How God sees us

I imagine my Father singing this song to me.
I identify with nearly every word.
Through the cross, I am redeemed.
The cross is my escape, 
my sanctuary 
and my hope.

Made a wrong turn, once or twice.
Dug my way out, blood and fire.
Bad decisions, that's alright.
Welcome to my silly life.

Mistreated, misplaced, misunderstood.
Miss 'No way, it's all good', it didn't slow me down.
Mistaken, always second guessing, underestimated.
Look, I'm still around.

Pretty, pretty please, don't you ever, ever feel
Like you're less than perfect.
Pretty, pretty please, if you ever, ever feel like you're nothing,
You're perfect to me

You're so mean when you talk about yourself; you were wrong.
Change the voices in your head; make them like you instead.
So complicated, look happy, you'll make it
Filled with so much hatred, such a tired game.
It's enough; I've done all I can think of.
Chased down all my demons, I've seen you do the same.

Pretty, pretty please, don't you ever, ever feel
Like you're less than perfect.
Pretty, pretty please, if you ever, ever feel like you're nothing,
You're perfect to me.

The whole world's scared so I swallow the fear.
The only thing I should be drinking is an ice cold beer.
So cool in line, and we try try try, 
but we try too hard and it's a waste of my time.
Done looking for the critics, cause they're everywhere.
They don't like my jeans; they don't get my hair.
Exchange ourselves, and we do it all the time.
Why do we do that? Why do I do that?

Yeah, oh, oh baby, pretty baby
Pretty, pretty please, don't you ever, ever feel
Like you're less than perfect.

~ Pink, Perfect (clean version) ~

In a new church, making new friends. It's stressful. Through this season of depression and anxiety, paranoia quickly grips. Do they really care about me - love me, as they constantly affirm - or am I going to be saying goodbye to them in 8 years?

I sit out with a friend and we build a fire and share painful memories. Flashbacks call me out of our conversation and into the scary places in my soul.

We laugh, too. And weep. I think back to a recent message at church, that "two-edged" sword of God's Gospel literally translates to "scalpel". I am rent open with the scalpel and I find a tiny little agate of trust there in the middle of a heart that has always had trouble with trust. I look into the wound and I bleed blackness out.

I pick paintbrushes and drawing pencils and try to put things into pictures when I cannot put them into words. It works, this confession in acrylics and redemption in drawing.

But as the shell grows back around this aching heart, I am so tempted to build the walls back up, silence the storm with the iron grip of numbness. 

My friends, my family...they draw me out and back into the circle of belief. They don't see me as a liar, evil, or bitter. All they see lately is pain. This depression reminds me of the country sky at midnight: the darkest black velvet shroud over the earth, with glimmers of hope barely glinting through.

The amazing part is that, against the black of my sin, those glimmers God grants of mercy, peace and joy are immeasurably bright. Ad astra per aspera. To the stars through pain.

Polishing God's monuments

I needed these happy pictures to cheer me up today:



Grandchildren are the crown of grandparents,
and parents are the glory of their children.
Proverbs 17:6

Sometimes I take the best pictures on the worst days.
Sometimes I construct those sentinel memories on the worst days.
Sometimes you need to be reminded
that being sad
is not a constant state
That emotion is fluid
And that there is joy in every crevice.

Only love

I was discharged from the hospital again today. Please pray for peace of spirit, freedom from anxiety and flashbacks, and that the battle is won already.

Grace Potter's Only Love
music video with my drawings

I wake up with my hair on fire

I need something to water me down
I can’t keep walking on this wire
I gotta move, I gotta come around
What don’t kill you makes you stronger,
It’s only my soul, It’s only my heart
And it’s only love
It’s only love
It’s only love
I wake up with my mind unwinding

I got a strange tingle in my toes
I fall asleep and dream of finding
Somebody who really knows
I need to loosen my grip just a little bit

I feel this love like a stranglehold
But there’s something stopping me from losing it
There’s nothing harder than letting go

But it’s only love
It’s only love

Crying out to rise again

"For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again." (Prov 24:16a)

The curbside Prophet there yelling at me
Yeah, he's yelling about my tattoos
But we all live with the scars we choose
They might hurt like hell, but they all make us stronger
~ Take Me As I Am, Sugarland ~

The puckered red leather top on our maple syruping table is a parable of my soul. There is something painful about each crack and line, but there is a hidden beauty as well. Something well worn, well loved, still useful.

The nightmares and flashbacks are intense. Sometimes I emerge crying, the vivid pictures of my childhood abuse and scars from college searing my soul right out of sleep. I am afraid to be alone. I am afraid of the dark again, like I was as a child.

I picture myself the chick under the wings of God, the hen who guards the young. The devil swoops in and out, but nothing penetrates that shield. I may be broken and fragile because of these flashbacks, but through the Cross, I will overcome. I will get better. Christ is a giant compared to these light and momentary trials I face. I see opportunity after opportunity stretching as far as the eye can see, once I am better. I remember being 7 years old and wishing I could see God just so I could be wrapped up in a single hug from the Savior I trust. I feel that way again. Wishing for a God-hug. A bear hug. A hug that infuses me with strength to endure.

The storm clouds overhead won't shed
Any rain to quench your thirst
I want to be the One you reach for first

When your faith is stretched so thin
That you can see straight through your soul
And you can't find a nickel to buy a smile
'Cause your pockets all got holes
You want to shut the door and hide
Before the day can get much worse
I want to be the One you reach for first

Fall into me
My arms are open wide
And you don't have to say a word
'Cause I already see
That it's hard and you're scared
And your tired and it hurts
And I want to be the One you reach for first

Before you turn the key
Before you fall asleep
Before you drift away to fight
those demons waiting for you in your dreams

Fall into me.
I want to be the One you reach for first.

~Fall Into Me, Sugarland~

A cross amidst crisis

Making choices about memory, being mindful about your thoughts. This is a new practice for me, and I wear it like a new outfit, fidgety and not sure how it looks on me. I watched the Passion of the Christ on Holy Saturday, and I was reminded, as Satan floated in and out Jesus' view, always with a half-smile on the face and the temptation to the easy route out, that in this way, also, I must follow my King. See Satan. But let Satan have no place in my thoughts. Flashbacks come, like Satan, flitting through the background of real life. But that's what they are, just flashbacks, just bad memories. The reality is that I am hidden in Christ, and I must see Satan flitting with His eyes, the eyes that looked calmly yet with dread toward His own day of suffering.

I spend a week with friends and see my children only a few times that week. It is the longest we've been separated since my very first cancer treatment, when I was away for 3 weeks. It has been 2 weeks now, away.

The little girls - my friends beautiful twins - and I paint, with acrylics and water colors, draw ethereal scenes in oil pastel and chalk pastel, pencil and charcoal. I paint a cross mosaic with all the words that describe me as a daughter of the Most High King.

I take a few pictures. My fingers are fidgety from Tardive Dyskinesia, a side effect from the psychogenic medication they are pumping through me to feed me through this time of darkness. My fingers twitch, my thumbs jerk, and focusing the camera lens becomes difficult.

I wonder how long - how long - this deep trial will last. And yet his mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23).  In the birdsongs, the wind through the firs, the long cold draw of a cigarette after dusk, the friends who comfort and the family that gives space but takes loving care of these children of mine.

But the one who is making everything new
Doesn't see me the way that I do
He doesn't see me the way that I do

Forgiven beloved
Hidden in Christ
Made in the image of the Giver of Life
Righteous and holy
Reborn and remade
Accepted and worthy this is our new name

This is who we are now...
I Am New, Jason Gray~

I blast Mumford and Sons, and Grace Potter, and Sugarland, and try to still thoughts and unfurrow brow and release my muscles from this never-ending tension that grips me, twitchy and tiring.

Excerpted from my gratitude journal for this week, #548-567:
#548: A new journal I have no idea what to do with
#551: Sara helps me out of a flashback
#554: Sleeping with my husband
#556: Dissertation IRB approved!
#558: Raspberry lambic
#560: A good psychiatrist
#562: Rain
#566: Breakfast at Perkins at 6 a.m. with Aaron

This Easter

Good Friday: read the crucifixion story in all four Gospels
Holy Saturday: watched the Passion of the Christ
Easter: read the resurrection story in all four Gospels

I think I will make it an annual tradition.

Word became flesh and the light shined among us
His glory revealed

Living He loved me, dying He saved me
And buried He carried my sins far away
Rising He justified freely forever
One day He's coming, oh, glorious day

One day they led Him up Calvary's mountain
One day they nailed Him to die on a tree
Suffering anguish, despised and rejected
Bearing our sins, my Redeemer is He

Hands that healed nations, stretched out on a tree
And took the nails for me

One day the grave could conceal Him no longer
One day the stone rolled away from the door
Then He arose, over death He had conquered
Now He's ascended, my Lord evermore

Death could not hold Him
The grave could not keep Him from rising again

Living He loved me, dying He saved me
And buried He carried my sins far away
Rising He justified freely forever
One day He's coming, oh, glorious day, oh, glorious day
Glorious day

One day the trumpet will sound for His coming
One day the skies with His glories will shine
Wonderful day, my beloved one bringing
My Savior Jesus is mine

~Glorious Day, Casting Crowns~

What else is there to say this beautiful morn?

Crooked paths made straight

Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways. (Luke 3:5)
The night of my overdose, I sat down on one of beautiful antique white lawn chairs and slowly sank to the ground. The legs suddenly too fatigued to hold me up. This chair, along with it's occupant, legs too tired to do anything but sag.

I remember a small sketch my pastor often drew when I was a child - a chair with only three legs. The illustration had something to do with lack of faith.

It's been difficult to go through this season wondering if it is simply this...lack of faith...that has crumbled me. On the other hand, if my faith is strong, what could be so mighty as to crumple my faith?

I rest in verses that show me bent prophets, crumbled disciples, moldering apostles, doubting Thomases. God has used broken people all through human history, and He will use me, too, with all my broken pieces.

An unexpected gift

The mama of the original Caleb, the Caleb that Aaron and I cared for back in 2001 and 2002, the Caleb that walked slowly, steadily and peacefully into the arms of Jesus right in front of our very eyes. This mother, the one whose grief I remember. She comes to visit, to cheer me up. She is quite successful.

One blurry gray spring afternoon, she gets a little unexpected miracle for all her miles flown from Phoenix to Wisconsin, all for the love of her friend. This Caleb, my Caleb, the one named after hers, comes running out from his nap and sees me, and then hightails it for Amy's lap.

I sit and watch, the joy of this pair. It reminds of the verse in John where Jesus tells His disciples that they will grieve, but it will turn to joy. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. (John 16:20)

I need this visible reminder of unexpected joy, that lament will turn to joy someday, someday soon perhaps. That the sorrow that grips me hard and lets only a few laughs through will melt before His grace and mercy.

That someday soon the tears I cry will be of laughter,
 instead of inescapable sorrow.

The fallen sisters

I could talk about self-control, rightly so. I could talk about doing the right thing and what my conservative opinions of a Christian life should look like. I may even get a lot of encouragement from other well-meaning do-gooders. We could have our own club, totally separate from ‘the world’ and draw the shades to our heart while we enjoy how Christian we are. Meanwhile, we suffocate a fallen sister because our lives don’t offer hope, they offer moral standards. You know you’re sending the wrong message if one of your members leaves the group when they make a moral mistake. God set up grace so that He would never lose anyone. Set your life up that way, too. ~from the incomparable Serena Woods at Grace is for Sinners

I've known a thousand of them, women struggling. Women losing babies. Women saying goodbye to their dead children. Women struggling through pregnancy, or grief, loss, limitation. Women wounded deeply, ignoring their wounds and living in a twisted world. Women at odds with their families. Women deep in depression and plagued by anxiety.

Last week, in the hospital, I met so many fallen sisters, sisters who saw no reasonable excuse to continue their sad lives. Sisters who had overdosed, wounded their own bodies, carving out flesh for sins past, sins present, sins they dreamed their future filled with. I walked with them, as one of them.

How do we, the church, respond to fallen sisters? How to carry them through their grief, loss, pain, and dependence? How to help them see sunlight again? To feel the small and large joys that await each of us on this long walk we call life. How to let them know that life is not hopeless, nor are fallen sisters powerless or voiceless.

Like the glimmer of the yellow crocus petal, I feel myself in the world of fallen sisters, but rising for beauty. Beauty for ashes. Gladness for mourning. Praise instead of a faint spirit. (Isaiah 61:3)

Lord, help me walk back into the sunshine.

When I thirst

I can't mess up God's plan. My failure doesn't ruin me and my achievement doesn't elevate me. This whole thing, life, is not about me or you, it's about Jesus. The story of His love is reflected in the lives of His people, not by what they do, but by what He does with what they do. Grace twists sin into something that reflects God's love and mercy. ~Serena Woods, Grace is for Sinners
One thing I learned in the psychiatric ward is that God's word is precious to the thirsty. Not the prideful, the upright, the perfectionists, or the theologians. While it may be precious to them, it is through the testing of faith by fire that we learn to long for that long, slow drink of God's streams of living water.

I was thirsty the whole time I was there, poring over Scripture from Lamentations to Revelation, on a treasure hunt to find the gold He'd left there for me in this verse, that verse. I saw it in the biker who read a pink Bible for 3 whole days before returning it to me. I saw in the hunger of one woman's eyes as she longed for the answer to her question: when have I pushed my Savior too far, enough that He'll refuse me, just like everyone else in my life has done?

The answer to all of it is Grace. Simply Grace. God gave it freely, gives it freely, and we just drench our thirsty throats with His liquid gold. It's so much less about what you're accomplishing or what you're achieving, or even dreaming or dreading. It is simply the act of giving thanks for what He has given you. Whether it be your 1,000 Gifts list from Ann Voskamp's miraculously glorious idea, or recognizing your thirst and quenching it. Sometimes I thank God for a cigarette, the 5 minutes of absolute relief from anxiety and tumult of spirit one cigarette brings. Sometimes it is for the sun that I praise, those golden, long unharvested rays of spring soaking deep into my core and warming me from the inside out.

And what if you're a perfectionist like me, brought to her knees through inability to be perfect? Or a theologian unable to unlock the true meaning of a Scripture, even after studying the Hebrew and the Greek? What if who you are right now is upright, righteous? Is there no sin you repent of? Nothing for which you can give thanks that you did not do with your own two hardworking hands and a heart beating overtime to God's drum? What if you are proud, of those accomplishments, the medals you earn on the way to the Throne? When we get there, some will burn into nothingness, others will remain as gold, silver and precious stones (from I Corinthians 3). The same fire burns for the works of the righteous, the proud, the "perfect", as it burns for the homeless, those in rehab, those struggling with nightmares, curses, and laments. All men created equal. God loves us all, and grace conquers all.

In the deep of this pit, I soak up His words that He needs me, wants me, believes me, has redeemed me and called me worthy. Worthy to carry His words to a thirsty world. What are you bringing today to the thirsty world? I am just bringing my jumbled brain, my social anxiety, and my heart on fire for Christ.

O soul, are you weary and troubled?
No light in the darkness you see?
There’s light for a look at the Savior,
And life more abundant and free!

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Through death into life everlasting
He passed, and we follow Him there;
O’er us sin no more hath dominion—
For more than conqu’rors we are!

His Word shall not fail you—He promised;
Believe Him, and all will be well:
Then go to a world that is dying,
His perfect salvation to tell!
~Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, Helen Lemmel, 1922, sung here by Alan Jackson~

Note from the wilderness

Close-up of crack in broken tire chock
 We don't think of ourselves as fragile. Especially as Christians. We're strong in the Lord, right? (Ephesians 6:10) Yet, over the whole span of scripture, we read of mighty people becoming broken so that they can serve God in amazing ways: Adam, afraid in his nakedness; Jacob, who wrestled with God, and limped always afterward; Abraham, whose health and vigor failed long before God granted him the promised son; the prophets who retreated to the wilderness to be fed by ravens as they had squandered their last bit of strength trying to carry God's message; the many people Jesus healed, the weakest, sickest, most shunned - the social misfits and pariah.

We are fragile. Sometimes we envision ourselves as warriors fit for battle, but there is always the thorn in the side (II Corinthians 12:7), the fact that God's greatness is made perfect in our weakness (II Corinthians 12:9).

This is a season of brokenness for me. I don't know what God has ahead. Frankly, I am too exhausted from the recent battles to even care much about what the future holds. I know He has a plan, and I'm sunk back in His arms just waiting for it to unfold. I am sure others who've struggled with depression know this feeling. Wishing there were heaven-sent ravens coming to feed you while you rest in the sand (I Kings 17:6).

The story of this battle

Jesus took me on an amazing journey in the past 2 weeks. After struggling, struggling, struggling with depression for months, trying this medication and that, I was suddenly plunged into the depths of the dark pit of my own past sins and Satan's wrenching grip. God felt so far away, like a satellite makes it's slow orbit around the earth - He, making His silent orbit around me a million miles away, just checking in those darkest hours of the night. Faith fit me like a clumsy second-hand coat and I couldn't find my battle armor. Faith is lost, and is carried away out of their mouth (Jeremiah 7:28b).

I hurt myself, people who care deeply about me, loving and respecting and believing, sometimes, I think, in the "writer Genevieve", not the real and battle-worn Genevieve standing before them. The cost of believing in little snippets of joy is that sometimes the darkest sorrows spin underneath beyond the glimpse of anyone but yourself. I should have reached out for help much sooner. I never want to forget that. My past sins seemed to surround me, drowning out hope. You summoned as if to a festival day my terrors on every side (Lamentations 2:22 exc.).

And so, dying on the vine, hope squashed and faith seeming nothing but mirage, I asked God for heaven instead of this bleak earth. Those people I hurt - they were crushed this time. I broke the trust of my caregivers at the hospital where they tried to titrate medications to bring me out of the fog of disillusionment and grief. As I saw what I had done - laid waste to every dream I've ever had, forever scarred those I love best, traded ashes again for beauty - I never wanted to do that again.

A dear pastor came and spoke Truth into my weary head, and I began to sense myself re-entering the war for my body. My soul claimed long ago by the blood of the Cross, Satan was there to steal my body and my story so that I could never touch another person with the power of my life redeemed. My pastor pleaded with me, Beloved, I urge you as sojourner and exile to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (I Peter 2:12)

But warfare is infinitely more difficult than giving in to Satan. Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose. (Philipians 2:12-13)

I slipped again, and the pain was new for all surrounding me. In a solitary room, four green walls and a bed bolted to the floor with slots for restraints, without Bible or friend to comfort, just two red-eyed video cameras analyzing my every move, I praised God for His foresight as I had memorized Psalm 73:26 the night prior: My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

I leaned on Deuteronomy 30:19-20a: I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days. However mindless and mind-numbing those days in the solitary room were, me pacing around the bed, stretching, doing push-ups, even singing at the top of my lungs in the corner ampitheater squeezed tight into what felt like a more private space - God was at work.

The day I chose life, when death was just another slice away, I sensed God knew my limitations, for He has promised that He is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. (I Corinthians 10:13)

He stepped in to lift me up and fight for me. I felt like we were still flying low, but I could feel the wind in my hair, feel the flutter of the eagle's wing feathers as we floated above the battle and looked down at the vast sea of sorrow I had thought was so large. Now so little from the vantage point on His back. Yes, He seemed far away, as though He were the satellite in meaningless orbit just glinting in on the darkness of my days, as it says in Isaiah 45, In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you.

But hope was not far off on a distant shore over an uncrossable ocean of tears.
 For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. “O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of agate, your gates of carbuncles, and all your wall of precious stones. All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children. In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you. If anyone stirs up strife, it is not from me; whoever stirs up strife with you shall fall because of you. Behold, I have created the smith who blows the fire of coals and produces a weapon for its purpose. I have also created the ravager to destroy; no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD. (Isaiah 54:10-17)

Torment fled from my nightmares, and terror from my flashbacks during the day. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:22) I began to rest well again, enjoy my days, and smile. God gave me this verse on one of my last days in the hospital, as I prepared to move my new-found confidence back out into real life and beyond the cloistered walls of a monitored unit of the hospital. Restore our fortunes, O Lord...Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him. (Psalm 126:4-6) Shouting for joy still sounds like a pipe dream but I do trust this God who once again showed up in my life in amazing ways.

It is well with my soul,
Thou has taught me to say...

To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy: What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me! O Lord, be my helper!” (Psalm 30:9-12)

Excerpted from my gratitude journal, the weeks in the hospital, #312-541:
312. There is nothing in my room sharp enough to cut through skin
313. God only turns His face for a short time (Isaiah 54:8)
315. I am learning to ask for help.
317. I learned more about spiritual warfare now more than ever before
319. Being surrounded by the shields of faith of friends and family so fiery darts can't reach me.
322. What profit is there in my death? (Ps. 30:9-12)
324. A big bad biker dude borrowing my pink Bible to search for God
330. Scripture always ready on my tongue, even when I am a victim of the battle (thanks, Mama and God).
332. The gorgeous strawberry blond crowning the tired and lonely head of a teenager
335. The great, great God who stilled this anxious heart and fought for my life, sending terror far from me.
411. Souls won for Christ while I offer His words to them with my bleeding hands, spoon it into their chalk dry mouths and thirsty souls
537. Holding Mama's hand during my discharge planning meeting
538. Grandparents willing - nay, happy! - to help with my brood
539. Kristy always ready with a hand to hold and a prayer on her lips for me
540. The sweetest sentences I've ever read, from my Dad-in-law and Nate York
542. Sweet Sara picking me up with belly laughs and delight