driving on a flat tire

One morning a few weeks ago as I headed out to meet a friend at our local coffee shop, I noticed that my car seemed really loud inside.  

Really loud.  Hmm.  

I kept driving.  

Then I changed lanes and when I ran over the reflector bumps in the middle of the road, it was super-super loud.  

Again, hmmm.

I kept driving.  

Wondering why the car was so loud.  Driving a little slower, in case it was going to blow up or something.  

Then I tried running over the bumps with the other wheels, and it wasn't loud.  So then I started thinking that maybe I had a flat tire.

Guess what?

Yup.  I'm sorry to say it, but it's true:  I kept driving.  

All the way to the coffee shop.  Then I got out of the car, looked at the tires, and sure enough, one of them was flat as a pancake.  

Whereupon I did what I always do when something mechanical or technical malfunctions:  I called Andy.  And he did what he always does:  he came and fixed it.  

I would say "no questions asked" because he never makes me feel bad about fixing whatever it is I've broken.

But actually he did have questions like, "When did the noise start?" and "Exactly how far did you drive on this tire?"  Those were legit questions, trying to ascertain the possible extent of the damage.  

My answers, unfortunately, were pretty vague, because I just sort of didn't know.  I don't pay much attention to the mechanical and technical things in my life.  Maintenance doesn't cross my mind.  I just roll along, expecting everything to work.

 photo:  Michael Bruner

photo:  Michael Bruner

I was thinking about that this morning, because my first experience with anxiety and depression years ago was a lot like that flat tire.

I was rolling along in life, when some bothersome symptoms began to appear.  I had repetitive nightmares.  I would wake up in the night with racing thoughts, and have trouble falling asleep again.  I was unhappy and tearful and down about myself and other people and life in general.

There was a lot of emotional noise, but I didn't know what it meant.

So I kept going.

And going.

And going.

Until the day I just literally could not function any longer.  In fact, I may have been just the teensiest, tiniest bit psychotic every now and again.  

It was only afterward, when I looked back with the wisdom of hindsight, that I realized how long I'd been driving on an emotional flat tire.

I don't know that we deliberately set out to ignore the emotional symptoms of life and make ourselves completely crazy, but sometimes it just works out that way.

First of all, we may not really understand what's going on.  When I started waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep, I had absolutely no idea that I was experiencing the most common type of insomnia associated with anxiety.  That had never happened to me before. I didn't know what it was.

And then, who wants to pull over and change a flat?  Not me, friends and neighbors.  I have places to go, people to see.  As long as that sucker will move forward, I'll drive it.  The reality is, when we stop to work on our emotional stuff, it can make a mess of our plans.  It can be really complicated.  Really.  Reallyreallyreally complicated.

Besides all that, some of us have gotten the idea that having emotions other than joy and peace means that we aren't very spiritual, so it's pretty hard to admit that anything at all might be wrong.  

Sometimes when we've tried to talk about what's wrong, people have said things like, "Cast all your care on the Lord, because He cares for you" and "Take every thought captive" and "The joy of the Lord is our strength."  

And we retreat into our alone and broken selves, because we've tried that.  For a while now.  It just doesn't seem to be that simple, but everybody says it is, so we just don't know what to do.

So here's the question:  how do we STOP AND CHANGE THE TIRE?

Sometimes it's a medical issue, and we need meds.

  • Honestly evaluate your functioning.  If you're struggling to do what you're supposed to do every day, then it might be time to look for medical help.  I know it's hard to go there.  Meds do have side effects, and sometimes it does take time to get the right meds working in the right way.  And sure, Jesus can heal you without meds.  But most of us these days would take antibiotics for pneumonia, and say "Thank God" when the fever lifts.  If you're not functioning well, if you're not able to sleep or eat like normal, if your moods are seriously out of whack, and especially if you've got thoughts of suicide, please talk to your doctor.  Modern medicine is a gift.  Take it as needed.

Sometimes it's a social issue, and we need to make changes in our world.

  • Most of us have a front door on our house, rather than a big open space where anything and anybody can run in and out at any time.  A lockable door is a normal part of a house.  Sometimes, however, we have a hard time believing that it's an equally good idea to get some boundaries against the emotional chaos that wants to intrude.  Unhealthy stuff sneaks in over time, and other people get used to us being like we are.  Change can be tough.  And it can be so, so, so good.

Sometimes it's a psychological/spiritual issue, and we need to process through gunk from the past that informs how we think and feel and believe today.

  • Some of us believe that there are rules for acceptability:  we have to achieve great heights, make others happy, be wonderfully nice, be successful in ministry, be thin, be the perfect parent.  We don't actually live in Love, believing deep down that It Is Finished.  We have to keep going and going, and life is just one long, exhausting performance.  That's a lie.  But there is truth.  And it can set us crazy-free.

A whole bunch of times, it's all three--medical, social, and psychological/spiritual--all mixed up together.  

Changing that flat tire can be a whole lot of work.  Like Westley says in The Princess Bride:  "Life is pain, Princess,and anyone who says otherwise is selling something."

But I want to tell you that it's worth the work.  And I want you to know that there is help.  God has not left us here alone to struggle through things by ourselves.  

There are doctors.  

There are friends.  

There are therapists.  

Most of all, there is Love and there is rest for our souls, when we'll stop and let Love help us.

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the embracing cross

This past February, Andy and I went to Italy.  We walked, we ate pasta, we drank wine, we looked at lots of art.

We went to Florence:

 "David" by Michelangelo, at the Accademia

"David" by Michelangelo, at the Accademia

We went to Venice:

 "Paradise" by Tintoretto, at the Doge's Palace:  the largest canvas in the world

"Paradise" by Tintoretto, at the Doge's Palace:  the largest canvas in the world

We went to Rome:

 Sistine Chapel Ceiling by Michelangelo, at the Vatican

Sistine Chapel Ceiling by Michelangelo, at the Vatican

Now, I love art.  Going to museums and art galleries is absolutely my idea of a good time.  But, in Italy, after one whole day, I was overwhelmed.  

We were in Florence, and we'd been at the Accademia to visit David at 8 a.m., then walked around a town where there's an elaborately decorated church on every corner and sculptures tossed into every nook and cranny.  

We wound up at the Uffizi Gallery that afternoon, looking at the work of one master after another.  Botticelli, Titian, Raphael, Caravaggio, Michelangelo--all stacked in, floor to ceiling, because there just aren't enough walls to mount everything side by side.  Oh, and over in the corner there?  That angel was painted by da Vinci.

I felt like my eyeballs were going to explode, bludgeoned to death by art.  

There was JUST SO MUCH OF IT.

Lately, I have felt bludgeoned by religion, too, because in my world, there is just so much of it.  

Now, I love God.  Thinking about God and his grace and how He loves and redeems is absolutely my idea of a good time.  I care deeply about my faith and how to live it out.  

But honestly, I get overwhelmed with religious stuff.  Think this, believe that, put your hand up for this, keep it down for that, and how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? 

Sometimes I think it's a good thing that the disciples didn't have social media.  Imagine the "who's going to be greatest in the kingdom" Twitter blood bath.  

I don't care too much any more about anybody's perfectly parsed 24-hour-day antifluvanomian justifisanctional middispensationalism.

I've gotten to the place where I just look to see how somebody's great theology ends up treating people.  

You say you're speaking for God?  

Here's my one question:  how do you treat people?  That's all I want to know.

If you treat people badly, I'm not much interested in what Scripture Clearly Says to you.

Jesus said it this way:  "You'll know the Real Deal by the Real Fruit."  (Matthew 7:15-20)

If God is love, and we're the branches of that vine, then we have to be love, too.

Pretty simple, I think.

So, a week after that day in Florence, we were in Rome, at the Vatican.  I was pretty wigged out on art and religion by that point, but there was no way I was going to leave Italy without taking a look at the Sistine Chapel.  

The Vatican, though, is like IKEA.  They know you only want that one chair from the kitchen department, but they are going to make you walk past every cushion and pillow and floor lamp in the place, just in case you find something else cute on the way.

Like this fabulous camel.  Totally on the wish list.

By the time we finally got to the Sistine Chapel, I could completely understand why Michelangelo had painted himself into the Last Judgment as a flayed skin.  I felt like if I saw another 8-foot-tall cherub or embalmed Holy Father, I was going to shriek. 

Then we came around a corner and found this, in a little alcove, all by itself:

 Vatican Museum

Vatican Museum

The Embracing Cross, it's called.

It's Love.

Simple.

Direct.

Unadorned.

The ultimate statement of theology:  God loves us so desperately, that He is willing to die for love of us. 

While we are sinners.  

Before we get it all just right. 

Before other people have gotten it just right, He loves them, too.

And when I don't know what God wants me to do about all the pain and suffering and insanity of the world?  

This, I think, is the cross I'm called to carry:  the embracing cross.

To know this one thing:  God loves me this much, and so I must love others.

Most days, I don't know anything more than that.

And, strangely, it seems to be enough.

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transition sucks (forever and always, i'm afraid)

With love to all my friends finding themselves in a season of transition:  here's a post from two years ago.  

 photo:  Michael Bruner

photo:  Michael Bruner

Transition sucks.

I have been thinking about this for several days now, and I'm not sure there is much more to say about transition than this:  it sucks.

I know people have written big long books about it.  And they're probably good books.  Of course information is a helpful thing--knowing what to expect, if there are different stages, if there are certain things you can do to manage it.

But essentially, transition is a grief process.  There's a lot of loss on the way to the new normal.  Loss, by definition, is going to be painful.  And you just can't completely control that.  Anybody who says otherwise is selling something.  Probably their book.

It's OK to be sad.  Even really, really sad. 

It's OK to be weak.  Even really, really weak.

I know sadness and weakness are horrible feelings.  I hate them myself.  But when God says, "My power shows up best in weak people"--well, I think there's something to that.

I remember having that experience, living overseas, when I was so DONE that I couldn't even get out of bed.  I was in a profoundly difficult transition between the way life used to be, and the way life would need to be afterward.  I just lay there in my grief and pain, and somehow knew that God was there, loving me.

I had no framework for the idea that I could be completely useless and completely loved.  But it happened anyway.  I had that experience that Ephesians 3 talks about--experiencing the love of God, even though it is so great I can't understand it.

And then...well, it still took a while for me to change the way I lived.  I think I have a tendency to be a human bop-bag.  Knock me down with the truth, and I will bounce right back up to be stupid with lies again.  I can look back over a 10-year period of my life and see that same pattern over and over and over again.

It finally, finally got through to me a year or so later.  I was at this retreat at a church in Austin, bawling my eyes out in front of this pastor and saying, "When will it ever be enough?"  And this man looked at me and said, "It is enough already."  Words straight from God to me.

I think I had been in a process--probably my whole adult life--leading up to that moment to finally be ready to hear that I don't have to do one thing more.  God loves me.  And I can just be who I am, where I am, and He loves me.

Even if I have been in this place before.  Even if I should be able to look ahead and know that it's going to be worth it in the end.  Even if I feel like I should have this figured out so it won't bother me so much.  Even if other people think I should be managing it better, more gracefully, more spiritually.

Today, in my pain and in my confusion and in the constant transition that is my life, Jesus loves me, this I know.   I am weak, but He is strong.

Transition sucks. 

And God is good.  All the time.

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the illusion of control

I just read a really interesting article at psychologytoday.com. It addresses how human beings tend to respond to crisis and uncertainty.  

Essentially, we take control any way we can.  

And if we can't actually be in control, we'll give ourselves the illusion of control.

The research shows that in deeply troubled times--during world wars, for example--we'll join more authoritarian churches, invent more comic-book super heroes, and choose a German Shepherd for the family dog, over a Chihuahua.

It's fascinating to me that we human beings have such a need for control that we collectively do these things, pretty much automatically, to the extent that attack dogs become statistically significant.  

 My dog Petey.  He'll chew your leg right off, if he can bother to get out of the shopping bag.

My dog Petey.  He'll chew your leg right off, if he can bother to get out of the shopping bag.

That article made me think about all the other things that keep our illusion of control alive and well, whether it's

  • money in the bank
  • modern medicine
  • meteorologists and storm-tracking software on duty, 24/7/36
  • martyrdom to our ministry or career

But here is what we all know, in the dark of the night:  sometimes, no matter what, the bad stuff comes.

And at that point, you might need something more than Superman or an attack dog.  

Yeah, I know the Christian answer here.  You need a Savior.  And that's true.  But what I've found is that He's not a vending machine.  He doesn't save us the way we want.  There is very little pixie dust shaken over the problems I see in the world.

For every miracle I know about, there are 10,000 injustices still waiting For That Day.

Down the road, redemption.  Yes.  I know it's coming.  I believe it, I do.

Right now, it's a federal disaster zone, and that's what we have to deal with.

Honestly.  Painfully.

Here's one of my all-time favorite quotes on dealing with the aftermath of disaster:

"Don't get me wrong:  grief sucks; it really does.  Unfortunately, though, avoiding it robs us of life, of the now, of a sense of living spirit.  Mostly I have tried to avoid it by staying very busy, working too hard, trying to achieve as much as possible.  You can often avoid the pain by trying to fix other people; shopping helps in a pinch, as does romantic obsession.  Martyrdom can't be beat.  While too much exercise works for some people, it doesn't for me, but I have found that a stack of magazines can be numbing and even mood altering.  But the bad news is that whatever you use to keep the pain at bay robs you of the flecks and nuggets of gold that feeling grief will give you.  A fixation can keep you nicely defined and give you the illusion that your life has not fallen apart.  But since your life may indeed have fallen apart, the illusion won't hold up forever, and if you are lucky and brave, you will be willing to bear disillusion.  You begin to cry and writhe and yell and then to keep on crying; and then, finally, grief ends up giving you the two best things:  softness and illumination."  Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies

The best thing is not protection or control or denial.  

The best thing is softness and illumination.

I think about the Prodigal Son a lot, running away with his life firmly in his hands.  I bet that even when he climbed into that pig sty, that kid still thought he could be in charge.  He still thought he was going to make it on his own.  It took him a while, like it does most of us.  But he finally figured out that the best thing was not more control or more denial.  

The best thing was softness and illumination.  The softness to remember love and the illumination to turn toward it.

When we run through all our other options, we may finally realize, like Larry Crabb says, that sometimes we need to look bad in the presence of Love.  Just open our real, true selves up to Love.

Love doesn't care how we look or what we've done.  

That's all taken care of.

Love just welcomes us home, every time, no matter what.

And that, in my book, is way better than any illusion of control.

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i need you

 Y'all know I'm a good girl.  So I don't think we're ever going to have a day here on the blog when I confess something that makes people hyperventilate and pass out.  That cussing thing is about as bad as my behavior ever gets.  Well, and there is that margarita at the Veracruz Cafe.  But really.  That's it.  I am just not all that interesting in the sin department.

But what plagues me is my deep, deep disagreements with God regarding my own value to Him.  I have a hard time being the Beloved.  I grab onto it for a while, and I really get it.  But then something comes up out of the dark and takes a swipe at me, and I'm struggling again.

 

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