Monday, October 31, 2016

On Vulnerability, Bipolar and Showing Up

"Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen." 

~ Brene Brown

It was too soon. 

And yet here I was. At church. Fragile and scared. But I was here.

Less than three weeks earlier I was in a hospital across the ocean. Since then, family had come and packed us to move back to Pennsylvania. I had met with a new psychiatrist and counselor and unpacked us all. It was a blur of time and space such as I never knew.

As we finished the closing worship song, I told my husband, 'I will just wait here for people to come to me.' I was still drooling from one or another medicine. It was embarrassing. Who would really want to engage me right where I was?

The first to come was a friend who I simply remember saying, 'it is brave for you to be here so soon.'

It was brave, I suppose. As I finished with some hugs, sharing as much as I could of how I was, I felt exhausted.

Would this be how I would always feel? Embarrassed? Ashamed? Alone? And yet, needing to step out again and again?

My journey of 'Less-Than' happened long before I was diagnosed with bipolar. Deep inside, I have always felt as though there was something wrong with me. I have always felt shame.

And I don't know why except to say it is what we all carry this side of Eden.

It has been my tendency to step out in a vulnerable way. And so, I have felt somehow, exposed. I never know how to keep it all collected inside of me. There is only the honest of 'how are you?'

And now there is bipolar. Something which I feel called to be utterly honest about. Something which people have many opinions about. Something which yet is a great unknown.

How do I walk this well? How do any of us with our labels? How do we have courage in a world of people 'being good' and 'doing fine'?

As Brown says, the answer is in 'showing up.'

It is also in wearing the white robe of Jesus. One Day we will this forever and ever. In That Day our beauty, purity and perfection will be for all of heaven and earth to see. We will no longer bear any shame, fear, doubt or anxiety.

But what if that Day were Today? What if the truth of Jesus became so real, we walked, here and now, in all He has for us when we are face to face?

Does it sound too far-reaching? Too lofty?

I don't think so. At least not completely. And I know the path for getting there is lined with courage. We show up in church when we are not ready to see others. We take with grace the pat answer of our condition. We love even in our overwhelming 'less-than', because that is how we know the love of God.

We believe He is with us, in us. He is the Alpha and Omega. The Beginning and the End. The First and the Last. And He owns our stories, our lives. Now and Forever.

And He showed up. Like no one ever has. He came in fragile humility. He received every misunderstanding of who He was. He loved when given nothing but anger and hate in return. He could do all of this because He knew who He was. And He would have us walk His way.

So, bring it all. Your shame. Your doubt. Your fear. Your anxiety. Let's show up wherever we are because we know the real story. We know how it ends. And so we are free to really, truly live.


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

On Vulnerability, Broken Things and Frozen Hands

Knees are tented in front, bent to hold my school book. College-ruled notebook paper sits atop the thick stack of European History.

I try to do my homework, but with each breath I falter. Why? 

Because these are the breaths I can see. With each draw of air there is a fine mist of too, too cold air. These breaths are the kind that find you though covered in a fluffy pastel-flowered comforter, sweatpants and flannel shirt. These are the breaths in an air which numbs your hands.

These are the breaths that surround your bed at night as you try to get warm. 

It's another month when the oil price is too high and the funds too low.

And these are the breaths shivering in naked shame. Because there is a rule somewhere, somehow, which calls it a secret. And I know. I can't tell a soul. 

On a June day, this one too warm, I will stand as valedictorian and give an address. No one will know the too cold nights with numb hands which lead to this day. 

And again and again it's the shame. The kind staying hidden deep in the caverns of the soul. It's the less-than of a thousand drumming voices. 

It's the broken world I cannot put back together. 

It's hard to write these things. To reach back in time and possibly hurt those I love the most. But secret shame is just this messy. We don't know when the feeling starts to sink in so deeply, but later we can see it there, suffocating our freedom.

And why do I write this part of my life? I have been talking about my journey with bipolar disorder, so how does this connect?

The truth is I don't fully know. Call it a 'hunch'. It's one I feel full liberty to follow, as I continue to make sense of my struggle, in the context of my whole story.

And I know shame is a primary adversary in the journey to overcome. It hovers ominous, wrapping around with the blight of stigma and landing me in the dung pile of 'less-than'.

For me, those days long ago, those experiences of a too-cold house, opened up new places in my soul. Some of those places were outlets of creativity, things like poetry, even theology. This creativity, particularly as a driving need, is a gateway to mania.

But, in these vulnerable days of youth there were more avenues leading towards the dark. Sometimes I think I would have cut myself, if the idea were out there. Sometimes I think I may have turned suicidal if not for the strength and presence of my twin sister.

The shame led to feelings I couldn't escape. It went so deep it felt like what I really was inside. It broke me within. It opened the door for the depressive side of bipolar.

And again, why do I write this out for all the world to read?

Because in the wake of a second hospital stay for bipolar disorder, Hope has called out to me.

The song is one of 'No More!' It's trumpet sounding and triumphant! 'No More Shame! Less-Than! Fear! Doubt! Worry! Pain! No More!' It's the Lion of Judah with fierce eyes standing between the Enemy of My Soul and me. He blocks every lie and destroys all fallen emotions. He releases to joy the deepest places taken over long ago by fear and shame.

When we go to the places in our story holding dark power over us, we find the former things gone and see, hear, taste and touch how God is doing a new thing. 

When we embrace this new thing we become His witnesses to the world.


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