Though Sorrow May Last: Depression, Grace, and the God Who Stays

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“I’m sorry, God.”

One hot tear dripped off my nose and soaked into my pillow.

Every night I’ve prayed for the heaviness to be gone in the morning, to wake up for the first time in months without the weight on my chest and the knot in my gut. And every night I’ve looked back on all the versions of “I’m sorry” I’ve spoken that day, ashamed.

I’m sorry, friend, for asking more of you than I am able to give back.
I’m sorry, professor, that I wasn’t in class again, and that this paper isn’t finished yet.
I’m sorry, body, for all the extra weight I’ve gained that you shouldn’t have to carry.
I’m sorry, boss, that I didn’t quite meet this deadline.
I’m sorry, church family, that I missed choir rehearsal, and didn’t show up Sunday morning this week.
I’m sorry, self, that you’re sad and restless and fatigued and don’t quite understand why.

I’m sorry.

So this morning, while I struggled to swing my legs over the side of the bed, I whispered a preemptive apology: I’m sorry, God, that I can’t do anything for you again today.

Depression isn’t foreign to me. It’s been an on-and-off battle mostly in the last three years, although it made appearances in high school as well. I go through seasons of sadness and unasked-for apathy, and then I find some sort of footing, come out of it, even forget the struggle of it, until it cycles back down, taking me with it. There’s no rhyme or reason: sometimes there are consistent triggers, sometimes there are not. Sometimes it’s fueled by external circumstances, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes the usual coping mechanisms are helpful, sometimes they are not.

Usually, I remain highly functional, this time I have not.

So when my Perfectionist, Enneagram Giver-Achiever, Strengthsfinder Responsibility self comes face to face with days where I cannot will myself out of bed before 4:30pm, or have to go home after one class on threat of panic attack, or stare at the assignments tab for hours without any drive to start the task–when everything in me wants to be able to perform at the level I usually do and I just can’t–I begin to wrestle with questions of identity, questions of grace, questions of how long this is all going to last.

What if this sorrow lasts? What if the depression doesn’t go away? Ever? What then?

Am I able to separate my understanding of who am I from what I am able to produce?

Is my understanding of grace limited to the underserved gifts of skill sets, insight, material things, or relationships and connections, or is my concept of grace big enough to acknowledge the undeserved gift of a God who stays no matter what I can or can not contribute?

I think I care too much about being able to claim an orderly, neatly cleaned-up ending to look forward to.

I think I put too much weight on being able to speak from a place of healing and victory, or only being able to testify to God’s goodness in his deliverance.

I think I place my hope in a narrative of wholeness, with no cognitive dissonance, no reality of brokenness, no room for the messy of the right-now-already, instead of placing my hope in the God who holds it all in his hands and close to his heart in confident anticipation of the not-yet-resurrection.

Because who God is isn’t dependant on my ability to get out of bed.  

God is still the embodiment of perfect goodness when I can’t shake the sadness.

God is still the One who provides when I can’t meet the deadlines.

God is still the strength of his people when my drivenness is missing in action.

God is still the God of peace that passes all understanding when my heart is overwhelmed.

God is still the God of all comfort when I am restless and fatigued and don’t quite know why.

God is still the One who heals, regardless of if I experience it fully this side of heaven.

Maybe this is grace: not how well I function, but who Jesus is.

Counterintuitive as it is when I am rolled tightly into fetal position, longing to be clothed in the ever-elusive gladness of Psalm 30, this is the hope I can cling to: Jesus is good, Jesus doesn’t need me to do anything for him to be good, and Jesus, in his goodness, will never leave.

In a season where I have isolated from many people because I’m embarrassed by my lack of ability to contribute what I perceive as things of value to the relationship, or people have pushed me away because of my shame-ridden neediness, or people I have trusted with my story are at places in their own stories that move them away geographically or relationally, there is specific hope in knowing that while I may not be promised an orderly ending in the already, I am promised a God who will never leave or forsake me — even though this sorrow may last.

On an especially numb day this week, a friend called for no other purpose than to be present.

“I’m sorry I’m not exactly conversational” I mumbled over the phone.

“Don’t feel like you have to say anything. Just know that I’m here. And I love you.”

Maybe that is the eccentric beauty of when depression collides with grace.

Not that I contribute or accomplish or produce or do or function properly…

But that Jesus is here…

And he loves me…

And that’s enough.

So tonight my prayers won’t sound like “take this pain away”.

They’ll sound more like “show me more of you. Help me know your heart. Let all that I am be wrapped up in who you are. And thank you, for being the God who stays.”

On Psalm 16 and the Dream That Has To Die

 

 

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Kristyn, am I still good?

The question echoes between my heart and mind.

I know the right cognitive answer: “Of course you’re good.”
But my heart pushes back: “This doesn’t feel good.”
But my mind knows that I’m not supposed to base my theology on how I feel.
But my heart has been begging me to let it feel for far too long.

Maybe it’s not an either-or. Maybe this can ache in raw and weighty ways and God can still be good.

There’s been a constant assumption about my calling throughout my life story thus far. It’s shaped me: shaped my goals, my ambitions, those deep heart desires that drive the waking up every morning. Shaped my pursuits, my relationships, my expectations. Every young-heart hope, every high school ten-year forecast, every college course and resume-builder framed with it in mind. I honestly find it deeply challenging to conceptualize my image of myself without it. It’s familiar. Safe. Good. Expected.

So what happens when obedience looks like walking an entirely unexpected way?

When the trust Jesus calls me to means it’s messy? When the implications of when he asks me to be faithful are agonizing to the point of anxiety-driven physical pain? When the core of who I’ve always believed myself to be is questioned with the simple

Will it always be “Jesus + _____” or will simply “Jesus” be enough?

I wrestle and start to understand in the wrestling that even the good thing doesn’t belong in the place in my heart to which I’ve elevated it.

The realization begins to set in that this dream has to die.

This dream has to die.

And oh, I don’t want to give it up. Nothing about this makes sense. Every stubborn bone in my being fights back and heart-breakingly sincere questions flare to the surface:

Why would you place this desire in my heart if you have no intention of ever letting me experience the fulfillment of it?

How am I supposed to even know who I am without this?

Do you realize what good-hearted, well-intentioned people will say and how much their words will hurt?

Where do I go from here?

What am I supposed to do with all this fear?

Friends, can we be real for a minute and acknowledge that the answers don’t always come in a neatly packaged revelation from heaven, and that sometimes the Spirit lets us be painfully uncomfortable in the questions so that we have to dig a little further, peel back a few more layers, struggle with the tension with a deeper desperation to truly, actually know the heart of God?

Sometimes that looks like a tear-soaked journal at 5am, with me, half-awake, scrawling out the Scripture prompt to start my morning, and only slightly comprehending the words I’m writing through the blur. But one phrase sticks with me as I go about my day. One phrase that keeps making an appearance in my mind, and it sure doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s not “relevant”. It doesn’t “speak to my situation”. And to be honest, I’m a little annoyed.

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places”.

Uh…nope. No, they have not, thanks.

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places”.

But, this boundary doesn’t make a whole lot of logical sense. If you adjusted the line just a little bit…

“The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places”.

Ok, but why does everyone else’s boundary line include their dreams coming true, and my dreams have to be murdered? Not fair. Not fair at all.

Kristyn, am I still good?

The question echoes between my heart and mind.

So I dig, I peel back the layers, I struggle, desperately, with the tension.

Psalm 16:6 “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places, surely I have a delightful inheritance.”

“Boundary lines”, in Hebrew, hă·ḇā·lîm from chebel (phonetic spelling: kheh’-bel), translated as any of the following: the lines, territory, sorrows, pangs, pain (as in childbirth), measured portion.

“Pleasant places”, in Hebrew, ban·nə·‘î·mîm, translated as pleasant, sweet, or delightful.

How can it be that the sorrows, the pain, the territorial lines in my story that mark “this far and no further” — in such blatant contrast to an identity held so closely — are sweet? How can this portion that is measured so starkly out of reach of my heart’s most familiar longing be pleasant?  I keep struggling, and back up a verse.

Psalm 16:5 “Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;  you make my lot secure.”

This portion is different. Manah: food (nourishment), choice portion/best available.

In reference to relationship with God, the portion isn’t measured — it’s abundant. It’s nourishing. It’s an invitation to life. Maybe the boundary lines, not negating all their sorrow and pain, can be sweet because the portion that is the Lord is the only portion that I need.

It doesn’t have to be “Jesus + _____” because simply “Jesus” is more than enough. 

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,  and in Christ you have been brought to fullness” (Colossians 2:9-10).

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

And the rest of Psalm 16, in the face of the honest questions and the raw ache and the very real fears, becomes a heart cry that I cling to and linger in:

“I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night, my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay. You make known to me the path of life, you will fill me with joy in your presence,  with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:7-11).

Maybe obedience looks like letting my heart feel the hurt, but finally whispering aloud through the tension of grief that this dream can die.

You are still faithful.

You. Are. Still. Good. 

 

 

To the One in Search of Love that Drives Out Fear

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Hey Friend,

I see you standing there with your contagious laugh and your big heart, unknowingly spelling confidence with the way that you hold your head high, but your hands aren’t afraid to get dirty.

I see you as you smile, encourage, and genuinely care; how you serve faithfully, give generously, and support strongly, and don’t measure your success by how much credit you get for it.

You willingly go to the hard places and speak into the messy places and pour into the graceless places, because you understand that the Gospel that fuels you doesn’t stay where it’s safe.

You love well. That doesn’t go unnoticed. You are a gift.

Yet sometimes, when you walk out to your car, or up to your room, you sit for a minute and the weight of it all sits too. The brokenness you see and touch breaks your heart. Choosing joy doesn’t come easy.  Giving grace is hard.

And for some reason it feels selfish to think it, but if you pull back the layers enough, some of that weight comes down to something that’s not easy to acknowledge:

Fear.

With that fear comes walls. Walls you don’t actually want. Walls you are skilled at gently breaking down in others. Walls that you put up for protection but only feed the secret ache of wondering. Wondering who will dig a little deeper, stay a little longer, love a little harder for you. Wondering who will stick around long enough to carefully scale that barrier around your heart and want to stay when they know you for real.

But that scares you.

Maybe that comes from the very poignant reality that you have felt rejection in hard, deep ways.

Maybe that comes from a knowledge of how imperfect you are.

Maybe that comes from a place in your story where you aren’t quite ready to claim you have healed.

But when someone tries, you laugh, and say “God is good, life is full and I’m making it!”, promptly ask them about their hobbies, and inadvertently push them away.

Friend, let people love you too.

You care well for the hearts of others, let them care well for you.

Take the step of faith and share some of who you are. Let yourself trust, even just a little.

In all your giving, learn to receive.

In all your fear of being truly known, remember the One who knows you fully and loves you deeply.

You are known by a God who desires to take you into his confidence (Proverbs 3:34).

You are known by a God who takes great delight in you (Zephaniah 3:17).

You are known by a God who is near to you (Psalm 145:18)

You are known by a God who loves perfectly, and perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18).

While raw insecurity hides deep in your heart, you are held in the everlasting arms of a Savior who will never let you go, who will always hold you fast, who always has been and always will be faithful.

I see how well you go to the hard places. It’s okay to let Jesus into the hard places in you.

Continue to love well, friend. And know that as deeply as you love, His love reaches deeper still.

 

When the Words Don’t Come

 

journal-and-pen-2I wouldn’t call myself a writer (yet), but I write.

When I write, I heal. I learn. I grow. I pour out.

God’s grace overflows when I write, and it’s tangible.

Written words are a way that I worship. They are a way I invest in people I love, that I deposit pent-up frustrations, that I reconcile confusion within my spirit.  They are a way in which I touch and see the presence of God.

Truly, my heart is in what is placed in my soul to translate onto paper.  And truly, it is a terrifying, beautiful thing when I sense the release of the Spirit to share those words to a broader audience than the pages of my journal. There is a heart-soaring, agonizing moment of wonder before I click “publish” that simultaneously doubts the necessity of sharing the burden in my spirit and also trusts that, having been faithful to write it, it will witness to Christ.

Sometimes, in my humanity, my words get it wrong and I am called to humility.

Sometimes, in my humanity, my words get it all too right and my pride feeds off the praise.

Yet, true to who Jesus is, He giveth more grace. Time after time, grace upon grace, and I marvel at the gentle,  mighty wonder that is our Savior.

But what about when the words don’t come? 

Because sometimes, they don’t.

It has been a season of stagnant words. Words that start, and tumble helplessly.  Sentences that have partially formed, yet still hang open-ended. Journal entries that are blank after the inscription of the date, and drafts in the admin portion of this site that continue to just sit.

It has been a season of overwhelming, conflicting emotion. Of confusion, joy, grief, and trust. Of loneliness, beauty, questions, comparison, contentment, surrender, and growth.

And I pick up the pen, one more time, place it to the paper, one more time….

and I wait.

Jesus, where are the words? Jesus, why this heaviness? Jesus, why can’t I write? Jesus, this circumstance, this death, the mourning, I don’t understand. Jesus, my time, it’s too full, I can’t do it. Jesus, why won’t the words come? Jesus, this ache, this longing for friendship, for being included, why does it hurt so much? Jesus, this long run, I’m scared and it’s dumb and I laugh but I’m terrified. Jesus, my writing, I need it, can I have it back? Jesus, why can’t I write? 

And I wait.

And the layers begin to peel back as the words don’t come and I linger in wondering why.

Because God is still God in the silence.

And maybe, when I get caught up in striving, my writing becomes my controlling and even though I protest with the core of my being, the silence is really an invitation to trust and rest.

Maybe, right now, I am being invited into a new thing.

And maybe I don’t need to desperately cling to what I know in order to truly know the beauty of Jesus.

Grace upon grace, He is teaching me to be expectant in the midst of when the words won’t come. And I marvel at the gentle, mighty wonder that is our Savior.

Dear Grandpa

Dear Grandpa,

On my run this morning, I saw someone who looks a whole lot like how I remember you. Same build, same white t-shirt, full head of white hair, with a fishing hat perched on top.

Mile one, I had to do a double take. Mile two caught me off guard again. And mile three, his stern face grinned at me and said “Mornin’!” with the same gruff tenderness that you would project over the breakfast waffles and bacon whenever I slept over.

I smiled back, and cried the whole bike ride home. I miss you, Grandpa.

I miss you a lot.

I miss going into your shop and “helping” you sweep up shavings. Or how you would give me scraps of wood and let me trim them with the saw, giving the firm instruction that I “just don’t chop them fingers off.” You could make anything you wanted to in there, and lots of times it would be for us- the little stinkers you called your grandkids. Sometimes, I just don’t like seeing the people who rent your shed now, because it’s almost like they’re interrupting a sacred space full of precious memories.

I miss watching you and Grandma together. How you cared for her so well through her hospitalizations. How you faithfully honored your vow of “in sickness and in health” and ultimately, after 48 years, “till death do us part.” How you made sure we respected her. Some of us couldn’t get away with half the sass she puts up with now if you were still here, that’s for sure. How sometimes you intimidated me so badly, but I still knew I could crawl up in your chair with you and you wouldn’t mind one bit.

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I miss you stopping over to fix something up whenever you were in the neighborhood. I miss you telling me that I had my eyes open during prayer and how you would chuckle at the astonished “How did you know?!” look that would creep onto my guilty little face. You gave me lessons in how to properly swat flies. You told me stories about your time in the army. You would help with anything I needed and come up with all these ingenious ways to solve my seven-year-old dilemmas.

I miss how you would sit and listen to me stumble through my latest piano piece, or read my projects for school, and quietly shake your head and say “That Kristyn Grace…she’s somethin’ else.”

You were tough and gentle. Respected and kind. Simple and hardworking. You’re one of the biggest encouragers I can think of.  You always cheered us on no matter what. When I was drum major, you would’ve been right next to Grandma at every parade. When I sang my first solo, you would have clapped the loudest. You would’ve been there at my high school graduation, given input when I bought my first car, been so interested in my trip to Nepal. You would’ve supported me all the way through taking a year off of school, but would be so proud that I’m starting college at the same place you did in less than a month. I learned how to change my oil last night, and for some reason you would have been ridiculously proud of that too.  And whenever I end up bringing a boy home for Christmas, I’m gonna miss you announcing your unapologetic opinion of if he’s “the real deal” or not. But in all honesty, Grandpa, I’ve been finding myself hoping that whoever he is…is a lot like you. Protector. Provider. Humble leader.

Most of all, I miss watching you live out your sincere faith. And how you truly lived for the Lord and desired to please Him in everything you did. You walked with integrity and loyalty and honor. In your own quiet way, you sure raised the bar high.

It’s been nine and a half years, hasn’t it? I may not think about you as much now, but I think I miss you more. I can’t wait to hug you in heaven, and worship side-by-side again.

I love you, Gramps.

I love you a lot.

Kristyn Grace

Days Like These

Kristyn, why is you so sad?” The query of the darling three-year-old I nanny.

“I’m so sorry, sweet girl. I have a lot on my heart.” 

She tilts her head inquisitively and then traipses to the other room to play. Moments later, her little face peeks around the corner and she smiles shyly.

Don’t worry, Kristyn, you is so beautiful.”

Emotion runs over and I stand there by the bottle warmer with tears in my eyes.

Grace. 

The living room is a disaster in the aftermath of Fort-Building 101, the dishes are still dirty, the baby is screaming for no possibly known reason, and Miss Three is incessantly insisting that she needs a third cup of chocolate milk to match her age. As I am about to be unnecessarily harsh with her tender spirit, I receive a text from a dear friend.

Read Matthew 10:42. It’s a nanny life, just replace “water” with “milky” :)”

I look it up.

And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup if cold water to drink, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.”

I bite my tongue.

Grace.

Maybe all this – this changing your outfits for the 6th collective time today, this cleaning up your paperless watercolor experiment on the counter, this training you over and over again to use gentle words and actions – is teaching me.

Maybe as I hold you tight and walk in circles for hours to bring you calm, even though you aren’t lacking anything, I can remember that I serve a God who provides all I need, and still continues to carry me close to his heart.

Maybe as I help you wipe up that accident from the floor yet again, I can be thankful that my Jesus didn’t leave me on my own in my mess, but did the dirty work for me.

Maybe as I stir Mac n’ Cheese, change diapers, re-read books for the 16th time today, and prompt you yet again to say ‘please’, I can walk in the blessing of what a precious opportunity it is that I have – to invest in eternity by investing in your hearts.

Maybe these ordinary days… are the most fulfilling. The most beautiful. And filled with the most grace.

Maybe your two beautiful, innocent faces are showing me glimpses of my glorious God.