This Brain of Mine

black bunny white mask

I am learning to accept my brain. Ah, that cranium filler has had its share of adventures, and in the 51 years I’ve been living with it, I’ve mostly been rather hard on it.

Why?

Comparison (rarely favorable).
Expectation (often unreasonable).
And reasons I have yet to discover.

When I was a little girl I’d run and dance and sing basically everywhere I went. I was joyful, so happy being me. A favorite memory was when my mom asked me to take out the compost. Weird? Maybe, but I had a little routine I always followed, and since I got to take the compost out almost daily (our container was small and we really like fresh fruit and veggies), it’s a deep and happy memory to pull out.

little blonde girl swinging on swing

My childhood mind was so happy and free!

I’d trot out the back door, down the steps, past the little garden and the swing set, almost to the back fence, stop and sniff a pink rose on the rosebush near the compost pile. I’d fling the compost from the container, then skip back… Plopping the container by the swings, I’d sit on the seat and pump to the trees (pointing my toes at the willow branches). I’d sing old hymns at the top of my lungs (like all three verses of “Redeemed” from the green hymnbook at church), then the Alphabet Song. I’d slow down and hop off, grab the container and back to the kitchen I’d go.

I was so, so happy. But first grade I had Mrs. Stambaugh and she couldn’t stand my constant jabbering in class. Really she wasn’t unreasonable telling me to stop talking to Debbie Erlingston, my best school friend, that day. She even moved us apart, but within seconds I snuck back to Debbie’s side. Well she had it at that point. I got yelled at and brought to the front of the room, where she spanked me in front of everyone.

downward spiral

Just like that, everything inside changed…

I lost my voice that day. My brain told me if I just stayed quiet I wouldn’t get in trouble. That messing with teachers leads to humiliation.

I didn’t know why (I was too young when it happened to understand the resulting trail of fear) — but in school I barely spoke to anyone, and was terrified to talk to even the kindest teachers. When I stood outside my college adviser’s door one afternoon, belly clenched in fear, almost hyperventilating, I finally ventured a prayer before walking in… “Why am I so afraid of teachers? Of this adviser who is so kind?” Immediately I was again standing in front of all those first graders, receiving swat after swat on my rear end.

And I was both mad and scared at this revelation. What is the power of this thing holding me captive all these years later, steals my joy, and makes me tiptoe through a life I’m supposed to grab and enjoy? My mind had stored the footage and now I knew if I was going to walk in some sort of freedom I had to look at it and do some forgiving.

My mind had made all public authority figures, and usually my parents, terrifying because of one teacher on one day, in a span of maybe 10 minutes. I’m learning that traumas are like that.

I did my best to forgive Mrs. Stambaugh and get on with my life but found that ugly footage popping back into my head when I was praying during Bible Study some 20 years after my terror in the college hallway. After confessing latent lack of forgiveness for her and, surprisingly, a bit of bitterness harbored deep inside against my parents for not being as good as I thought they should have been (basically I needed to forgive them for not being God), I was — at last — free.

But as I’ve been traversing the path of therapy, more and more twisted images are surfacing.  I’m forced to acknowledge the sometimes devastating rollercoaster of my brain’s makeup, its deep-set wiring:  I have bipolar disorder. A mental illness, an unwanted superpower.

Yep I said superpower. Over the years my mind’s jerked  me to sky highs and suicidal — even psychotic — lows. I’ve been institutionalized, I’ve gone to prison. I’ve lost and gained friends. The best of them have stayed, but I grieve the lost ones, lost because I snapped at them and snapped off a good, growing friendship. I’ve produced beautiful music, poetry and prose, I’ve screamed and cried and sat catatonic. I’ve attacked those closest to me and even stabbed my husband with a kitchen knife because I thought I was dead and demon-possessed and had no choice.

woman crying, pain

So. much. pain.

It’s been a rough, rocky road. This is a cliche phrase, but springs to mind as it really does apply. I’ve hated how my mind works and begged God to just heal me! Make it all better! Take me back to that carefree girl taking out the compost and singing! Please! I’ve gone to renowned healers and been prayed over and for. And every time God has said, in His silence and whispered gentle nudge, “Acceptance is key.”

Acceptance? Why can’t I just medicate it away? Why can’t I wishful thinking it away? Why can’t I deny it, pretend I’m okay, push it away? Why can’t I finally find the magic healer to pray it away?

Because this is how I was wired from the start and if I believe Psalm 139, well God was doing the wiring. Now God could very well decide, at some point, to rewire my brain and make me — normal. But until that day, which I’m not going to count on, I choose to daily view my brain — my God-given mind — the way it is, and I choose to say:

I accept you just the way you are.
I choose to see you and to grow with you and learn how to live from — not against — my diagnosis.
I accept this is where I am and I’m getting therapy to understand the hows of this brain of mine…

And I mine for the goodness. Because God, in His amazing and unfathomable wisdom, gave me good in this gift. I experience highs many don’t know and lows many wouldn’t want in a million years. It’s been excruciating at times, even with medication to keep things more or less even keel.

But I’ve experienced creativity that makes me feel like I’m flying in the stars… and when someone speaks of being so depressed they’re not sure they want to live anymore — I get it.

Did I want it? No.
Can I make it go away? No.
Would I want to be “normal”? I don’t know. I don’t even know what that would be like.

All I know is what I have. And this curse/gift makes me run into my Daddy God’s arms every day to navigate whatever adventure each day holds — because believe me, a life with a bipolar brain is a daily adventure.  And I look into His eyes, knowing whether I live with this all my mortal days or am healed in a couple of months or not until I get to Heaven…

I am grateful for my brain, thankful for my mind.
I accept me just the way I am, right where I am.
And, mysteriously and beautifully, I find I can accept you too, just the way you are — with all your faults and flaws and unwanted physical and/or mental gifts.

Because I get it.
I’ve got plenty myself.

And, every once in a while, I get on a swing and pump my legs till I’m almost parallel to the ground, singing (if only in my heart) at the top of my lungs. My mind is little again — free! — just loving life, immersed in the moment. Enjoying it while it lasts.

back of girl on swing

Just happy right now

Friendship in the Trenches

heart shaped red neon signage

Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com

“What does love look like?… Arms wide open, a heart exposed.”~ Misty Edwards

I was tempted to do it again the other day.

I sat next to Ka’en in church, minding my own business, when my mouth decided to make a cutting remark. I had a cold but thought she was overly concerned about my being contagious, so I said something like, “I don’t care about people being contagious, I just strengthen my immune system.”

Just like that her face fell and I didn’t even realize at first what I had done.

I should have been home, actually. I was sick with some sort of cold virus-y thing, but wanted to be in church to give her a little gift I’d bought.  I pushed myself to be there and at first so far, so good.

Then out came the zinger. Now it wasn’t a big thing but enough to hurt her, the last thing I wanted to do to my best friend. But I basically told her she was wrong and that I was better than her. As I realized what I had done, my first reaction wasn’t to apologize.

It was to retreat. To hide. To self-condemn. I slid a little away from her and folded myself into a little self-protected box, mere inches from her but pulling away more and more.

Immediately after the service she confronted me about what I had said. As I acknowledged what she said was true, I was wrong, I suddenly just wanted to leave.

What the heck?

At home I immediately lay down, exhausted from overdoing it, from going out while still sick. But mostly hiding. I thought, What would happen if we stopped being friends? I began playing the scenarios in my mind, killing the best friendship a person could want by neglect. By hardening my heart toward her I could simply pull away…

I felt sick inside suddenly, more than from any virus, so much more.

Why would I want to throw away this gift? Why would I go back to the way things used to be where as soon as a friend got too close, it got too hard, I’d run away? I never had to change, to grow that way. As soon as things got beyond surface level and she saw who I really was under the facade, I’d withdraw. I’d be too busy to get together, making excuses till she stopped trying and the so-called friendship starved. Died.

Oh, I’d gotten quite good at it and I though I was okay. But one day I heard someone ask, “Who, besides a family member, could you call in the middle of the night if you were in trouble or just needed to talk?” I reviewed my puddle-deep friendship list and found — no one.

Why did it matter? I could call family, right? I had a best friend growing up, the best friend a person could ever want. But life pulled us apart and I hadn’t had that kind of friend since. I did have a few sort of close friends. Wasn’t that enough?

No, not if you want to be like Jesus. Jesus opened his heart to those who opened their hearts to Him. He made himself available to those who wanted to be close and let them in. All the way in. Even Judas. When Judas approached him to kiss him as a close friend, signaling to the mob that this was the man they wanted, Jesus said, “Do what you came for, friend.” Friend? He had just predicted Judas’ betrayal around the supper table with the disciples a few hours before, with Judas sitting right there. Jesus wasn’t fooled. But He kept His heart open even then.

Jesus gave the ultimate definition of friendship when He said, “the greatest love you can have for your friends is to give your life for them.” (John 15:13). And then He proved it by dying for them and for His enemies alike. My mind can’t take it in, it’s so powerful. But I want that kind of love

Being like Jesus means I am willing to set my own life aside and be there for my friends. To see them as the treasures they are. And even to die for them if necessary.

Being like Jesus means I love wide open, from the heart. And when I do, I experience the love of God Himself. I become a channel of that love, His love ignited by my openness into a depth of compassion I’d never have otherwise. God is love, so to give myself completely to His love and to loving others, I become love. Like Him.

I asked the Lord, Please help me to be a friend like You, to go deep and stay when I want to flee. Be that friend through me and teach me Your way of friendship. One by one friends came in and when my mask fell I gritted my teeth and hung in there. While some friendships were only for a season anyway, most got deeper,  better and better. Closer and closer. Without fear of exposure, for all was known. To know and be known is the most freeing thing I’ve ever experienced.

friends girl blonde portrait

Photo by Adrianna Calvo on Pexels.com

To be in a friendship is to choose to love another person. Seems simple, doesn’t it? But what does that look like?  I believe all loving relationships have a friendship component.  I Corinthians 13, the famous Love Chapter, could be rendered using the word Friendship in place of Love…

Friendship is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; 
Friendship is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable;
Friendship does not keep a record of wrongs;
Friendship is not happy with evil, but is happy with the truth.
Friendship never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail.
Friendship is eternal.

This is the kind of friend I want to be.

And I know it’s not going to be easy. Any time I open to Jesus His work always goes deeper than what I think I need. He wants to uproot old patterns and behaviors by getting at the what and why of them. What has plagued me all my life — a feeling of superiority to cover my deep inferiority around people has created walls between me and them. I can’t be the friend Jesus is to others till He takes me through the process of healing in this area, layer by layer.  He’s so kind to take it step by step, one area at a time. And to continually build from there.

This new area of work began couple of months ago, when I asked God to help me with my mouth. At times I  want to correct those around me (usually friends and family), to set them straight (“help” them) if I think what they’re saying or doing is wrong. It’s like a compulsion, and if I don’t say anything I’m inwardly judging them. They’re not as good as me or they wouldn’t do or say ______________.  I had done this basically all my life, but in the last month or so I’ve started to actually see it for the ugly habit it is. Ugh. I see at last how my words cut, dagger slashes to the heart. It hurts the ones closest to me most of all.

I’m finally sick of it. I want to be free.  For years I’ve wanted to accept everyone as the God-created beings they are. That I’m no better — or worse — than anyone else. I want to live in settled confidence coupled with realistic humility. Now, placing a trembling hand in Dad’s warm, strong hand, I’m willing to do whatever it takes. With sudden clarity I realize I only want one thing:

To love as Jesus does.

And I realized lying on my bed that Sunday afternoon — it was too late. The work I’ve longed for had already begun. I’d never be that person anymore, the one who made and threw friends away like they were disposable. I’ve got a treasure trove of close friends now and am finally becoming the friend I’d want to have. Open. Honest. Loyal. Brave.

Because it takes bravery to stay in it when it gets hard, to seek and find forgiveness. It takes courage to face what is under that cutting remark,  to submit to the training our Heavenly Dad has for us, whatever the cost.  To press past the guilt and get free of the shame. To see as He sees, and to learn how to be an overcomer here, too. Whatever it takes.

When we had some facetime that Sunday afternoon Ka’en encouraged me to go deeper with Dad, to see the how and why and the what of the  superiority/inferiority I struggle with. And to bravely follow the path to healing. She will be there for me.

I will be there for her, too. No matter what. For this war zone we were born into isn’t getting any better, and there are fierce battles ahead. Linking arms with her, with ever-deepening friendships, with others determined to call each other out of darkness into light…

With our Commanding Officer blazing the trail ahead, sword raised — we will persevere. Shouting into battle, his light within us  — together we will overcome the deepest darkness. And laugh, victorious, with our comrades-in-arms afterwards, gazing together at the face of the One who made it all possible. Our great Friend. For true friendship gives us our best life — it’s designed to last into eternity. And it’s worth laying down our lives to gain the kind of love only God can forge in our hearts. Then we truly love like Him — arms wide open, hearts exposed.

israeli women soldiers

Dear friends, what can you do today to make openness and depth in friendship a priority? What is keeping you from being completely open to God’s work in this area? Where is He challenging you to change so you can be the friend He wants you to be? Are you willing?

Leoa Commissioned

face-to-face

Wispy, willing spirit me confers
with You — Dad, God.
You grip my shoulders, urgent,
“Will you go, will you break
the curse and set your people —
My people – free?
Will you drink this cup?”
It foams, it is dark, unknown. But
I know You, you’re my
Daddy. Your heart beats my song,
tender, sacred pulse.
Eye to Your eye, I say Yes.
Released, spirited away into the
embryo that is me,
Mission buried in flesh and bone
waits the proper time.
Decades pass, preparation, crucible
shimmers, dross floats, skimmed by
ungloved Hands.
“Now, little one. Go, set them free.”
Moment-by- moment breathe, advance,
armor-clad, shield a wall; step,
pause, listen —
Commander whispers into ears that hear,
daily tune in, step out —
Faithful soldier
Good servant – well done!
His words to come ring in me
and I move to make them
come true.