purpose

Turning 46, Pain, and Eternal Perspective

I recently celebrated my 46th birthday and underwent emergency surgery to remove my gallbladder. What can I say, it’s been a busy two weeks! Prior to my surgery, I had planned to write a reflective post looking back at the past twenty years. But then life happened in the form of excruciating pain, surgery, and a week of post-operation care afterwards. So, the following reflects the decade I’m in the middle of, the context of the past two weeks, and the biggest difference I see in my heart at 46; eternal perspective.

When I was 26 I wanted to eat the world. Fresh out of university, I was eager to claim and own my place in the world through a shiny job title and the perks and accolades that I expected would accompany said title. I wanted desperately to be somebody, and my plan was to make that happen through my job.

When I was 36 I was eating the world, avid to chew more, feeling that my enough was out there, yet to be discovered. I’d changed jobs often. I needed to be permanently in conquering mode. It was exciting and somehow unfulfilling at the same time. By the time I was 42, the world - that is my world- the one I had relentlessly pursued, was eating me alive and spitting me out in pieces. You can read more about it here and here.

The severe burnout that took place in my early 40s was God’s saving grace. Waking up to the life you always wanted and looking for ways to quit it, will sober you up quickly. God radically changed my perspective from one filled with hunger and urgency for control and definition here and now, to one with eternity as the destination and intention while I am living this one life I’ve been given.  

God’s purpose never fails, He will have His glory. And it is a gift to us that He does. Seeking our own is detrimental to the very fabric of our spiritual DNA. We were created, we have a maker. We were made to know Him and be with Him. When we seek to captain our own ship and look for our own glory we are usurping the very purpose for which we were created. At best it will consume us enough to confront us. At worst, we will get what we want, and alienate ourselves from the One Who can give us purpose.

So, eternal perspective. What is it? What do I mean by it? I’ll start with what it isn’t. It does not mean having clarity in all things always, or a guarantee of a long-term plan in place. It does not mean a life free of complications, pain, or conflict. It does not promise the ability to outline the right steps with the assurance of a desired outcome.

Rather, it is having a vision that covers more than what I see and want here and now. It is a filter that helps navigate what we don’t know, can’t handle, or fear. Instead of eliminating those things – which is what we’ve been taught should be our life’s goal, eternal perspective equips us to live through it. For me, it has meant living with hope that goes beyond tomorrow or the next thing I wish to achieve. Is the reminder that God is still God, He is still good, and His purposes prevail, even when circumstances seem to point otherwise or aren’t what I want. It is the lifeline that assures him getting the glory will also result in my good. It is the reshaping of my heart that now wants Him to be glorified through my circumstances, rather than me getting my way.

For me, it means to set my eyes on what is eternally important, that I may discern all things in light of that. It helps to put everything in the right place, including and especially myself.  Pressing needs here and now, like rent money, or food, or a health issue, are human needs that point to my limitations. We need food to survive, shelter over our heads, and the means to provide for both. We need help when our bodies malfunction or fail. We need. Eternal perspective sheds light on who I am not. I am not God. I am not self-sufficient or all powerful. As much as post-modern thought, my college education, and corporate career would beg to differ.  

While I was at the ER waiting for the doctors to decipher what was the source of the blinding pain I was experiencing I thought of friends who have experienced hospital visits under much more severe circumstances. Eventually, I thought of Jesus on the cross. The Romans perfected a torture device designed with a slow and very painful death as the end goal. I saw the room full of trained medical staff, several of which were working hard to try and understand what was wrong with my body. My pain, 14 on the scale 1-10, was treated, and in the comfort of a medical facility with a bed, and generous painkillers.

His pain was inflicted while simultaneously depriving him of his dignity by removing his clothes, spitting on him, beating him, making him carry his execution device on a raw back after receiving forty lashes, and then hammering nails through his wrists and feet. A sentence reserved for the worst crimes at that time. Endured by an innocent man. All because His Father willed it, for our sake. This perspective is one I didn’t have twenty years prior.

Eternal perspective humbles me as it reassures me, that I am not in charge of everything. And that which I am charged to do, I face with the understanding that I have access to the One who holds all things in His hands. Pierced hands, for my sake. Eternal perspective is knowing this is not the whole story and having deep joy and expectation for the rest to come. Eternal perspective is knowing I serve a crucified resurrected saviour. And that I too must die to myself, my will, my plans, my preference, in order to be made new with Him.

20170805_180707.jpg

 

 

 

When Life is Too Hard to Live

Screenshot_20180612-022243.jpg

(Photo and drawing by my husband Gustavo Ruiz.) 

I wrote this on Saturday. The day announced beautiful, with a bright sun and cool breeze. The kind that brings home the idea of fresh new mercies. Yet, all I kept thinking was Anthony Bourdain's eleven-year-old daughter. Nothing about Saturday felt fresh when I thought of her and the family. The newness of a regular sunny Saturday felt dark, painful; a new I desperately wished to be old, before Friday, for her. I prayed while crying for a stranger’s child, who didn’t feel like a stranger to me.

That Friday, each time I heard the news anchor say “…he took his own life” the words felt too heavy to receive. Less than a week before, designer Kate Spade also took her life. Something about life ending by one’s own devices screams wrong in the soul. Why?! We ask. What happened?

Anthony Bourdain's death hit me and my husband closer than expected. Like many, we enjoyed his amazing expeditions around the globe recording a wonderful mixture of culture, gastronomy, and most of all humanity. He was no doubt very skilled in the kitchen. Personally, his diet scared me more than enticed me. But his storytelling I found spellbinding. He made the culture he visited feel seen and heard. And then shared it with us through the common and every day; one plate of food and conversation at a time.

I feel heartbroken. For the people that will have to reconstruct life minus one who leaves a void that can’t be filled.  My heart breaks for Anthony and for Kate. I call them by their first names because they were -aside from their fame and success- like you and me. They had jobs, friends, loved ones, dreams, good days, and bad ones. Until one day putting an end to it all seemed to be the only option. I do not know what made them make that final choice, nor do I mean with these lines to assume I do. I weep with their families, because I weep for humanity, for us all. We are broken and can’t fix ourselves. Our time is made of moments, and the sum of them makes our life. How much one single moment can carry, Lord; how much it can take away. One moment can splinter everything.

I have wrestled with these words. I hesitate to share because there is such a stigma about mental health. I also hesitate for fear of being judged as an adult unable to function despite being a healthy, educated woman with a life by all accounts pleasant with “no real problems”. But as a follower of Christ, I belong to one body with many parts. So, I want to share honestly and openly for the sake of the body member who might be reading this, and find in these words, that you are not alone.

***

In November of 2014, I was wrapping up my last week at my well-paying corporate job. For the previous three years, I was a successful Senior Account Manager. My clients were big name companies. I had worked hard to earn their respect and establish my credibility as someone smart and reliable, able to offer strategies that could make a difference for their business.

I travelled occasionally on site to present findings to C-level executives, usually directors and VPs. The travelling was just the right amount, enough to make it exciting and yet occasional enough to not drain. My salary had been increasing steadily and by the time I left I was earning well. I was also held in high regard by my boss, my clients, my team and the CEO of the company.

Yet, by fall of that year, I was also suicidal.

For the previous 15 years, I had relentlessly pursued a very specific definition of success. I had traced myself career goals that encompassed climbing up a never-ending ladder, searching for the next achievement. My heart longed after what my bank account would say about me, how impressive my resume might look to the beholder. Meeting those goals became my life. The line between career and purpose blurred into a shade of sameness.

I want to tell twenty and thirty-year-old me that it is not the what that makes it or breaks it, it’s the why. And my why was breaking me.

I want to clarify, a corporate job, a good salary, travelling for business, and a portfolio of big-name clients, are all fine goals. I am in no way suggesting these are evil things to have or to desire. It’s why I was pursuing these things, which revealed the condition of my heart. My inner narrative said that to be a person of consequence, to be regarded as worthy, I needed to add to what is already there. Because what is there was too small to be important. And I wanted to feel important.

For that entire year leading up to November, I was exhausted. I slept poorly and was falling into deep depression. I came to believe that my life made no difference. I felt empty. The definition of self that I had built was not holding up. I remember feeling like there was no way out of feeling this way. Like I had no choice.

My husband started noticing my exhaustion and would comment that I looked tired. Was I ok? Then a few weeks later, he would say “you don’t look well sweetie, talk to me.” I told him I just felt awful, but that it was me, not us. “When you are not ok, we’re not ok,” he replied.

It made little sense to me at the time. One day he looked at me and said, “honey you know you can walk any time.” But somehow, I didn’t think so.

You see, the identity I had built was so strongly rooted, I struggled thinking if I quit what would I do?! More importantly, who would I be? After all, mature, together people, don’t just quit their jobs. They do so if they have a better one lined up. I was too burnt out to look for anything.

It got worse. I remember one day, on the bus on my way back from the office going home. It was toward the last days of summer. The sun was setting, and it was beautiful. The colours in the sky were amazing. And in the most sincere and natural manner, I thought “I will miss this when I’m gone. It’s so beautiful.” I realized immediately what I had meant by when I’m gone. I scolded my mind for thinking such a thing. Yet in my depressed state, I wanted to entertain the thought. And I did.

As the first days of fall appeared, my spirit became more and more restless. My depression reached its peak. I would cry regularly. I would muster an unbelievable strength to show up to work and put up a front to be functional for the hours I was in the office.

I always did my job. Always up to par with my peers, meeting my responsibilities, and even trying to outperform my own objectives. And again, gaining the praise of my superiors and clients alike. I was “attaining” what I wanted; that which I had worked so hard for. Yet inside I felt depleted. I would arrive home beyond worn-out, a shadow of a person.

During that time, I would often go for walks in the evening to try and clear my mind, as the thoughts and feeling of anguish were oppressive. There is an indoor pool in our building. We never use it. Once I walked by it around 10 pm. There was a sign that said it was locked to the public after 9 pm. I remember thinking - I guess it’s better if it’s locked, It would be so tempting to just go and drown, and end this.

My heart was empty, and my mind was a dark place. The meaning I successfully built was not giving me any significance at all. I was successful on the outside. Inside I was literally a dying soul.

I was addicted to what my job fed in me. Like an addict needs his fix to function; I needed to derive meaning from the existence I thought I had created for myself. The problem is that it was not giving me the fix I wanted. Not anymore. That sense of importance, I was somebody because of what I did. I could not quit that. So, quitting my life instead, seemed to be the option left. That is how blinded I had become.

God’s saving grace came through the few who knew I was not well. I reached out to my best friend in the US regularly, often through sobs on the phone more than anything. I did speak with my husband, although he was the one who did most of the talking, trying to reach out to me. And there was a co-worker, who is also a friend, and a brother in Christ, who saw the severity of my state.

They didn’t tire of speaking truth and wisdom even -and especially- when it seemed I wasn’t listening. I believe, especially their prayers made a dent. I came to an abrupt conclusion that I needed to quit my job, more than my life. Although at the time the two were one and the same thing to me.

Quitting was an ordeal for me. Because breaking up with your addiction is hard to do. But by God’s grace, I did leave. The suicidal thoughts slowly subsided, while the depression lingered for a long while. The road to recovery has been a slow steady one. One baby step at a time, letting new narratives from God’s Word take captive old ones and replace them. Much like a recovering alcoholic, I now walk through life with a deep sense of sober-minded awareness. Identity, purpose, and success are all definitions I revise regularly against eternal perspective, rather than the here and now. My life is now small, and my God big. It is a blessed shift that has literally saved my life.

I feel the burden to open my eyes wide to those I share my life with, to try to see them, to hear them. My neighbours, my church, my friends online, abroad, and those I see every week here in my city. If you are clear-headed as you read this, please embrace that burden too.

If you are struggling, I may not know you personally or the root of your struggle, but I know the burden of a life too heavy to carry. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. And your life is of immeasurable value, for the simple reason that you are an image bearer. There is grace for you. Please reach out, talk to someone. Let someone do the talking like my husband did with me. Allow others an opportunity to prove you wrong and let God, through them, show you He is present and cares. Please give your life a second chance. After all, we say everyone is worth that. So are you.

Whatever you are facing, please let this speak Truth into your life:

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible. Matthew 19:26

***

 

Suicide Prevention

Canada–in French or English: Phone toll-free 1-833-456-4566 /Text: 45645 /Chat: crisisservicescanada.ca

US: 1-800-273-8255 / En Español 1-888-628-9454