Building Frames Out of Crumbled Bricks

Any HB fans in the house?

I’m a big fan of Hannah Brencher.

I’ve never met her, but I feel like I kind of know her. She has that feel to her, because she lays it all out bare.

I may never meet her in this lifetime. But I look forward to eternity. There might not be espresso in Heaven, but I like the idea of Hannah and I, us two girls sitting across the table from one another, sipping coffee and remembering what it was like to be twenty-five and single and trying to be brave, trying to navigate through our short time on this earth alone, even though we were never really alone. It felt like it sometimes. But we were never really alone, because He had our backs all along. And even before we knew each other’s names, we had each other. We had the shared experience of awakening out of depression and braving the baring of our souls in blog form.

Did you catch that? We both, depressed. Yep, me too. Sometimes I think of Hannah as superhuman, as it being easier for her to write about depression like a thing of the past. But that’s what makes the brave all the more brave. To step up when it’s hard. And when is it ever easy to shout over cyberspace, “Depression sucker-punched me in the face”? But when we show up real, that’s when the rest of the world says, “Me too. Me too. I know your words because I’ve cried them, too.”

Depression and I have toed the line from time to time since I was fifteen—probably earlier, but that’s the first time I can remember having what might be categorized as a “depressive episode.” And I’m not proud of that fact. Many times I didn’t even put up a fight. I just laid down on that line and let the darkness wash right over me, whisper lies loud and drown out the truth. Sometimes, like most recently, it sucked me over so far that I only had a fingertip remaining on my side of the line. It never totally swallowed me whole because He was holding on all the while. I know now that you’re only as sucked in as you want to be—and He’ll let you slide, but He won’t let you go. The thing is, depression is a seductress, and she preys on the weak. Her door is open wide, but you don’t have to walk in. She’s a smooth-talker and smells of sweet perfume. The nectar from her blood-red lips drips on desert-like hearts cracked open, and oh, it sounds so good. “Go ahead, feel sorry for yourself. Eat that entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s. You deserve it. You need it.” But you fall, you indulge, and then you realize the nectar tastes sweet, but it’s really poison. And once you’ve walked in, it gets harder and harder to leave. You know now that she wasn’t trying to soothe you, protect you. She’s trying to kill you. And the same lips that dripped sweet now hiss hate: you want out now, but you believe there’s no way. She’s not made you believe anything, but she sure is convincing. And the sick thing is, she’s told you that you don’t have a choice when you are the one who is choosing to believe you will never get out. But the chains that bind you are merely paper, like Hannah said (I’ll get to that later). The weight you feel is not the unbreakable bond of the chains, but rather the burden of hopelessness. You just don’t see it. She’s a master manipulator and all she had to do was tell you there’s no way out. But there is, darlin’. There is. All you gotta do is stand up and let that weight slide right off to see it doesn’t hold you. It doesn’t hold you. The only thing keeping you there is you.

I’ve been there. And even though I’ve ripped through those paper chains, sometimes I still am tempted to look over my shoulder, waiting for the moment she’s gonna suck me back in. I’m running free now, and the grass is wet beneath my feet and refreshing to these cracked heels. But after being in that dusty basement for so long, it’s unfamiliar. And sometimes the feelings of powerlessness that accompany Depression’s seduction, even though I’ve learned by now that it’s poison, are really just a cover-up for wanting to be sucked back in because it’s safe and sickly comfortable. I’ve learned by now to recognize the poison, and there are times when I gulp it down even though I know the damage it’ll do, even when I’ve sworn the last time, “Never again. Never again.”

And I’m not proud. I don’t wear it as a badge on my sleeve like I’m better than the ones who have it all together, or at least pretend that they do, like it’s my excuse to stay down because at least I’m being “real.” Believe me, no, I can’t be proud. I can’t be proud because I wore that cloak for too long, the flashy one that cries, “Look at me! Look how good I am!”, but really, is covering up the wounds that whisper, “I’m drowning. I’m drowning. But I’m much too frightened to admit it, to ask for help, because that means letting you see, and I’m ashamed of what’s here.”

We’re never as good at pretending as we think we are.

No, I’m not proud, and I’ve given up on pretending. That doesn’t mean I won’t be tempted at times to pick back up the mask I’ve shed. But it does mean that I’m pulling back the cloak and saying, “Here. Here is my heart. It’s messy, but there is good here. No, not in me. Not in me at all. But Him in me. He’s teaching me and healing me, and I’m pulling back the cloak to let you see because I want you to be healed, too.” It means I’m ready. I’m ready to go beyond saying, “I struggle,” because we all do, and it’s easy to convince ourselves and others that the struggle is smaller than it is, that we’ve got in under control. That it’s not overtaking us. I’m ready to name the struggle. To say that I am not a victim of depression, but a victor over depression. I am still waging battle against her, and probably will until the day I die. There will be times when I have gained enormous ground and it will be tempting to think she’s dead. And there will be times when she will revive and take advantage of circumstances that put me in a vulnerable place, and it will be harder to fight the lies that attempt to suck me back in. But no weapon formed against me shall remain, and in the end, in His strength, I shall prevail.

So when you come to me and say, “I am depressed. And I don’t just mean ‘blue.’ I mean I am all out drowning in the depths of depression. And it hurts. And I don’t know the way out,” I can close my eyes and hum an “Mm-hmm.” Because I know. I know. I know what it feels like to want to die, and to feel like there’s no way out. But let me tell you, the hope is yours for the taking. You can stand. And I will be here to take you by the hand and help you up, to escort you to the hands of Hope Himself. I will be there, because even though I can’t make you stand up, make the choice for you, I know it’s a whole lot easier when there are hands waiting to help you up. Hands like Hannah’s and her lovely readers (wait for it—I’m getting to it, promise! I’ll bring this thing back around and show you why Hannah means so much to me today. Hang on). Like those of best friends and brothers and pastors and Christian counselors and doctors, the brave who are not afraid to rush into that dusty basement to bring you out.

These are the ones that are lifting me up and out this time, this time when depression sang her siren song and it sounded so good. She took one thing after another and piled them on top of each other, stood on top of those bricks built high, that I felt so small and that there was no way to escape from them toppling down and crushing me. A breakup. The long, cold, snowy winter. Health issues (likely perpetuated in part by the depression, while simultaneously adding fuel to the fire). Living completely alone for the first time, away from my family and closest friends.

At first I was tempted to scale the bricks myself, stand tall and high, show the world how I conquered them all. “Look, see? I’m doing just fine on my own,” I wanted to say. Oh, how I wanted. But I wasn’t fine at all. In my attempt to scale the bricks, they in fact tumbled, and the weight was crushing. It got hard to breathe. But in the rubble heap the Maker—and the One who is ultimately sovereign over my circumstances—showed me that each of those circumstances, each of those bricks, are just that: one brick. One thing, that on its own, does not have the power to destroy me. He’s taking me by the hand and helping me arrange the bricks in a pattern, to frame my life with. Not define, but frame. And instead of standing on the bricks, I’m standing in them. And He’s saying, “This is how I’ve chosen to frame your life right now. When people see you, they will see the circumstances that surround you, but that is peripheral. That is not the focal point. They will see you, in the middle of it all. Living. Shining my Light. Let it shine, child. Let it shine.”

Together we’re in the midst of laying the bricks down side by side.

But in the middle of the crumbling, I wrote an email to one Hannah Brencher who wrote a list of twenty-five things that I stumbled onto I-don’t-remember-how. That Hannah wrote back and asked if I’d be okay with her responding to my email on her blog, asked if I’d let my words bless others. “Um, yeah!” I may or may not have done a dance in my kitchen by myself upon reading those words. I waited patiently for that response like I needed those words to live. And they didn’t come right away. So when I saw the title of today’s post in my inbox, I didn’t think it had anything to do with me. But I clicked open and started reading, and today, she weaved words that brought blue jeans and lemonade right back to me in a way I couldn’t have imagined. Then she invited readers to leave love in the comments, and they did just that. Like my own little love bundle. And they blessed me by letting me know how they were blessed. Because when you’re His, the biggest blessing can be to be a blessing, even when it comes from pain. The resulting beauty and healing is worth it.

So, here is Hannah’s response to not-so-anonymous me. I’d love to let you in on her gracious, inspiring, tear-inducing (in the best way possible—like the laughing sobs when you’re so touched and moved and ready to pick up the literal gray sweatshirt that inspired that email and cut it up into pieces and throw it away for good) response, because I think it’ll bless you, too.

And with that, with her, I’ll say, too, if you need a place to come fall apart, come find me? I don’t have all the answers. I don’t have the words that you need to live. I can’t fix you, put you back together.  But I can look you in the eye and say, “I know…I know.” Because sometimes just being known by another human being is a start. I’ll extend my hand when you’re ready to stand up, and together we can run into the arms of the One who is waiting to put us back together.

Breaking the Silence

I have been silent on the blogging front for months.

I have wanted to write from a place of having it all together. From a place of, “I followed my elimination diet perfectly and had great results and my house is squeaky clean and I never get mad and I’m totally not even a little bit struggling with living alone!” I cannot write from that place. But oh, I wanted to. And hasn’t that been my life? Desperately wanting to tell the world, “I have it all together.” Because if I don’t, I at least want to pretend like I do, present the idea that I do. If I can control that much, maybe it can make up for the fact that my life is actually, in fact, out.of.control–or at least it feels that way. But can’t let ’em see. I fear the ugly is starting to seep through the cracks in my mask, and I’m terrified. Because I am fueled by the “need” to tell you, convince you, I have it all together. 

I don’t.

I never will.

And the thing is, my best writing has been my rawest. It’s always come from the hurting place, the healing place–the not yet fully healed, but the in-process and the not-yet-put-together and the messy and the ugly-but-He-is-making-beauty-out-of-it.

I believe that. That He is somehow going to make–is making–beauty from this ugly mess. Even if I can’t see it. Even if that belief is thin and worn and weary. It’s there. I know it’s there because it keeps coming back from the mess, back to Him, and saying, “Help me overcome my unbelief.”

I’m not ready to get real or raw enough to tell you all exactly how or with what I’m struggling. But I’m ready to write again. To say again that I’m hurting. I’m broken. I’ve done much of that breaking to myself, and I’m not proud of it. But I can’t stay in the mess and not move. I can’t keep sinking. So I call out. I call out and He reaches down. He tilts my chin and cups my face again, and I know He’s here and He’s holding me, even when I fight Him and the idea that He could possibly love me where I’m at, where I’ve gotten myself to.

I’m ready to not wait anymore, to not wait until I have it all together–because I will never get there. This I know. And I’m ready to write again, because I know it helps me not stay stuck. I’m ready to blog again and leave love all over Portland via hand-written letters (moreloveletters.com style) because if love can be true for strangers–if I can write the words that tell them they’re beautiful and made in the image of God and loved–then it must be true for me, too.

And when your face is cupped and your heart is held by the hands that formed you and the universe, when you believe that even for a moment, it gets easier to breathe and you’re not so scared about the cracks in the mask, or that it’ll fall off. Because you begin to believe that what’s behind it isn’t so ugly after all–because He has made it beautiful, and plastic shines but it don’t glow. And you were made to glow.

I could glow, too? I start to believe it slow. And starting to believe reveals Him in me, because I begin to want to reveal more than I want to conceal. This is Him in me, His doing. This letting the mess leak out because it might minister to a sister soul who, too, is scared of sacrificing her plastic face? This saying, “I am struggling, but here is how God is healing me, helping me, forgiving me”? This wanting to get it out more than the wanting to hide, the humility and humiliation of exposure more than protecting of the pride? This is Him in me, this One who lived the perfection I couldn’t, and died for my imperfection so I wouldn’t have to. This is Him in me. This I know, and the kernel that cries, “Help my unbelief!”, it grows. It grows, and I too, could glow.

And so could you.

It doesn’t take much to be brave. It can be as simple as breaking the silence. It takes belief to be brave, believing it’s worth it. It is. You might be surprised at how that first step, small as it may seem, nurtures that seedling of faith. Pretty soon, you’ll be glowing, darling.