It’s scary out there.
One of my children jumps like a jackhammer from her bed, sending reverberating ripples to windows and the warmish coffee I clutch in an entirely different room. I am reminded of Jurassic Park. Before I can recall whether the cast survived, I hear this same child sing-shout Jingle Bells using no more than three words recognized by the English language. It’s July.
Another child begins a familiar refrain that grows from joyful whisper to indignant shout, a shrill call that also reminds me of a wild adventure park. I reconsider the evolution theory but posit that our ancestors must have been from the Precambian period. I count them on my fingers – only two? Surely there must be more.
Have you ever felt terrorized? No? Come to my house at 6 a.m. when door frames burst at their bolts, small children gunning to beat the sun as first responders competing to announce the arrival of a new day, one that looks very much like the day before it and the one before that. A very small perk: I haven’t needed an alarm clock in half a decade.
Three months later, in mid-September, I still clutch a mug each morning but its contents have changed. Herein lies a most crucial discovery: caffeine is not a food group. And the superhuman strength I longed to find in its fragrant depths exists, rather, in acceptance, a movement from fear to inspired courage.
For me, fear has been a force without relent, its loudest lie testifying to my persistent failure to measure up, to be always just shy of competent, creative, confident…perpetual underperformance. This has led to the knowing of very real sadness, the result of doubt and longing wrestling to win Someone but settling for anyone. These ugly scars give convincing, albeit circumstantial, evidence that the accuser (Zech 3:1-9) has been and always will be right. This stifled life bears in my life a frequent and heavy cost, its color awfully cast as depression, a deepest, doomed dark. Sin-sadness turned to desperation, a fitful response to overcome the condemning sentence, and then resignation, defeat, surrender to the conviction.
This has meant a debilitating cycle of fits and starts as a woman that mirrors the destructive freeze-thaw cycle I know well after living many years up north, as they say down south. I have tried to cope with caffeine, sugar, the covers, my bathrobe, wine, hiding, crying, running.
Recently, with deep gratitude, I’ve come to understand “right” as the faith-filled, tireless covenant of the Only, his drawing near without compromise, his rescue without boundary, the single One in all of history who bears this distinction (John 1:14-17). This shatters the credibility of the other who can do nothing but concede to the timeless testimony of this truth, charges against humankind dropped in the face of fierce, eternal reign.
I’ve also considered that the expectation to be ever happy, the opposite and envy of depressed, is unrealistic and, perhaps, impossible. Could it be that my basic fear of breaking bad often compels me to search for a solution in those moments of dark when, truth be told, depressive events are common – permitted – and in no way suggest I am a bad mom, woman or believer? What if sadness and fog and irritability without exception exist in this broken world (John 16:33)? What if we are free to feel without shame or defeat the hurt of an unfinished story?
You’ll never guess what made these scripture verses come to life for me. It wasn’t a miraculous departure of the depression. It wasn’t that I began to love wrangling prehistoric offspring every morning. It wasn’t that I became a perfect representative of Christ-likeness (but wouldn’t that be nice for my ego?!).
No, contrarily, it has been something wilder. It is my limit, where the love I offer becomes conditional, when it no longer delights but repels. In these moments, as I see my ugly heart reflected in my daughter’s early morning eyes, when all I want is another moment of quiet, I know by his whisper my edge, the place I stop and he must continue. It breaks my heart to be the ugly that reflects his glory (2 Cor: 12:9), but I am oh-so-grateful for it. And, by his incomprehensible grace, I am crowned with it.
Now, on many days, I sip tea rather than coffee. Not because coffee is evil, but because, for me, tea invites courage, an opportunity to forego the instinct to cope with my weakness by overcompensating or giving in to it. Instead, I relish being (and, often eating!) raw, to accept the truth of my limit, to be sustained by the One who anticipates my falling short as part of his testimony. It seems, then, that this is where joy lies, in the courage to consider the next chapter of an unfinished story, in choosing a deep ocean of grace over the deep ocean of dark.