Month: March 2020

Fight Back

On Monday night, I went to sleep with depression lurking in the corners of my room. I woke up Tuesday morning with melancholy breathing over my shoulder. As I hit snooze, as I scooped coffee grounds, as I sat down at my desk, as I opened the blinds to let the gloomy gray light in.

 

“What is the point?” it whispered savagely. “What does any of this matter? It doesn’t. It won’t help you now. Go back to bed. Settle into that hopeless place, Elizabeth. It’s the only place you have left to go.” I heard it seep through my tone in my meetings and conversations. My voice was heavy and my mind was coming up short searching for something, anything, positive. I opened Instagram mindlessly, only to scroll past every encouraging story or graphic. Not out of annoyance exactly. More like incapacity. I didn’t feel like I had space to hold a smile or a chirpy tone of voice or one more quippy version of HASHTAG WE’RE IN THIS TOGETHER. The darkness loomed too large; there was just nowhere to put any light. 

 

I made a playlist a while back. It’s called “Remember Your Narrative Of Joy,” titled for a phrase from an Emily P. Freeman podcast episode I had listened to that week. She had talked about remembering the story arc of your whole life. That a chapter did not define a whole narrative. As believers, she gently reminded her listeners, ours is a narrative of joy. 

 

I wasn’t feeling particularly joyful at the time, but I knew I needed to act fast and find a way to remember my narrative. Thus the playlist. 

 

It’s not even a full hour of music. Twelve songs. Eleven to start with. I didn’t think too hard about it. It was a moment of desperation, and it’s difficult to to think critically in moments like those. I just threw in the first songs that came to mind when I asked the questions, “What calls something good out in me? What makes me smile? What will make me dance?”

 

A little voice reminded me of my playlist – made specifically to remind me of what’s true. “You should turn that on,” it whispered. “It will help.” But I don’t want help, I huffed. Like a petulant teenager, I shrugged the voice off. “I’m miserable; leave me alone in it.”

 

By 10:30AM, the living room which is currently functioning as my office was crowded with shadows, both literally and figuratively. Though I had turned on every light in the room and opened all the blinds before I set to work hours earlier, the dark skies and rain were hard to overcome with a few 40 watt bulbs. I needed more light.

 

Unable for the moment to focus on any task in front of me, I decided that it would be a good time to stretch my legs and go in search of another lamp. Somewhere in the process, it became a determined battle march. I came back in the room a few seconds later with a brighter lamp and a singular phrase rolling through my mind: 

 

“I’m going to fight back.”

 

The light clicked on with a roll of my thumb. A light came on in my chest and behind my eyes. The tide was turning, and I now held the upper hand in battle. I grabbed an unlit candle from a corner in the room and set it on my desk. “Heirloom Tomato” it was called. If I couldn’t go out in all this rain, I could very well make it smell like a garden inside. 

 

As I sat back in my seat to try it all again, I popped in my air pods and opened the playlist. Remember your narrative of joy, I told myself. My thumb hit the shuffle button and waited for the machine’s choice. The first notes of “Glorious Day” came jumping through the tiny speakers. I leaned back in the chair, breathing in the victory of the last five minutes. Everything changed because I decided I didn’t want to be bullied or dictated to by my fickle emotions or the bleakness of my present circumstances. I didn’t want to just lie down and take it. I wanted to fight back. So I did. 

 

About half an hour later, the sky brightened, lifting the whole room with it. It still rained heavily, but it wasn’t quite as dark. It felt like a beaming smile from a kind Father, a loving God. I think it felt like that because it was. 

 

“I needed rescue, my sin was heavy, but chains break at the weight of Your glory.

I needed shelter, I was an orphan, but You called me a citizen of Heaven.

When I was broken, You were my healing, now You love is the air that I’m breathing. 

I have a future, my eyes are open.”

 

With my open eyes. I saw leafy branches full for the first time in months. I saw a tiny firefighter walking with his dad, splashing in puddles. I saw birds and squirrels flitting through growing grass, trusting their Maker for the life they are living. I opened my front door and saw the rain calling out all the budding things, waking up sleeping life, softening hard ground. 

 

I saw all the things I would’ve missed with a downcast soul. For such a limited view, there is certainly a lot of goodness to be seen. Some days will be bigger battles than others, but in every one, I want to choose the fight. I want to rage against the dark that tries to creep in. To push it back with the great force of what is true. To swing my sword of truth with ferocity and wield my shield of faith with strength. All so I can see His goodness in the midst. 

 

“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, for the help of His presence.”

-Psalm 42:5

 

“For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.”

-Jeremiah 31:25

When We’re Ready

On Saturday, I arrived at my church’s new campus for our serve day. We’re moving in this month, and as with any move, we have a lot to do to prepare. Before we began tackling our to-do list for our serve day, our pastor stood on the steps in front of us welcoming those who gathered around him and doling out assignments to various groups. Reading a list of names from his phone, he directed some to the flower bed project outside the sanctuary doors. My name wasn’t in that group, but I let my eyes wander over to their assignment, surveying the work area and thinking how dismal it looked. Like most flower beds in mid-March, still recovering from the tough winter behind them. I heard the instructions to the team as I looked at the tiny, bright green weeds poking their leaves through the dull, gravelly bed:

“We’ll be putting down the topsoil so we can plant when we’re ready.”

I don’t know much about gardening or planting, but when the decade turned a few months back, I discovered a creeping desire in my mind – I wanted to grow something. To put something new and small and fresh into a pot of soil, care for it, watch it grow. Because I know next to nothing about the process, I went to a nursery near my house last weekend, found a friend who works there, and followed her around, asking an annoying number of questions.

Can I put these things in the same pot? Can I grow these well with the amount of sunlight I get in my backyard? What kind of care do these need? Do you think I can do that? Every question revealed how far I was in over my head.

I don’t know the science behind the topsoil, how it reacts with the flower bed beneath, what nutrients connect with the roots that invade to make them grow. But I now know that you put it down first “so we can plant when we’re ready.”

I avoided the headlines for as long as I could. I put distance between myself and the mass panic I felt was growing out of control like the virus they were all talking about. I knew fear would find me if I gave it any idea about where I was hiding. So I stayed away. My news came from murmurings from coworkers far more informed than I was, funny memes I scrolled past on social media, emails from our corporate office. Fringe news. News I could forget about quickly, compartmentalize, rationalize, minimize. 

But the real thing found me eventually. Tours were cancelled. Travel was no longer an option. Other offices were closed. Our office was closed. For two weeks at a minimum, we’d work from home. Pictures of empty grocery aisles were on everyone’s feed. Like sunsets in spring, everyone had to snatch their version and share their own view alongside a witty caption. I thought of my barren refrigerator and what would I do if they were out of the thing I needed, and was I prepared for a National Emergency? The answer was a decided no. So I went to two grocery stores and bought all the things I thought would fit on my pantry and refrigerator shelves. Then I drove an hour south on the Natchez Trace, compass pointed toward home and family and freedom from the weird life developing around me. I turned around when I realized the fear was already ahead of me waiting to greet me at the door. 

But all week, underneath the growing worry that things were going to get much worse before they would find their way to getting better again, was a quiet whisper steadily repeating the refrain “what if…” 

What if this forces some rest to our hurried world? What if creativity blooms in confinement? What if grace grows in defiance of the anxiety that chases all of us? What if this is all topsoil preparing the way for us to plant new growth? When we’re ready. 

As fast as I’ve tried to run from the reality of this virus and all its socio and economic repercussions, it has found its way into my line of vision. I’m staring down the barrel of this two weeks, knowing that it’ll be a long time before any of us will be ready to plant. But I have this sense, this belief, that this will be topsoil. This interrupted life we’re all living, this new view from home with nowhere to go, this forced stillness will be a covering for us – reviving old soil to prepare it for something new to grow.