An Open Letter to the Struggler

Dear Reader,

I have friends who struggle and it breaks my heart. I’m sure you struggle too and my heart goes out to you as well.

I know it is normal to empathize and yearn to help my fellow strugglers but sometimes I want to get on my knees and scream with frustration because I can’t make it better. I cannot miraculously get the strugglers of this world to believe that they are beautiful, that they are worthy, that they are a necessary part of this world, and that they have purpose. I can tell them these things until the world ends but it won’t matter until they begin to actually believe those things about themselves.

Above all else I want to help the strugglers because I have been there. I’ve been in the pit of despair and on my last leg. I’ve felt the world weighing down from above as it crushed me. I have felt the soul sucking pain of loss, abandonment, of being forgotten. There are still nights where all I want to do is crawl under the covers and never wake up because in the midst of it all I feel too tired to move on.

The thing that keeps me going, though, is the fact that I’ve tasted hope.

I’ve seen the brighter days. I’ve overcome exhausting obstacles. I have experienced the light of forgiveness, of letting go. It sure as hell hasn’t been easy and I really hope that I never come off seeming like it is anything short of life’s work to overcome the crap we carry with us every day. But the tastes of joy, of peace, of love, and friendship, they keep me motivated. They keep me fighting. Even when I’m stuck in a valley I know somewhere up the hill there is something worth pursuing and I have the strength to get there.

The crux of it though is the hardest thing to admit and that is this: it’s on us. It is on the individual to make the choice as to whether or not they are going to pursue a new path. It is up to the person to decide if they are going to fight or continue to live with the status quo. I will always remember so clearly the day I was sitting in my chair at church and realized that if I kept doing what I’ve always done, I’d keep getting what I’ve always got, and I was tired of what I was getting.

It wasn’t a friend who made the decision for me. Not my parents or my siblings, and it wasn’t God’s decision on my behalf or any other sense of divine intervention. It was my choice and mine alone and once I made it, everything else could fall into place.

I was sitting in church, during my first year in Southern California, and the pastor got up to speak. He told a story, something he was very good at, and I listened eagerly. He spoke about therapy, how he went to meet his therapist one day and they sat down and started talking. As their conversation went on there came a point where, after the pastor shared his story, the therapist looked at him and said four words,

“It is your fault.”

As a psychology student I was mortified. I felt myself tense up. I wanted to fight for my pastor, and more than that I wanted to fight for the little girl inside of me that objected vehemently to those words. How could the pain I felt be my fault? How could the circumstances of my upbringing which so heavily influenced me be my fault? The bullies, the people who tore me down, how could their actions be any fault of mine?

The pastor continued.

You see, he wasn’t upset about it. He had been at the time, but what the therapist said after the fact made sense. It came down to this: You have to choose to move on. Crap happens. Crap happens every single day of our lives whether it is happening to us or happening to someone else. We can allow the crap to bog us down and make us victims. We can blame the people who have hurt us for our bad habits or our terrible thought processes. We can even blame society for its part in our misery.

But in the end blame isn’t going to change a damn thing.

Waiting for everyone else to change, to apologize, to repent, is stupid. Hoping to control other people’s outcomes and get what is owed to us will just leave us bitterer in the end. As the saying goes, unforgiveness is like taking poison and hoping the other person dies.

Your parents can never parent you the way they should have. You can’t go back in time and change what that boy said to you on the playground that made you feel like you were worthless. It is impossible to erase the harsh words of a teacher who said your work wasn’t good enough, or wash away the feeling of betrayal when a friend left you high and dry when you needed her most. Society will never stop telling you that you aren’t rich enough, smart enough, thin enough, or fashionable enough.

The only thing you can change is how YOU see yourself and others. And that starts with owning up to the fact crap happened but you’re no longer willing to rent out your headspace to it. Tell your father to get the hell out of your head and cover his lies with truth. Tell the image of the bully at school that sits in the back of your mind and laughs at your flaws that he’s done, he’s being evicted. Unfriend the kid on Facebook who makes status updates that make you uncomfortable in your own skin.

Choose to move on. That’s the first step. It has to be the first step. Because anything else we try to do before we choose to really move on is going to fall flat on its face because we’re still clinging blame and bitterness and ignoring our own power to change our status quo.

I’ll end on this note: there are pains that far surpass choosing to move on and I highly encourage people who have been abused, neglected, or otherwise hurt to seek out professional help. Yes, everyone still has to make the choice to change but once the choice has been made you do not have to do it alone. Also find strength in the fact that making the choice to move forward gives you back some of the power over your life that has been taken from you along the way.

Flip those voices in your head the bird and choose to stop letting them be the ones that dictate who you are and how you act. 

Advertisements

The Thinker of Tender Thoughts

Image

Shel Silverstein was a favorite of mine when I was a child. “Where the Sidewalk Ends” seemed to always be checked out of the library growing up. Yet after all these years I let him slip by the wayside; I forgot about him and his images and his poetry. I forgot about the whimsy in his work and the way it used to speak to my very core.

The above is called ‘Thinker of Tender Thoughts’ and I think it sums up more in pictures than I could ever explain in words. It makes me think of my two year old niece and her unbridled personality. She is truly her own person and I marvel at it every day. As of yet she has been free of the cruelty of society. No one has laughed at her on the playground, she has never had her sense of self questioned, and in all of her childhood innocence she is beautiful. I wish with all my heart that she could remain in that state of pure, unhindered her-ness.

Yet as the image above shows, even as we develop ourselves, our personalities, and our thoughts, we are easily cut down by the words of others. The man in the wordless poem thinks and dreams and dances to the beat of his own drum. The flowers represent his thoughts and his divergence from everyone else. He is different, he is unique, he is himself, and from the look of it he is content with who he is.

Problems arise, however, when he is faced with the people around him. Across the page are men without flowers growing from their head, men who have torn away their own uniqueness in order to fit in to the societal standard. They think like they are supposed to think and ridicule anyone who believes otherwise. This leads them to ridicule the man with the flowers growing out of his head who has, until that moment, embraced his differences. In the face of societal pressure he caves and decides to fit in instead of standing out. He cuts off the symbolic flowers and steps in to join the rest of society.

It is utterly depressing to realize just how accurate this image is. When will my niece come home from interacting with her peers and decide to throw out things she loves because someone made fun of her and called her weird? How many times as a child did I give up something that was inexplicably me because my peers ridiculed me for being different? By the time we’re shaped and thrust into the world of adulthood, we’re left to either continue to conform to societal norms (whatever they may be) or fight to regain our sense of self, our sense of originality. We have to find ourselves again.

I can’t help but wonder if that is why so many young people find themselves in the midst of an existential crisis when they should be focusing on accepting themselves and living life fully.

To conclude, my one hope is this: that we will be able to find ourselves in the midst of the pressures, expectations, and obligations society thrusts upon us daily. 

The Lonely Church Hunt

Church hunting is one of my least favorite things to do.

It is oftentimes frustrating and always nerve-wracking. I had a great church experience when I was going to school in Southern California. I was finally beginning to understand the church culture down there and found an amazing family at a new church plant in Orange, California. When I found them I knew my time with them would be limited but I enjoyed every moment of it.

Being back in Oregon means I have to find a church again. The one I attended through high school and the start of college simply isn’t my home anymore. I wanted to find a church within the community I was living in, anyway, not one twenty minutes away in a town I was out of touch with. So Sunday after Sunday (on the Sundays I can manage to get out of bed which is a different topic) I try new churches and I walk out of them feeling strangely alone.

The past few years have taught me that ‘little c’ church is not the same as ‘big c’ Church. The Church, which is the culmination of all God’s people all around the world regardless of denomination, is different than the little church communities that meet in buildings on Sunday. They are all connected to the bigger idea of Church and I would think that would make it easy to slide into a community and find a home. After all, we believe the same things. Death, burial, resurrection and all of that. Yet it doesn’t seem to be the case in my experience.

A favorite author and blogger of mine, Rachel Held Evans, posted this on Facebook yesterday:

Image

I appreciated it. I appreciated the admission of loneliness because it finally gave me the description of what I felt as I left churches. The thing is the loneliness doesn’t come from a lack of a connection with God. It comes from a lack of connection with God’s people, with my Christian family.

When I started in at my University I would have said that church was about me and God. It was about me going and connecting with God and then leaving until the following week. My view of church was narrow and consisted of me and God. Sure, interaction with other people was nice but it wasn’t a requirement. As long as I was on good terms with God I was fine.

Then I learned something very important: church isn’t about me it is about connecting with fellow believers. It is about joining into something bigger than just me. It is about communion and collective worship. God is seen in his Church, where ever his people gather together he is there, and I think this is by design because He knows that we need each other. His people need to be with other members of the body in order to grow, mentor, flourish, and change.

So when I walk out of a church building on a Sunday and feel lonely it isn’t because I didn’t get something out of God, or that I feel my connection with Him is lacking. I feel lonely because I felt like an alien, a foreigner, and someone who didn’t belong in that particular church.

I won’t give up my search for a church family and already have an idea of where I will go from here, but I wanted to share because I think what Rachel said is important. Any person – Christian or non Christian – who walks out of a church feeling lonely isn’t alone in that feeling.

You’re in good company. 

Self-Harm Awareness Day – March 1st

Today is self-harm awareness day. Obviously it is something I take seriously, especially after celebrating four years of being self-harm free back in December

On awareness days usually it is appropriate to wear a certain color (orange, in this case), or do something that shows support. I think that is all good and well and I love the people who do it. However, my one encouragement is this: Don’t let self-harm awareness be limited to one single day. Use the day to boost the signal but continue to be aware of it throughout the year. 

Specifically, be aware of it in your relationships. Sometimes you may know right off the bat that someone is hurting themselves and other times you may never know until they decide to share it with you. The most important thing is to love those around you unconditionally. If they mention something about self-harm, don’t just brush it off. Don’t make fun of it. Don’t joke about cutting or suicide. Take it seriously, because it is a serious issue. 

Above all else, be there for people. Be there for your friends. Call them, text them, e-mail them, take them out to coffee. Even if they aren’t a self-harmer, these things never hurt. Be active in how you love people. I think it is the first step to really tackling this self-harm issue. 

Self-harm is usually an isolated act committed by people who are upset, lonely, depressed, anxious, or experiencing any series of unpleasant emotions or circumstances. It therefore makes the most sense to combat these conditions with lovecompanionship, and real conversations

Go and do and let blessings rain down.

If you’re looking for an organization to support today (or any day) please check out To Write Love on Her Arms.