Captain Fantastic and the Fallacy of Age Appropriate Mental Health and Suicide Narratives:

I used to lie compulsively. Not to the people in my immediate circles, but to the people on the periphery of my life. Often I would concoct tales of anguish and trauma. These fictions would start out as a “harmless” coping strategy for just myself. I experienced waves of depression and anxiety that would crash through me. My calm seas would be instantaneously in an uproar of violent riptides and torrential rain. Every fiber of my being would scream for a reason why. I could not comprehend or predict any part of it. Even as an articulate child I could not find the relief of even an incoherent scream to outwardly express the onslaught of mayhem raging in me.

So I would lie. First to myself. Within moments of an attack I invented the most melodramatic and tortuous stories I could. In my head people I loved would fall tragically ill and die, I would suffer loss of limb and innumerable types of abuse. I would lie to myself to validate the turbulent grief inside of me. It was not true enough to me that I was mentally ill, so I made fictitious calamity my truth.

If you were to look at the truthful events of my life before the age of 10 through the traditionally applied lense of society the average person would not be able to find an “adequate reason” for my poor mental health. Later on in life I would experience multiple instances of sexual assault and begin grappling with my sexual identity which would compound my problems and add ptsd into the miasma of my mind. But up until that point I was always well fed, well clothed, and very well loved. My family was far from being in a state of care free eternal bliss, but on the whole we were well.

And here in lies the problem. Looking at life through that lense alone is far from enough. You cannot compare stories to define the worthiness of someone’s mental health because mental health is not confined to the borders of external circumstances alone. It encompasses internal physical and neurological structures that even the most privileged upbringing cannot guarantee escape.

So today when I went to the movies and saw a film called Captain Fantastic and witnessed it touch on these issues, I experienced an unavoidable desire to say something. This movie is the story of a family of eight who have chosen to leave modern society in exchange for a life of homesteading in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. This decision was reached together by mother and father. They are equal partners, both motivated by the same goals and ideals and we are led to believe both equally satisfied in this lifestyle. Despite this contentment and harmony, the mother deals with severe mental health issues, and spoiler alert…she goes away for treatment and after several months she commits suicide. You are led to believe that she was living the life she had always dreamed of, and yet was still in daily turmoil.

Upon hearing the news, the father tells his children the exact nature of their mother’s death (without actually imparting the gory details) and allows all six of his children to collectively grieve however they need. They all knew she was sick, they all knew the exact circumstances of her mental health as best they could understand, and they were all allowed to ask any and all questions. The camera does not cut away, there is no relief, you see and hear nothing but their first reactions to this devastating news and you watch them cling to each other for support.

The father and children decide to pack up and drive across country to attend the funeral even though they are not invited and the planned service is suited to the philosophy of her parents and not at all representative of her last wishes. Upon arriving at their cousins house, her nephews ask around the dinner table about how their aunt died. While our family was informed directly about what happened to their mother, these children only heard that she was sick. “And sometimes sick people die.” What ensues around this dinner table is a perfect embodiment of the uncomfortable nature of suicide and the tragic stigmas attached to discussing mental health.  It is horrific to sit through. All I wanted was to get up and pace, smash my head into a wall, or run until I couldn’t hear anything. My heart was racing, my finger nails were digging into my palms furiously leaving deep furrows that left marks for several hours after the final credits rolled, and I began to sweat just watching it.

It is important to now note that I myself am a suicide attempt survivor. The details of my story are not necessary here, only that without proper self advocacy skills or help I was alone, even while being daily loved and supported by my family. Mental health issues are often hard to see, and I spiraled down enough to think my only way out was death.

To not confront and discuss mental health and suicide in our society may not feel like it affects you, but I assure you it does. These stigmas are dangerous. Skirting the dirty truth is damaging at all ages. Telling children something other than the truth of mental health perpetuates a system of forced silence that to those of us wrestling and weeping with ourselves feels like society is suffocating us. Each censorship or conversational evasion is another link in the chain that shackles us and makes it all the more difficult to swim to the surface of the ocean of our illness long enough to scream for help.

Mental health issues knows no race, gender, or sexuality. It is a purely human disease that can strike anyone. It hurts. It hurts like hell. And it is compounded by polite prevarication and watered down stories told to us at young ages. It is not cowardly to hurt. It is not cowardly to seek help. It is sometimes all we can do to keep breathing in and breathing out.

Regardless of what your opinion is on Captain Fantastic as a movie, or the ideologies portrayed therein, the stigma surrounding suicide is brutally addressed. Followed on the heels of this scene is a discussion on the Bill of Rights. This juxtaposition makes it clear that no one can legislate your choice to speak on anything. But I can implore you to examine your relationship with these real world concerns. I can beg you to look at the way you present these tales to younger generations. Suicide and mental health is always a severe reality. Death in any form always comes with a bitter taste.  But it is also true that because these issues touch us all, the stigmas have profound and far reaching consequence. I do not have the exact answers or script for how to discuss this. I do not have any letters after my name making me an expert. All I have is my one story and how I choose to tell it. We can remove stigma and still have room for nuance as a society. There is space still for gentleness, tact, and a compassionate hand while discussing the incomprehensible nature of such a tragic loss. I don’t know just the words you should say, I just know somehow it should be said. I deeply hope that de-stigmatizing discussions on mental health and getting help will make suicide narratives less frequent and therefore the world that much more bright and welcoming.

And if you are reading this and you need help:

You are not alone.

You are not the first nor will you be the last.

Seek help, there are resources.

We need you desperately in this world.

You are not finished here on this earth.

You are loved, you are loved, you are LOVED.

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Zoe, Psuche, & Bios

I had to really fight against myself tonight.  My to do list was so far from done before 6:45 rolled around that I had to drag myself away from it and pace in agonizing, frustrating silence…arguing myself into going to church tonight. I needed it.  I was honest last week with a friend of mine that I was sharing a pew with, that I was terrible at building a community, being an active member, caring for my heart enough to let new people in to tend to it.  You’ll see me at every worship night there is, but chances are if you strip away melody and sermons I am terrified to be in a room with the very same people I can so willingly sing with and pray over.

So I fought tonight to show up, and I did.  I walked up to my normal spot at the front, and as soon as I sat down I felt a weight bearing down on me.  It was so evenly distributed over every inch of my body, my heartbeat alternated between barely keeping a strong enough tempo to sustain me and thrumming so intensely I thought I might break a rib.  The pressure mounted and mounted as the musicians played such wonderful praises.  The pain mounted, I was glued to my seat, and even my desire to lift my voice in song was stripped from me.  I stared straight ahead as I battled this mighty feeling:

“Papa, there are too many thoughts crowding my heart and my head as I sit here.  I feel a work happening in me, but I don’t know what it is, it feels mighty, its sweeping me out to sea.  Please.  I don’t want to be a bystander in my own heart.  I don’t want to have to decipher these proceedings.  Get me involved.  Wipe the board clean that is so full of the theories on the dealings happening in me.  I am not a code breaker.  Speak to me. I want to listen and know.”

By the time I had repeated this yearning several times the message had already begun.  I couldn’t possibly recap it here without butchering it miserably.  I heard God’s heart pour out on housing His anointing.  I heard about my zoe-my spiritual life where I have been given new identity.  I heard about my psuche-my psychological life that houses my instincts.  I heard about my bios-my physical life that contains my words and deeds.  I heard about the way these three parts of me react and relate to one another.  How my instincts and my words/deeds are both currently of Christ, or of the world.  These two parts of me are true.  But what is truest about me is my zoe, this is where the Father calls me righteous, calls me beloved, calls me His own.  This, no matter what, is what is truest about me.  I heard the Father call out a growth in my character, so that what is true about me might align with what is always truest.  there was much more said tonight up front, and much more scribbled down on my note sheet.  But finally what my heart latched onto was the final prayer.  “Where can my character grow? What can I take that is true about me only in flesh, and how can I learn to live out of what is truest in my identity hidden in Christ?  How can I make room for more anointing and blessing in my heart?”

Holy Spirit answered me, tender and merciful, as a friend calling me home:

Damaris, your anger isn’t serving you well anymore.  It was once essential.  It was once what you needed to protect yourself, to move you to flee from the disastrous wounds that were bearing down on you again and again from circumstances you thought were just your lot in life.

Your anger is not serving you well.  Let me cut it out of you.  Let me replace it with joy.  Trust me when I say loosing this piece of you will not weaken your resolve.  It will in fact strengthen your spirit, bolster your heart, and protect you from the frustration that plagues you so frequently.

Let me offer you patience in exchange.  You will need it as we transform your instinct from rage to romance.

Let me remove the melancholy that demands more rest from you, that is insatiable for silence that is stifling the relationship oriented heart I have bestowed upon you.

I am so proud of how far you have come.  Come a little further with me.  Walk with me on the path you cannot be moved from.  I promise the rest you need on this journey, I just ask you to walk ahead.  And each morning remind yourself of what I have cut away, and that it cannot come back.  Yes, you can resuscitate a phantom of the miseries of anger, hate, loneliness, laziness, and doubt.  But they can never truly be resurrected.  They don’t belong to you anymore.  I sent Jesus to the cross for them.  So that you wouldn’t have to carry this brokenness.  Don’t take what rightfully belongs to Him when you surrendered your salvation to me.  Take instead this goodness I have set aside for you.  Take this measure of inheritance, and as we build up your character to align with my kingdom I promise increase.

Let me do these things.  Let me have that shield and sword forged in the once wholly necessary fury of your losses.  Let me work with you to restore your instincts, your muscle memory to my righteous intent.  I promise you won’t miss what I remove.  I promise one day you’ll even forget to look back at what you once thought was seared into your soul forever.”

Yes Papa, yes I will make this journey with You.

Make Me A Well

Lord,

I want to carry You

Make a well in me

so that I might collect You

all the days of my life

Whisper your truth in my ears

And I will abide

Let it trickle down into the depths of me

where no one else has ever seen

Lord,

I want to carry You

to have a place where You anoint me

with Your Beauty and Your Grace

So fresh and so sweet

as the morning dew

Make a well in me

so I may collect each drop

Your revelations

as unique as each flake of snow that falls

Lord,

Make a deep deep well in me

Water my soul

Water my soul

Water my soul

I thirst

Until I break for You

Perspective: A New Prayer

Since the month of December began my newsfeed and the interwebs in general have been littered with year end review lists:

“The 45 Most Powerful Photos of 2014”

“19 Tattoos That Literally Everyone Got In 2014”

“18 Badass Women You Probably Didn’t Hear About in 2014”

“32 Of The Most Spectacular Fails of 2014”

“21 Ways That 3D Printing Changed The World In 2014”

And, I’m a human, so I found myself shunning them for as long as possible, and then eventually binging for an hour.  Then I had the violent and immediate urge to chuck my laptop from the next great height I found myself on top of and move to the tundra’s of the Arctic, never to look at another list again.  Other than the normal reasons to dislike asinine lists of arbitrary things that happened to fall under one calendar year I realized my irritation stemmed from the fact that I really didn’t connect with the concept of year end list making.  And I tried very hard to…

I sat and sat and sat.  I thought and thought and thought.  From January 1, 2014 to the next, what has my year looked like?  I simply couldn’t quantify it.  It hasn’t been the Year of Triumph.  It hasn’t been the Year of Loss.  It hasn’t been the Year I Changed the World.  It hasn’t been my favorite year, but it also hasn’t been the worst.  I looked back pensively and realized that life-changing events (big moves, big losses, new jobs, fresh revelation, crushing heartbreak, healing victories) just don’t seem to line up with any calendar.  The last big segment of my life that ended, began in August 2013 when I moved from my solo apartment back in with my parents, and ended in August 2014 when I left their home to start a new chapter here in Atlanta.  I can’t tell you for the life of me where I was for the past three NYE’s, but I remember the exact day I opened and closed that chapter.

So how am I to prepare for 2015 if it really just feels like the continuation of the season I have been in for almost 5 months?  The answer came as I woke up on an air mattress in my parent’s basement this Christmas.  It had been just three weeks since my second car accident…the one that cost me my car, put me in the hospital, lost me a lot of time at work, a lot of money, a lot of peace of mind, a lot of stability, and a lot of trust.

Now, it was just a car accident.  No one died, no one bled.  And while my body is not fully healed I count it a blessing to feel myself improve everyday.  When it happened, I was annoyed at the inconvenience: “Damn, two car accidents under my belt in the past couple of months.  This is pretty shitty.  Oh well, moving on.”  It wasn’t until a week later, when I was still out of commission for work, still in pain, and still barely out of bed that I first cried.  I underestimated the whole experience, and in doing so robbed myself of my peace of mind, of my stability, and of my trust.  I didn’t have control over the other losses, but I chose to loose the rest.  I was complacent with my heart, complacent in my prayers…and it cost me.  I felt an old and familiar anger begin to simmer inside of me.  It was the same anger that was caused by ignoring the wounds from the abusive friendships, romantic relationships, and often abusive church relationships that I had allowed to rage against me without a word on my part.  By ignoring my heart’s needs, by not acknowledging that something hurt I spent so much of my life just outright furious.

I felt that again before this Christmas.  Then I got on a plane and saw my mother, my father, my sister, and my brother…I slept in the house I was so often incensed in, and I felt the bonds loosen around my heart just a little bit.  Then one night after Christmas I dreamt I was angry, fighting over and over again with no respite from the rage.  A friend, a dear brother appeared in my dream and took me by the cheek and I began to breathe deeply.  He waited and waited, and held me there with nothing but the palm of his hand.  And then as the dream began to melt away and my eyes began to open to the morning light streaming in the window I saw just as his face began to fade away a smile spread wide and his eyes sparkle.  He looked at me gently and said:

“Damaris, blessed are the peacemakers.”

I awoke fully a moment later to the sound of my laughter and the feeling of warm gentle tears on my cheeks.  I have barely begun to unpack what this really means, because I get as far as “blessed are the peacemakers” and begin to smile and cry all at once (sometimes I only make it as far as “Damaris” before this begins).

During these past few seasons I have begun to deeply practice walking in the fullness of who I am as a healed, restored, and redeemed Daughter.  I have found the strength to first step out of anger and then to embrace parts of myself I have long kept locked away, some to the point of forgetting that they even exist: feminist, prophet, lover…and chosen to stay open to any other pieces of identity that may or may not present themselves to me in coming seasons.  In all the ways that my life changes, on all the fields I choose to stand upon for the betterment of the world and the glory of the Kingdom to come I have heard clearly that I can continue to lay aside my anger and still stand in victory, for blessed are the peacemakers.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight.  That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family”  Mtt. 5:9

If that isn’t the way forward, I don’t know what is.

His Answer

I remember it well

The day I first said “Emmanuel”

Christ in me

Now I see it all

With eyes clear, I see

Your beauty

And Your glory

I was made new

I was made clean

A second birth

This time without cries of pain

You captured my heart

To cast out guilt

To end my shame

In an instant You made me new

And You did not doubt

-my deservedness

Because Your blood covered

-all my old life’s worthlessness

Then I gazed in at Heaven within me

My eyes seeking for the reason why

His answer was simple

But today I hear Him say it still”

“Because I love you, Because I love you, Because I love you…”

And on and on it goes

(Psalm 139)

To Live Beyond

This weekend I discovered something.  I discovered my faith threshold.  Five months to the day since I moved to Atlanta, and now I am living beyond.  Beyond what my capacity for faith was before I moved.  I am beyond my capacity for hope, joy, trust.

Last Sunday I was driving home from my parent’s in Pennsylvania.  It was only four days with them, but they were a wonderful four days.  The last time I had made that drive was when I was visiting Atlanta by myself this summer.  The drive down here was magnificent, magical, spiritual…the drive back was horrendous.  So this time I was determined to make the return journey the same.  I downloaded a dozen new TED talks, some new worship music, I slept soundly the night before and began to drive with a smile.  A whole day just me and Jesus, a day where I wouldn’t think about returning to a long day of work the next day.  I focused on the joy and provision of the moment and trusted that even when I wasn’t thinking about it, the provision for the moment after and all to come would still be there.  I became so relaxed the traffic in Virginia didn’t bother me.  I dreamt of the farm I want to live on, the schools I want to go to, the places I want to see.  And then out of sheer amusement I dreamt about driving into Atlantic Station and buying a little smart tv for myself.  It was an amusing thing to roll over in my mind.

The next thing I know I was spinning.  Before I could decide between Sony or Vizio I felt my head slam into my car window, my neck snap forward and back and my car was spinning in circles.  Although I had been sitting going 0mph a car accident that started at 80mph in the other lane swept me up.  When my car finally came to rest and I had stopped colliding with the other vehicles, my first thought was “I guess I’m not buying a tv today.”

I was really lucky last Sunday.  Everyone involved was.  Lucky no one was bleeding.  Lucky that I was the only one who had to go to the hospital.  Lucky that it wasn’t my fault.  Lucky that the driver that started the accident didn’t kill himself or take any of us with him.  Lucky that I didn’t see it coming, because I couldn’t have moved out of the way if I wanted to but only tensed up and certainly injured myself worse.  Lucky I had a smart phone and was able to call my parents.  Lucky to have a cousin willing to drive a few hours and take me in.  Lucky to meet an aunt for the first time.  So lucky to spend time with this cousin, one I love a lot.  Lucky to get a rental car after quite a bit of hassle.  Lucky for roommates and friends who took care of me this week and gave me all the space and help I needed.

Yes, I have been acutely aware of the blessings this week.  In my weakness though, a lot of this has felt like punishment.  My body has been punished, and without a miracle I will be seeing a chiropractor for quite a while.  I haven’t been able to go back to work yet, or stay awake and active for more than five or six hours at a time.  I’ve had to take a loan out to buy a new/used car that is already in the shop.  I’ve spent more hours on the phone with more strangers than I ever thought I would.

If I didn’t know enough about my Good, Good Father, I would think I was being punished.  But I know Him.  He hasn’t left me.  And Thursday night when I began to weep for the first time since the accident, He stayed with me then too and let me level accusations against Him.  I cried for all the setbacks, the two car accidents, the missed work, the empty savings account, the general slowness that I felt His provision for me moving at during this experience.  The pain and doubt I felt that I would get back to any kind of normal.  I wept on His shoulder at the loneliness.

Then I saw Him.  He let go and stepped back from me, and stared me down.  His eyes were hard and unyielding, and He pointed behind me directing my attention to a line I had not seen before.  “There it is,” He said. “You didn’t realize it, but since this car accident you have been living beyond your current level of faith. You need an upgrade.  And you can have it one of two ways.  You can fight for it, as you have been taught is the way of things.  Or, my sweet one, you can rest with me.”

I saw my options clear as day.  And I will tell ya what, I didn’t have anymore fight in me.  So I drove over to my dear friends house, kissed their beautiful baby and just hung out.  Then Friday came and I bought my car and by that night I was both in more debt than I had ever been in, and my new car wasn’t working.  Again, the choices were before me and I chose more rest.  I’m still waiting for the big upgrade, where my body is healed and I am not faced hourly with resting or fighting.

When I got home yesterday, after getting into yet another rental car, I set my phone down on my bed and left the room.  And when I came back this song had somehow begun playing.  This is the truth I stand on, or more often these days lay down upon.  this is the truth that at the very least makes it easy each and every moment to choose rest over striving and peace over performance. “REJOICE! For I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

White Rage, the Hunger Games, and the Lack of Justice for Eric Garner

If we weep and grieve for fictional oppression and pain, we must learn to take action to end the suffering of those oppressed, marginalized, victimized, and vilified out here in our very own, very broken society. Please, God, help us.

Olivia A. Cole

eric garner

Today, like too many days, I am angry. Today a grand jury voted not to bring criminal charges against the white officer who killed Eric Garner, father of six, with a chokehold. The killing is on video, which many people hoped would mean an indictment and, eventually, a conviction. Not so. Today, America tells us once again that the value it places in black life is nil, insubstantial, nonexistent.

The protests have already begun in New York, and I’m thinking about anger, rage. I’m thinking about things that burn. When the grand jury in St. Louis County announced that it would not be indicting Darren Wilson in the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, Ferguson burned. Over the weekend, I saw the latest Hunger Games film—Mockingjay—and in it, the Capitol executes unarmed civilians, their deaths broadcasted for millions of eyes. I couldn’t stop thinking about Eric…

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Living the Enormous Life

I sat in a pew tonight.

I mean a down home, old style long wooden church pew.  Minus the tacked on maroon cushions they were identical to the ones I begrudgingly sat on for over a decade and a half back north.  I never thought I would do that again.  I love the church I am a part of here in Atlanta.  It is alive and vibrant, welcoming and joyful, merciful and compelling.  And, the best yet is that it is growing and improving…aware of its needs and goals.  It is enormous, and in a big hip city space that really doesn’t feel like the kind of church I know.  But tonight I went to their little chapel service in their old, very church-y looking building and sat in their old pews.

The preacher gets up there….”tonight we are going to talk about money.”  I kid you not I could have thrown a temper tantrum right then and there.  I do NOT want to talk about that!

OH MY HEART IT WAS GOOD!  It was a knock my socks off fall on the floor, jump up and down, and wail tears of power kinda night.  I heard from the Lord, I felt the Lord, I saw the Lord.  And then He turned my eyes back to myself.

And there I was, this very very small girl.  I saw my life since August 4th.  My life since I up and moved 830.2 miles away from my family.  My life is enormous these days.  When I moved here, I vacillated between extreme giddy excitement and an inflated sense of self.  Self I said, “This move isn’t that big of a deal.  People do this all the time.  Girl, you got this.  It’s not like you are off to fight a war or moving overseas.  This is not that big of a deal.”

WRONG.

I did it, I moved far away from what I knew.  I had some money in my pocket for a new life and a new school.  I had a few friends and family members already here.  I had a promise of a room in a house I had never seen with people I had never met.  I had job interviews lined up.  Please, I had it all figured out.

Since then, I have started and left two jobs. The job I have now working as a play therapist of sorts with children on the autism spectrum is beyond me.  It requires more love, more time, more energy, more patience, more trust, and more utilization of my free time than I thought possible.  The church I go to is full of people living their calling/gifting magnificently, loving others and themselves well, and resting in Jesus (now it’s a living body so there is struggle and pain too, but overall I’m talking pretty darn healthy and vibrant).  I broke my iPhone, had to start a new plan and buy a new phone.  In my big girl clothes I had to get car insurance by myself for the first time.  And then proceed to get into a car accident and total the car I had just insured and registered to the fine state of Georgia.  Then I had to buy a new car. Basically I am bleeding all my money dry and trusting I’ll still have what I need when I need it.  I have to learn to navigate city traffic, be diligent with learning how to be better at my job by reading copious books on my own time.  I feel lead to read extensively on some very heavy academic subjects, sacrifice some time to homeless outreach, and outreach towards the pervasive culture of sex trafficking in this city.  I’m getting to know my roommates and desperately trying not to be shy at house church, but to actual make a family for myself here.

Every single passionate pursuit I have laid on my heart, I have met at least one someone else who is explosively gifted in that area.  The speakers down here are top shelf…as are the worship leaders, the artists, the teachers, the ministry leaders, the farmers….

Comparison.  Comparison.  Comparison.  If I live in comparison I will die in it, of this I am sure.

My life is already enormous.  Jesus showed me this tonight.  And comparison is making me feel small.  I have come to a place in the last few years where I know I am powerful and empowered.  I know I am mighty and loving.  I know I am saved and sent.  I know I am righteous and redeemed.  All of these broad strokes of my identity are usually pretty easy to live within.  But when you move your heart to a big city full of talent, it’s so easy to trap yourself with the “big fish little pond” syndrome that just shuts you down and keeps you swimming in circles in your own anemone (Finding Nemo anyone?).

So when I hear we are going to talk about money tonight…the only thing that holds me in the building is that I am homesick and these old pews are adoringly familiar.  And I clung to them with joy, a connection to the family I miss so acutely.

He spoke, and it was so much more than about giving your money to your church.  It was about a lifestyle of generosity.  It was about being obedient to steward what I have been given.  It was about not being my own provider, but letting God be my Provider and I am the steward.  I am not responsible for providing, I am responsible to trust that He will fulfill all my needs, and that He trusts me enough to tithe and bless and be generous.  I don’t have to hoard what He just gave me.  Just like the Israelites got fresh manna every morning, I will receive for today and receive again for tomorrow.

I never thought talking about money in an old wooden pew could revolutionize my heart, but it did.

So there I was, Jesus turned my eyes from looking at Him to looking at me.  And I was small.  I saw that since I moved here I hadn’t begun to believe lies about myself again, just simply that I was less.  I had compressed and compacted myself into a smaller and smaller being until I could hardly see myself sitting there in the middle of the city.  I watched as a city block to my left collapsed as I heard news that something back in PA with my family had gone wrong.  Then a block to my right was raised up as I had found a new friend here.  A block in front of me crumbled when I got in the car accident, and another when I got sick.  The city was falling and growing all around me as my life ebbed and flowed.  And with each successive change I got smaller.

Then Jesus said to me, “Your life is enormous right now.  You’ve become small because you wouldn’t believe that all that is going on is actually a really big deal.  I care a lot, about all of this.  You’ve become small as the world I’ve presented you with has gone from small town to metropolis.  But Damaris, you and I are much bigger than this.  You are enormous.  And I am with you always.”

Then the worship team began to play the song How He Loves.  That song was essential to me several years ago.  It marked massive change and accompanied me into an amazing weekend retreat I had the privilege to help orchestrate.  The concept of God being jealous of me was so massive I got the Hebrew name for the Jealous God tattooed on my left wrist.  And here in super hip Atlanta they were singing it.  The tears fell, the message sunk deeper, Holy Spirit showed up.

I found myself pouring my heart’s story to the pastor as they sang.  He was moved with me, he saw the enormity of it all right away where it had taken me over two months.  He looked at me with deep compassion and thanked me for sharing with him, he saw the osprey I had tattooed on my arm.  Where I had seen this bird as my protector sent from Holy Spirit he said that is how the Father sees me.  As vibrant and free as a watercolor osprey.  Clothed in colors, riding the winds, noticeable and mighty.

He prayed for breakthrough for me, to replenish my finances that have become so very depleted.  He prayed for trust in myself to steward Heaven’s provision to me well and in the Father’s Might.  And then he stopped and asked if I was a musician.  I squeaked out weakly that I liked to sing.  He told me that I have let my voice go silent because of how small I have felt in the face of comparison and exhaustion and overwhelming newness.  He said my voice was important to the Father.  Jesus took it seriously that I be able to sing here and always.  He takes my creative heart as seriously as my missional one.

Even in a church of thousands, the pastor says I have a voice that is essential.  Even in a city of millions, I have noticeable power necessary to change.

When living the enormous life, let God be bigger.  When living the enormous life, let yourself grow right along with it. 

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mmhm that’s me alright!

 

My Forever Family

Some people you meet and you just know, they are forever family. You connect immediately, and no matter the distance you carry them with you forever. And sometimes your given birth family doesn’t feel like they fit into that category.

Sometimes you run from them, physically run. You pack up your book-bag with a jar of peanut butter, your favorite Anne of Green Gables books and a pillow and get on your powder blue bike. And you peddle, as far as the end of the block where that big oak tree is and you wait for your mom to get scared and come get you. Sometimes you jump out of the second story window just to prove that you can get away if you ever need to in a pinch.

Then, time goes by and you realize you want nothing more than that family you tried to replace. That moment hits you where you understand that your father has always loved you, it just manifested in acts of service instead of gifts. That moment hits where you realize your mom really is a genius, but she had to let you fall. That moment hits where you realize you want nothing more than to be your siblings best friends, and really share in their lives and listen to their hearts. Then all of a sudden that second family you built isn’t a shield from the first, but a welcome second circle to your forever family.

This morning, what I wouldn’t give to be in the pew with my family at the church I grew up in. Not because it aligns with my theology, way of life, or because its the cool place to go…bit because we went there together.
This morning sitting in a new church my heart suddenly groaned for that intimacy. And then an old song, I haven’t heard anyone sing since my summer camp days began to play and I can see them next to me. I can hear their inappropriately timed giggles or their groans when the time keeps ticking on an extra long sermon. I can lay my head on any of their shoulders and close my eyes as I wait for the dismissal prayer.

I’m so thankful to be here this morning, Im so thankful that my forever family is sitting right next to me no matter where I am. And Im so thankful to have a place to go to make that circle a little bit bigger, and get to know the Heavens a little better.

When Everything is New…

I am not the me I once was, and I am not the me I will be in any increment of the future.  I am only the me of today, and today I feel I am many many things all at once.

On August 4th I woke up early, said goodbye to my mother and sister, and drove south with my father and brother.  We drove all day, rested at my Aunt and Uncle’s house, and then on Tuesday August 5th I pulled into my new driveway.  Since that day, everything has been new.  And since that day I am learning that new does not always mean better or worse, just different.

I met two of my roommates that day, and unpacked in a house I had never seen before then.  Then my father and brother drove upstate to my Grandma’s house and I slept in my brother’s old bed, in my new bedroom.  Everything since that night has been new.  At the end of that week they drove back to Pennsylvania, and I waved goodbye as my car turned one way, and theirs another.  I unpacked and settled in, welcomed my dear friends that had moved months before me to see my new place and began the seemingly endless saga of Target and Ikea and thrift stores to furnish my new life.

The job I interviewed for and so fervently wanted I got, and then I gave up so that one of their family members who had just lost their job would have the opportunity to take it.  I trusted and hoped for something new, something better.  That very weekend I interviewed and started work for another family.  Just one sweet little girl, two dogs, and me.  Almost 50 hours a week plus an out of city commute.  I felt blessed by the opportunity, and crushed by the responsibility.  Six working days in I left, and they found a new nanny that lived in their neighborhood.  I wanted something new, something better.

Since I have moved, I have had no idea what I am doing (not that I had much a clue before either).  Now I have a new job, working with children on the autism spectrum, either in their homes or facilitating in their daycare/preschools.  This job is an amazing gift.  Indeed something new and in this case better, because I can set my own schedule and pursue all the other desires of my heart.  I can get a second job simply for the sake of variety, I can work on my hobbies, save for massage school, travel if and when I want to, and most importantly build community.

Everything is new and different when you move to Atlanta.  Many things are scary and challenging.g  The car accident I was just in that has sidelined my car, will take me to traffic court, and almost certainly raise my insurance is an unwelcome step into more adulthood as I endeavor to deal with it in dignity and grace.  Finances continue to confound me, learning the best traffic free driving routes is a constant struggle I frequently loose.  Joining a new church that includes a brilliant house church and a class on Miracles and Holy Spirit is daunting and exhilarating.  Living in a city full of people my age who already know themselves and are achieving their goals with startling success is intimidating to me.

When everything is new, I head back to the drawing board of who I am, what it means to be me today and tomorrow.  It’s confusing and intriguing and beleaguering at times.  But when everything is new, I find Jesus is everywhere I am, because He already knows the lay of the land.