Tag Archives: Writing

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.

The journey Forward

My nose is familiar with the scent here. The thick, humid, salty air that wraps exposed skin in sticky warmth; even in February, it is as if summer is right on my heels. I have yet to feel the sand between my toes or see the crashing Gulf of Mexico sea on the horizon, but I remember how it feels to be here and await my return there with the morning light.

The drive down was entirely thoughtful and, as I mentally organized my goals for this journey, visions in my mind were vivid – I know exactly what I need to do.

I often long for the familiar rush of creativity coursing through my veins but it seems life and time, in normal day-to-day, doesn’t always lend itself to such a luxury as to sit and explore it – as I drove on through dusty ranch towns and veered around port cities it became clear to me: I must use this time to write.

There are several key aspects to this venture but I feel the need to be transparent as I dive in; to first explain that, if I am successful, the next several days will find me here, naked as I unearth the inner-most core of my history, my walk with God, and my desires to change the nature of my conscious thoughts from cynical to hopeful… No small feat, any of this. I come to these keys fully exposed, willingly, but it is not without trepidation, because in committing to this, I must not fear.

Fear you, dear reader. Fear forgiveness as I seek to walk in time and space with Jesus to know Him better, if for the first real time in my life. Fear that I will be too honest, and peel away too much, and in doing so, give away parts of my most personal struggles to these white blank pages, and to anyone willing to read them once I am finished. Fear to fail – that this time away will not be fruitful because I will convince myself I cannot do this – and I will leave here with my creative venture dead in vain.

Leaving my family, I cried for a good long while. It took me a while to figure out exactly why, but I realized somewhere along the way, on a long empty stretch of highway, that I have attached myself to the identity of wife and mother so strongly that I have, perhaps, forgotten how to truly be alone. I must face, more than anything else, the person I see when I look in the mirror. Here, I cannot blame a messy house on my sour mood. I cannot pick a fight with my husband over politics nor can I lump over on the couch after bedtime bemoaning my three children for how exhausted this day has been. I have nobody here, nobody else to “blame” for whatever supposed unhappiness or discontent that may arise. Just me.

In the coming days, I will write about my most personal struggles. About my mother and Tim and the thousand emotions tied into that time of my life. About having to share Layla with her father half the time, and all that pours into my guilt because of her situation. About coming to terms with what I did with my marriages, and how I have used one very meaningful avenue of my history – of love – as the ultimate reason why I have not been truly peaceful for a long time… I will attempt to dig into how I view the world, and walk through compassion, empathy, and personal awareness as I navigate what I believe, and expect fully to also deal with anger, doubt, and concern over our future as a nation – but ultimately, I hope to arrive at a place of understanding what I value most and thus may go boldly ahead, whatever that means.

I set out on this path because I needed to stop. To stop and realize that this is my life, and I am not living it the way I am meant to. I feel it in my bones. I have for a long while. I have been so good at excusing my self-induced misery and put on a brave face for the world, but the truth is, God knows I need this – and He ordained this time so that I can, indeed, get to the heart of the me He wants me to be.

I want to say thank you to my supportive and encouraging husband without whom this time here would not have come to pass. He tenderly looked into my eyes and assured me it was okay – to have these days to reflect, and know what the right next steps for my – and our life together – are. He wants me to dig deep and seek how to use each day as the gift that it is, and let me go with nothing but happiness in his heart that the woman he loves gets an amazing opportunity for growth.

If you don’t care to know my heart, or fear that my vulnerability and honesty may offend you, or know that your first instinct is not to understand what’s behind it, but instead quickly judge what I feel, when I divulge personal details about my belief systems, and point of view, or even if me talking about my first love and how I’ve spent all these years coming to terms with what happened there just makes you uncomfortable, then please, do not read my writing over the next couple of days. Do not read it, but instead, perhaps wish me well, whatever I may be doing. . .

After all, this is my journey. This is my story – nobody else, not a single earthly being, can look at this and tell me what I feel about my life is wrong – but me, and God. So, to Him, I walk, from the most core of me. Raw. Open. And ready…

What Life Taught Me at Thirty

I have been wanting to write for a couple of nights in a row now, but the inspiration, and the right words, seemed to elude me. As the hours wind down on this productive, beautiful day, I feel that familiar pull towards the keyboard, and I am grateful.

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Tomorrow marks the 30th year since my birth. At 1:04am, April 23rd, my mother laid helpless on an exam table as the doctors told her not to push. Unable to control it, she did what they instructed against, and soon the Obstetrician was bleakly staring at two tiny feet. A one-pound, eleven-ounce 26-gestational-weeks old, and far too little to survive – or so they thought. My parents waited anxiously, praying for a miracle, as their newborn preemie lay on an operating table at 48-hours old; heart surgery the only option to get me stable as the hole in my heart failed to close on its own.

Three months later, I got to go home. After numerous tests, scares of apnea (where a NICU nurse would run in and gently push on my chest to get me breathing again), and several procedures to ensure my health, I finally got to call my mother’s arms home… I finally got to be held in my father’s hands – my head the size of a tennis ball at the tips of his outstretched fingers, and my feet dangling at the base of his wrist. A miracle, they said, of that little premature fighter. My mom said, when she was stuck in the hospital on bed-rest, that she knew – if I was to be a girl – my name would be Christina Marie. She swore to me, her whole life, that an angel told her to call me this – but I never knew if she was serious, though she seemed to believe this was true.

Well, that bald, translucent-skinned monkey-baby is now turning 30.

You know, so many people talk about growing older, and how it just seems to keep getting better. I sincerely hope this is the case, because my life up until the past two years has been an interesting, difficult journey. The ups were intoxicating, and the downs suffocated my soul on numerous dark occasions. However lost I was, I eventually got found. However happy I was, eventually, some circumstance came along, waving its wicked little temptations or frustrations, and I was knocked back down again. The myriad of lessons I have learned – heartache, happiness, sadness, grief, and how to find strength again – well, I believe I am a better woman because of these moments.

For a long time, I guess really the past decade, I have been finding myself in bits and pieces of the places and names now left behind. I sought out love and laughter, then tasted the bittersweet ending of yet another relationship. I wanted peace, but so many times I found myself wallowing in the tumultuous nature of chaos all around me. Along the way, however, I know my heart was tested for a reason. One very big reason.

So that I would appreciate the day, for it was sure to come, when I could simply marvel at the journey itself, and be truly grateful for what kind of person I am now. I do not say these things to claim accolades, or to portray myself as someone whom knows anything anyone else does not know. Merely, I mean to adorn my testimony with failure and triumph, time and again, so that the one who deserves the praise is seen in my eyes. God, He is the one I thank now…

Because life throws us a grand master plan, and sometimes we determine what roads we travel, other times we allow fate to take refuge in our future, allowing the chips fall where they may. I can sit back and see each scenario, and I know, looking at myself then, that there were pivotal moments of choice, and the outcome, whether I made it happen or allowed it, has brought me to a great place.

A place where I can smile. A place where I no longer feel such a need to question my past, or to name all the reasons it failed or succeeded, but to watch it, observe it, and thank it – that is it – time cannot be unwritten once it fades, and there is nothing a wise heart would do then but to acknowledge and move on.

My mom always loved to tell my birth story. It was one thing she did on my birthday each year, and I am sure it is not hard to understand why. We endured that together, that birth. And although I was not cognizant of my experience, I am the only living person whose soul moved through her body in that moment; I was the feet that emerged as she struggled, uncertain and afraid, and I was the tiny baby she held on her hip for the next two years after that, surely just grateful to have her daughter alive and well.

Tonight, I missed hearing that story. I missed hearing about that moment she knew that I was going to survive. I miss hearing her say, smiling, “you were the smallest baby in the NICU at the time, and you went home healthier and faster than babies who were not even born as sick as you!” She knew, from the onset, that she had a fighter on her hands, and I like to think she always admired that about me, and thanked God for my tenacity.

My birthday has been sort-of bittersweet each year since the woman whom delivered me died. Not to have a pity party or anything, but it still does sting that she is gone, and though it has already been eight years, I miss her even now, and some part of me wishes – against all odds – that I’d have one more birthday with my mother.

I accept the direction I traveled before now. Lord knows it was intense and beautiful, and I could have avoided some mistakes and worked harder to appreciate other’s and my own accomplishments along the way. The biggest thing I have learned in this time is to appreciate the moments – the small ones – as I grow another year older, may I never lose that insight that even the small things count.

My children will someday be 30, God willing, and I hope I am there with love in my heart, and birth stories to share, as they too find it easier to understand themselves, and navigate this world with greater intention, earnest effort, and pronounced appreciation.

We grow. That is life. We change. That is time. We struggle. That is sin. We triumph… That is God.

I see it so clearly.

May the next ten years be the best I have ever known. That is what I am working towards now. But I wanted to take one last moment and appreciate where my twenties took me. From Timothy Lee and his sparkling blue eyes. To the love we shared that was first love at its finest, to the last moment he whispered he loved me before I boarded a plane… To George, San Diego, and the stop lights where we played over our favorite song each time the light turned red – to ice-cream cones in his face, and the moment we found out our baby would be a girl – to her birth, and finally, our separation when we admitted it was over… To AJ and all the chaos that comes from two perfectly UN-matched people – he taught me how to walk away from something that is not right, and how to smile at the misfortune of our love, though at least it brought us a healthy, beautiful baby girl… To the moment, in an airport baggage claim that I saw a tattoo on a long-haired hippy and the introduction Cathy gave us when I learned his name is John – to the home we share and the way he makes me push to be a better mother, friend, and partner…

I have known a lot of love in the past ten years, and all but one I simply wish to thank and then set free in my heart…

Because my heart knows a deeper love now, and I see it when I look at the two beautiful daughters that God has given to me. To Layla, born on a special day – my first baby… My sweet blue-eyed Lebanese Princess. To Jemma, my brown-eyed wildcat…

They are the most incredible gifts I can imagine. They test me, push me, and make me so mad I could literally go temporarily mental. But they love me, and allow me to love them, and we endure to make each other grow, and see the world for what it is…

And John… He has endured with me through my failures, and he knows my flaws. He knows what makes me angry even though it should not get anyone THAT upset. He knows that I like to control the radio and that I am not partial to silence unless I am writing. He knows that I love Jesus and that my mistakes and accomplishments were gifts from God to help me learn and grow. He knows that I can’t really eat cheese unless it is Tillamook medium cheddar because all the other cheeses make me gag. He knows that I would sleep all day if I could, but that I want cuddle time – especially when he should be working. He knows that I love him, and that I thank him for all he does for my children, and for me…

My life has been amazing. Truly, it has. It would be wrong to say I would NOT change a few things, because for sure there are moments I would redo or erase entirely… But I accept them all, even the hard, deep wounds; God has a plan, and it all works together to make something beautiful.

I looked in the mirror today and just studied my face. Briefly, I felt a twinge of pain at the youth that is leaving me – even in some minor fashion – but then I marveled at how I have become something better, and more than I ever thought I would be.

Learning French. Rock climbing. Raising two beautiful children. Tolerating a dog in my house. Writing. Finishing my Bachelors degree.

30 will be great, of this I am as sure as a believer in fate and choice can be. I hope, for the next ten years, they interchange in the best possible manner – that God guides me, that I listen, and that I choose – when I need to – the best thing. I will know the best thing, now, because I’ve lived enough life to realize what matters. Love. Acceptance. Appreciation. And the fight. The fight to never stop trying to be greater than you think you are. Life, man, 30-years of it will teach you that.

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