Surviving January

Here’s the first thing I wrote in January.

The other day was a dumpster fire.
Only my darkest realities were able to be accessed. 
The most nagging daily grinds. 
The deepest disappointments. 
The most profound fears. 
The greatest unmet longings and desires.
The most significant relational losses.
The most painful forms of rejection.
The most glaring personal inadequacies.
The saddest aspects of the loneliness I experience magnified.

I prayed.
I jogged. 
I breathed.
I cried. 
I verbally bubbled over at my kid.
I yelled profanities in the privacy of my own car, only God listening.
And, still, I could not see any light filtering down into the pit I fell into.
I was not able to experience relief from my suffering.

It wasn’t triggered by something monumental.
More like a death by a thousand cuts and the most recent abrasion, though relatively small, hit a main artery.

The best decision I made that day, though later than ideal, was to go to bed without an alarm and sleep it off. Maybe like a bad hangover. I wouldn’t know….

I woke up to sunshine peeking around the edges of my pleated shades and I recognized it as a fresh mercy. That was a good sign. Without crawling out from under my warm blankets, I selected my favorite Scripture meditation app, determined to forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead.

I wish I could say that terrible, awful, no good, very bad day was an anomaly— a fluke, far afield from the norm, but that wouldn’t entirely be the truth. While my emotional pain level definitely ranked an orange frowny face then, the better part of the first 23 days of January a nagging, lingering, gray, gloom waxes and wanes across my horizon like a winter companion, even with a daily regimen of Vitamin D.

It seems like a sunnier January than normal up here in the frozen tundra. And, there isn’t anywhere else I’d rather be, other than on a 2 week vacation in the Gulf coast of Florida. But still, there’s a winter hardiness required to meet the times that feels too cold. Too slippery. Too hard this year.

And here’s the scariest part. 
What if it doesn’t get better when winter is over?
What if it’s not just winter navy-blues?
What if the pandemic doesn’t go away? And COVID patients keep dying and being transported down to the morgue on gurneys? And what if one of those patients is someone I love? And how many more times can I listen to “code blue” on the hospital intercom?
And who else in my world might make an early and unpredictable exit in 2022?

And what if in 2022 my body gets weaker—more fragile than it already is? And my weight goes up instead of down? What if I actually need to start taking blood thinners to pre-empt a stroke or a pacemaker to synchronize my irregular heartbeat?
What if my sense of purpose remains clear as mud? And I continue to take costly graduate level classes without the confidence to pursue a distinct professional path? And what if my insecurities aren’t ever tempered? 

What if relationships I value most continue to struggle or altogether implode?
What if my kids are victims of trauma? Violence? What if they suffer gross injustice? Or get their hearts broken? What if they become disillusioned with God because His ways are mystery? And what if they only remember the broken aspects of our relationship and forget the ways it’s also been beautiful?
What if our family hiking trip to Scotland this summer gets cancelled? And even if it doesn’t, what if people are tired, and cranky, and unkind to each other?

I, literally, cannot predict the grenades yet to be lobbed in 11+ months of 2022, though as an Enneagram Six, I’ve obviously invested some significant time and energy musing over the possibilities. And I’ll be honest, even the potential direct hits to my little world, make me feel afraid.

When I come up for air, even after I practice my box breathing, there’s not much relief. I mock myself for moaning and groaning about how difficult life is in a pandemic. I hear myself ungraciously dialoguing with me, saying things like, “You’re so soft, so spoiled, so pathetic. You worry about literally nothing! You don’t have the first idea what real suffering is like. You’ve never lived in a third world location, bathing in the same dirty river you get a drink from. You’ve never been truly hungry, let alone starving. You’ve never experienced war in your back yard. No genocide here. And you’re white for goodness sake. Your life is pretty cushe. Pull yourself together.”
I would never say things like that to another image bearer, but I tend to be downright mean to myself. 

I’ve been learning about self-compassion in grad school and the education is timely.  I’m starting to practice it in my own story, though I admit, it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks. Here are some of the resources, tools and mercies that have made my January a little brighter and a tad bit kinder.

1) Pray As You Go app

2) Watching Season 2 of PBS’s All Creatures Great and Small

3) REI’s YouTube tutorial on Basics of cross-country Skiing—a great resource for learning my newest recreational winter sport.

4) Christine Caine’s Instagram quote

5) The Mindfulness reminder on my new apple watch.

6) Bethany Barnard’s album All My Questions

7) Artwork by Charlie Mackesy

8) Greg Johnson’s new book, Still Time to Care: What We Can Learn From The Church’s Failed Attempt To Cure Homosexuality. This book is so important, so comprehensive and so refreshingly kind.

9) Long, cold walks and dinner table talks with good friends.

10) Watching my amaryllis grow.

11) simply.scotland Instagram feed I’m coming. Hopefully!

12) Stefans Gretzinger’s new album Faith of My Father

13) Planet Fitness’s hydromassage beds

14) And, last but totally not least, Kate Bowler, my favorite new-ish instagram friend and tutor in self-compassion.

And so,here is my very own benediction for the first month of this new year.
God bless January 2022 and all of us who walk brave on the ice of our own stories, trying to keep our balance in the harshness of the elements, feeling the biting wind on our pink cheeks while catching snowflakes on our tongues, evidence that we are embracing the now and the not yet, trusting that God will companion us through both. Amen.

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