Book Giveaway: Life After Art by Matt Appling


Matt Appling has graciously allowed me to give away two copies of his new book to my readers. As someone who always wants to create, but doesn’t feel ‘good enough’; as someone who has been stuck in the mire of depression, and still struggles sometimes; as someone who strives to be childlike, but wrestles with the grownup world – this book was like a great, warm blanket wrapped around me.

There are so many secrets to be learned within the world of creativity, and Matt helps us understand that creativity is not limited to the traditional definition of art. (Which, as you know by this post of mine, For People Who Feel They Fail At Creativity, is a epiphany near to my heart.) I recommend this book particularly to anyone struggling with depression, stagnancy, or hopelessness. I wish I’d read it years ago, and I look forward to reading it at the beginning of every new season of my life. If you’d like to go ahead and purchase Life After Art, you can do so here. It’s on sale!

Safety is not something we often find in art as adults, and Matt helps us find it again. Thank you, Matt.

PS: Would you mind Liking this post too? I want as many people to see this book as possible, because I think it’s so important and so encouraging! Thank you! xoxo

For People Who Feel They Fail At Creativity, And For We Who Battle Depression.

A few minutes earlier, I tweeted:

But what counts as “creating?” What if you aren’t a “creative” person?

There are two things we know:

1) God’s first recorded action was to create. His first creation was planet earth, and us.
2) He created us in His image.

This means that He created us with both the desire AND the ability to create.

* * *

I would argue that one of the greatest lies we can believe is that we aren’t a creative person.

The only way we can possibly come to this conclusion is by comparing ourselves to others.

I can’t draw like he can.
I can’t paint like she does.
I can’t decorate like they do.
I can’t design things like she did.
I can’t take pictures like that.
I can’t sing as well as everyone else who “sings.”

Believe, if you wish, that you aren’t like someone else. But DO NOT believe that your differences make you Less Than, or None At All.

* * *

I know from my personal experience with life and with depression that creativity is the greatest weapon we will ever have against depression. And it makes sense that this is true.

Depression is when the loss of hope has become so complete, we have loss of Self. Loss of value, loss of perception of who we are. Death.

Creativity is the expression of self. Not in an ego-way, but in an I-proved-that-I-am-an-individual-because-without-me-this-couldn’t-exist. Creativity proves self. Proves value. Proves life.

Creativity has the power to disprove much of what we’ve believed that has led to our depression.

* * *

So, we decide to believe that God created us to be like Him, to create. We realize that creativity is necessary to our emotional survival. So we realize we have the desire to be creative, but we…can’t.

Maybe we need to make sure we have the right definitions of creativity.

Creativity: The use of the imagination, or the use of original ideas, especially in the production of artistic work.

Create: To bring something into existence. To cause something to happen as a result of one’s actions.

Creative: Relating to or involving the imagination.

Art: The expression or application of human creative imagination, typically in a visual form. Works produced by imagination.

Artistic: Having or revealing natural creative skill.

Skill: An ability, particularly to do something well.

 

IF YOU IMAGINE, YOU CREATE. IF YOU SCRIBBLE, YOU CREATE.

IF YOU MAKE SOMEONE CARE FOR ANOTHER BECAUSE OF YOUR OUTRAGEOUS ACT OF LOVE FOR THEM, YOU CREATE.

* * *

As you read those definitions, you will realize that you possess Creativity. You have the ability to Create. You are Creative. You have made Art. You are Artistic.

The ONLY PLACE you are hung up is on your definition and understanding of skill. And the very nature of skill can exist only in relation to others. The perception we have of skill is defined with and by Comparison.

That is good. That is beautiful. It is motivating, it is inspiring. It encourages growth, collaboration. It allows us to perceive our progress.

But if skill and comparison have locked handcuffs on your wrists, laced their wires behind your back and up your arms, if they have crept into your mind, darkened your eyes…

—then fear has beat out Love in your life.

And that battle is one you must fight in the silence of your heart with Love, with Salvation, with Self.

It is a battle that demands insolence, anger, pain, and rebellion from you. Yes. I said that.

Insolence towards the voice that keeps you from creating, anger towards Death, pain to spur you into action, and rebellion to shout, “I CAN CREATE. I will. I will. Even amidst fear, even despite the loss of love, even in confusion, and in failure.”

Depression and Apathy are sisters, and in their family, Anger, Pain and Rebellion are the three strongest motivators in any direction. Use them, and use them well.

* * *

A few thoughts on processing creativity, and on allowing depression to move outwards:

- There is no grief too extreme for God
- There is no pain you cannot overcome
- Scaring yourself is okay
- God cannot be offended or disappointed by you
- The emotions now allowed to live will not be able to die
- All things can be destroyed after they are created
- God shows no favoritism
- That which is created by you will be subject to no favoritism or partiality or comparison
- Negative feelings are not sinful
- Cliches are found in everyone’s feelings; do not be ashamed of them; do not feel ‘lame’
- Everyone feels pain in its different weights, even if caused by different things
- Doubt, fear, pain must exist in order for faith, love, and joy to exist
- Negative emotions are proof that we are whole in our emotional state
- Wholeness is necessary for health
- God feels and expresses anger, grief, pain, compassion, hurt

* * *

A word on originality: If you have not acted out strongly before, or reflected upon yourself well, you may find it difficult to know who you are. If your actions are laden with Safety, with Good Reputation, then it may be difficult for you to see yourself as an original person.

It’s important to remember that even Solomon knew “there is nothing new under the sun.” Your originality comes not in what you output, but in the cells that make up your body. God may be the sole owner of what is New, Wholly Unique, Original, and Perfect – but YOU are what he has made that is New, Wholly Unique, Original, and Perfect.

This allows you to create as a way of playing, as an expression of self in joy (the end goal) – and releases you from the need to create to prove yourself. You have already attained what everyone else is trying to prove.

* * *

What are ways of Creating, being Creative, and experiencing Creativity that we do not typically identify when we think of “art?”

Please comment.

*NOTE: As someone with clinical depression in my family, and someone who has needed anti-depressants for seasons in my life, I understand that creativity is not the single “solution,” but also that it is very powerful in all scenarios and causations for depression. If you have people you trust in your life who are recommending that you try an anti-depressant, I recommend it. We are whole beings, and it is important to incorporate things like creativity, medication, prayer, etc when wrestling with depression – in the same way that BOTH diet changes & physical activity are necessary for physical health.

You Can’t.

For whatever you are going through today, whatever makes you say, “I can’t _____.”

Know that you are right. You can’t.

You can’t stop thinking about your weight. You can’t just “know” that you are beautiful. You can’t stop sleeping with your boyfriend. You can’t stop watching pornography. You can’t make enough money to pay your bills. You can’t get out of bed and face that person today. You can’t make it through this breakup. You can’t make it through this divorce. You can’t overcome your depression. You can’t.
There is no solution, no formula, no magic number or word or “thing” that can move you from “I can’t” to “I can and I did…now look how far I’ve come!!”
And yet we all know someone who did. We do know someone who isn’t binging or purging anymore. We do know someone who is abundantly full of life without sex being part of the equation. We do know someone who is sober from pornography for 2 years. We do know someone who paid rent last month when it wasn’t possible. We do know someone who made it through a break-up worse than this one and is now in the best place of her life. We do know someone who is divorced and still fulfilled in their single life. We do know someone who has overcome severe depression and extreme grief, and now knows joy and contentment and peace.

So what happened? What happened when “they couldn’t _______.”

Christ moved.

These are not physical battles against our bodies, our beauty, our eyes, our skin, our genitals, our brain, our blood-pumping hearts. These are battles of the soul, where an enemy is daily waging war against our value, our peace, our worth, our contentment, our comfort, our belonging, our love, and our LIFE.

What you don’t need is world-acknowledgement that you are the most beautiful woman on the earth. You need the heart-belief that you are created to be beautiful and have inherent value despite what just-as-broken people may tell you.

What you don’t need is to white-knuckle it against sex and pornography. You need the heart-belief that you are not alone and that you are deeply truly loved, and that your Father is proud that you are his child, despite how it feels.

What you don’t need is one more person telling you to just be happy because you have a pretty good life and you should be ashamed of your unwarranted depression. You need the heart-belief that your spirit was covered in dirt and pain before Christ himself fought the greatest war of all time to present your spirit before God as pure, complete, and wholly loved, even if you can’t get out of bed. And that God will never see you as anything other and pure and valuable. He will wait for you.

What you don’t need is one more sermon on how pre-marital sex is sinful. You need the heart-belief that Jesus hasn’t left your side a single moment and is willing to do a supernatural work in you the very moment you begin to slip into behavior you feel you cannot control. You need the heart-belief that God never forgot about you, and that there is a man who will love who you are more than he will love sleeping with you.

This is not a physical war, and there is no physical solution. This is a war for your heart, because there is nothing in all of existence that is more valuable to God than the heart of a man or woman. This is a war that we cannot win unless we let Jesus fight it for us.

I was the girl who couldn’t stop sleeping with her boyfriend. I was the girl in the ER having a panic attack that she couldn’t control. I was the girl who thought the earth would swallow me up because the break-up was too painful. I was the girl who skipped meals and hated to see herself in the mirror every morning. I was the girl who watched pornography because I had no other way to cope. I was the girl who couldn’t get out of bed and was numb from the anti-depressants. I was the girl who lost her family and could not see a future for myself because the grief was too heavy.

I was the girl who couldn’t.

And I am the girl that learned that Jesus could.

Thoughts On Getting Used To Marriage – And Confessions On Not Seeing God.

Disclaimer: I adore my husband. I love that we are married. Marriage is incredible. But marriage is neither “just so amazing!” nor “always so terrible.” It is both. Life is life, and the ups and downs are ever present, regardless of our relationship status. This is my attempt to be honest about both.
– - –

Last night, I shoved my feet into the boots I was married in. I don’t notice anymore that my socks don’t match. When you dig them out of a duffle bag for the 428th time, socks are socks and the color of the toe doesn’t matter much. I did notice that my socks were too thick for these boots, and I cursed them for it.

It’s been 10 days off the road, 10 days in Hollywood, and 10 days in our first apartment. 133 days of being married.

My socks should match now, but in furnishing an empty apartment with our income, new socks are not on my priority list.

So, I fought about how much we should spend on a new dresser with my husband, standing in my wedding boots, on the corner of Sunset and Vine.

Just like we’d fought about everything else this week. Food, groceries, carpet cleaner, sex, the color of our clothes hangers, the brand of garlic salt, bath mats, cash vs credit, and parking.

We were late for church. We’d spent too much money. We told the girl with the dresser “maybe,” and then my phone died.

I told Max where to park. I picked where we sat. I mentally bitched at the announcement-giver and churches everywhere who ask you to “squish” down to seat people that walk in late. Our collective “squishing” just opened 247 seats for 4 people.

I recited all the lines in every song, thinking only about the days when single-me attended a church with enough room down front to go sing my heart out to songs I knew and loved. Thinking about how I used to go to church alone, sing alone, and disappear alone. I met God, and I met God every single Sunday. I loved it. I missed when my life was just me and God. My life. I could do what I wanted. I could make it an entire 24 hours without speaking to a soul.

And then I looked at the entire row of single girls in front of me.

I imagined what they were feeling when they sang. Praying to be able to pay their bills. Praying for boyfriends. Praying for husbands. Praying to not be alone. Waiting on God. Because that’s what we do when we’re single. We wait upon God. When we’re single, heartbreak is ever present, and that’s okay. Present in our past break-up, present in our single-ness, present in what we dread in the future. And we find God there, with us. It’s rich.

I wanted to join them.

I wanted to shout that I was confused. That being married isn’t a solution to The Great Ache. That love is beautiful but so broken, too. That broken and alone was easier than broken with another broken person.

But then God whispered: “Lauren, when you’re lonely, it has nothing to do with other people. It has to do with you and Me.

Lauren, when you’re lonely, it has to do with you and Me.

Lauren, when you’re angry, it has to do with you and Me.

Lauren, when you’re selfish, it has to do with you and Me.

Lauren, when you’re worried, it has to do with you and Me.

Lauren, when you’re bitter, it has to do with you and Me.

Lauren, when you’re jealous, it has to do with you and Me.

It has nothing to do with other people. It has only to do with our heart and His.

I slowly stood and followed my husband up to communion. I stood behind him in single file line, in the dark, like I was just another girl at church. Not his wife. I felt like he didn’t want to be there with me. I hoped he felt that. Because I was feeling it. And then he reached out his hand behind him and took mine, and my heart broke.

I wanted this. I asked for this. I prayed for this. I begged God for this. I am blessed. I am fed, clothed and sheltered. I am loved. I am recipient of the greatest gift in the universe. I have everything. I know this. What is wrong with me?

And so, I went to where the prayer team was, sat in a corner, and cried. Until someone offered to pray for me. If you have never poured out your hurt to someone you’ve never met, and had them pray with you – for you – over you – with you, you have missed out on what it means to have brothers and sisters in Christ. You have missed out on bearing one another’s burdens. Overcome your fear next Sunday and just do it.

“I have never left you. I have never forsaken you. I am not a God who punishes his children without reason. I am not a God who turns his back on you. I am not angry with you. I am not disappointed with you. I know where you are.”

I sobbed and asked God if I’d done the right thing. If everything was going to be okay. If I would feel Him again like I used to. If I would learn to be close to Him all over again, now that I’m married. If our bills would be paid. If this was Right. If this would be too hard for me, for us.

“Seriously, Lauren? I have stripped depression away from you. I have removed you from the place you didn’t want to be. I gave you a man that you love, who loves you. I gave you passion again. I gave you Good Women Project. I gave you a Story. I gave you new friends who know my Love. I let you travel across the country. I did miracles in front of you. I gave you the awe-commanding sunset behind your wedding on a cliff. I gave you Family. I gave you a new home. And tonight, I brought you to be with children who love me – and sat you at the feet of a woman who would pray over you until you Felt me again. – - – And you ask where I’ve been? If this is right? If I still love you?”

I saw Him again. I heard Him, where I should have heard him a dozen times before. We forget what he has done when we do not intentionally sit at his feet in our mess. We are blind, until we ask Him to let us see. I re-learned unconditional love.

We went home silently, and I held onto his hand for dear life. Remember your first love. I kissed him and I apologized. I made dinner, and I apologized more. I refused to let him help clean up. I sent him to bed to watch what he wanted to watch and found joy in doing the work so that he could play. Love. Not-about-me love. This is what happens when we see God. It is necessary to see Love in order to give love.

I could write a book on last night, and the perspective that God righted in my heart. On marriage and learning to confess everything. On knowing that really, really hard doesn’t mean really, really bad. On how it is not human nature to believe that someone is going to love you unconditionally, and that it isn’t human nature to love them back unconditionally.

But instead, I share my little story of Sunday. A reminder of the blessing we have in one another. Of seeking God until we find out He’s been there the whole time. And of being thankful for what we have, because it’s so much better than we know.

And to say thank you to my husband for letting me pick out the bath mat. That we still don’t have, because I’m unforgivably picky.

I love you. And I love that we are re-learning to love Him together.

Supplemental Saviors, And My Disappointment In Myself.

I am disappointed with myself.

I am disappointed that I have tried to find supplemental saviors.
People ask how I did it. Did what? I want to ask.
How you overcame your past. What was done to you, and what you did to others; to yourself. The grief that you were dealt, and the grief you caused.
I listen to their perception, and begin to think I am an exception.
I listen to them search for an answer more tangible, more attainable, more controllable than Jesus.
And I begin to comb through my healing, dig through my heart, sift through the hard years…to find things easier than Jesus.
Some days I find nothing. Some days, empty things that bear partial witness to a whole truth.
The empty things, the whispers-of-truth things, the supplemental saviors…they taunt me with their checks in boxes and say, “See? We have made you whole. We have filled you. We helped you overcome.”
But still, their mercies begin and end with the front and back of their covers. Their mercies fill and are contained by the box for the checkmark.
And I am a living, dying creature. I need mercies every morning. New ones. For the new death, the new hurt, the new sin.
So I rally my books, my counselors, my friends, my pastors, my families, my communities, my epiphanies, my curriculum, my antidepressants, my better diets, my therapists, my mentors, my time that passes, my supplemental saviors, and I cry out: “APART FROM HIM WE CAN DO NOTHING.”
Apart from Jesus, I can do nothing.
I have done nothing. I have overcome nothing. I have healed nothing. I have won nothing. Rather, I have come to the end of myself, and found a Savior who needs no supplement. A Savior who has done and is doing and will do it all.
For he has sworn it across the heavens, “It is FINISHED.”
We have not believed.
Death wrecked my heart, my family, my hope. Jesus killed it off before it killed me utterly, and gave me a new life.
There is no healing or comfort that can be attained by your adding. Only by emptying everything you are, and filling it with everything He is.
I am not the exception. You are not the exception. We have inside us the hope of all eternity, a seal upon our hearts, because He was the exception in our behalf.
Lord, help us with our unbelief.

A Letter To The Girl Without A Father & Etc.

I have a confession.

I cannot function without a father.

I have a second confession.

I used to love God because it was the right thing to do. Now I love Him because I am desperate for a Dad.

I have a third confession. A confession that mocks the Devil.

I believe that Daddy Issues are a gift.

I am not too proud to say that I am a woman who now knows she would not have sought God any other way.

I am not too proud to say that it took the world shattering pain of my father’s absence to bring me to an empty parking lot in the middle of the night at age 19, 14 years after I was saved, where I began to Love my God.

Love him like I loved my father. Needed him like I needed my father. Wanted him like I wanted my father.

- – –

My previous posts for Deeper Story: Love Was The Plan, The Most Important Thing, & Losing Everything.
I was also honored to write for POTSC (People Of The Second Chance) this week: I Was A Prostitute.
We are wrapping up the month on Body Image & Beauty at Good Women Project. Yesterday was Part One of An Eating Disorder, & today’s post is Part Two. July’s topic will be Let’s Talk About Sex. If you want to share your story, please email me at goodwomenproject [at] gmail.com. <3
Join me on Facebook: LaurenNicoleLove & Good Women Project
Follow me on Twitter: @laurenlankford & @goodwomenproj

Depression: A Stream of Consciousness. A Fight.

note. i wrote this a year ago or so, in the middle of severe depression & a mess of everything else. i stumbled on it a month ago and it won’t stop bouncing around my head and heart. so i’m putting it here. chew the meat, spit out the bones. its a live stream of consciousness, and i like watching my train of thought, and the conclusion i came to. as wrecked as it was. pardon the language. this is what the inside looks like sometimes. and some days i cannot believe i am no longer here.


Truth. What the hell is the truth. Those god awful moments you have when you remember your first middle and last name all at once and who you are and what your past is and who you’re supposed to be. When you can completely remove yourself from the person that slept with those guys, smoked that shit, drank that alcohol, cussed out that girl, didn’t get out of bed for three days, hated everyone and everything at once, genuinely wanted to give up, was numb and on fire at the exact same time. Those moments when that person isn’t you, and you wonder why on earth you ever did, said, or felt any of those things because really, you’re perfectly fine and have all the hope and potential and clarity in the world. What the fuck are those moments. What is real and what is truth and who is me and who is not. Everything is easy to overcome in those fleeting seconds. I don’t care. It doesn’t have to make sense. I don’t have to make sense. I don’t have to be consistent. I don’t report to anyone and who gives a shit if for every hour that I fall apart I can pour myself into making something beautiful. I can’t avoid extremes. Extremes are what make life LIFE. But no more mutually exclusive extremes. No more blacks or whites. Blacks AND whites. I can admit that I have crutches. I’m not okay, I won’t be okay, no one is ever okay. Not the point. Pills. Doctor appointments. Nights at the hospital. Caffeine. Sex regretted. Reputations ruined. Alcohol. The addiction to anything that won’t leave you in the silence. I’ll keep all of them and be fine, so long as they remain admittedly crutches and not what defines who I am or what I do. They are secondary to who I am and what I am DOING. What are we doing. Those crutches exist so that I can keep doing what I want. They don’t stop me from doing what I want. Blacks AND whites, not blacks or whites, remember? Beautiful, beautiful things. If I inspire others, I will die happy. So what if I define myself by what I create? I love it. Isn’t that the god damn point. Not defining myself by what I create has left me creating nothing because I’ve renounced what it means to me and instead picked up loneliness, hurt, abandonment, worthlessness, confusion, indecision, and in turn, these crutches. Get yourself together, self. Blacks AND whites. Ups AND downs. Move move move move move. Stop STOP trying to fit with reality. Go back to your alternate universe. You’ll function out of habit enough to make it through life, but get your mind out of this, here, now, because this, THIS, is all just shit. Think about beautiful things, make beautiful things, create stories, novels, wishes, dreams, hopes, make-believe. Be over dramatic if that’s what you want. Stop boring the entire world with trying to get your shit together enough to be normal. I can’t, I try, it makes it worse. I want to NOT FIGHT the tendency to be addicted and STOP TRYING to do ‘all things in moderation.’ Be addicted. Be consumed. Just CHOOSE THE RIGHT ADDICTION. Choose what is beautiful. Choose what is worth it.

Car Accidents and Playing It Safe.

Last night, driving home in the dark, my mind blanked from the phone conversation I was having as I noticed a car’s headlights do a complete U-turn in the middle of the eight lane highway. What in the world, you can’t just do that, you’re going to get hit. Cars were sliding off the entrance ramp on my right, to the shoulder with their hazards on. I strained to make out dark shapes yards ahead of me, wondering why there would be mis-matching headlights and tail lights on both my side of the highway and the other.

A blanket of glass and debris suddenly appeared in front of me, washed across every single lane, as well as three obliterated vehicles spun backwards and facing me. And even more cars on the other side. Oh, that’s why. I tried to explain what I was seeing on the phone and ended it quickly, as soon as I realized I had to figure out how to come to a complete stop, back up, and cross a few lanes sideways before dozens of other cars behind me slammed into both myself and the wreck. In the dark.

I normally do 80mph right here, and now I’m doing -12. It’s always an odd feeling, coming to a complete stop in a place that is never still.

I debated with myself for all of four seconds. I could keep going. I could. I probably should. Or I could park half on concrete, half on mud, and make my way through four lanes of the outerbelt in the complete dark with no guarantee of not being hit, and make sure the drivers of these crushed vehicles were alright.

Not like I could do anything if they weren’t. But God smacked me in the face. Lauren, you do what I tell you. You stop. And you go. And you Be. And you pray.

The only thing more strange than driving backwards on the highway is running across it, glass crunching under your boots, as you try to explain to yourself the eerie silence and stillness of half a dozen men on the other side of the concrete wall, while a woman wrestles her body against a car seat, a twisted frame, a door that no longer exists, and an airbag, looking like someone tossed a bucket of blood at her face.

There are two cries I cannot bear. An infant who cries not to be heard but because he is alone, and a woman in pain who doesn’t know who will come for her.

Keeping one eye on the oncoming cars and one eye on the SUV I was making my way to, I tried to piece together the hysterical screams of another woman standing on the side of the road. God, woman, stop waving your cell phone and arms and mixed up words. Unless you’re the one with metal digging into your flesh, you shouldn’t be the one screaming in a crisis situation. Rule number one in dealing with trauma. Do not do anything that induces more panic.

Shouting towards the men standing against the concrete divider, I made no attempt to hide the frustration in my voice. “Get over here. Why are you not helping her. COME ON. We have to move her!”

A car’s brakes screamed as it flew through the middle of the accident, trying to slow down as the glass ground into his tires – the driver obviously not seeing the vehicles in enough time to stop and maneuver around.

Dear God, some car is going to plow right into this woman and end her life.

The men glanced back and forth, first at me, and then at the woman on the opposite side of the road, still screaming directions and telling everyone to “get the fuck back in all your god damn cars!” Half of them chose to listen to her, the other half to me.

Another car slid sideways as it stopped just in time, avoiding the whole mess of us.

With half the men finally at the SUV, doing their best to calm the blood soaked woman, I ran back across a few lanes to the screamer. Half because she was really pissing me off, and half because I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing something important.

“Hey, calm down. Seriously please stop screaming. It’s going to be fine.”

Another car flew through the middle of two of the backwards vehicles, missing one of the men by less than two feet. Okay. Maybe it’s going to be fine.

“THEY HAVE TO MOVE. THEY ARE GOING TO GET HIT. NO ONE CAN SEE THEM. THEY’RE GONNA GET HIT.”

“I know, ma’am, but that’s why they’re trying to get to her. They’re out there helping her because if she doesn’t get moved, she’s going to get broadsided by a car and die instantly.”

“THEY NEED TO GET THE FUCK OUT OF THE ROAD THIS IS NOT THEIR JOB.”

“I understand. And what they’re doing is dangerous but we’re more concerned with her right now. We don’t know if she’s alright.”

“OH MY GOD WHY IS NO ONE LISTENING TO ME. THIS IS NOT THEIR JOB. YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO ENTER THE SCENE OF AN ACCIDENT. YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO LEAVE IT.”

I gritted my teeth as I realized how many times I’d heard this in my life.

In a mess of words I lost my patience and explained to her that she should just stay on the side of the road where she wouldn’t get hit, for the love of God stop screaming, and to let the men make sure the other woman was okay; that I wasn’t willing to stand there on the side of the road and watch her die in front of my eyes because it was too dangerous, too unsafe, or not my job.

Unzipping her jacket, she just about punched herself in the chest as she pointed out the EMT emblem stamped into her t-shirt, and stepped up to my face.

“LISTEN TO ME, BITCH. I AM A GOD DAMN EMT AND THAT WOMAN SHOULD NOT BE TOUCHED. THIS IS NOT YOUR FUCKING JOB TO TELL ANYONE WHAT TO DO IN AN ACCIDENT. EVERYONE NEEDS TO GET THEMSELVES OUT OF THE WAY.”

Wow. Alright. So we have an EMT at the scene. I caught myself getting angry as I realized she was the first person who should have been putting her life at risk – not us – to make sure this woman didn’t need CPR, a tourniquet, or glass pulled out of her face. And instead, I’m the one doing it. Trying, anyway.

I should say something right here. Generally speaking, if you scream, “listen to me, bitch” in my face, I’m most likely going to do exactly the opposite of whatever it is you suggest. I’m human. And I really just don’t do well with people commanding me to do things while yelling. Sorry.

I should also say that this woman had a damn good point. I realize that as an EMT, she’s been trained day in and day out to get as many civilians out of harm’s way as possible, and knows the risk involved with trying to move someone who most likely has a spinal cord injury.

But I also know that in that moment, I would have risked my life to stand in the middle of a freeway, in the dark, to simply pray over a woman whose life will never again be the same.

To sacrifice my safety in order to comfort a woman who never again will be that terrified, in the center of death’s grip, to fight in her behalf in front of the throne of a God whose hand could stop a wave of armored artillery headed right for us.

How many times, as Christians, have we left someone paralyzed in the middle of the road, because it’s too dangerous for us?

How many times, as righteous people, have we abandoned someone blinded by blood and tears, because what made the most sense was to keep ourselves safe?

How many times, as good men and women, have we tended to “our jobs,” safe on the side of the road, while we wait for God to show up?

How many times, have we been qualified EMTs, trained for hours on the proper way to handle an injury within the Church, only to have it translate to walking away from a woman sobbing, screaming, crying, and begging for help?

This is what bothered me. What shook me up the most.

That we are trained to be safe, to let someone else get their hands dirty in the blood and the wreck, to be content with abandoning someone on the brink of emotional or spiritual death, simply because there is someone else who could handle it better.

That crazy, screaming, panicking EMT? She was probably right. We could have paralyzed her by moving her – and thankfully the medics showed up while the men were still getting to her through metal and glass.

And sometimes you need to step back, trust God, and let someone else do their job, because they can do it exponentially better than you.

But that never, ever pardons you from slamming on your brakes, putting your life on hold, and falling to your knees to put someone’s heart, body, and salvation into the hands of the God of the Universe. That never pardons you from putting yourself directly in harm’s way to come alongside someone and to provide comfort, love, peace – and whatever you’ve been gifted with for exactly those moments.

I will never know what happened to that woman. If she lived, if she died, if she’s still in critical condition at the hospital. And that’s okay.

What I do want to know, however, is how different the outcome would have been, had an army of men and women had gotten out of their cars, knelt on the wet pavement with gravel digging into their skin, and cried out to God in her behalf.

I would give anything to see that.

Grief, Lightning Storms, & A Broken Spirit.

I hugged my knees and stared up as far as I could. I watched the lightning flash across the Arizona sky and the outline of palm trees trace themselves against faint mountains in the distance.

My throat constricted as I tried to get out the words, “Daddy. Where are you. Where.”

It was around midnight, and this had become my habit over the last two weeks. I fought through the day with all the hope in the world, and as soon as everyone else was asleep, my chest began aching with an intensity I was learning to expect. I escaped outside every night to sit alone in the cul-de-sac and watch the lightning storms. And cry.

The skies were strange here. Ohio lightning meant storms, and bad ones. Phoenix lightning meant God was in the sky, playing games. Reminding me that he was here, and that he was the same God, with the same stars, that had been present with me in every state I’d lived in.

Two hours of crying, every night, for weeks. Two hours of lightning storms. Two hours of learning that God was my father, and finding that I loved him – not just needed him. Two hours of asking why. Two hours of replaying in my mind years of things I will never repeat to anyone. Two hours of learning that I was held in a hand that adored me and had plans I wasn’t expecting. Two hours of grief. Two hours of asking for nothing but God. Two hours of letting go of everything I’d ever known. I broke, every single night. Again, and again, and again.

I miss those lightning storms. I have never experienced so much love in so much pain.

Part of me misses having a heart ripped open and emotions entirely out of my control. Part of me misses having nothing to my name. When you’ve lost everything, and are at the complete mercy of God, there is a strange safety you feel that you will find nowhere else.

When your greatest fear arrives, you learn that your spirit breaks; your heart breaks – and your body survives. But blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. Matthew 5:3, I love your promise.

And when the kingdom of heaven belongs to you, perfect love begins to cast out fear.

Those lightning storms taught me to call God, “Abba Father.” They taught me that he was Daddy. Not just God. They taught me that grief is a gift. They taught me how to leave everything behind and what it meant to actually believe that God is good. Dark chocolate good. The one thing you always wanted good. Finally home good. They showed me that the guy up there operating the fireworks in the sky had nothing to do with religion, or the life I had left behind. He had to do with a love I’d never known – and a love and intimacy and place of belonging that I wanted for the rest of my life.

Those lightning storms taught me that I now fear nothing. Nothing.

I’m realizing that I write a lot about pain, grief, hurt. These are things we are programmed to shy away from, and to avoid at all costs. We all have our methods. We tell ourselves other people have it worse, that it’s “just a feeling,” or that we just can’t deal with it right now. We rationalize our pain away and tell ourselves that tomorrow is more important than yesterday.

No. Today is all you’ve got.

If you are human, you are deathly sick. If you are in excruciating pain, you are blessed: Because you are being made aware of it. Pain is not our greatest enemy, comfort is. Get yourself to the operating room. Get outside and yell at God. Even if you are 100% convinced that you are yelling at the sky because you know he doesn’t exist, get yourself to that operating room. Cry until your energy is sapped. The surgeon adores you, and he WILL show up.

Let me tell you something. Every time your heart breaks, you will lose little bits of it, like porcelain chips that are too small to glue back to the pieces of the plate. But if you let him, God will step in and be your glue – and the more your heart breaks, the more of it becomes God’s heart.

One of my precious friends asked me last night what the point of living was. This is it.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. – Ezekiel 36:26

+ Losing Everything. +

Nine years old. I handed my mom a couple of my dad’s dress socks I’d found and she tossed them into a laundry basket in the back of the big, yellow U-Haul. I stared at my big playhouse in the backyard with my quiet blue eyes and wondered what would be at the next house. Ohio. What would that state be like? My strawberry patch, my rose garden, my green bean plants, my greenhouse. Time to leave, again. Why, I didn’t know, but it was time.

Thirteen years old. Brushing pieces of fiberglass insulation out of my face, I tried to process what had just happened. The silence was surreal after the deafening sound of the entire house being ripped apart by a tornado. I didn’t know if my youngest brother was still alive, and my body was frozen with the shock of seeing the open sky where walls and a roof should have been. Nothing of mine was saved; all I had were the clothes I was wearing and a pair of my mom’s old shoes that I’d found in the dark.

Eighteen years old. I left my parents’ house, completely unplanned, and never came back. My sister smuggled a bit of clothing to me over the next week or two, but the majority of everything I owned was left behind. I realized much later that my parents found the notes from my boyfriend that I’d hidden at the bottom of my sock drawer. What I wouldn’t give to have those back.

Nineteen years old. I stared at the stack of red luggage in front of me in the parking lot and thought of the condo I’d just furnished the month before and boxes upon boxes of beloved memories left in a near-stranger’s garage. Moving across the country by myself for the second time, again unplanned until two days prior, and all I could take was what I could fit on the plane. Again. The numbing emptiness didn’t hit me until I was in Memphis on a layover and I thought of how much of my life I’d left scattered across the country. And wondered if I would ever get any of it back. My chest ached.

Twenty years old. Staring at the shattered glass all over the pavement and the seat of my car, I could barely breathe. I had left my car for five minutes, just long enough for my Macbook Pro to be stolen from under the backseat. Everything I’d ever written. Every picture I’d ever taken. Every project I’d ever done for any client. A year’s worth of letters I’d written to my sister while she was kept in a “boarding school” of sorts, with a strict no-correspondence rule. I wrote every day and planned to give them to her whenever my parents let her out, or when she turned 18. The two books I was in the middle of writing. That laptop contained the only remnants of previous lives I’d lived; all of it gone. I’d come to terms with losing all my physical things over and over again in the past years, and I had held onto pictures and written memories to keep me sane. Now these were gone too. I felt like my life had just been erased.

I could go on, but it’s hard. There are more stories, but I’ve made my point.

I am familiar with loss.

I know what it’s like to stand alone in an airport and wonder what happened to your life.

I have fought through the long minutes in the shower, feeling the hot water burn the back of your neck and not wanting to ever climb out and stare at the reflection of your empty hands in the mirror.

I have cried over the loss of a ragged pink blanket given to me the day I was born, that made it through more than 20 moves – but not the 21st.

Loss is something I fear possibly more than anything else. It induces panic. It reminds me that I am helpless. But there are few times I have ever felt more alive.

I can only assume that God made it a priority to teach me this lesson: I can take nothing with me.

It is true that we do not know what we have until it’s gone.

It is also true that we do not know how worthless those things were until we learn to live without them.

What would you still have if you woke up tomorrow morning with all your possessions gone? What would you do if you were given one suitcase to fill in 10 minutes before you moved 3000 miles away? How would you deal with the material faux-foundation being stripped out from under your feet?

I have learned to let go. To hold my hand open. We control nothing. Ultimately, God calls the shots. The shots that leave you sitting in the middle of a cul-de-sac in the middle of the night, in a city you don’t know, rain soaking you while you sob. The shots that show you the immeasurable gap between your soul and what you think you own.

I ask you to let go. To live with less. To open your hands. To be thankful for extreme loss. To leave things in order to find life.

This week, get rid of things that you’d rather keep. Create a void. Shake your security. Force yourself to miss something. Bleed it out. And then, seek God.

You’ll hear things you’ve never heard, and you’ll breathe in a way you never have.