Category Archives: Faith

Breathing and God

Driving to this island, I had a recurring vision: I’d meet a man. No, this isn’t what you’re thinking… I kept seeing myself talking to a tanned, bearded man who played a guitar and sat with me wherever I went. Flashes of me leaning my head on his shoulder, seeing his laugh, and hearing him speak to me returned, over and over again, and at first I thought it strange. But…

The entire time I’ve been here, I keep remembering that vision, and I’ve pondered on it often… The symbolism has become apparent to me each passing day; I am to meet Jesus here. Walk with Him. Talk with Him. God was showing me this before I even stepped foot in the sand. In the literal sense I do not envision Christ descending just to walk beside me, but in my heart, I have felt strongly that He is near, and today especially, I have been trying to open up and draw close.

Today, I had a full throttle panic attack. I was eating lunch at a restaurant, obviously alone. I was reading my book, watching the pelicans dance in the wind, and really trying to enjoy my time of this most special solitude. Then, out of nowhere came the flood of adrenaline that hits me and knocks me down. My chest began to literally burn, a fire radiating from my sternum up into my throat, where it lodged itself like a hot ball of clay, forcing shallow bursts from my lungs, making it feel impossible to get a deep breathe. I flagged the waitress down, got my check paid, and fled. Walking towards my car, I kept thinking about my family and how I am not there for them. I thought about all the work I have yet to do, and began to worry if I’ll use this time here wisely… Then it hit me. None of this is what was wrong. These concerns – these immediate reactionary thoughts – these are not “it”.

Naming it has been immeasurably difficult; often I do not consciously know what causes me to go into a sudden panic attack. I’ve thought perhaps it’s the long-suffering feelings of my past that come to find me each day. I’ve linked it to feelings of nagging self-doubt and criticism. The very nature of anxiety – not panic – but anxiety, has caused me to name it entirely caused by the shallow, ineffective breathes I take from morning until night time that signal a panic attack is right around the corner; the very way I breathe, I know from the moment I wake, can tell me whether that particular day will find me dealing with this, and the fear that I can crash at any moment obviously increases the likelihood of an occurrence.

I finally arrived at my car, unlocked it, and sat down in the driver’s seat. I turned the ignition, buckled my seatbelt, and reversed out of my parking spot. “Get back as fast as you can…” I knew that I had to, I told myself just keep driving – get there. I could feel the intensity rising, I could feel my face flush. I could feel my muscles tensing and the burning in my chest getting worse with each labored breathe.

Once at my hotel room, I immediately fell onto the bed.

I gave in. I succumbed to the full extent of the panic attack because the one thing I’ve learned as I suffer this is that fighting it, telling myself, “Damn it, not again” only makes it worse. I’ve learned by now that when it gets this bad, I need to lie down and let it happen.

John talked me through some steps to help me accept my reality and over the phone he coached me through it until it began to subside. My body immediately felt absolutely exhausted and I told him I had to go. Within three minutes I was basically unconscious.

I awoke about an hour later, mid-afternoon, and felt like a walk might do me some good. The panic attack had passed, but I still have yet to take a normal soothing breathe. I think I’ve had maybe one or two today total – one of which was when I prayed this morning so I am grateful for that.

On the walk I did something entirely different. This might sound strange, but hear me out. I shut my eyes. I walked with my eyes closed.

All day today, I have been reading about the kind of life God wants for all of us. Here is where I digress – I will get back to the walk later and this will make sense.

What is most marvelous to me about God is His constant pursuit of my soul. Reading scripture, reading my pastor’s account of Biblical teaching and encouragement to lead a Christ-centered life, even when I praise God through worship and song – it has left me, on this trip, entirely awe-struck.

So, then, I ask – why the anxiety? Why the panic attacks? If God wants good for my life, then why do I carry this burden? To someone who has never experienced this, it might appear trivial to bring this to God as a burden, but I assure you, it is nothing less than a heavy one. It got me thinking, then, that perhaps He is using these panic attacks – He is using my breathlessness and fear of breaking – to get my attention. Part of the pursuit.

I have lived my life apart from God. I know this because my history is wrought with a thousand tales of what it looks like to seek this world and deny His will. I have been divorced and adulterous, a liar and a hypocrite, I have sinned in more ways than I would ever be able to number – and God knows this about me. He knows the shame and guilt I carry, and that I use this as a means to separate myself from Him, because …

Because it is too much work to change. It is too hard to want to live another way. What will I have to sacrifice to be pleasing to God?

The answer to that, is all of it. All of me.

I’ve laughed at Christians before. Those that really take up a cross for God and be His hands and feet. I used to pity it, to be honest, because that life just never looked like much fun. Except I was always envious that they seemed happier than me, somehow. I thought, given who I have been, and what my life has looked like, that I could never be the kind of person to live a life of total surrender.

Again, it goes back to – what would I lose? My reputation? Ha! Hardly, as if I have anything worth redeeming in me? My friends? What kind of friends do I keep that would laugh me off because I change my life to live it for God – is their opinion of me worth what I am losing by denying God? My selfishness, my flawed flesh with its lustful desires and sneaky little defiance masked as confidence. My pride, and having to come before Him and finally admit that I have been so wrong… More than any of this, the most difficult thing for me to give away, to follow Him, is my obedience.

I must, if I am to be a follower of Christ, be obedient to His word. To His laws. To His desires. To His agenda. To Him, I must submit and be changed by the spirit, not by my will.

For me, that has been absolutely the one thing I can’t let go: Control.

But look, Christina, just look! What has this illusion of control gotten me? One look at me, in this very moment, in this hotel room, 300 miles away from my children and my husband – what has it gotten me?

Why is it so hard to lay myself on the altar and let Him sit in the throne? It is HIS anyway!

Back to the beach today.

I walked, with my eyes closed. I would look ahead of me – on the stretch of beach I roamed there were not many patrons – so I’d make sure the coast was clear (ha, get it!) and then take as much of a deep breathe as I could get, and close my eyes.

I found Him. He was there. Beside me.

It sounds quite fanciful and maybe even a little cooky, but I know it for sure.

In those moments, I trusted God to lead me. It was a small act of faith, a tiny proclamation that I believed Him that He is near… but I did it. It was scary, especially when a small swell touched my feet unexpectedly, but I didn’t let go. I kept walking. Blind. But entirely safe.

This has been jumbled, and rambling, I know that – I didn’t organize my thoughts before I sat to write tonight as I normally like to do. But I wanted this to be an honest look into where I am right now. So that, perhaps, I can look back on this one day and see that I made a choice today.

I made a choice to trust God. To give Him my anxiety, and panic attacks. To give Him my insecurities, and failures, and sins. To give Him my obedience, and put my faith in Him, and to know that He is in control. He is walking beside me, and even when my eyes are open and I can see the next right step, I will maybe let go anyway, and trust that He will put my feet exactly where He needs them to go.

I’ve just… I’ve lived too long fighting Him when I KNOW He is pursuing me. I know it, as true as I know the sky is blue and the waves crash against the sand. I know that God has always pursued me, but it was I who ran, it was I who hid myself away, because I didn’t want to give up what I perceived was better for me.

The thing is, now I want to be like them. The kind of Christ-followers who look silly to mainstream people. I want to read the Bible instead of Buzzfeed. I want to worship the one who gave His life for me, and not be a slave to my own selfish desires. I want to know that with each labored breathe I take, right now, in this very moment, that I am not dying. I am not going crazy… I am just here, right now, trusting that Jesus is near me. With His guitar, and He already knows what I am going through. He won’t leave me through this. He hasn’t left me. He was just waiting around for me to realize He’s been here all along.

A Very Transparent Prayer

I prayed to you this morning, Father. I pray it seems these days constantly, but my mind is also distracted by some of the shadows of my past, and I find myself frustrated with this – entirely exhausted and quite breathless – because I yearn for peace and rest. I yearn for it, like I hope with each breathe not to feel the weight of anxiety against my chest, pulling the air from my lungs as I try with everything I have to keep it in. I have come to you with these concerns now, God, and I have hope that You will get me through this day.

Most of the time in my life I try and have the control. I keep it like a hundred dollar bill in my pocket, unwilling to relinquish this currency for Your will, but I hold it to use for myself – I know this is not sound, and not prudent, but I struggle. I don’t want to struggle like this anymore, but my nature goes against what I know to be better for me – You are better for me, and yet I hold on to the illusion that I can do this apart from You.

Why must this be so hard? To know You – to trust that You have a will for me that is better than my own – I suffer under the weight of the lie that I am strong enough, but then when night falls, and I lay in this bed alone, I know that it is holding me back every single moment I don’t lay all my concerns before You.

I’ve been reading Your Word, and in this time of solitude, I have felt You come beside me and ask me to trust. I give it all it seems I have, but then feel so ashamed because I know I am fooling myself. I have never given it all of me, because I have never trusted all of You. That is my greatest regret, and one I hope, with every new day, to rectify, but then again I fail, and again I am ashamed.

I do not know what to do with my shame, but I am being obedient now, I am writing this – to You – and it is here that I lay it down. In these words, my fingers against these keys, I am here, now, Lord… Help me be who I am destined to be.

The greatest struggle I have faced since being here, in this time alone, is one pain I have held for many years, God. The pain of losing a love I held so dear, and losing my mother, all in one short span of time. It is here where I question Your will, and perhaps it is here that explains why I have such a hard time trusting that. Because I do not understand it, God. I do not understand why You allowed this to happen. Why You allowed her to hand down her generational sin upon my heart, and his, and then instead of heal us, You took her away.

I was left with nothing, and I didn’t know how to turn to You, wholeheartedly, because I was so broken. That break – that pain – has stayed with me, Father, and it is the single biggest pain I have ever known, and I am still angry that You thought I could handle this. What did you expect from me? How did You see this playing out? Did You know that it would be all these years – did You see that it would break me and yet You gave it to me anyway? Was I not a faithful child, Lord, when I was young? Did I not call out to You, and want to know You, and share that knowing with the world?

I strayed as a youth, You know this, but did my wayward heart deserve, then, such a burden? To the world, it is simple – I should let it go, and I should have done that a long, long time ago. I have nobody to help me with this, nobody to understand it. And when I have come to You to lay it down, I have never felt like it was taken from me. I have never felt like You wanted me to give this up – because it remains. If I have asked You, and cried out in the night in this pain, then why have You not listened?

When she was dying, were You there? When she breathed her last breathe, did You hold her? She strayed, God, she strayed so far that she gave her pain over to me, and You allowed this. Was she too far gone for You to have intervened, for You to have spared me, her, and him from that – did I deserve this somehow? Did she? Did he? She never got the chance to make it right, and instead of allow me to have that reconciliation, You took her. Or was it not You, but sin, that befell my mother? If it was that, please don’t tell me, because I think if I knew it wasn’t You, I don’t know how I would handle that against You supposing to be a loving God. How is that for truth?

I long for the kind of rest that is not hindered by this pain. But in the years since that time, I have not once known what that feels like. I have not once awoke to a new day and felt the absence of this pain. There has been immense joy, and happiness, and You have blessed me in other ways, yet this darkness in my soul remains, and as much as I’ve asked You to release me from it, even in the midst of all the joy that I have known, here yet it remains. Why, God?

Is it that I have not done a good enough job? Do my thoughts, and deeds, and actions, and heart fail so greatly that I must still bear the weight of such pain in everything I try to do? Is this Your will for me? To learn to cope with it, and find joy, even when I hurt? If so, please, I am not sure I am strong enough to handle that for the rest of my life. My children don’t deserve less of me because I have less to give. My husband doesn’t deserve less of me because I have no more fight left in me, since all my strength goes to just making it through…

I bear this pain without anyone’s understanding, and in the face of that, I risk every single time I speak of this to appear whiny, and needlessly so – how can they have empathy for me when they do not understand? Worse, when they don’t approve that I should even deal with this anymore? A grand part of my shame comes from how I’ve experienced, time and time again, well-meaning others remarking at how strange it seems that I still deal with this pain. To them, I am a fool. To them, it looks so simple.

But You, the knower of my heart and keeper of my soul, You know what I carry, and yet even You have allowed this. I am disappointed and saddened by this, and I feel I need to tell You that.

I am going to spend this day being obedient to You. That is why I sat to write this. That is why I prayed this morning for You to take the anxiety from my chest, and to help me breathe easier. I just inhaled and it fully filled my lungs and escaped my lips with no hint of that pressure and fear that has come most breathes this week. Perhaps in this very act of writing, for some reason, You’re actually listening and maybe this day won’t be another anxious, fearful episode in a long line of the same.

I want different, God. I want something more than this. More than carrying something that I have tried to lay before You but have found no rest from. I want to go an entire day praising You, God, not questioning You. You want me this way, don’t You? If that’s what You want, then help me! I have obviously shown that I cannot do this apart from You. I don’t have that control. I don’t possess the strength, and You know this. So, please, God. Take this from me. If even for just this day.

Motherless daughter about to have a baby

Without You, Ingrid Michaelson

maternal-instincts-by-pino-11

There within my soul it lingers. Almost tangible, as an exhale of breathe or the way my heart seems to beat stronger these days – a longing for something that I cannot grasp that I need now more than ever. I’ve spent the better part of the past nearly ten years dealing with this loss. Trying to make sense of it, to fit it into the context of the rest of my life. To recognize, over and over again, that she is… Gone.

Perhaps my longing is selfish entirely, but what does that matter? I am a motherless daughter about to have a child of my own. About to welcome a son or daughter, to make my girls siblings again, and make my husband a father when he holds his child for the first time and evermore. Is it wrong to desire a single moment wherein she shares this joy with me? To say, aloud, “Meet your Grandchild, Mama…”

Instead, it will only be a whisper and a pain in my heart that nobody here will understand. In the grand picture – this breathtaking moment I finally meet this life that has made a home within me for 9 months – the lack of my mother here will be small; I will be the only one whom notices a key player is missing, and as my baby is passed from John’s smiling father and mother, I will only briefly remember that the person I needed here most is gone. Her absence merely something I occasionally talk about because I don’t like making them uncomfortable, so I don’t blame anyone for not seeing that pain in the back of my eyes.

Right now, however, I feel it deeply. It is not just a passing thought that occasionally plagues the mind when I haven’t successfully masked it with idle distraction. Nobody knows this, though. I dare not speak it because then the loss is once again breathed to life outside of my heart.

Life has been hard these past few days. I am exhausted. I am physically slower than I’d like to be, and parts of me ache that I did not know could hurt. Emotionally, my heart is ready to conclude this chapter of motherhood and have this baby outside of my body – I had cried more these past few days than I’d like to admit, the strongest sign that I am not my self.

When life gets hard, this is when I miss her most. The thing is, the complication inherent in this for me, is that I am not even sure who it is I miss. The last few years of her life she was not herself so the only real representation I have of “mother” is pre-addiction when she was more my mommy than my mother; I an adolescent or a child – who she was to me then is probably not who she would have been had she lived into my adulthood thus I can only speculate. Honestly, I think that is part of what makes this hurt. The concept of having a mother, as I became and again becoming a mother, is foreign to me. But, nevertheless, I feel it as if the loss is something, as if she is someone, I still recognize in the present time.

Would she be here now? Taking a plane ride from Washington to Texas to help with my children as I rest. To relieve my husband whom has been picking up all my slack while still doing his full-time job, and taking care of the kids… Would she fold laundry and tell me stories of when she had her five kids? Would she be inclined to serve me the way I imagine I will serve my daughters when it becomes their time to become a mother?

Instead of answers, I have emptiness. There is nobody here helping, and I am working really hard at not being resentful of this but it becomes difficult as my body tires and my brain wanders around these thoughts.

The loss of her came well before her death and as I process it, yet in another season of my own life, I am still someone angry that it came to that for the person whom God put on this earth to make five children – to what? Leave us before most of the things that mattered most in our lives took place. What has troubled me these ten years is that it just doesn’t make sense. I guess God does not need to give us sense, sometimes… Just hope that we will see her again? Maybe, sometimes, that is not enough… but we aren’t allowed to say that even if it is the most honest thing to come from this.

My baby will be loved. I know that. I love my children fiercely and with my whole heart, so if anything I know they will get by with that… This baby, and my two little girls, ARE loved… But sometimes, I wish that someone in our lives would fill the role of Grandma to them, presently, and love them all equally. Because of the family dynamic I come from, and the one my choices have made, this is not possible, and at least I am sure they get love from so many places. That in itself is a blessing, and I do not wish to deny it or downplay it – but I imagine and like to think it would have been different if my own mother was here to love my children.

Maybe the coping mechanism of dealing with this loss creates the exterior view of a world wherein things could appear exactly as my heart wishes. I could portray my mother as someone whom would have been here, loving my girls and anxiously awaiting another grandbaby, totally present and excited with her own daughter – cheering me on and reminding me I can do this. She would be at the birth, reminding me of when she had all of her children naturally and that I am capable of this. She would be one of the first people to see my baby, learn its name, and cry with me – watching the circle of life make our family bigger. She would help with dishes and take the kids to the park and not want to board that plane back home.

I can make her whomever I want her to be. I can miss that picture that I create – completely aware that it is make-believe, and who she was can never be the person I make her in my dreams – but the momentary imagination, no matter how unreal, comforts me more than this lack of… anything at all.

Any day now, this baby will come. My body will do the work hers did 31 years ago when she had me – her most dramatic birth that almost killed her when I made her a mother to a daughter for the first time. Any moment now, I will begin the labor that will bring into this world my first son or my third daughter, either way my last child. Any second now…

I pray that God gives me peace about what I am missing. That I can let this go as I write these words and simply exist in each passing moment – in today – and cease to long for something that was released from my control many years ago. The ability to make new memories. To have anything but what we lost. To know her as anything other than who she became after losing my mommy to someone that was no longer my mother.

I pray to God to let me move past the absence that is present when I look around my home and when I pick up the phone to dial a number never again answered. I pray that I can only miss her momentarily when John’s family comes to hold my new baby but my family is hundreds of miles away or gone altogether. I pray that, as this baby gives me a million reasons to find joy and peace and purpose, I can thank Him for the gift of being a mother in a world where my “mother” is a notion I can only narrowly grasp in dreams.