Monday, August 25, 2014

Colorado 2014: Hearing Echoes

I was looking out the window at the mountains, seeing their dimensions blur into just another item on the list of things to miss, just another trip relegated to nostalgia.

I stared at the Colorado landscape until it flattened out into the plains, and then I settled back in my seat, jammed my earbuds in tighter, and turned up the volume on my iPod. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep, slowing my breathing to encourage my brain to shut down, to stop moving, to stop thinking, to stop feeling. Three or four songs later, I gave up. I opened the notes app on my iPod to write.

I feel tremendous, unspeakable grief.

But at least I feel something.


I’d been in Colorado for two weeks, and it was my third major trip of the summer. My first two-- first to Texas, then to Wisconsin-- had been similarly beautiful, full of the people I am closest to, full of adventures, full of a heart slowly opening under the warmth of beautiful moments and an awareness of God. Both times, I’d returned to Tennessee optimistic, brimming with a sweet, irrational hope. Both times, within a few weeks I simply felt nothing.

This has become the familiar status quo since moving out here as newlyweds, uncertain and isolated and broke. It feels like last week that we got here-- mostly because so few of the days between have seemed real to me. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like when I got here my ability to emotionally engage anything completely disappeared. It happened so suddenly and completely that it took me six months before I realized how numb I’d become.

For a while, earlier this year, I worried that I might be headed towards considering suicide again (a pattern that was so built into my existence as a teenager that I am always wary of it resurfacing). It wasn’t until my trip to Texas in May that I realized I didn’t want to end my life: I felt like it was already over, and a part of me was grieving. And it wasn’t until I went to Wisconsin later that I realized there was still the possibility of life, the reality of a different way, and it was going to have to be a spiritual mending, not a change of circumstances.

I don’t want to seem over-dramatic or present an unbalanced picture-- though I am discussing my struggles here, there have been successes as well as struggles. This has been far, far from my worst year. I have, in some ways, been healthier than I’ve ever been this past year, at least in terms of functionality. I am usually intensely self-aware, which is (like most things) both good and bad. But even that self-awareness has been dulled as of late, reduced to simply the thought I am not who I want to be.

Good things happen, and I struggle to be grateful for them, struggle to experience joy. Bad things happen, and even if I repeat them to myself over and over again, I can’t feel the weight of them.

And I’ve woken up in the morning countless times since moving here to find I’d been crying in my sleep, only able to engage when the walls of consciousness were obliterated.

I’ve realized what a large part of it is (although this is only one aspect of it, and it’s much more multi-faceted than this; this is only a blog post, after all). I am absolutely addicted to the approval of others. It wasn’t always this way, since for much of my life I received so few doses of approval an addiction to it couldn’t even form. But these past several years it’s become increasingly worse. And as much as I crave that approval, I am also painfully aware at any given time of how far short of that perception I actually fall-- I am plagued by that common fear if people really knew me, they’d think so much differently. This to say that I can’t usually accept the affirmation I’m offered, which makes it a spectacularly unhelpful and unhealthy addiction.

I’ve been completely isolated from the approval of most people for over a year now. Not just isolated from approval, but from their kindness, their interest, their friendship, as well-- simply because I am isolated from most people, as previously discussed many times. I have reached the place now where I have accepted I will very likely never have a community here, and I need to learn how to live with that reality. Which has meant I am left alone to face again a distaste for myself that I can’t even fully put into words.

I hate that I want people to affirm me, still, after all these years (my brain screams this is a middle school flaw everyone else your age is over). I hate that I feel so underqualified for every single aspect of life I’m facing right now. I hate that I can’t get over myself and just be content, that I can be so deeply self-centered despite years of fighting so hard to see, to love other people. And many days, even as I throw myself in frustration against the walls of my metaphorical isolation chamber, I know the vacuum of relationship is to be expected. Why would anyone like me? I don’t like me. I can’t blame anyone else for feeling similarly.

So I stop feeling. I know I am still deeply in need of internal change because of this: it’s as though without people to remind me who I am, I cease to exist at all.


I got to Colorado this year feeling, honestly, skeptical. I’ve started to hear this voice in the back of my head, whispering grown ups don’t have meaningful life experiences anymore. You’re married and employed and your name’s on an apartment lease-- it’s all over for you in terms of living vibrantly. You barely have time to talk to these people outside of this yearly meeting anymore. They won’t remember who you are, or you’ll all have changed so much there will be no relationship left.

I was proven wrong in the span of the first hour or two.

Between flipping stations in the car and critiquing the songs on the radio, cramming into a kitchen full of friends, downing multiple cups of coffee, being hugged half a dozen times, and getting into a conversation about theology and contemporary Western culture less than 30 minutes after “hello,” I started to realize that maybe life still happens to me-- in me.

Our group gathering was only three days this year, the shortest it’s ever been. It was rushed and certainly different from when we were all teenagers, but I was reminded over and over again that some things don’t change-- that things I believed to be lost are actually still very real, albeit in different forms. I would stay in Colorado for another week and a half afterwards, watching movies, running on mountain trails, lying under the stars, soaking in conversations about things that matter, trying my hand at honesty. I felt my faith waking up under my skin. It was like I’d been given permission to believe again, permission to meet God’s eyes and accept that maybe He was still steadfastly paying attention to me.

It wouldn’t be until I was on the plane home that I would understand it: that has ultimately been the question, this whole time since moving here. It was never why am I in a soul-crushing food service job? It was never why did I have to leave behind friends and family I love so deeply? It was never why can’t I make friends-- why can’t I even want to make friends? It was never why am I being placed in a job I am spectacularly undeserving of? I thought those were my questions, the ones that left me numb, but they weren’t. The real question was very simple: does God still like me?

I’m not going to pretend that two weeks in Colorado fixed that. But it tied some threads of grace to my heart that I pray will become highways for hope before they can be severed.

Because when friends who have known me long and listened to the worst of me told me I am kind, I began to believe I could be again. And when they told me they trust me, I began to feel like perhaps I was worth trusting. And when they told me that the things I think about God resonated with how they think about Him too, I started to feel for the first time in a very long time that I’m not a total failure of a Christian, that maybe grace is still absorbing all my doubts-- that He still thinks I’m worth the risk of Calvary.

By the end, I was feeling everything again, leaning my forehead against a smudged pane of glass on the airplane, crying in a movie-ready moment of catharsis. And I realized that yes, maybe I would lose the ability to feel. Maybe all my clarity would melt under the harsh pressure of isolation and routine. But it was only maybe-- not an absolute. The same God (who knows the worst and still stays) my friends echoed was in Nashville. That same God was with me on the plane. That first inclination of comfort, of freedom from myself, that I’ve felt in months-- it was from the One who, no matter where I go, I can’t outrun. I will never find a place where His grace is not.

In the office of a music industry icon who will likely not remember my name.

On the bedroom carpet when the anxiety comes like a maelstrom again.

In the silent apartment where I wait for hours for my roommate and my husband to come home.

Navigating the aisles of a chain grocery store where every half-familiar angle makes me homesick for my siblings.

Sidestage for one of my favorite bands.

Trekking across the scorched pavement where I run to subdue the lies I’ve heard.

He inhabits all the blank spaces left by the goodbyes I’ve said in order to follow Him.

And someday I think I’m going to hear Him say again that I’m forgiven, that I don’t have to hide anymore, that I don’t have to wake up every morning so ashamed of an existence that seems incapable of being what it should be.

I’m not quite there yet. But as I caught my second flight and ate the gluten free pancake and peanut butter sandwiches and Mickey Mouse fruit snacks a friend had packed for me… I felt a little closer.