The physicality of sorrow—it’s healthy to feel it

A bomb. An anvil. A wounded gazelle. A straw and the camel’s back.

This is what sorrow felt like. It resembled heaviness. In one instant, everything I feared came true.

I had given everything I could give. I had run my race with maximum effort and I was running on steam. The tunnel vision was so bad by the time I gave up, dropped and hit the ground, that I had lost sight of the finish line. I was not even sure I crossed it.

I was in my car. The weight of the world was on my shoulders and it pressed me into my seat. I could no longer move. I was trapped. Stuck.

Present day, I can still feel the full weight of it all. Everything that had pent up over time—all the denial, all the sadness, all the fight—finally gave way.


That day will live in my memory forever.


It was a normal day—normal in that nothing had fully settled. The feeling was one I was well-acquainted with. It was the most normal the chaos had felt. But something was coming. I felt it. And I knew I was helpless to stop it. The night before I had finally begun to take deep breaths again—like I had been under water for too long and my head broke the surface, allowing a taste of fresh oxygen. But it still felt like I would go under again.

The bomb was still ticking down. The anvil had not dropped yet. The gazelle was still moving—limping. The final straw had not been placed on the camel’s back.

I was the bomb yet I holding my own detonator. I was the anvil yet I was holding the rope because I was under the anvil. I was the camel at the mercy of the hand laying the straws down.

I feared the detonation.

I feared the pain of the anvil dropping on me. That is why I had been working so valiantly to hold onto that rope.

Strength was waning, though.

I stood at church. It was a Sunday night. I had my dog Lottie with me, as I always do. A long drive home to San Diego was ahead of me, and I was going to have a big enough jump on time that I would be able to relax for a little while when I got home before going to bed. But as I stood there, I doubted I would make it home in one emotional piece.

I could feel the heat of sorrow and exhaustion as it started to burn in the deepest part of my heart, and then it spread to the rest of my chest cavity and on to the rest of my body.

I tried holding it together as I said goodbye to my parents and a few friends I calmly walked to my car with Lottie in tow. Curious, I wondered how long I would last. A mile later I peeled off the road, screeched diagonally into a gas station parking spot and slammed my car into “P.”

Eyes closed, head leaned all the way back on the headrest, my breaths came fast. I opened my eyes and scanned my surroundings. I was far enough away from all the pumps and the customers with their listening ears.

I leaned my head forward and rested it against the steering wheel, opened my mouth and released a gut-wrenching, blood-curdling scream.

The bomb had detonated. The anvil had dropped. The gazelle was down for the count. The final straw broke the back.


The bomb had detonated. The anvil had dropped. The gazelle was down for the count. The final straw broke the back.


Tears were streaming and I angrily wiped them away. I sadly realized I was catching my own tears. No one was there to catch those tears, offer words of comfort.

I was the bomb. And the only thing that was not decimated was me, as a bomb can never fully destroy itself. Instead, it remains in pieces on the floor, leaving the most sorrowful evidence of what just occurred.

But there was an odd sense of relief. The running was over. Running from the pain, exhaustion, the Holy Spirit and His love. It was done.

The bomb pieces could finally be picked up. The anvil would be removed from the ground. The gazelle and the camel would heal.

I was the wounded child, but God was the caregiver, scooping me up, carrying me to His sanctuary where He would take His time healing me, teaching me to trust again, letting all the wounds heal properly.

The wounds that radiated with pain that day had to have their moment. That screeching stop, that loud scream, that long drive home was their moment. And God lovingly met me there and accompanied me as I dried my tears, got on the road and drove home with my heart pounding.

Embracing discouragement—Finding strength to overcome

Discouragement feels like Murphy’s law. “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

This day was one of those days. It passed while I sat at my desk staring at the same piece of paper the majority of the day. When I looked up on occasion I would look at my computer screen or I would turn my head to the right to stare out the distant window. I yearned to see the outside world. To connect with something, anything outside of the physical corner I occupied at work.

When I looked at my computer screen, it displayed a familiar video that had always brought comfort. On this day it was only bringing restlessness. There is a beach city in San Diego called Coronado. It is a peninsula even though most people call it an island. And on this peninsula is one of the most historic hotels—Hotel del Coronado. In spite of its historic age and status, it offers restless souls like me a piece of happiness—a live video feed of the ocean view from the hotel.

I stared at that view for hours on this day. And as the clock struck 5:00 p.m. I knew what I had to do. I drove home, fed my dog, then promptly left. I endured some sadness over leaving Lottie at home so I could sit on the beach by myself for a couple hours.

Armed with my purple Knapbag, a quilt, my journal, a pen and my headphones, I drove the 25-minute route to Coronado. There was not much on my mind except the mission at hand: Get to the beach so you can breathe.

The clouds had rolled in since 5:00 p.m. Even though it was late August it was chilly. I trudged past the groups of high schoolers at the bonfire pits out celebrating the last days of summer freedom before school started again. I tried recalling a time when I felt as happy as they looked, especially at that age. I could not clock a specific moment.

I set up camp 15 feet from the tip of the tide as it rolled onto shore. Reclining in my Knapbag with my quilt snuggly wrapped around my shoulders and my left toes in the sand, I took what felt like my first real breath all day.

Not sure of the purpose I had at the beach that night, I just sat for a long time. Forced myself to slow down. Allowed the discouragement access to my heart. Denying it any longer had become impossible. A result or a way out was unknown. I just had to be there in the moment.

Unsure of what I could do beyond breathing, I took a tentative move toward my journal. Writing, journaling would be good because I could not seem to form adequate words in my thought prayers. Written prayers would suffice.

Everything felt heavy—my breath, my chest, my bones, my heart. It all bore a weight I was struggling to stand underneath. It felt as if I did not have a choice in how or what I was feeling. On the surface, what I felt was loss. I had put up a valiant effort and lost. And now I had to forfeit completely. But in the meantime, in the time it was taking me to get there, I did not understand the emotions rolling through me.

I opened my journal and I began to write. I wrote for a long time. I poured my heart out to God in my words, asking my questions and getting no answers. I stated the things I was struggling to understand, and I still struggled to leave them at His feet after I said them. I confessed how bad everything hurt, and I cried.

After a while, it felt like there was nothing left. I sat there and wondered if anything in any realm of life could get any worse. I wondered, Did I take the right first step? Or would I be doomed to flounder in discouragement forever?

As I deflated my Knapbag and grabbed up my stuff, I let my thoughts wander. The walk back to the car was steady, not fast or slow. The road that was filled with parked cars on both sides when I arrived had slowly emptied out. After unlocking the door and dumping my stuff on the front seat, I sat there.

I had taken the right first step. I ran to Jesus with the cries of my heart overflowing. And now I was left with some waiting. Waiting felt void, like it held no substance. I think I just had to be OK with where I was.

So in concrete terms, what does discouragement really feel like? Do you remember when you would swim as a kid, then get out of the pool and change back into regular clothes, then go swimming again later on it the day? Was your swimsuit still damp? Was your towel fully dry to be used for the second swim?

Discouragement feels like going for a second swim of the day after the temperature has dropped, then deciding to get out of the cold pool, endure the cold air with the hope that your towel is going to be warm and ready. But it is damp and cold. The towel never finished drying after the first swim. I imagine that’s what discouragement without Jesus might have felt like to me.

But discouragement with Jesus walking beside me feels like all the hope for that warm towel is valid. He is the warm towel. He will dry me off, He will warm me up, He will comfort me and shield me from the cold air.

Discouragement feels like Murphy’s law because as I left the beach that day, I got lost. My normal route was closed and Google Maps did not know where to send me. But discouragement with Jesus beside me felt like an opportunity to spend a few more uninterrupted moments with Him.

Getting lost was not going to ruin the progress my heart just made. Regardless of Murphy’s law and my cold towel of discouragement, I laid down my emotions at His feet and I knew, and still know, that He cares enough to pick them up and turn them around for me.

Should Christians have negative emotions?

It was drizzling as I walked to my car in the Target parking lot. It was the kind of drizzle that soaks you through if it has enough time. My cart was full of boxes containing unassembled furniture. With this purchase I had nothing left to do for the day except assembly which would not take long. Filled with the need to run, flee, I loaded my car with my bags and boxes and got on the freeway without a destination in mind.

As I drove, the destination came to my mind. I had always wanted to know what the beach looked like while it was raining. Mission Beach it would be.

The strip of concrete in Mission Beach—Ocean Front Walk it is called—is where I found myself after driving in silence for 25 minutes. There was no time of prayer, there was no music. It felt like life had stopped as the beach walkway waited for me. The deserted parking lot told me no one else had the desire to know what the sand and beach looked like while it was raining.

Wearing my New Balance flip flops and a hoodie, earbuds in my ears to ward off any conversation heard by the runners and joggers going by, I walked to the retaining wall, staring at the whitecapped waves being tossed before they hit shore. The clouds became grayer as my eyes tracked them from directly above to as far out as I could see. I felt like that color, as if I looked slightly harmless overhead but the farther out the more volatile my emotions would become. And I was out there alone.

How could I possibly explain these roiling emotions to someone when they felt unexplainable? It felt like there was no beginning and no known ending to the internal turmoil. Was there even a way for me to understand it?


It felt like there was no beginning and no known ending to the internal turmoil. Was there even a way for me to understand it?


I felt like those waves, being tossed, waiting for a pause in the tempest. Waiting for relief. I needed people to help me through this, but too often I heard other Christians, mature Christians, cautioning against emotion of any kind. How could I confide emotions if I cannot explain them, if they end up making me feel separate?

I stared at the waves long enough to be drenched by the rain. I got back in my car without a single clue as to how I could learn to articulate my emotions.

That day was nearly two years ago. I like to think I have learned a bit about emotions since then. Even more, I have learned that I myself am an emotional being. That is how God chose to create me. Looking back on the confusion and hopelessness and restlessness I have felt now leads me down a path of encouragement.


God taught me through a long season that emotions are not bad and they can be brought from the abstract side of life to the concrete side. And I can do this through words.


Last week as I opened my fridge on my lunch break, I thought about emotions, how at times they are the hardest things to explain, particularly the negative or difficult kind. There’s such a contrast here. It is difficult to explain what hopelessness feels like because it’s on the negative side of emotions. But can we explain what joy feels like? Anytime, any place. This sparked a desire in me to find a way through personal stories and experiences to relate what certain abstract emotions feel like. Maybe you are encountering these emotions right now and need a friend, maybe you need to know that emotions are not all bad, maybe you need the assurance that God will bring you through.

That is the purpose of this post and the following posts this month. I want you to understand that emotions can be felt and can be concrete rather than abstract. Then in the final post, I will conclude this series with a story of how I gained the confidence to articulate my emotions and gained knowledge of who God created me to be in spite of my emotional makeup being in turmoil at times.

Earlier this week I read a devo and a quote jumped out at me, making me believe even more in this mission. The devo is written as a personal letter in first person from God to one of His children (you):

“Pay attention to what I am doing in your heart—with your emotions, your thoughts. Ask me to help you decipher them. Ask me to show you why you feel the way you feel. But these emotions? Feel them. And show them to me. The open-hearted surrender of your emotions to me will help you see me in the storm, in the madness you feel when emotion is all you know and nothing else makes sense.”

Emotions are difficult, just as standing on the concrete walkway in Mission Beach was difficult. I left that moment believing answers would never come, believing I would be trapped by myself, in myself, forever. But just as the next day dawned with no rain (a change), soon my situation changed. And yours will too. In the meantime, my prayer is that you will be encouraged through these posts. You are not alone in your emotions.

The act of settling unsettles us

Settle is an active verb. It requires a choice, a conscious decision that must be made. The word implies taking only a fraction of what one believes is due.

Settling in relationships, all relationships, can be painful.

I have been in pain. I have walked miles trying to alleviate the pressure in my chest. Rain or shine, I wore a path around my work because it was the only time I felt I could release the tension. I have spent hours justifying making the wrong choices for myself and my long-term well-being. Through a cycle of seasons I had to prepare myself for the decision ahead. Leaves fell, clouds rolled in and out, the hour of the sunrise and sunset changed…I stayed the same—not ready.

I wanted things to be settled. But I could not find my way through it. If God wanted the absolute best for me in every category of life, how could I be OK with settling for less?

While the implication behind the word can easily mean compromise, a healthy compromise at that, it is not always the healthiest choice to settle. After devouring Scripture over the last year detailing God’s will for us (how much He desires for us to be happy and joyful and at peace) I can tell you with confidence that God does not want us to settle—at least not for unhealthy options.

Here are a few of the verses I have pondered—

“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly,” John 10:10.

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing…These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full,” John 15:5, 11.

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage,” Galatians 5:1.

For me and for so many others, making tough relationship choice comes down to knowing that God wills for far more than what we will for ourselves. The feeling of knowing we can settle and supposedly be OK is like standing on the edge of a cliff knowing if you jump, you are likely to get injured and may not get another opportunity to do it safely. So, it comes down to this: If the pain you are enduring or the choices you are making are not leading to the life described in Scripture, then reevaluate.

If you continue to settle, here are some things I know from experience you will endure. I endured it. Some of my dearest friends have endured it as well. You are going to be OK. I just want you to know you are not alone.


The act of settling unsettles us.


Settling for those who are not going to treat you the way Christ does is unsettling. In settling, sacrifices will be made, beginning with your emotional and spiritual well-being. Your emotions will be rattled. Life will feel both chaotic and still, numb. You will question your own character, wondering what else you will find a way to justify.

The aftermath of settling is even more difficult to endure. If you are in the middle of it right now and you are rationalizing and struggling with doing what you know is right, I want you to consider the next couple of points:

  1. It will hinder future trustworthy relationships from forming. They will just be more difficult than they need to be. This could end up causing prolonged pain because trust has become difficult.
  2. You will always wonder if history is going to repeat itself, if you will find yourself in the same amount of pain for the same reasons again. This will zap your peace and your desire to move forward.

Those are a couple of the negatives. But because I tend to be the person who sees everything as being connected, I will tell you I have noticed two long-term positives from a season of settling:

  1. It has built determination to know the difference between healthy compromise within a healthy relationship and unhealthy settlement in an unhealthy relationship.
  2. It has strengthened me to stand up and not settle for anything less than what God wants for me, and as an extension what I want for myself.

At the end of these posts, I always have to ask myself, Where do I go from here? What does this leave me with?

Other than the verses I listed above, I am going to give you a person in Scripture I like to study. He is a kind, generous, compassionate, strong man of God who acted as a friend to everyone. He is an example I aspire to regardless of his gender. It is Boaz.

When I read a devo about him, I read these words—

In the example of Boaz, we see nine aspects of safe people:

Safe people understand the Father heart of God.

Safe people care about our safety.

Safe people introduce us to other safe people.

Safe people enforce good boundaries.

Safe people are generous.

Safe people encourage our character.

Safe people pray we would flourish.

Safe people provide comfort and kindness.

Safe people point us to God as our safe place.

If your relationships do not strive to this standard and you know God has better for you, trust Him. While I do not regret anything as it is always being worked out and redeemed, I do wish I would have been less fearful and perhaps not worn such a divot into the pathway around work.


Safe people point us to God as our safe place.


Be encouraged. You deserve the abundant like God has planned for you, the life He wants for you. Do not settle for less than what He wants, what He has. I am cheering for you.

Reassurance

Reassurance feels like this.

God, your unfailing Father, stands before you with your heart in His huge hands. You are almost shocked. Why would anyone, least of all the most perfect person in the world, want to hold that old thing with all its bandages and bruises and scars? Yet there it is in His hands. And He cradles it as close to His chest as He can. Then He tenderly holds it out in front of Himself, between the two of you. Where you are on your knees in front of Him, it is cold, and the cold runs deep. He reaches out His hand and lifts your chin. On His face you see a bright yet soft smile, like a sunset coming through the clouds to soften the harsh light, but somehow it still retains its power and beauty. His warm smile makes you wonder if the warmth you suddenly feel is emanating from it. He draws you to your feet and He says the words you need to hear.

“You are My child. Look at this,” He says in reference to Your heart He still holds in His hand. “I made this. Look at this beautiful, soft, sometimes-hard-to-understand-by-man, beating mass of cells and ventricles and blood and systems working together to be something uniquely you.”

He wipes away the stray tears streaking a path down your cheeks then continues.

“When I look at this heart, I see everything. Look at it yourself.”

You look down, hesitant. You do not want to see the ugliness.

“Look at your pain, and look at your sadness and sorrow, look at your mistakes. But look at your joy—even if it only lasted for a moment—and look at your growth, and look at all the mountaintops you’ve been on, and all the hurdles you’ve jumped over. You may see only all of the difficulties sometimes, but here’s what I see: My child who conquered, My child who won every single one of her battles, My child who was in the trenches of her own life and is now on the other side of pain, regardless of how brief the resting periods last. You, My precious child, are strong and beautiful no matter what. Do you want to know why?”

You do not even have the power to nod your head. You are too focused on His words, spoken so gently to you, like being wrapped in a warm blanket after wandering around in the freezing cold for a day.

“It’s because that’s how I made you, and you’re beautiful just like that. I’m proud of you. And I love you. I’m going to give this back to you now, and I will always be here to pick it, and you, back up again.”

He gently takes your heart and cleans it once more before placing it back inside of your chest, His creation.

He knows you well, and He knows what you need right when you need it.