When a Christian blogger starts to doubt

The night slowly fades into day as the gray on the horizon turns pink. I lie in my bed, alone, watching the dawn appear. Life is like this, I think. We are in the fog, in the dark, and we can't even remember what the sun looked like; we have given up believing it will ever return. Like everything else that comes and goes, leaves and returns, the cycles of the mind, of emotions, are so vivid that you forget they are part of a cycle.

Time: 11 p.m. f/1.8 ISO 1600 ss1/6"

The nightscape of life is like an impressionist landscape. You're groping in the dark, but every now and then the most incomparable beauty lingers in the night sky.

It is hard to know what to write as I go through this darkness yet again. Therapy is pulling off layers almost frantically now, and underneath I find someone - me - who has never defined herself without thinking in the context of others. When I was hurt as a child, I did the thing that came instinctively to me: I became a protector, a helper, a healer, a listener, a friend to the broken. This is how I became a nurse instead of a doctor: I need to help, to heal, to listen, to befriend, to advocate, to know people. It fills up the empty space where I suspect my "self" is supposed to be - and fills it up with something admirable, good.

Time: 730 a.m. f/4.5 ISO 200 ss1/2400
These days I feel like I am constantly "faking it". I am afraid that, when the light comes again after this season of doubt and depression, I won't recognize myself. I am afraid of what all I might be pretending about. I am afraid to discover what is left after this debridement of the inner self. Will it be bloody and battered? Healed and scarred? Will I ever be able to claim accomplishments, compliments, love as evidence of my true self?

The doubt grips so hard that it has squeezed the big G right off the name of god and I am foundering in disbelief, disillusionment, even anger. I went through this when my heart was at it's worst in college. At that point, I needed to claim my faith for my own - not just because it was my family's faith, or because it was the way I was taught. But because it was what I believed.

This season, though? Instead of watering my soul like it has whenever doubt has crept in before, the Bible reads as a law book, misogynistic, sardonic, even malicious. Prayer feels fake. Who am I praying to? Right now, I'm not praying to the God I believed in for 30 years. A line sings in my mind: "I'm still alive but I'm barely breathing/ Just prayed to a God that I don't believe in". I just don't want to be alone in the universe, and so the words still sometimes flow.

I don't know what the future holds for me, for my family, for my faith, for this blog. It seems inappropriate to spew my disbelief onto pages that were set apart for the glory of God while I still believed. I hope this is a season of doubt, and not a life transition. I hunger for your thoughts, your comments, to hear of your struggles. That by one dim flame, my own dark candle may be lit again.

O lord I think I'm falling
To my disbelief
I'm cursing like a sailor and lying like a thief
It's hard to heed the calling from the better side of me
When I'm blaming everybody else and no one's coming clean

O lord can you see my thick skin wearing thin
And the demons of a lesser me are beckoning me in
Those who gathered 'round me - I'm watching them all leave
Cause I am my own ragged company

You can take a trip to china or take a boat to Spain
take a blue canoe around the world and never come back again
But traveling don't change a thing, it only makes it worse
Unless the trip you take is in to change your cruel course
'Cause every town's got a mirror and every mirror still shows me
That I am my own ragged company

O lord it's lonely, lord it's mighty cold
And I don't want to live this way
Afraid of growing old

It's hard to heed the warning when you cannot see the crime
The only way to remember is to forget in a rhyme
And I'm scared to tread the red road that leads to Galilee
Cause I am my own ragged company

Five Minute Friday

You, with the knife in your hand:

Please stop. Just for a moment. Read. You are not alone. Someday the sneers will turn to cheers as you bring others deep into your life, as you reveal your struggles. I know you can't be brave right now. I know how badly life can hurt. But maybe, just maybe, after reading my story, you can cry instead of die. 

{this is written for Suicide Prevention Week and may contain triggers}

Amy stands deep out in the icy surf of Lake Superior, her heart overflowing with joy as her muscles remember body surfing in the Atlantic Ocean so many times before. She spots the big waves and beckons her siblings to prepare. We are stared at - partly because we didn't plan ahead and the kids are in the lake fully dressed. Partly because no one here has ever seen kids body surf like this.

They are carefree and oblivious to the stares. They are looking out into the deep blue for the next rideable wave. This is what I want for them - so intense is their search for joy, beauty, truth, light, justice, compassion, mercy, grace, adventure, and wisdom that their eyes never waver from the path ahead.

My mother and father taught me this. There are memories of being comfortable being different: reading a college economics textbook in 5th grade that I brought everywhere with me; wearing a quirky hat collection all through high school; pouring my heart into art and poetry and music until I was in a different world myself - a world I was happy in.

Somewhere along the way, someone taught me to be self-conscious. I remember the whispered insults - "awkward", "too big for your britches", "lesbo", "weirdo", "too smart for your own good", "curious George", "giant", "you look like a boy", "nasal voice", "odd", "you don't play well with others". The paramount sneer on the playground, the stage, the backyards, the bike rides, the 4-H meetings, ball games, homeschooler playdates: "You'll never fit in; who do you think you are, anyway? Better than us?"

If only they'd known that the exact opposite was true: I was afraid I would never be good enough. For four long years, I hid completely. How many of us didn't in middle school? I became as quiet as a church mouse in groups. I continued being a leader only because my mother trained me to be. I pretended to be dumb, but random facts kept leaping off my tongue before I could haul them back in. I was an outsider, a lurker, always on the periphery and never in the circle. Many, many others share this piece of my story.

I've often wondered why I've been dogged by depression and suicidal thoughts since I was 10. Why did so many others weather bullying better than I? It wasn't until recently that I began to understand. Injuries make you vulnerable, especially to further injury. And I had a wounded soul.

It wasn't just words that had wounded me. It was derisive torment of a physical and psychological nature. I will never forget the twisted grin on my abuser's face when I experienced the most pain, the most shame, defeat and blood and filth coating my tongue. This. It started me out on poor footing, it started me out bandaged and bloodied, it started me out believing that angry and evil words directed at me meant physical torment was only moments away. I remember the visceral reaction I had to the taunts of others after her - tightening of all my muscles, the surge of fear in my stomach, the cold sweat, the dry mouth, the clammy palms, the sudden separation of body and mind as I drifted off into the sky to distance myself from the pain to come.

And with the surge of pain in those years came the suicidal thoughts. They trace their history all the way back to my childhood. It wasn't that I wanted to be dead. It wasn't that I wanted to leave the people I loved. It wasn't that I wanted to experience more pain at my own hand.

I just wanted - want- the pain of life, the inescapable pain, to be over and done.

When I was 10, I didn't complete it by protective grace alone.
And when I woke up, I couldn't try again because of my parents, my brothers.

When I was 17, I didn't do it because I held onto hope that college would be different.

The attempts that did come were usually alcohol-soaked. Occasionally stone cold sober, but out of body, my mind careening through the black hole of open space without substance to control it's flight.

When I was 21, I didn't complete it because a friend saved me.

When I was 28, I didn't do it because cancer and hopelessness wasn't reason enough.

When I was 30, I didn't do it because I looked into my children's eyes.

When I was 31, I didn't complete it because there was a holy cacophany of friends and loved ones shouting from the rooftops that I was loved, I was enough, I was desperately needed. Their voices drowned out the jeers of others for a short while.

Now, at 34, sometimes it's my counselor's voice echoing in the chambers of the mind, "You can't do this to your babies." Sometimes it's the verses quoted by friends. Sometimes it's a note from my Papa and sometimes it's my mother's voice on the phone. Sometimes it's the hope of a different life that fits my skin. Sometimes it's simply resolve. Sometimes it is knowing it is wrong. Sometimes it's out of pure defiance: I won't let you finish me, I won't let your words drive me to be someone I'm not.

Here I am. All 34 years of me, all the history of dark plans and nighttime soul riots, all the desperate prayers, all the bottles of pills and high places I've stood on the edge of, all the razors and all of the scars. I am begging you to find a reason not to. I know you have reasons not to - everyone does. Because each of us - however bent and bruised - we have a purpose. There is someone, somewhere, who will weep for decades if you take your own life. Maybe that person is still in your future. Will you give that up to stop the pain?

Hug someone.
Pick up the phone.
Go for a run.
Let yourself scream.
Be angry.
Be sad.
Be sorry.
Be brave.
Write it out.
Draw a picture.
Send an email.
Call a counselor.
Drive to a friend's house.
Take a cold shower.
Go look at the sky and ask your questions.
Tweet or Facebook for help and encouragement.
Say a prayer.
Ask for prayer.
Listen to some music.
Make a playlist that says what you can't.
Tell a relative.
Do something you love even if you don't feel like it.
Look at an old photo album.
Believe it will get better.

Don't hide.
Don't use substances to numb out.
Don't pretend you're fine.
Don't think you're alone.
Don't believe this is best for everyone.
Don't listen to the lies swirling through your brain.
Don't do it today - make a plan to wait 24 hours - then another 24.
Don't keep your weapons.
Don't be silent about your plans.
Don't be afraid of going to the hospital.
Don't be scared to take a break.
Don't try to wait it out alone.
Don't hold it in, bottle it up, or push it away.
Don't grin and bear it.

If I am the only person you know who can speak to those dark places inside of you, then write to me at gmthul@yahoo.com. Tell me your story. Beg for help. I will listen, I will bleed with you, I will speak truth. 

Don't end your story with a noose, a bloody bathroom, a shattered form at the bottom of a cliff. Don't spend your last hours vomiting and gasping for breath. Don't lose the last precious moments of the only life you have to a coma or a crash. Don't let your loved one or your friend see the sight of your choice - they will never recover. Do you want a closed casket funeral that leaves all who you leave with no sense of closure? Do you want them to always wonder what they could've done differently? Wishing they had somehow saved you?

One true thing, a reason I know from experience: there will come a day when you thank God you didn't go through with it. Even if there are more attempts after that day, it will come again - the day you're glad you're alive. And again. And again.

There will come a day when the pain will fade a little. There will come a day when the beauty of life is greater than the torture of it. There will come a day when you look back at all you would have foregone, and call your own life - your broken, battered, tear-soaked life - good.

This brilliant light is brighter than we would've known,
Without our darkness to prove it so.
Still, we can’t help but to examine it,
To add our question marks to periods.
At the foot of our bed, we found an envelope…

“You are enough.”
These little words, somehow they’re changing us.
“You are enough.”
So we let our shadows fall away like dust.

When we grew up,
Our shadows grew up too.
But they’re just old ghosts
That we grow attached to.
The tragic flaw is that they hide the truth.

That you’re enough.
I promise you’re enough.


This week the world focused on suicide prevention in an international campaign to raise awareness. By far the most beautiful and gut-wrenching piece written was posted on A Deeper Story by attempt survivor Luke Harms. His simple title, "Your Story is Worth Finishing", settled deeply into my hungry soul. Perhaps because the story of this life of mine is so important to me. Perhaps because I want all the suffering and struggling and fighting tooth and nail to mean something in the end - to lift someone else up, let them know they aren't alone, or to show the capacity of the human spirit for courage and love?

I thought I was going to stay away from Suicide Prevention Week. I avoided social media on the 10th, Suicide Prevention Day itself, and didn't follow any links to the statistics, the infographics, the blog posts, the trending Twitter hashtag. Because I am still very much in the fight for my life. Because the scars of the last mistake are barely healed. Because I didn't feel brave, strong, or stupid enough to expose myself to triggers when I am still fragile. But Luke's title grabbed me, and I read, tears streaming, and I thought, I cannot let this year pass. I cannot be silent on this topic. I hope this reaches the eyes of someone who needs it. Please pass it on to those who are struggling.

When it's all over

There is something about sunshine and open spaces that lights the fuse in little children. They're off and running before you can even shout a warning. It's infectious, it's beautiful, it's a picture of that full joy many of us spend our entire adulthoods trying to rediscover.

Yet, even in the darkness of persistent depression, you get days like this every once in a while. Today is one for me. I am too exhausted and drained from a heart incident yesterday that landed me in the ER - I can't jump for joy. But my soul is!

In the ER, they ran a chest x-ray to check on my pacemaker. You know those 30+ nodules they found last time, that they thought were cancer? They are GONE. Without a trace. It's not cancer!

The theory is that these spots on the previous x-ray were pockets of infection that came along with my pneumonia.

Thank you for your support through this "waiting game". So glad the wait is over and we can get back to normal - work, school, play, mining every day for nuggets of joy.

Feeling my way through the darkness
Guided by a beating heart
I can't tell where the journey will end
But I know where to start

They tell me I'm too young to understand
They say I'm caught up in a dream
Well life will pass me by if I don't open up my eyes
Well that's fine by me

So wake me up when it's all over
When I'm wiser and I'm older
All this time I was finding myself
And I didn't know I was lost

I tried carrying the weight of the world
But I only have two hands
Hope I get the chance to travel the world
But I don't have any plans

Wish that I could stay forever this young
Not afraid to close my eyes
Life's a game made for everyone
And love is the prize
~Wake Me Up, Avicii~

Five Minute Friday

We shine best when we're dusty

They are as vibrant and varied as a new box of crayons, where the water washes and darkens them. Plain dusty old rocks brought to life by the waves. You can hear them skittering and rolling onto each other, a series of clicks and clacks, as they are tumbled by the ebb and flow of the water. I stop to finger one, wondering if it's an agate. It's hard to pick the really valuable ones out when they are all so pretty.

The key to testing whether it's a treasure or an ordinary rock? Let it dry.

In a sea of pastel dullness, you'll catch the tempered glint of the rough edges of an agate amongst all the basalt and granite. These rocks, which for so long belonged to the water, are polished smooth. The agates, harder than glass, formed in the heart of rocks from molten lava deep in the earth's crust, started life as a hollow place in a rock under fire. When the rock around the agate crumbles, this heart dances through the tumbling water until it is polished to a patina almost indescribable - like glass, but more opaque; like gemstones, but less sparkly; like an oil painting under good light.

So is life. Trials come, dry spells eclipse our strength. And when we are dry, dusty and tired, longing for the splash from some cool sea, you can see the ordinary and the extraordinary among us. Just as the agate slowly filled the heart of the stone, layer by beautiful layer, so the firestorms of our life lay up treasure inside of us that is only revealed when trials crush the outer self and what is at the heart is revealed.

A few of the "diamonds in the rough" whose troubled lives developed their character instead of destroying it:

Albert Einstein was once labeled "mentally handicapped", was kicked out of both primary school and denied entrance to university, was bullied and sneered at for his first 30 years of life.

Vincent van Gogh only sold a single painting in his life, yet starved himself to paint over 800 works now considered masterpieces. (I wonder where he stored them?) He suffered depression, infectious diseases, other mental illnesses, poverty, abuse, and was ridiculed and shunned in public.

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. He often quantified his failures when asked to speak about his success. "I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot, and I missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

Author Jack London sent the same story (his first) out over 600 times before it was accepted by a little-known, small circulation publisher. He went on to pen many top-selling novels and short stories and is considered one of American literature's giants.

In a massive research study exploring the childhoods of over 700 famous people throughout history, Victor and Mildred Goertzel discovered that a "hard knock life" may be a recipe for adult success:
Three-quarters of these successful people (525 of the 700) came from deeply troubled childhoods. They had endured extreme poverty, broken homes ... and even parental abuse. Over one-fourth (199 of the 700) had to deal with very serious physical handicaps such as deafness, blindness or crippled limbs. Over 80% of those who became successful writers and playwrights had watched their own parents struggle with intense psychological dramas. (quoted from http://www.boxingscene.com/motivation/10902.php)

Is your life rough right now? Have you ever thought about how trials reveal our true character? What is one character attribute that shines when you are under pressure, and what is one thing you'd like to change about you deal with stress? 

View from the 11th Year

This year we've put it to the test
-'til death do us part-
Whispered an ugly word we vowed we never would.
I can't help changing
life forces you to
and you are just hanging on for the ride.
You say you love me
more today than yesterday
the ordinary with me eclipses our wedding day.

I have foundered
in the sea of discontent
I have been looking for my wings for years now.
You plod on
and keep us all afloat
Life raft on the ocean of depression.
Even when you can't
haul me out of the slough
You hold my hand as I struggle in the mud.

Your eyes are sadder
than they were back then
Your back is bowed from the load you carry.
But when we meet
outside the sorrow
Steal moments, let our bodies converse together,
Your smile is still true
soul's light not extinguished
you warm me with your pulsing life

and I am utterly undone by grace.

I thought I was walking
in a different direction
Turns out we're on parallel tracks
Though each new pledge
is painfully tentative
you call it enough, and gather me to you.
I'm no longer dreaming
of our old age
just the next day together, and the next.

I heard somewhere
that the first 10 years were hardest.
I heard somewhere
that the odds are stacked against us.
I heard somewhere
this problem we face is insurmountable.
But I am not listening
to the prophecies of men
I am not listening
to slackers and cynics
I am not listening
to the doubt in my own heart.

It wouldn't be precious
if it wasn't difficult
And if you only stay while you're happy?
Didn't we promise
for better, for worse?

We've worn out together
and we'll rest together
soon to face the future boldly again.
We both bleed red
the same humanness
connecting us and creating conflict
If I am too weak
to weather these storms
You will take up the slack and pull us onward.
Even if it is just
one dirty dish at a time
one floor mopped, one time you change the sheets
You have laid yourself down for me
and now I for you
I promise to
lay some questions aside, bury them with loving you.

and this marriage will win
against this ambiguity
this marriage will last
though it's made of dust
Or is it us?
Dusty souls
and perhaps the gold band on our fingers
is a halo
heavenly blessing
a benediction of possibility
that we can overcome.

Happy 11th anniversary to my incomparable love.

Five Minute Friday
Prompt: "Red"

Still waters run deep

Life goes on. With or without your consent, reality is reality and there is not much you can do sometimes other than accept it. While the big questions brew and boil inside your head, there is life happening all around you. The children on the lakeshore. The parents' 40th anniversary. The new niece born. The school year starting.

Busy brings quiet to the mind. It's my go-to coping strategy, and probably the root of my workaholic personality. If your life isn't great at the moment - make someone else's better. If you're down, help someone else up. If you're confused, take refuge in the things you know for sure - medical facts, how to get a whole class of students laughing, story-weaving, making time for grand adventures with the kids.

Every joy may feel stolen, but even stolen joy warms the heart. The title of a favorite song drifts through like a theme to my late-summer days: "swing low, sail high". But there’s no one who/ 
makes it all come true/ Just altars gathering dust while we bow to them.

Cancer is haunting me again. The semester is packed and I don't want to take time to deal with the bad stuff. I'd rather plow through pretending than get stopped up by the knowing. I put cancer away like a bill I can't pay and paste a cardboard smile on until I've once again turned my mind by the upturn of my lips. The doctors are threatening with scary possibilities like "lung metastasis" and "nodules on x-ray". I am ploughing through my 2nd round of pneumonia this year, brought on by a simple summer head cold, and they can't complete the testing until I am better. For now - breath deep, ignore the wet cough and bloody phlegm. Keep assuring people I'm not contagious. Keep on teaching, keep on writing, keep on keepin' on.

My counselor texts me, "hang on for those four babies." And so we travel to Lake Superior, climb haybales, have crazy family movie nights, go skinny dipping in the dark, drive to the corner store on a whim to pick up ice cream and candy. We visit parks and go to sports camps; celebrate birthdays and milestones; soak up the whole great green earth with wonder.

Doubt has settled like a cloud of mist, impenetrable. In my careful deconstruction, I have reached a point where I have to choose again, almost like a child, who I will be. Which parts of myself I will reject or suppress. Which parts I will encourage and fortify. Who am I? What do I believe about myself, others, the world and it's suffering, the God I've been taught to love and follow?

It only comes in flashes, faith: looking out over the vast blue of Lake Superior, it settles as quietly as a butterfly on a bud. Certainty. Paired right with the only verses in the New Testament addressing homosexuality, there is a clarion call for all, whether they've been introduced to the Christ or not: "ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God." (Romans 1:20)

There is a host of memories I've long cherished of how I've seen the divine hand in nature. Yet right now they all seem to end in a question mark: was it really God, or was I just fulfilling my own prophesy by seeing things from just the right perspective? I would be lying if I didn't say that I am struggling to make sense of faith right now. God, once again, seems punitive and brutal, like he seemed to me when I went through life's hardest times as a teenager. I ask myself, do I believe to make myself feel better? Do I believe because I was taught to do so? Is God so wound up in my worldview and way of living so as to be inextricable? What if I had been born elsewhere? Would I still believe in this God? Can I stop believing if I want to? Is it possible that God is much bigger than the Bible he inspired? Why didn't he stop my suffering if he loves me?

I never dreamed I'd be here again in my 30's. I thought I'd put these questions to bed in my 20's. Certainly once cancer hit. God has felt so real to me for so long! And now he does not feel real any longer. I find myself stammering as I pray the verse that carried me through the last season of doubt: "Lord, I believe. Help thou my unbelief." (Mark 9:24) A song whispers alongside the hesitant prayer: "I'm still alive, but I'm barely breathin'. Just prayed to a god that I don't believe in."

I long for a voice in the darkness to ring True and silence these doubts that plague the soul and spawn despair. I cling to those things in my life that I believe are right, sacred. My marriage, my children, my family, my work, my students, my colleagues. Perhaps in their shining faces I will someday once again see the very face of God.

If you knew that you would die today
If you saw the face of God and Love
Would you change?
If you knew that love can break your heart
When you're down so low you cannot fall
Would you change?

How bad how good does it need to get?
How many losses how much regret?
What chain reaction
What cause and effect
Makes you turn around
Makes you try to explain
Makes you forgive and forget
Makes you change

If you knew that you would be alone
Knowing right being wrong
Would you change?
If you knew that you would find a truth
That brings a pain that can't be soothed
Would you change?

Are you so upright you can't be bent
if it comes to blows
Are you so sure you won't be crawling
If not for the good why risk falling
Why risk falling

If everything you think you know
Makes your life unbearable
Would you change?
If you'd broken every rule and vow
And hard times come to bring you down
Would you change?
~Change, Tracy Chapman (sent to me by a true new friend) ~