Brandon Appelhans Archives - My Quiet Cave Inc.

Caring for the victims in Las Vegas, NV

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On Sunday, October 1, Stephen Paddock fired countless shots into a mass of people gathered to watch a concert in Las Vegas, Nevada. 58 people were killed including the shooter, who committed suicide in his hotel room. Approximately 500 additional people were wounded in the incident, which was one of the worst shootings in US history. For more details, you can read one of many articles including this one from the New York Times.

love-compassion-self-care

Sunday evening, 57 people who were looking to enjoy a night out with friends or family, who were simply taking in music and having a good time, never came home. Somewhere, 57 families are struggling to find some semblance of reality amidst the noise. If I had lost someone, I would still be in denial. I would be broken, panicked, and numb. Those who lost someone will have to process grief, intense anger at the shooter and the situation, death and loneliness. They will remember this shooting every time they have a family get together, birthdays, anniversaries, and anytime they go to that place they used to go with their loved one. The grief will come in waves, one after another bringing them to their knees in pain and hopelessness. The pain will fade for a moment only to come back. You have permission to grieve for as long as it takes, to be angry and disgusted, and to begin mourning your loved ones. You won’t be who you were ever again, but the wounds will someday heal enough that you will be able to see joy and love again.

Sunday evening 500 people walked through the “Welcome” signs and left with injuries. They have experienced trauma that many of us can’t comprehend. They didn’t just get scared; for a time they had to stare death in the face and will have scars to prove it. All of them may spend time in counseling trying to unlive the horror of that night, trying not to flinch every time they hear a sharp noise. Many will walk away with PTSD, which is commonly only associated with those that have been to war. They were trying to have a great night. Many of them will be completely disoriented by an event that could have ended them. The temptation will be to bury the pain because they survived it when others didn’t. They came out better, right? To those 500, please don’t bury your pain. It is real and legitimate. No comparison can take it away. Find a safe place and get it out before it destroys you. As the Priest Richard Rohr says, “If you don’t transform your pain, you will transmit your pain.” Please, for the sake of the people you still have, invest in your own healing so you can enjoy those you still have.

Sunday, 22,000 people watched in horror as friends, family, or people they had just recently met fell and didn’t get up. They can never unsee the bodies they saw as they ran out of the venue. They can never unhear the screams and the shots, the blood and the horror. They can never undo the trauma they experienced that night. They will never hear fireworks without flinching, never see a crowd without hoping that nothing like that ever happens again. And to them, please know that you made it out alive, but that does not mean you made it out unscathed. Take the time to let your mind and soul heal. You witnessed something that no human should see, initiate, or be any part of. Regardless of how strong you are, that takes a toll. It may not be today or tomorrow, but at some point the depth of the event will hit. Please get help.

Meanwhile, the rest of us look on in horror, yet can still treasure the beauty of everyday things. Last night my son was jumping with me, and ran across the room to give me a hug before he went to sleep. I always love seeing my son like that, but thinking about it today brings tears to my eyes. I don’t want to imagine my life without him or his without me. Those are the best moments that events like this shooting make you treasure, because you know that a number of people can never do those things again, but maybe you can.

Nothing is going to undo Sunday evening. 58 people are not coming back, wounds are not just undone, and thousands of people’s trauma may haunt them for years. I know that events like this tend to incite political fires. They have to. Because of this incident, people will talk about guns, security, violence, etc. These conversations will happen, whether you think they are being avoided or shoved down your throat. But they are not the end.

Tomorrow and the next day you will still wake up. I hope you can add a little compassion to your life. I hope you can hug your loved ones a little longer because you are thankful for them. I hope you can kiss your spouse to let them know you care. I hope you can call a friend to tell them how much they mean to you. I hope you can spread love like a net and envelop those you care about. I hope that the people you love know you love them, and that you know you are loved too. I hope that you can find the time to be thankful for what is in your life instead of running from one thing to the next. I hope you can cultivate thankfulness for whatever and whoever is good in your life.

For the families and friends of those who are not coming back, I’m so sorry. I don’t understand what it feels like, but I imagine it hurts immensely. I’m praying for healing and hope for your soul which has to feel shattered.

For people who were injured, I’m praying for a speedy recovery, and for the space to process the events that occurred on Sunday night. I’m thankful you’re still here.

For those who made it out, I pray for the space to process. You have survived, and there is nothing to feel guilty for. You can’t replace someone who passed away. You are good and we are glad you are still a part of this world.

For the emergency responders, thank you.

And to the rest of us, I pray you can live and love boldly, leaving the world a much better and more whole place than you came into.

In Response to Littleton Suicides

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Last week in Arapahoe County, the second student in 2 days and 8th of the year, took his own life. Arapahoe County and Littleton Public Schools are doing their best to cope, but losing a 13 year old and a 16 year old to suicide in a matter of two days is hard for any community. For more information, see this story: http://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/teen-suicide-in-arapahoe-county-is-second-in-2-days-eighth-this-year

To the families and friends of those students, I will be praying for peace and healing, for the ability to remember the good days, and for the ability for them to continue in life without blaming themselves for the deaths of their sons, brothers, friends, nephews, or cousins. No amount of shame will make any bit of positive difference.

Littleton PhotoSo I ask for something big from the rest of us.

I would ask you to listen without any expectation. I would ask you not to be shocked. I would ask you to be safe.

If someone says that they are struggling with something,
don’t be shocked, jump to judgment, or try to fix it. None of those things are safe. Instead, listen. Just listen.

Finally, if you do suspect or hear, feel free to ask. You are not going to give someone the idea of committing suicide by talking about it. Ask explicitly if they are thinking about taking their life. If they say no, you have breached the conversation and given them a safe place. If they say yes, and you feel out of sorts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at: 1-800-273-8255. They have operators who are specifically trained to walk you through a suicidal time, either for yourself, or helping someone else.

The people who take their lives aren’t out there somewhere. They are our friends, our families, our neighbors, ourselves. They are often people we never would have thought would struggle with suicidality. And they need to know that right now, you love them and will be present with them.

I needed someone, and it made the difference for me. I have been the someone for others, and it made a difference to them.

 

Surviving the Holidays

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Most holiday seasons I would write about setting boundaries, being in routines, and keeping a norm during the holidays to stay well.

But this year is different.

This year, I wanted to be able to perform my best at my job all year. I wanted to increase where My Quiet Cave was operating, make amazing changes, and raise the money to expand. I wanted to be present with my family, be a great friend, and a great colleague. I wanted to do well this year.

But I didn’t.

I had more emails pop up in my inbox 2 weeks after I was supposed to respond them than I can say. I didn’t fundraise like I wanted. I didn’t work like I wanted. I wasn’t as present with my family as I wanted. I didn’t see many of my friends like I wanted. I didn’t really do anything like I wanted. This year I gave 100% of what I had and it felt like 80% less than I wanted it to be.

But then I met with my board.

At the end of the year I came clean with the disappointment I felt about my performance this year at work. I told them about trying to give my best, and about how that just wasn’t much right now. Over the last number of years I had been worn down, and having an almost 1 year old at home, I was maxed. I described all of the things I had wanted for this year, and what had really happened. I expected them to say they agreed with me. Instead, And they said, “Look at all the good that happened this year. You’re good. Keep up the great work.”

This year I needed my own quiet cave. I needed a safe place where people could speak value and love into me when I wanted to be able to do so much more. I needed that because as much time as I spend trying to tell other people they are valuable and good, I have the tendency to put expectations on myself that I will always be able to continue to perform. This year I couldn’t.

This year I had to accept my own quiet cave.

I had to accept that I was still good. I had to accept that this year was hard. But I also had to accept that I was still myself and that was good. I had the opportunity to put down all of the expectation and accept support in a safe place. And I am. Everyday I am still working to. I also had to accept all the good that happened in 2016 and know that even if I didn’t do as much as I had hoped, great things still happened.

During the holidays, spending time setting boundaries, staying on meds, and getting rest are really important. But this year I am also seeing how important it is to accept my own goodness. I know how important it is to accept love and belonging, and how important it is to let myself off the hook whenI give my best. But sometimes, the situation is different and I need a reminder. This was my reminder. I still am good. I was still made as valuable. I am still capable of doing good. Even when I forget.

This holiday season, I hope you as well can accept a safe place and enjoy the people who love you. If this is a trying season and you have a hard time around your family, I hope you can find that cave somewhere. I was not expecting my board to be the group of people to help me but they did. Your cave may not be the friends or family you thought, but sometimes the people who speak life into you do not come from where you expect.

Merry Christmas and blessings this holiday season.

After the Election

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This is not a political post. This is a post about depression.

Today is Thursday, November 10th. The election is over, and yesterday, Hilary Clinton gave a speech conceding the presidential election to Donald Trump.

This morning the Washington Post reported that Suicide Hotline calls were up 250% in the hour after the results of the election came in. Snopes has also reported that a number of claims of teen suicides in transgender parent groups have not been confirmed, but more and more similar reports are coming in. You can see both articles mentioned here:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2016/11/10/at-suicide-hotlines-the-first-24-hours-of-trumps-america-have-been-full-of-fear/

http://www.snopes.com/transgender-suicides-after-2016-election/

So how do we respond to this? My first gut instinct is to beg you to stay. You may have fears about so many things after this election, and no matter what you fear, I pray that you would not leave this place. This world needs you and your voice.

In the beginning, God created human beings male and female, and created them both in his image. He created them as good, worthy, and beloved beings. No matter who you are: color, race, sex, orientation, or theology, or political stance, you were created as valuable and good. And no matter how bad you think things are going to be after the election, you matter. Please do not go. You are important.

And please also know that many people love you and will fight for you. The USA is not just full of Democrats and KKK members. It is full of people. And many of those people, regardless of their political stances, love you. Please stay. We all need you.

If you are hurting today and you need space, tell a friend, a parent, an acquaintance, or any other person you know if safe and will love you.

Whether you are hurting or now, I ask you to create safe space. More friends than I can count have been distraught or hopeless today. Depression is distraught and hopeless, and it kills people. Make space for those you know who are hurting to know you care, you love them, and you want them to stay. Make space to tell people they are loved and secure. Let them know they were not a mistake, they were not an accident, they were divinely inspired walking flesh. And they matter.

2 days after the election, I hope you can know that you still matter. And I hope you know that you can help someone else know they matter too, regardless of their sex, race, political ideation, orientation, or anything else. Because they matter too.

Today, and everyday is a fight for something beautiful. It is a fight for dignity and love, and that doesn’t start or end with politics. It starts and ends everyday with the decisions we make to believe we are loved and worthy, and so is everyone we interact with. It is not a fight against any group or person. It is a fight we fight with love for our families, friends, acquaintances, enemies, opponents, persecutors, and everyone else too. And we need you in this fight, no matter who you are.

A Look Back After Columbine

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Last Wednesday was the 17th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting. Last Wednesday I sat in a room at Waterstone Community Church, getting ready to facilitate a workshop on Mental Health, and realized I was only a few miles away from the building where 2 young men committed suicide, killing 13 and wounding 24 others before doing so.

The memorial, the books, and the statement “We are Columbine” remind us that life changed that day. In the days after Columbine, gun control seemed to be the topic of every conversation on Capitol Hill. In memory of everyone who lost their life that day, and of the many others who will never live the same afterward, politicians went to work to prevent future disasters.

But they didn’t stop.

On October 1st, 2015, Newsweek reported the 45th school shooting of 2015, a shooting in Charleston, SC. And they haven’t stopped since. In fact, they seem to have become commonplace.

Last Wednesday, on the anniversary of Columbine, 20 or so people at Waterstone talked about what their lives could be like if they could experience life. They were people who experienced mental illness, or walked with those who did. They talked about what their lives could be like for their friends and family. They talked about what they hoped for. They talked about being accepted and loved in community. They talked about being able to really live.

During the 2 hours we sat together, the character of the evening shifted. In a church of people from all walks of life, these 20 people found they were not alone. They heard their struggles in others’ stories, and began to relate to each other as fellow voyagers on a path to healing. We talked about mental illness together, but we really talked about experiencing life.

The opposite of death is not the absence of death, it’s life. Keeping a person from suicide may keep a person from dying, but the promise of Jesus is more than that, it is a promise of life. In the case of last Wednesday, 20 people gathered together, on the anniversary of Columbine to fight for the their lives and the lives of their loves ones. They spoke openly of their struggles and wounds, and in community found a sense that they belonged. They also found a glimpse of hope that their lives might still be lives worth living.

I wish I could single-handedly stop all of the shootings, all of the pain, and all of the chaos. But the only way I now how to make a difference is to inspire people to life. So on the anniversary of Columbine, we gathered together, and inspired life in one another. In our own way, we memorialized Columbine, 17 years later.

 

http://www.newsweek.com/45th-mass-shooting-america-2015-378803

A plea for help over Christmas

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2 weeks ago I sat with a pastor in Douglas County. There are 4 high schools represented in the youth group at his church, and between those 4 schools there were 9 suicides last year.

This morning I got a call from a pastor. Over the years, we have become friends, but this was not a friendly visit. Last night he had to call the authorities to prevent the suicide of one of his congregants. This is not the first time either. This was the second time in three weeks.

I have heard more stories like this than I can count, and frankly, I’m tired of hearing them. So I’m asking, during the most trying time of year, for help.

Pastors, we desperately need your leadership. People all over your congregations are tired, worn out, stretched, isolated and alone. Depression may be sneaking up on them because they are burnt out from work, trying to deal with family over the holidays, finding out now they are going to be alone, or feeling worthless because they can’t afford the presents their loved ones asked for. Many more, like me, already have mental illness and hope they can maintain their sanity through the holiday season.

This time of year, as churches, we talk about the need to help the least of these. We highlight all of the things we have to be thankful for contrasted against the situation of Jesus in the 1st century Near-East. But we also discredit the stress and pain surrounding all of us.

The pastor mentioned above in Douglas County lives simultaneously in one of the wealthiest counties in the United States, and the county with the highest suicide rate. In the words a colleague, Frank, “They have bought their isolation, and it is the end of them.” How do we make space to allow people who are suffering to experience hope? How do we allow those whom we expect to be doing well, because financially they look very good, the space to talk about how broken they are?

My friend responding to suicide calls lives in a blue-collar community 30 minutes from Douglas County. But they are not immune to depression and suffering. If anything, his story highlights that the needs are immense. How as a church do we give people permission to get help when they desperately need it?

This holiday season, we can hope that our families are going to get along, sing songs together, and exchange gifts in a civil fashion. We can hope that the bonus from work comes in so we can afford this year’s new toys. We can hope that someone is going to spend time with us over the holidays. But that is just surviving Christmas, not learning to thrive in it.

If you have people (and you do) who are not okay, is your church a safe place for them to begin to reach out? Is your church a place where people will experience challenge and hope instead of shame and hate if they confess their own mental anguish?

This year I would challenge pastors to help give your congregation permission. People in your church may need permission to get professional help. Give it to them. They may need permission to ask for help from a friend. Give it to them.

And, if you are among the 70% of pastors who struggle with depression, I would ask that you let your congregation know that this can be a hard season by sharing what you are doing to keep your head over the holidays. Nothing gives others permission to heal more than hearing the story of how someone who has to fight too.

The Verdict of Mental Health

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This week James Holmes was sentenced to a prison cell for the rest of his life instead of receiving the death penalty. On July 20th 2012, he opened fire inside a theater in Aurora Colorado, leaving a dozen dead and 70 wounded. Now he has been convicted and sentenced.

As the trial went on, 2 sides began to emerge. On one side were those who wanted to see Mr. Holmes punished for his crimes. After the deaths of 12 people, this side argued that Holmes had to pay for all the pain and suffering that came at his hand. They wanted justice, meaning punishing Mr. Holmes to the maximum extent of the law. On the other side were advocates, who asked for mercy because of the mental condition that plagued Mr. Holmes’ mind. Was he sane when he committed the crime? Was he aware of his actions? Was this because of James Holmes or because of mental illness? They argued for mercy on behalf of Holmes’ mental illness.

As a man with bipolar disorder, both sides of this argument sting. The 12 people killed in the theater shootings will never come back. This Thanksgiving, the families will celebrate their 3rd thanksgiving with empty chairs that used to be filed with life and laughter. This Christmas will mark the 3rd time a stocking hung on the mantle to remember the life of a loved one who will never see what is inside. Whether James Holmes was guilty or not because of his mental state, nothing will ever bring any of these people back. His actions, regardless of his mental state, left empty chairs, empty stockings, and shattered people’s lives. I have never killed anyone, fired a weapon in the direction of another person, or committed a violent crime. But this trial has asked me one very important question: what am I responsible for when I’m not stable?

Before I was stable, I never tried to hurt anyone, but I said immensely hurtful things to my family and friends. My words sliced the people I care about to pieces. I was angry, spiteful, and cruel at times. Am I responsible for that? It was the bipolar, right? Regardless of whether or not I meant to cut my family and friends down, they were cut down. The James Holmes case reminds me that regardless of whether or not I felt like I was in control of my actions, they happened, and what happened hurt people.

James Holmes was sentenced to life in prison without parole. Whether you view that as right or wrong, the ruling tells all people with mental illness one thing: get help now.

I never want to sit in court and hear about the things I did and have to reckon how I could have done them. I never want to hear about how badly I hurt my wife. I never want to sit alone because I wounded all of my friends, and they left. Regardless of whether or not these things are legally my fault, I never want them to happen.

My dad always said to leave the world a better place than it was when you came into it. Over the last number of years I have learned I am a valuable person because of the love of God. I have learned a depth of love for other people that I had never known before because I can freely give and receive love like I never could before. I know my life matters and impacts the people around me. When I think of the end of my life, I don’t want it to end with a verdict based on an insanity plea. I want it to end with the conviction that my life left a fingerprint of love on the people around me. That they knew, even for a moment, that they were valuable, because I think they are.

This last week reminded me of all the ways I have hurt people, but also reminded me of the ways that I have experienced healing and hope. It also reminded me that it is not too late to get help.

If you are scared to be diagnosed with something, because it might make you into a monster, I can tell you that a diagnosis does not make you a monster. It does not make make you less than anyone else. It does not mean that you are going to do terrible things. It means that you have the opportunity to work on healing. It does not have to hurt those around you.

If you have already hurt the people around you, and you feel ashamed of what you have done, I understand. I have walked through that too. But you are not defective, broken, or useless, and your life is not over. I have seen more healing in my own soul, and in my own relationships than I ever would have hoped for. You can get better, there is a future, and it is worth all of the pain you feel now. I know it does not feel like it, but from experience, I know it is.

If you know someone who is going through mental anguish, they do not need you to fix them, but they may need to know that when all of this clears, regardless of how badly they hurt you, you hope to be standing with them. They may need help getting the resources they need, they may need a ride to a therapist of appointment, they may need a reminder that they are worth the pain, and they may need your help to remember their meds. But more than anything, they need a friend who believes they are worth fighting for. And if you feel like they do not appreciate it, they might not, but someday they will understand exactly what it is that you gave them.

In light of the James Holmes case, the verdict more than anything tells us to get the help we need now. Instead of looking back at everything that has happened and feeling guilty, I hope you can look back in the years to come at the decisions you’ve made, and even though it was hard and painful, you can look back and be thankful for the decisions you made, about the person you became, and about how your mental illness may have been an obstacle, but it did not rule your life.

I’m Still Me

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Last week was a time to get away. I had been looking forward to the time for weeks. Any time I get to put work down for an extended period of time to be present with myself, my wife, and family, that is a great time. We were going out of town for a few days, and I could not wait to leave.

Monday of last week I got food poisoning. I don’t get food poisoning. I did not expect to get sick, so I naturally did what anyone in that position who did not want to get sick would do, I pretended I was fine. Vacation was saved! But I wasn’t fine.

We were playing cards when my wife asked if I was okay. I told her I was fine, but then she felt my head. I was burning up. She validated that I was sick. I felt like an 8 year old being sent to bed because I was staying home from school. I took a glass of water and retreated to sleep.

We got home from vacation and I wanted to jump in to work. I felt I should be rested because of the time away and I was excited about all there was to do. I got up on Monday morning, ready for the day, and by 9:15 I was thoroughly convinced that I had messed up. I was exhausted from being sick. All of the momentum I thought I had was gone. My bipolar was acting up. I was buried in a pile of meetings and things that had to get done, and I felt like I was unable to do anything.

I met with a person who had a psychotic break recently. We spoke for an hour, and at the end of that hour, I had heard her journey, and understood mine.

Over the course of the last week, I had come to doubt myself, what I was capable of, and if I was ever going to be enough. I had changed the way I thought about myself, and instead of just acting, I was worried about whether or not I was good enough to do the thing I was thinking acting on. The person I met with had simply said, “I’m still me.” Inside I was touched because I wanted so badly to see myself in that moment as still me.

For years I was treated as something instead of as someone when my bipolar disorder flared up. Suddenly I was a problem to be fixed instead of a person to be loved. The questions would begin: Did you take your meds? Did you get enough sleep? Are you eating well? Did you exercise? The answer was yes to all of the above, but I was sick and needed time to recover. When none of the questions gave the inquisitor the answer they were looking for, they would just tell me there was nothing they could do.

In that place, I needed someone to tell me that I was still me, still the person they knew, and that a bad day did not define me. I needed to know that things would be okay, and that I was still perceived as being me in the midst of whatever I was going through. I needed to be told that I was not defective. I needed to know people cared. I needed to know that even if I felt broken, I was still me.

I have come to give myself more and more of that perspective recently, but I still struggle when work has piled up and I feel like I am immobilized mentally. I still struggle with shame when I feel like I have not lived up to my own expectations of myself. And in some ways, I think that is okay. Because under all of the struggles,the expectations, and the shame, I am still Brandon. I am still the person I was before food poisoning, before a trip, and before feeling like I was unable to work on Monday morning.

In that moment a few days ago, I realized the magic of My Quiet Cave. The magic is that I’m still me, even when I have bad days. She was still herself. And the rest of our Overcome participants, Cave Group participants, volunteers, leaders, board members, friends, partners and colleagues alike, are still themselves when things don’t feel quite right. In the midst of friends like that, it is easier to hear “You are still you,” and it becomes easier to say, “I’m still me.”

Peace and Pain

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This winter, thus far I have been a mess of emotions. Strong feelings have been coming over me one after another after another. Simultaneously, I have been discouraged and worn down by the marathon that life can be. I have been encouraged. I have been pressured, often overwhelmed. I have been thankful for all of the people that have come around us to support us. I have felt distracted and unable to be present with those I care about. I have been thankful for the time my friends and family have spent with me and dedicated to me. Simultaneously I feel happy, thankful, overwhelmed, crushed, broken, significant, loved, insignificant, and hopeful. And in the midst of it, sometimes, I feel peace.

And over and over again, I have asked, “What is wrong with me? Why do I feel all of this? What am I feeling?”

Throughout this process I have been thinking that when work is at such and such a spot, this pressure will subside. For the last month or two, I have been hoping for the pain to end so that the peace will settle into my life.

My biggest frustration over the last few months has been that there are so many feelings rushing through me all of the time. Am I happy or sad? I am both. Am I hopeful or hopeless? Both. Am I excited or exhausted? Both. Am I thankful or do I want more? Both. I seem to be unable to understand my own self right now.

This morning I have been reading about the last hours of Jesus’ life, while he was pinned to a cross, and I have begun to feel at peace.

In the last hours of Jesus’ life, he made a few statements, but they do not fit seem to fit together. A few hours before dying, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) He hurt. He still had compassion, but the pain of being killed by his own created image bearers must have been unbearable.

Then a man dying alongside Jesus asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus entered his kingdom. Jesus responded, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) Hope screamed from Jesus’ broken body as he cried out that this was not the end. This was a brutal death which would birth a beautiful beginning. I the midst of the pain, Jesus exclaimed peace.

Then Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) All of the peace was gone. It was bled out of him. And then Jesus, “calling out with a loud voice, said, “father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) And he died.

I’m not dying. But in the midst of all of these competing emotions, Jesus’ final hours give me solace to know that pain and peace can live in the same body at the same time. On one hand Jesus screamed at his father because of the pain, and on the other hand committed his spirit. On one hand he asked his father to forgive a violent crowd, and on the other promised hope for the ages to another man slowly suffocating to death.

I have been waiting for the pain to subside for the peace to take over. Jesus seems to feel all of them simultaneously. I think that this is what real peace is. Peace is not just the relief that comes after the pain, but it is the seed of hope that is planted in the midst of it. The kingdom is here in the middle of the pain. It does not mean that the pain is gone, but it means that because of an amazing God, there is hope in the middle of the pain, and when the pain comes to an end, the hope does not have to.

I still feel happy, thankful, overwhelmed, crushed, broken, significant, loved, insignificant, and hopeful. And now peaceful and hopeful too.

My pain determined my lens

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I believed that I was somebody. Or maybe I just thought I did.

In truth, for years I was haunted by the belief that I was never going to be good enough. I strove to make the people around me happy because I believed that I had to be good enough. I had to be the best worker around so people would believe in me. I had to be the best friend around so people would love me. In many ways I was extroverted and outgoing; all of it was a coverup. Inside I hurt because I fiercely believed I was unworthy of anything.

I was told that I was a beloved son. I was told that I was good enough. I was told that my life meant something. I never heard any of it. I was told a number of times that God had an opinion of me, and he was right. I heard the statements and understood them, but something kept them from sinking in. Something still made me think that I was nothing.

The lens I saw my life through was the problem. No matter what I heard, or what I saw, I knew deep inside that I was nobody. Why? Because deep inside I had a few core wounds that I had carried, which I saw the rest of my life through. I believed that I was a disappointment. Through that lens, no matter what I heard, all I actually internalized was, “you still are not good enough, are you? You are such a disappointment.”

As long as that lens dominated my thoughts and actions, I was always going to be nobody. I was always going to hurt. I was always going to feel chained to my own failures and losses.

Everything finally changed when I processed with my counselor, and the phrase, “Brandon, I am so disappointed in you,” came to the surface. It was the lens that I had seen my entire life through, but never known was there. The phrase had dominated my life without me knowing it. But now the lens was uncovered.

When I understood my lens, slowly I was able to hear more and more of the truth about myself, and allow myself to heal. I heard that I was a beloved son of God, and for the first time, could accept that love. I heard that I mattered, and for the first time, believed I was valuable. I was able to hear that I was loved, by God, by my friends, and by my family, and felt, for the first time, overwhelming love. The lens could not prevent me from experiencing life anymore. The subconscious cancer that had eaten away much of my life was called out. I could see myself through God’s eyes for the first time, because the lens that had dominated my own life had lost its power.

Freedom is something that happens when our lens is corrected. Before I thought that getting away from my pain would make it go away. Since, I have learned that running from my pain only gives it the space it needs to fester and grow. Pushing into my pain, beginning to bring safe community into my pain, and allowing that pain to heal, left it powerless. Soon my lens changed.

I am not alone in my pain.
I am not helpless.
I am not a victim.
I am a beloved son of a great king.
I have value and worth.
I am enough.
And I know this because my lens no longer rules over me.

We all have a lens. Most people I know, though, live their lives through a lens that prevents that from experiencing things like love and peace. If your lens is clouded, like mine was and still sometimes is, lean into it. There is so much more to live into.

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