Often I find myself falling into that dark place where hope seems impossible, pain seems never ending, and loneliness seems an eternal state of being. It’s easy to allow yourself to believe the negative script in your mind. As your health becomes a crisis all your previous traumas decide to become fresh wounds once more.
When these times happen it is important to find some practical plan to help combat the mental aspects of those dark places. Luckily, I have a plan in place that is made possible by my family. I’ve saved many beautiful letters of love and support from my siblings, parents, and my grandmother Ruth. I know I can pull those out at anytime and reread them. Those tangible reminders do more to combat the false narrative I hear in my head than almost any other strategy I’ve tried. But not only do those specific words becoming healing, they also bring to mind the many memories of when my loved ones lived out their love for me.
When I was a child my parents got us a trampoline. I loved that trampoline. I spent hours jumping around outside. I’d turn a sprinkler on under the trampoline, turn on my boom box, and jump, flip, and laugh the hours away. Frequently I would beg my big brother to come out and jump with me. John didn’t often want to play on the trampoline though. To be fair he was a teenager by the time we got it and I was five years younger than him. Not many 17 year olds would find it enjoyable to jump around with their 12 year old sister. Every once in a while I’d manage to get him out there but that was not the norm.
When I had my first brush with serious illness I was in too much pain to walk, let alone jump. I suddenly lost the ability to participate in the activity that I loved so much. I was a hyper kid. I was not talented at sitting still. So finding myself unable to run around and play brought some significant depression that I’d not dealt with before.
One day I had had a particularly hard day. I was in a lot of pain and I’d had some hurtful interactions with some of the other children at school. That afternoon and evening my parents had gone out. John and I were staying home by ourselves. I assumed we’d be watching tv all night. But, my brother, seeing how I was struggling emotionally, did something I’ll never forget.
I was watching tv on my own when John walked in wearing his swim trunks and a t-shirt. I was a bit confused when he came over and picked me up off the couch and started carrying me towards the back door. Where was he taking me?
It wasn’t until he carried me outside that I saw he had set up the sprinkler under the trampoline. He laid me on the trampoline and I shimmied myself over to the middle. John climbed up on the trampoline and very seriously said, “Alright, hang on and try not to fall off.” My big brother started jumping and trying to pop me up in the air.
I remember the hot fabric of the trampoline that had been baking all day in the Arizona heat. I remember the secret joy of realizing I was dirtying my nice school clothes drenching them in water mixed with layers of dust that covered the black fabric. Caked wth the muddy dust, I remember giggling when John would surprise me by achieving a great pop and feeling my stomach suddenly drop. I remember looking up at my brother and seeing how he was anointing me with the endless love he had for me.
You can’t imagine the amount of joy and laughter he suddenly welcomed into my day. What had been an awful day had been transformed into one of the most purely wonderful joys I had ever experienced. John gave me joy born from the selfless love of a big brother. That memory is one of my most treasured.
Two nights ago I was struggling. The anxiety was winning. I was confronted with the reality that I can not create a stable life on my own. I heard all the times my former husband had told me I had no worth. I recalled all the times I was told I was unlovable and a drain on everyone around me. My mind replayed every derogatory comment that was used to gaslight my own understanding of self-worth.
Heart racing, fever growing, migraine flaring, and hives inducing anxiety took over. Gasping for breath and clinging for dear life I took the time to read those loving letters and to count up as many memories I could think of where my loved ones showed I was worthy of joy and happiness.
With the morning came the show of vasculitis and the frustration that I almost allowed the false narrative to win. I texted both of my siblings expressing how I was going into a fairly stressful day. As always they responded with great love and care. One of the most comforting things was the knowledge that my brother and his daughter are visiting my sister and her family this week.
When they are all together I love getting pictures and updates about their time together. Yesterday as I was scrolling through the pictures and videos they had sent me I paused to watch one of the videos. It’s a short clip where my 14 year old niece Emma is jumping on her trampoline with my 3 year old niece Ruthie. Watching Emma lovingly care and play with Ruthie and hearing Ruthie’s gleeful shouts of “Yay!” and her laughter brought me right back to that day so many years ago where a 17 year old brother did all he could to foster his little sister’s shouts of glee and laughter.
I won’t lie. These days are difficult. The pain is overwhelming. The anger can be consuming. The sorrow is ever present. Yet, even amongst all of that, my loved ones continue to pick me up in their arms and carry me to places where love-covered joy can be found.
So, today I urge those who are walking through difficult days to take the time to bathe your heart in your most joy-filled memories.
And to those of you who love someone that are living those dark days, take a note from my big brother and sister, gift your loved ones a moment of joy. You never know how one small action will shape those around you.
Change the narrative today friends. Find your laughter. Live out your love. Seek your joy. How beautiful it can be to encounter the love poured over you even as you’re walking in the dark. Thanks be to God.