Middle Sister

captive words, freed + captive heart, redeemed

Where Brokenness Meets Belonging

I’ll never forget the first time I took a personality test. Sitting in an oversized, mostly empty conference hall, I glanced at the other faces in the room, lingering on the ones I admired. I felt an uneasy shift in my insecure, middle school stomach, and I did what I thought best. I lied.

I answered the questions carefully, and to my satisfaction, the Myers-Briggs test declared me an extrovert. I remember feeling triumphant, as if I had dodged a pothole. I clung to that assessment, assuring myself I could be the person I’d described — the person I wanted to be.

It was painstaking work, really, but I assumed everyone did it. I fought hard to silence the roar of uneasiness, to calm the swirl of anxiety. And to those looking in, I might’ve seemed relatively successful. I lived in that shell of a person — the best version of myself, I assumed — for years.

But facades always crack, and eventually mine shattered.

As it turns out, I desperately need time alone. I relish in the softness of silence. My mind remembers how to think, and my soul remembers how to feel when I retreat from the noisy clatter of the world. I’m not particularly well spoken. Large groups of people drain my energy, and too many eyes make me feel panicked. Though I always thought it necessary to secure the approval of large groups, I actually function best with the love and support of just a few trusted friends.

But I can’t tell you how long it took me to come to that conclusion, and how long it took for me to accept it once I did. What I can tell you of is the overwhelming peace that comes with accepting yourself as you were created to be.

So, why, to this day, do I sometimes still struggle to be her?

I think it has a lot to do with where I’m looking. If you look to the world to tell you what is good in you and what is not, you’ll almost always end up disappointed.

I distinctly remember realizing this for the first time. As I nervously sat across from a trusted mentor, he said something I already knew on some subconscious level — but they were words I’d been waiting my whole life for someone to say, to explain, to make sense of. “You feel things deeply,” he said. It’s not those four words that stick with me, years later, but the life he breathed into me after he said them.

“You see it only as a burden,” he explained, “and it can be, but it’s also what gives you the capacity for extraordinary empathy and compassion.” In that moment, I understood. The world had told me oversized feelings were a burden to bear, so that’s what I believed. And that’s why I tried to overcome them, to escape them, much like I tried to escape my introversion.

Years later, I still find myself reverting to old habits, trying to be someone I’m not, striving to escape the parts of me I find unlikable.

As I stood in Target last week, scanning endless racks of baby clothes to find the onesie that matched the registry I held in my hand, I felt the familiar rush of hot, unwanted tears. My initial reaction? Anger, at myself, for feeling.

I inwardly chastised myself. “This is so inappropriate,” I thought. “Get a hold of yourself. This isn’t about you. It’s about your friend and the baby growing in her belly.” I managed to collect myself, painting a smile across my face as I checked out and headed for my car.

But as I drove home, I found the feelings impossible to escape. At first, I frantically searched for a radio station playing an upbeat song, to push the feelings out of sight. Instead, I landed on one that spoke to my soul exactly where it was. A song that told me I didn’t need to package myself up neatly before God, but instead, he wanted me exactly as I was. Better yet, that he found me desirable, lovable even, exactly as I was.

The rest of the way home, I let tears stream down my face. I allowed myself to feel. I was freer on that drive home than I have been in months.

The feelings I have are messy and unsightly. But that day, in the car, God told me it was OK — OK to feel, OK to be exactly who he created me to be. An introvert, crying in the car? Fine with him. In fact, much better than a feigned extrovert with manicured feelings.

What I’m beginning to realize is that it’s in the most complicated parts of ourselves that God meets us. He’s all too silent in the shiny exteriors we create, but in the messy parts? He’s there. That’s where he does his best work in us, through us. That’s where he makes himself known. And isn’t that what we’re here for?

Here

 

I’m an idealist, but if you had told me that a few years ago, I probably would’ve shrugged, unsure of the idea. That wasn’t something I knew about myself. But it’s something I’ve learned — a realization born of necessity, an insight steeped in pain. It’s not this particular piece of me that matters all that much. It’s the way it’s shaped my thoughts that matters, the way it’s informed my dreams and fueled my fears.

I think it’s part of the reason I struggle to live in the in-between. I’m always grasping for what’s next, regarding the not-yet as the objective. And all too often, the grasping becomes gripping and the regarding becomes revering.

Dreaming for the future is normal and healthy, but I have a way of turning those dreams into unrealized concrete realities. There, in the depths of my mind, are checkpoints and destinations, but no speed bumps, no stop signs. And you know what happens when you’re flying down the road, looking far ahead, paying little attention to the pavement directly in front of you? The unexpected speed bump jolts you out of your skin. The sudden stop sign leaves you screeching to a neck-breaking halt.

Here is not a place I thought I’d stop. Here is not a place I thought I’d be. It’s a foreign place that feels lonely. It doesn’t seem to look like anyone else’s here. I feel pain that eats away at my being, resentment that eats away at my soul. My body is broken here, and much of the time, so too is my spirit.

But right now, God has asked me to live here — not wait here, not fight here, not pine here — live here.

Two temptations fight to threaten this. They contradict each other, and I waver in the middle, struggling to walk the ground that barely exists between them.

One tells me to stop, to stand in place, to pause. “Living can wait,” it says, but I know it’s a lie, because none of us can ever really afford to wait to live.

The other tells me to run, blindly, furiously, carelessly.  And most of the time, I want to run, but I can’t. I can’t outrun the ache, and I am all at once angry and glad for that.

The ground in the middle is muddy. The steps are one by one. It’s a deliberate way of walking, of living. I want to flit ahead to dry land, but what I’m realizing is that there’s someone guiding my steps here, someone walking alongside me in the mud, gifting me with strength, moment by moment. So, as much as I want out of here as quickly as possible, I am learning, day after day, to love the hand that guides me and grasp the strength it provides me.

Our heres are all different, but they all bear a common thread. No matter yours, I encourage you to walk in it. Live in it. Be there in all your confusion and brokenness. Peel your eyes away from there, and meet the one who walks with you here.

Stepping Out + Leaning In

I’ve had Facebook since middle school. We grew up together. That puts us at 12 years of friendship, I think. Along the way, it developed and changed, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse — as did I. It picked up new friends (hello, Instagram) and set the tone for 21st century life. I never thought much about social media, its implications, what it meant for my life, until I did.

Looking back, it’s not surprising to see it was marriage that made me think. It’s funny how the things that push and stretch us the most — the hard things, the uncomfortable things — are also the things that make us think, that make us open our eyes.

It’s not that I had some light-bulb-moment, some grand revelation about social media. It’s just that I began to see how it affected me, how it affected my husband and how it affected us together. It’s not that I discovered anything new or groundbreaking about its effects. It’s just that I saw them, personally, and that makes all the difference.

Talking about my feelings has never been my strong suit. That’s not to say I don’t have them, feelings. In fact, I have a lot of them (enneagram four, forever). But I’m much better at burying them than speaking them. For most of my life, that worked. When you grow up next to a talented talker, you kind-of get a free pass to complacency.

But when you get married, and your husband is also a proficient burier, you face an uncomfortable reality. Marriage doesn’t work well like that.

We spent a while realizing that — volcanoes and earthquakes, included. We had this same, one, conversation, that typically happened around midnight and ended with two, emotionally stripped people, wanting the same result, and unsure how to achieve it.

And then, one night, this one, strange, seemingly insignificant word took hold of me. It’s been at least a year since I first read it, yet this word still sticks with me, like the gum under your shoe you thought you scraped off.

Piddle.

According to Dictionary.com, to piddle is “to spend time in a wasteful, trifling or ineffective way.” I first read it in Jennie Allen’s Restless, a book study about discovering our purpose. Jennie says, “If we are honest, we’ll admit that it is hard to love God and it is hard to love people. So you know what we tend to do instead of doing the difficult work of loving them? We piddle.”

What did I do instead of putting in the work to love my husband better? What did I do instead of learning how to communicate better? I piddled. Where, and how did I piddle? Ah, you see now how this comes together.

It’s so much easier to get lost in the scrolling than it is to get lost in a conversation that strips you down to your core. It’s so much easier to create a cute caption than it is to create an unpleasant conversation. It’s so much easier to broadcast smiling faces than it is to broadcast growing pains.

This struck me all at once, but slowly, too. I wasn’t sure what to do with it, how to reconcile it with the real, living world that doesn’t stop turning just because you started waking up.

My husband agreed, at that point in our lives, social media wasn’t helpful to us in growing or seeking. It was helpful to us in wasting, forgetting, comparing and wishing. So, last February, we took a break, planning to pick back up roughly a month and a half later.

I expected to miss it. I expected to count down the days until I reactivated my accounts. But when Easter rolled around, my desire to do just that had been replaced by a desire not to. To be perfectly honest, I was confused. I hadn’t prayed for this change of heart, but I knew, without a doubt, I wasn’t the one who changed my heart.

And so, I just sort-of went with it. I didn’t reactivate my accounts, and I just kept living. As you’d expect, the questions bubbled up more and more over time. Was there something going on? Were we OK? What was the real reason for the social media disappearance? The strange thing is, I couldn’t totally answer this question for a long time. It was just something I knew, in the depth of my soul, was right for me, then. I answered the best way I knew how.

I just didn’t miss it.

“Don’t you feel disconnected?” I was asked. There were plenty of times I felt out-of-the-loop, yes, but disconnected? No. The people I loved, the people who loved me back — we were as connected as ever. If I didn’t know what was going on in their life, it was because I hadn’t asked. And so I’d ask, or they’d ask. And I’d know the important things, the things that mattered. And not the things that didn’t.

Life kept moving, as it does, and not long after Easter, I received the unexpected uterine septum diagnosis. Those weeks drug into months — months of sorting through complicated feelings and deconstructing debilitating expectations.

I was angry, at my body, for failing me. I was angry, at my body, for being broken. I was stuck in the crossfire, where painful physical and mental realities meet. The truth is, my body was broken and is still broken. Recovery wasn’t and isn’t simple.

But you know what I’ve come to realize? In those months, when I struggled to face myself in the mirror, it was just me and Jesus, and the people who love me the most. And that was one of the sweetest gifts I could’ve ever been given.

The funny thing is, I didn’t realize it at the time. I have this very distinct memory of opening my laptop for the first time after surgery. I was hurting and looking to waste some time. I thought it was a perfect day to reactivate my social media accounts. And as I opened the browser, and slowly moved from one post to the next, tears streamed down my face. Anger surged out of my soul. Sadness spilled out of my heart.

And since that day, God’s been urging me to see.

When it’s hard to come to terms with our own brokenness, it can be even harder to come to terms with others’ wholeness.  When it’s hard to be kind to yourself, it can be even harder to be kind to others.

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t.

It could mean a billion different things to a billion different people, because God equips us each in unique ways. But for me, in those months, it meant that I needed to look to the people who loved me unconditionally, not to the perfect faces that filled my feeds. It meant I needed to look into real, honest eyes that saw — and set myself free of the carefully controlled ones that were frozen in time.

You see, it still hurt to see my own unfulfilled dreams, fulfilled in others. It still hurt to watch healthy bodies walk painlessly past my own. It still does. But those bodies, those faces — I knew them, and they knew me. They were bellies I loved, and knowing eyes that empathized with my pain. They saw me, personally, and that makes all the difference.

People say, “God never gives us more than we can handle!” And that’s always felt strange to me. Because life gives us each a lot to handle, our own personal loads. And we are flawed, sinful humans. What is truer to me is that God can handle it. We can’t, but he equips us with his strength. Sometimes it’s not a battle cry and a sword. It’s him, carefully pruning us, supplying us with strength by removing the things in our life that drain it most.

 

 

a note

I spent six months away from social media, and these past few weeks of dipping my toes back in have been difficult, without a doubt.  I felt peace about my decision to come back. I think social media can be a valuable tool, but I also know, for me, it can be damaging. I’ve seen it used for good, and I want to be someone who does that. But I also want to be someone who is cognizant of her sin and someone who is willing to walk where the Lord leads. So, I’m here for now. But I might leave again. I’m not really sure. At least, this time, maybe you’ll know why.

The Fee for Heavy Luggage

I wrote this a few months ago, and as I edited it to post it today, I almost decided not to. Because the truth is, when I read it, I wanted to go back and tell myself, “You’re naïve. Just wait — this only gets harder.”

This week has been one of the hardest yet. I’m recovering from a different procedure and a different set of aches and pains. But one thing remains the same then and now: His faithfulness. It’s the sliver of light on the darkest days, the ounce of hope in a stomach weighed heavy with doubt.

I’m posting it, because the person writing this three months ago — naïve or not — tells me something I needed to hear today. He will be faithful in this, too.

Throughout the 10 months leading up to my wedding, I was laser-focused on preparing every last detail — that is, every last detail of the wedding day and the marriage to follow. Imagine 10 macro to-do lists (one for each month), 40 micro to-do lists (one for each week) and 25 minimized tabs (one for each marriage column).

It was a promising strategy — except that everything I read made me want to crumple up all 50 to-do lists, exit all 25 tabs and write 25 very impassioned emails.

I vividly remember reading the same catchphrases over and over again: “Marriage is hard. Marriage is messy. Marriage is work.”

I was about to begin this exhilarating journey, diving into a grand, new love, and all anyone had to offer me was a tale of hard, messy work. The first of my friends to get engaged, I was already surrounded by plenty of pessimism about marriage at age 24. A romantic and an idealist at heart, I wanted to hear my favorite authors say marriage was lovely and life-giving. I wanted to feel excited and reassured. Yet, I just felt frustrated.

And now, here I am. Two, newborn years into marriage, and I get it. I see it. I feel it. But what I don’t want to do is just rattle off a slew of vague, discomforting words. Because hearing, “Marriage is hard but worth it!” doesn’t help all that much.

I’ll never forget my first time crying in my car, in the grocery store parking lot. Something about attempting to walk down the aisles and shop for a whole, thriving marriage felt dishonest when my half was so broken. So, on a few different occasions in that first year, I’d park my car facing away from the store’s windows, and I’d cry as hard as I could. Then, I’d go in the store, head straight for the bathroom and rinse my face with cold water. And I’d shop for our family of two, a ghost passing through the aisles.

I didn’t understand the disconnect for a long time. All I knew is what I felt. All I knew is what I wanted. All I knew was me. Later, I’d see that.

I brought duffel bags and carry-ons into our marriage, stuffed with unrealistic expectations and kidlike dreams — spewing with harsh judgments and molds that still held living people.

All I could see was an image I’d carefully etched into my mind — a masterpiece, really, years in the making: what a husband should be, what a wife should be, how a house should look, how prayer should happen, how Christ wants us to behave. And when we fell short, I felt lost.

For months, I only looked out. I was afraid to look within. I pushed and shoved until all my expectations fell on Drew. I stacked them high and heavy until he was crushed by the weight. And I was crushed by his inability to carry it.

I can’t pinpoint the day or even the month when I started looking in the mirror. All I know is once I caught a glimpse, I couldn’t un-see it: someone punctured by her sin and desperately trying to fill the holes, but instead inflicting wounds to match.

But as my reflection became clearer to me, so too did God’s grace.

In the months that followed, I immersed myself in Bible study in a way I’d never done before. The more I studied, the more I understood God’s character more clearly. And as my view of him changed, so did my view of myself, and of my husband.

My heart both softened and strengthened. I began to pray so many versions of the same prayer for our marriage that it seems etched on my heart, even now.

Though I felt the Spirit guiding my way, my old reflection was eager to greet me at every misstep. Our marriage was growing, but often, my own pride blinded me to see it. The path we’d been walking had become so familiar that it took something drastic for me to realize we weren’t walking it anymore.

In less than 48 hours, I’d be completely out, under general anesthesia, and a surgeon would remove a septum from my uterus. A septum, according to the surgeon, so severe it would likely cause infertility, miscarriage or preterm labor. A septum I was born with, created with, knitted together with.

Just a month before, I’d gone to the doctor for a run-of-the-mill infection, and I’d left with an abnormal ultrasound and a wait-for-the-call prognosis. That month would be filled with more waiting, and nerves so jagged I’d jolt every time my phone rang. And of course, the appointment, where I’d all-but faint on the table from the sudden swirl of physical pain and emotional stress.

Just a month before, we were about to start trying. I wanted to name a girl after my dad, and Drew choked on thin air every time I mentioned it. But he’d always laugh, so I knew it was up for debate. I was tapering off my migraine medications, and I’d cleared it with my neurologist.

But the month we planned to start trying was the month they’d schedule the surgery.

Mostly people told me how happy they were that they caught this early! That I was spared the pain! And I was thankful, truly. I praised God for his protection, for the blessing of early detection, and I did that a lot. But I also cried, for reasons I didn’t really understand, and I did that a lot.

Somewhere along the way, God had taken my duffel bags and carry-ons, and you know what I’d done? I’d blindly walked right up to him, and I’d taken them back. I never thanked him for taking them. No, I didn’t even realize he had them. I’d just snatched them out of his hands, like a spoiled child, and I’d stuffed them with brand-new expectations, this time for my body, my pregnancy, our growing family.

I could hardly focus on the words he was reading. All I could think about were the worst-case scenarios I’d surely be living in 48 hours. Fear and anxiety clouded my mind, suffocating the seeds of expectation I’d been watering with a perfected reality for far too long. I kept my eyes closed in attempt to keep the tears at bay.

And then he read this: “Sinful fear arises from unbelief — an unworthy distrust of God. This occurs when we fail to rely upon the security of God’s promise; in other words, when we refuse to trust in God’s protection.” (Flavel & Yuille, 2011) My husband read those words aloud to me, as I lie in bed beside him, refusing to trust the God he read about, refusing to trust the God who had already shown me incredible faithfulness.

And that’s when I opened my eyes.

I looked at my husband, my heart aching, sloshing with impatient blood. How could I have missed it? That tired, worn-out prayer that was carved into my very being — when did I stop waiting for its answer?

The luggage. I’d held it in my arms, packed so full, I couldn’t see in front of me anymore. The Lord had shaped our marriage before my very eyes.

Now, two broken people lay beside one another in bed, one drawing on the Lord’s promises to offer the other hope. One, showing the other what it meant to stand on solid ground. One, offering the other protection from the storm that swirled within.

The Lord had been faithful to me, to us, and in that moment, my fear stilled and peace took its place. He would be faithful in this, too.

The thing is, his faithfulness rarely looks like we think it will. So it’s easy to miss if you’re too busy juggling luggage you were never meant to carry. Set it down. Better yet, hand it off.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30

 

References

Flavel, J., & Yuille, J. S. (2011). Triumphing over Sinful Fear. Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books.

Words, Captive

When things are held captive for too long — locked up, without nourishment, without air — they wither and eventually die. I know this on a deeply personal level. I’ve watched idly as my own words ran dry, as my own voice fell flat.

Words, captive. It seems strange, right? I’d have to agree. It is strange.

But it’s all I’ve ever known.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had words. A mess of them, sometimes dancing gracefully and other times blazing violently, but always moving, always words. I’ve never known exactly what to do with them, how to string them, how to speak them, how to value them. So for most of my life, I didn’t.

Fear, I guess.

In college, I had a rare professor who spoke few words, a small selection of spattered, strung-out mumbles. He had lost some hair, and probably some memory along the way. My classmates didn’t take him seriously. For some reason, he took an interest in me, in my words. Looking back, I see myself in him, and I wonder if he saw the same in me.

He gave our class the link to his website, if any of us were interested in seeing his past work, he said. I doubt anyone else spent much time there, but I read it from start to finish. He had words — real, raw ones that caught in my throat. And that semester, he taught me what it was to free words, no matter their weight.

He called it cathartic. I always nodded when he said that, as if I knew what he meant. But for me, then, there was no sense of relief. There was only agony.

That semester, words I’d carefully buried crept to the surface of my soul. Dark, wretched words bled out my fingertips, staining essays I’d soon bury, this time in the depths of my computer’s hard drive. They tore out of me with no regard for what was left behind — the cavernous holes they carved, the ringing in your ears when what was silent is all-at-once too loud.

I’d changed, and I hated myself for it. I longed for the person who held the words, controlled them so meticulously. But she was gone, and when I couldn’t find her, when I couldn’t reconcile those foreign words with the world around me, I thought it best to suffocate them. So, I did.

Pride, I guess.

Those years of self-suffocation left me fragile and broken. I was physically and psychologically isolated, ridden with anxiety but unable to process emotion. On the nights I lay sleepless, books were my light. Words were my lifeline. I piled them by my bed, and I was no longer alone in the darkest hours of the night. And the more I read others’ words, the harder it became to suffocate my own.

So, slowly, I began to speak them. Silently, at first, to the One who held my fragile heart, then softly to the human who knew it best. Both patient listeners and relentless encouragers, they never stopped listening — but they also never stopped urging me to write. Eventually, I listened.

It’s still incredibly difficult for me to write, but I’ve found that it’s necessary. It’s a sacred, healing space for me, a place where my creator restores my soul. A place where the sometimes-painful mystery of this world meets the unmatched grace of the Father, where what is tangled deep inside me finds a better home once freed by my fingers.

Cathartic, I guess.

Nowadays, what I struggle with most is whether or not it’s necessary for me to share the words. Writing them and publishing them are two entirely different undertakings, and the latter terrifies me to my very core. But it’s also unwilling to release its grip on my heart.

And when I dig into the reasons I don’t want to publish, I find the worn-out faces of fear and pride. Familiar faces I no longer welcome, familiar emotions of a heart held captive.

This heart’s been freed, and, now, so too are these words.

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