Whether we want to admit it or not, we are all bound by routine. Even the most spontaneous of humans cannot escape the cycles of time and nature. Repetition–of the sun each day, of the moon each month, of the seasons, of new years–creates a rhythm to our days. For me, these rhythms always include the ominous beats of depression and the frenzied syncopation of hypomania.
Sometimes depression is triggered by a specific event that I can point to, but most often it creeps over me slowly, the way the sun sinks slowly to the horizon at the end of the day until, seemingly all at once, it’s gone. For me, depression is caused by carrying an excessive amount of pain just as much as it is by synapses misfiring in my brain. When this happens, I am also consumed by guilt. I feel that it is wrong for me to be weighed down by pain and sadness when by most measures I live a safe and wonderful life. It has only been in the past few years that I’ve come to understand that the pain and the sadness I carry is often not my own.
I am a highly empathetic person and I am deeply affected by the feelings of those around me both in my daily life and in the world at large. I am particularly sensitive to their pain and suffering. This is not something I have the power to turn on and off; it is part of my nature. I cannot help absorbing the feelings of those around me the same way a sponge cannot help soaking up whatever moisture it touches. Often, I do not even consciously recognize that I am doing it until one morning I wake up feeling crushed by the weight of it all.
Last year I experienced relatively long periods of depression. In spite of many beautiful moments, the undercurrent of my days was heaviness and sadness. There was so much sorrow and injustice in the world in 2017, and I wrestled with the question, How do I dare experience joy when there is so much pain and so much grief in the world? One day as I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s fantastic podcast Big Magic, I heard her quote the poet, Jack Gilbert in his poem “A Brief for the Defense.” It spoke beautifully to this exact question. I immediately found the whole poem and read it in tears at least a dozen times in a row.
A Brief for the Defense
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babiesare not starving someplace, they are starvingsomewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would notbe made so fine. The Bengal tiger would notbe fashioned so miraculously well. The poor womenat the fountain are laughing together betweenthe suffering they have known and the awfulnessin their future, smiling and laughing while somebodyin the village is very sick. There is laughterevery day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,we lessen the importance of their deprivation.We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must havethe stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthlessfurnace of this world. To make injustice the onlymeasure of our attention is to praise the Devil.If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.We must admit there will be music despite everything.We stand at the prow again of a small shipanchored late at night in the tiny portlooking over to the sleeping island: the waterfrontis three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboatcomes slowly out and then goes back is truly worthall the years of sorrow that are to come.
I still cannot express how much this moved me except to say that I knew immediately I wanted these words with me always. Without a way to burn them into my heart, I settled for inking them into my skin.
Umm…so it is really hard to take a picture of something on your upper ribs without things going downhill really fast. It is actually straight in real life. Many thanks to my husband/photographer for making this look as appropriate as possible.
This poem gave me the answer I desperately needed, and the fog of depression slowly began to lift. We all have a responsibility to acknowledge the real pain and suffering of others and to do what we can to alleviate it. One way that we fight despair is with delight. “We must havethe stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthlessfurnace of this world. To make injustice the onlymeasure of our attention is to praise the Devil.” The question then becomes not, How dare I experience joy in this terrible world? but How dare I not?
More joy in the world is always a good thing. More hope in the world is always welcome. Experiencing peace does not dismiss the reality of suffering. Instead it points out that pain is not the only way, and it calls out injustice as evil. Perhaps the way to fight the devil is the way of the Who’s down in Whoville whose Christmas was stolen by the Grinch, but who sang in spite of it. Perhaps fighting the devil is having the courage to embrace joy instead of letting despair win.
When we see goodness for what it is and we dare to enjoy it, we give glory to the giver of every good and perfect gift. We bear the banner that says Hope still exists. Peace is not a fairytale. Joy is alive. This is a sacred calling. I do not know if this knowledge can ever save me from depression, but I believe that this is true: We must be brave. We must risk delight. We must admit there will be music despite everything. We must cling to Joy on behalf of those who cannot.
March is over and spring seems to have officially arrived in Korea! I am linking up with Leigh Kramer for my monthly What I’m Into post.
What I’m Reading:
Mistborn #1:The Final Empireby Brandon Sanderson. I’m a big fan of Brandon Sanderson, but had not yet read his Mistborn trilogy. I tackled the first book this month and will probably delve into the second one in April. In a land where ash falls from the sky and mists envelop the night, a band of thieves plots to overthrow the Lord Ruler, the immortal king who has oppressed the people of for centuries. Kelsier is the tortured hero, leader of the band of thieves, and schemer who has designed an elaborate and perfect plan to overthrow the Lord Ruler using allomancy, the magic of metals. To complete his plan he needs the help of Vin, a street thief who has no idea the power she possesses. This book has solid characters, an interesting magic system, and a compelling plot line. It’s not Way of Kings, but it is still a really great fantasy book
Girl Meets Godby Lauren F. Winner. This is Winner’s first book and it explores her conversion from Orthodox Judaism to Christianity. Reading this was a strange experience for me since I read it after reading her more recent book Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis which I wrote about here).To be honest, I think reading these in reverse order probably affected my reactions to some of this book. Overall I liked it more than Still and I was really intrigued by all that she shared about Orthodox Judaism and the connections between the Jewish tradition and Christianity. However, reading it and knowing about her future struggles with Christianity and even her future divorce, I felt like I could see some foreshadowing in this book. One thing that’s interesting to note is that Winner converted to Orthodox Judaism in the first place. Her father was Jewish, but her mother was Christian. In the Jewish faith, Judaism is passed down by the mother, so Winner actually had to undergo an extensive process to formally convert to Orthodox Judaism. A few years later, after becoming convinced of the truth of Christianity, she uses a marriage and divorce metaphor to talk about her conversion. In one passage in particular, she speaks about leaving Judaism in terms of divorce and she says,
“If it was a marriage, me to Orthodox Judiaism, I failed long before I met up with Jesus. I failed from the beginning. You could say I became a Christian because Judaism had stopped working for me, but the truth is that I had not done very much to make Judaism work…
Sometimes divorce is the only thing to do. Sometimes it is the more loving thing to do. Sometimes, you have to do it.”
I don’t think these passages would have stood out to me so much if I didn’t know what came later for her. There are moments when it seems that faith is more a matter of choosing what she intellectually has decided is true than it is a matter of her choosing something she believes in with her heart as well and is something that greatly impacts how she lives her life. All of that to say, I thought the book was very interesting, but reading it after Still made me wonder if some of her more recent struggles are really larger patterns in her life.
Cinderby Marissa Meyer (This is only $2.99 for Kindle right now!) The stand-out book for me this month might just be Cinder. This is a YA book about a futuristic world where androids are essential to daily life and the moon has been colonized and become the home of a new species known as Lunars. This unique twist on the Cinderella story involves a cyborg/mechanic Cinderella, a handsome prince, and the search for a cure for the plague pandemic that is wiping out Earth’s population. This is not the sort of book I would normally gravitate towards, but it is so fresh and clever and well-done that I couldn’t put it down. Thanks to my friend, Karissa, whose positive reviews convinced me to give it a shot!
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown. Brené Brown is a huge inspiration to me. I’ve written previously about her book, Daring Greatly, which explores the power of vulnerability and her two TED talks (here and here) are phenomenal. This is her book about wholeheartedness and what we need to live a wholehearted life. As most of you know, wholehearted is my OneWord for 2015. This book inspired and encouraged me in my journey towards wholeheartedness. Some of the material was already familiar to me because it was touched on in her other book or in her TED talks, but this book was still well worth the read. I will be blogging more in the near future about specific steps I am taking on my journey to embrace courage, compassion, and connection.
I’ve just started Barbara Brown Taylor’s An Altar in the World and I am GREATLY anticipating the release of Rachel Held Evans’ new book, Searching for Sunday, which comes out April 14th. If you’re a big reader (or even if you’re not) I would love to connect with you on Goodreads!
What I’m Watching:
This month I caught up/finished the current season of Nashville and Jonathan and I tried to stay current (with limited success because of internet troubles, so we are still behind) with New Girl, The Mindy Project, and Brooklyn Nine Nine. We also finished Broadchurch (amazing) and watched a few episodes each of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, the new season of Community, and Fresh Off the Boat. I have to say, the standout for me so far is Fresh Off the Boat. I think I find it especially funny and accurate since my experience living in Asia.
We actually went to a lot of movies this month and were able to see Birdman (Jonathan liked it, I was ambivalent), Cinderella (I could die of happiness.This was so beautiful I never wanted it to end), and Insurgent (I like this about the same as the first movie minus Shailene Woodley’s amazing hair. I do really like her though. It was entertaining). Speaking of Shailene Woodley’s hair, we also watched The Spectacular Now which I thought was a really good, if unsettling movie.
What I’m Eating:
I recently tried out a zucchini apple muffin recipe that came out really well and is something I will make again. You know me and zucchini – I like to put zucchinis up in everything. I’ve also been obsessed with enchiladas lately. They are all I want to eat. Follow me on Pinterest for more of my favorite recipes!
Photo by: twopeasintheirpod.com Click image for link to the recipe.
On the Internets:
I loved this piece from Micha Boyett about choosing love and humility over rightness. I think Micha is such a beautiful writer and truth-speaker.
I appreciated this post from my friend Karissa about the differences between writing and blogging, something I’ve been struggling to sort out myself.
This stunning piece of prose by Addie Zierman that reminds us of the love of the father for the prodigal, even when he is still a long way off.
I loved this piece from my friend, Sara, about where our confidence comes from.
I actually really appreciated this interview from Angeline Jolie regarding her recent surgery to remove her ovaries, etc. after her double mastectomy last year. The story was completely sensationalized in the media, but I like her message about making sure women have all the information they need about their health and that they can feel empowered and in control of their bodies.
I loved this brief sermon from Nadia Bolz-Weber about that oh-so-famous verse, John 3:16. She really has a way of breathing new life into things that feel old and tired.
“God so loved this corrupt world of empires and victims and violence that God gave God’s self to us. God so loved the world that God came to us in the most vulnerable and fragile way possible. God so loved the world God created that God walked among us as love.
I love Mumford and Sons new single, “Believe” whose chorus, “I don’t even know if I believe,” might as well be my anthem most days. I think it’s a fantastic song, but I can’t pretend that I don’t miss the banjo. Something about the folksy bluegrass sound touches me in a way that electric guitars just don’t. (PS- don’t watch the video, it will make you motion sick!)
I had an article published over at Relevant.com about overcoming guilt in my sex life and did a follow-up post here. I wrote about not faking it til I make it and living authentically, about my recent struggle with anxiety, and about how judgement day might just be the best day of our lives.
Thinking back to the beginning of March feels like ages and ages ago. I feel like I’ve made a lot of changes this month. We started the new school year and I’ve been dealing with my interesting new co-teacher.
I got a tattoo (which I love! I already want another one), new glasses, and highlights (I don’t think I have any pictures of that, but I basically look the same just blonder).
New glasses. Total cost of the frames and top-quality lenses – $60. Go Korea!
My friends have been rocking at life lately.
My best friend got engaged and I got to help her pick out a wedding dress thanks to Google hangout and lots of pictures. Two of my friends announced pregnancies this month, both of which were somewhat surprising and completely exciting. My friend, Karissa is having a poetry chapbook published cause she’s just that awesome. And my friend Brett “Fish” Anderson published and launched his book i, churchwhich you should all buy and read and share with others now. Brett is passionate about the church and has a realistic view of the problems with it while also sharing hope and casting vision for what the church should be.
This was also the month that things became more definitive for us in terms of what comes next. Jonathan applied to a number of graduate school programs to do an MFA. These programs are incredibly small and selective and I am so tremendously proud of his work and his perseverance. After months of working, then waiting, then praying, we’ve arrived at a decision. (Drumroll, please!) We are moving back the US mid-August where Jonathan will be pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing (for fiction) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. The paperwork isn’t in yet, but that’s our final step in making it official. And just to brag on him – this program received over a hundred fiction applicants and accepted four. FOUR, y’all. He is so freaking awesome.
I will be working full-time to support us, though I don’t know where or what I’ll be doing at this point. We’ve never been to Columbia, but are really pleased about it’s proximity to some of our closest friends, almost all of whom live somewhere in the Carolinas. We are full of excitement and anticipation for this new season, though it’s going to be a crazy ride. The earliest date we can possibly leave Korea is August 14th and school starts for Jonathan on August 20th. Best case scenario is that we will have about 4 days to find a place to live and get all of our stuff there from my parents house in Louisiana. It’s gonna be an adventure. Good thing we’re always up for those!