Every moment is a fork in the road

I comfort myself with the fact that someday this day will be burned away: reduced to ashes or jewels. This crazy day. This hard day. This day of sadness and grief. This day of betrayal.

Anxiety dissipates as I recall that however this day came about - by the trickle down effect of my sin or someone else or none at all - God has either allowed it or willed it. This is the truth of trusting, that you accept your reality as it is and not how you wish it to be. You can accept what you hate, loathe, are afraid of, disagree with. Acceptance doesn't equal approval. But it does equal a modicum of peace for the soul. When you are willing to accept, you are no longer struggling to change, run from, or ignore whatever terrible or wonderful events occur.

Today is just a day, just one day in your story, and no matter what you did to get yourself in this position, it can be redeemed. The past is just that - the past: you cannot change it, only continue on the right path or turn from the wrong one. The present moment within our own selves - this is all we have control over. The past and the future elude our grip.

The light slants through the heavy hospital door: "Checks", whispers the phantom in scrubs who will be by every 15 minutes to prevent suicides. Luckily on the first night you're groggy from sedatives in the ER and you slide back into sleep like a warm blanket.

You steal a fork from your dinner tray and carefully fold it in a photo of your kids. Apparently they count the silver, too. From then on you eat in the dayroom with the TV blaring, the smells of all variety of disheveled persons and hospital food - and plastic eating utensils.

With the exception of the occasional manic bipolar patient, we are all recluses thrown together, prodded out of our rooms under protest for a litany of classes, groups, recreation. You're "voluntary" - here on your own free will, they say - so you can refuse, but on your first stay you learned that no progress means no discharge. And so you huddle, heads down, saying as few words as possible. You pitch in occasionally in a monotone, careful not to reveal emotion, say something - anything - to let the others off the hook for a moment.

Twice a day, the nurses walk in pairs, like friends, conspirators. Reporting off to the oncoming staff about your good behavior, bad behavior. You try on a plastic smile, nod, compliant - compliance is key. Most of them are helpers, but many are tired. Worn down from wrestling the aggressive ones, trying to ferret out the liars before they can hurt themselves. Always trying to be a step ahead, while still managing med passes, charting, doctor's orders, maybe a moment or two - precious moments - of compassion. They listen to your story when you need to speak of it, they smile when you need encouragement, give space when it's needed and a quick touch if it will be accepted.

It seems like a revolving door. For a while, you're in and out, then the "out" stretches longer and longer. Once and again, back you go, and some of the faces are familiar and some are new.

You do the therapy, the meditation, the thought policing, the occasional giving in. When you do, back through the metal detectors, into the ill fitting pajamas without strings, into the padded room. You worry about confidentiality. Will those who care for you and those there with you hold their tongues? Who will hear you've been here again? They say the stigma is gone, nothing like it was 30 years ago. But you've met the nurses who don't care to care for someone whose ills are self-inflicted. You've seen the looks when one of your scars is noticed. Worse perhaps are those not versed in broken brains who don't understand the social anxiety, the pauses mid-sentence, the staring over their shoulder. Those who think if they just say it long enough and loud enough, you'll change your mind: believe you're worth it.

You get to know addicts, schitzophrenics, manics and those stultifyingly depressed. Sometimes their bodies and stories are stereotypical - the bleary eyes, unkempt facade, a string of group homes and homelessness. You come to recognize the failed suicides by their dead eyes, you become familiar with the timeline of an addict's detoxification. But most are just like you - "normal". They look so normal. You wonder if you do, too. If there weren't still stigma, why have we all learned to hide so well?

The days blend together along with growing unrest to resume normalcy. Yet there's no denying it - you came in sick as a dog and about as cooperative as a cornered badger. By the time you leave, it has happened once again - the slow, incremental healing. Your nurse reports she saw you smile today. It's been days since you were restrained in lockdown. Soon you'll get your clothes back - the ones with rivets and strings. You'll walk out like an animal from hibernation, blinking in the non-fluorescent light. You look back at the brick prison with the safety glass windows they call a "behavioral health unit". The resentment fades in the fresh air.

After all, it did help. You've agreed to life again.

Can you live these days shut up in the hospital for the glory of God? Does mental illness somehow disable His grace? You learn to find small ways to join life: share a verse with someone crying; a look of knowing with the man who says he feels caged. You practice repentance whenever the dark thoughts take over - turning away and walking away from death and toward life.

Isn't this the essence of the Christian life? Lived out in the minutiae of depression? We are all turning from death toward life all day long. When you choose to serve; when you choose to pray; when you choose to agree to this day; when you take joy; when you pour out your sorrow; when you love and when you live and when you return to what is right.

May it all be for precious stones, may we trade the wood, hay and stubble of our own stubborn path for acceptance of the truth of our lives.
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.   (I Corinthians 3:11-15)