was no escaping that reality. But really, it was just a shadow of me, the best I could muster in a grey, cold, lonely transition season. Winters suck, especially in new places.  This time, it is taking a summer to thaw me out, a change of place as well as pace to startle me back to myself.

Up until the last week of the semester, I thought I would be spending my summer at a sustainable farm near my college, with a family I adore, doing hard work and getting dirty in the garden. But things changed, suddenly, plans fell though, and I found myself falling back on the option that hadn’t been an option: going back home for the summer. And though I was sad not to be at the farm, going home suddenly seemed like the perfect thing for me, exactly what I needed and where I needed to be. It’s been slow, and relaxing, and spontaneous; and most of all, life-giving. After a semester of the cold dark, when I wasn’t sure I could count on anything or anyone, I’m back home. As Robert Frost says, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Last time I moved home, it was kicking and screaming, and I ended up staying much longer than intended; and it was beautiful and restorative, and the people here–they took me in. This summer, though it’s just a short stay and I know I’ll be going away again come fall, they take me in again. These are my people: family friends who’ve known me since I was born; mentors who’ve walked with me since high school; church people, new and old, who welcomed me in when church was the last place I wanted to be. This is my home, like it or not; though I’ve made homes many places, this is the place where they’ll always, always take me in, without questions and with good coffee.

And in this home, I am free to be myself. I know I can tell the truth and be ridiculous and they will love me anyway, they will love me because of it, because it’s who I am. Free from the constraints I put upon myself this semester, free from the long to-do list of work and school and reading and planning, free from the constricting depression and the conditional relationships, I’m unfolding again into myself, like the flowers that close up at night and stretch themselves out full in the sunlight. In the expansive quiet of the country, the stillness of no schedule, the steady love of my friends, the calm of the outdoors, sunny greens and blues and pinks, this quiet is the space to be myself. Sweet moments with friends; loud laughter over cooking and coffee; unexpected embraces at church; last-minute trips, just because I can, to see places and people that enliven me and remind me who I am, and that who I am is okay. The space and distance and quiet allow for the stress and crazy and lies to drain out of me, sometimes slow and quiet, sometimes with catharsis the strength of which surprises me.

I’m finding my anthem this summer in the song that names the season: “Summertime, and the living is easy.” In the lazy days of reading and gardening and playing with my dog, in the afternoons of cooking and creating in the kitchen with music playing loud, in the occasional adventures to a friend’s farm or an art museum or Costa Rica, for heaven’s sake, the easy living is restorative to my soul in ways that I know I wouldn’t have found in a different summer agenda. Quietly, almost unnoticed, my soul and body and mind are creeping back together from the corners where I’d banished them, until suddenly I am finding myself with words darting through my head, stories half-way piecing together, creativity bursting out in spurts of cooking, desires to tell my stories making their way to the surface. In the country calm and summer space, coming back to life again, I’m still quiet; but perhaps not for long.

on cinnamon rolls and sanctification

my friend–
jessie, the writer–
wrote me a letter of encouragement
a manifesto for us idealists
to inspire courage as we live in the un-ideal, the un-idyllic.

she says that we–
impertinent, pesky idealists–
want magical, fairy-dusted, warm cinnamon rolls
good things, best things
perfection, now
heaven on earth

she says
sometimes we get cinnamon rolls
but mostly the kitchen is closed.
the idealists beat on the doors
why can’t heaven roll down, now?

my other friend–
the realist-idealist with stubborn hope springing eternal–
sees another truth and speaks.
heaven-come-down rolls out the refining fire
to purify the dross
burn the chaff
to make the ideal of our character and our world.
only then can the cinnamon rolls last forever
otherwise they mold.

the fire hurts.
it burns
the pain
too great to bear,
seemingly.

but the Baker is baking
slow and steady
patient
fervent
kneading the resistance right out of me
with hands firm but full of grace.

into the oven
(out of the frying pan into the fire?)
one fire or another
self-chosen or Wisdom-picked
either way i’ll burn
either way

you choose, He whispers
take your time.
I’ll be
in the kitchen–
closed, quiet–
only dough
rising.

is this a grace in itself–
heaven, here and now
a burnt cinnamon roll

what is saving my life right now?

Last summer, I had just come across Sarah Bessey’s blog when she asked readers, What is saving your life right now? What’s keeping you going and sane and thriving right this minute? A great question, one which I forgot about over a few months until Brenna D was reflecting on it just a few weeks ago. So I’ve been asking myself that question often lately: what is saving my life right now? And if I feel more in need of saving, what needs to be saving my life right now?

What has been saving my life these last few weeks?

  • my supervisor and friend, Missy
  • @Virtual_Abbey and their morning and evening prayers on Twitter
  • caring for some friends who are also in need sometimes
  • Gilmore Girls and knitting
  • dear friend Jess, always only a phone call away
  • Paxil (and this post by Jamie the Very Worst Missionary)
  • reading Permission to Speak Freely by Anne Jackson

What do I need in February to help save my life?

  • GRACE with myself.
  • a haircut (check–and did it myself)
  • fewer to-do lists
  • exercise that is manageable
  • coffee date moments
  • time to process and come to conclusions
  • healing habits: freedom to do them, not pressure
  • less mindless internet time and more “mindless” relaxation time: coloring, knitting, piano–to let my mind wander and unwind while creating something
  • old friends and new friends to know me and help me re-center