Returning Home to Myself

Returning Home to Myself: The problem wasn't who I needed to become (or return to) to be alive again, to fill this empty shell; it was a matter of being able to fully see who I already am, to acknowledge the life already in me.

I felt like an empty shell of a person. That was the negative self-talk that looped in my head anytime I let my guard down. I was doing all the things to fix whatever was broken in my life, to get back on whatever track it was I'd fallen from. Yet, despite doing the work, I kept returning to that feeling and that phrase "empty shell of a person" like an obnoxious song on repeat in my head.

When I was in the thick of that self-defeating thought, I sat on the two-person sofa in my counselor's office, telling him about a moment when I distinctly remember thinking I miss being alive. I had several sessions with him before being able to articulate that was the moment that motivated me to finally schedule an appointment with him. I've never had suicidal thoughts, but thinking I was somehow no longer fully alive seemed dangerously close.

That moment, now months before, the sun showered over me as I sat at our dining table scrolling through Instagram. A creative I follow shared something that sparked inspiration and creative desire in me that hadn't been there in a long time. Instead of giving me hope, it made clear exactly how far I'd fallen from where I wish I were. In that split-second juxtaposition of life-spark turned lost-journeyer, the weight of I miss being alive numbed me from the sun's warmth.

My counselor pulled out a paper from a file--a file that holds the notes he takes after our sessions along with the periodic self-evaluations I complete to track our progress. He asked if he could read his notes from our last session to me.

As he read words he had written that simply described who I was and what I brought to our conversation during that counseling session, I stared and blinked and wondered. It sounded vaguely familiar. He was reading descriptions of who I remembered being, of the me I felt like I needed to return to. But how? How do I get back there? Back to myself?

He set the paper down, and I think noticed my blank stare, so he asked if I wanted to see it. I didn't know what I'd see myself that I didn't just hear him read, but I said, "Sure."

I started reading, in his words, the version of myself that he saw in that last session we were together. The tears swelled as I read his description that was the me that I'd been searching for, that I'd felt like I lost, the person I'd been hoping to become... it was right there. On paper. But he hadn't written these words trying to help me create a self-fulfilling prophecy, like I sometimes felt like I was doing in my own journal.

He was simply noting his observation of the person currently sitting in front of him. The problem wasn't who I needed to become (or return to) to be alive again, to fill this empty shell; it was a matter of being able to fully see who I already am, to acknowledge the life already in me.

In that moment, I realized I wanted to uncover the whole person God created, fully me right now even if I don't feel it. That is what I mean when I write about borrowing God's eyes to see myself. I want to sit before Him and hear Him tell me who I am.

Without really knowing where it came from, I had the distorted idea that when God looked at me He could only see who I was becoming, like a lump of clay with potential. There's only so long someone can go on thinking they're merely a useless lump of clay before their Maker. A lump of clay isn't far from feeling like an empty shell of a person and then missing being alive... even while still technically living.

When I sit and listen to God tell me who I am, I hear a calm voice say: This is who I made you to be. There may be challenges, but I see the beauty, the hope, the wholeness I chose for you.

It's a matter of opening my eyes and truly seeing what God sees, who He created me to be and is continuing to lead me into, and not basing my identity on ever-changing feelings.

There have been too many moments that I've held the urge to edit-undo every move I make, even the good ones. I finally got tired of feeling guilt or embarrassment at showing up to my life. The low rumble of anxious thoughts got old. I was tired of the negativity that took residence in the feeling part of my life, so I got help to give it an eviction notice and kick it out.

Anything less than that is discrediting my Creator, and me as His creation. I deserve better. You deserve better.

We don't do that to His sky or sun or flowers or trees. We sit in nature and wonder at the beauty of God's creation. So why do we settle for negativity on ourselves, the whole point of His creation?

That is the value of getting quiet, getting in nature, getting in God's Word. Not just to hear who we are, but to hear God say it in a way that makes us at home with who He created us to be.

May you find stillness to feel that He is God, and you are His, flaws and all. You are a whole beautiful thriving person as you are now. And if you are having a hard time hearing it, or a hard time believing it, get help. You don't have to struggle alone to return home to yourself.

Recently, the sun showered over me again, this time as I took the trash out. I drew a deep breath, warmed from the inside-out with the thought It feels good to be alive. And that's what it feels like to get the help I needed to return home to myself.

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also see:
new? start here...
self-care over the long haul
a year of showing up to life
how to find the true you
grow your life

Lessons on Steady -- A Year of Showing Up to Life

collage of photos from a year of showing up to life

Last year was my year for Steady. (You can read about my year for Slow >> here.)

Where Slow revealed what happens down in the dirt of life, Steady showed me what can happen when we keep showing up to tend to our life. Those little actions (that often feel huge) repeated over and over can really become something. Namely, a growing, even thriving, Life.

That's what happened for me in my year of Steady. I attended to the harder parts of self-care (or as it became for me, life-care) by scheduling and showing up to appointments, returning to peer accountability, and "clocking in" daily to habits I wanted to grow.

Steady reminded me I am capable of making good decisions and being a whole and healthy person. Steady over time replaced my exasperated "I miss feeling alive" with "It feels good to be alive!" Steady let showing up be enough, and some days Steady allowed showing up to turn into some of my best effort yet.

The previous year's struggles in Slow turned into this year's Steady benefits and the following lessons on showing up to life.

1. Things that give me life aren't just a preference--they're a deeply healing necessity.

While in Florida (a surprise I got to join my husband on his work trip), I walked around enjoying all of the greenery and teared up taking it all in. It was tears of joy like salve on my soul. In that moment, I realized greenery and sunshine (among other things) aren't just a preference for me--they're a deeply healing necessity.

This helps me to realize in the middle of a Nebraska winter, that I need morning light therapy to make up for the lack of sun and I need to tend to some houseplants to make up for the missing green. There's other ways this applies. When I answer "What gives me life?" I'm not just figuring out trivial hobbies or interests, I'm finding what literally fuels my life.

2. When I'm going all in just to feel okay, I might need extra help going the last bit to really be okay.

After spending a lot of time on self-care--the kind that involves counseling, shutting down technology, taking vitamins, doing a course to learn more about mental and emotional health--I noticed I was still working really hard to feel okay, and wasn't always succeeding. Even when I succeeded, it was frustrating to always feel that struggle. So I finally asked my doctor about antidepressant options.

Some form of depression (and even anxiety, which I didn't realize until the last few years) has been a part of my life since I was 13, but I've always learned how to manage it. My year of Slow left me space to realize I wasn't really managing it anymore. My usual stuff helped, but wasn't fully working. I don't know if antidepressants will continue being a part of my solution, but for now they're the extra step I needed in this season. Sometimes that extra help includes counseling or a peer support group or an accountability partner or maybe vitamins. Whatever it is, it's worth taking that extra step to fully be okay.

3. I've been here all along, even when I don't feel myself.

In the middle of my biggest struggle, I felt deeply lost. I knew who I was and what mattered to me, or at least who I used to be and what used to matter. Then I had a bit of a breakthrough when my counselor read back his notes to me from a previous session. Everything he read sounded like the me I hoped to become; but he was reading notes that were based on what he currently saw of me. That was the beginning of me realizing I've been here all along, even when I feel lost. It's a matter of opening my eyes and truly seeing what God sees, who He created me to be and is continuing to lead me into, and not basing my identity on ever-changing feelings.

4. Health improvements take time.

We attended an 8-week seminar and group session on mental and emotional health, especially addressing anxiety and depression. We learned lots of important habits that affect our health and brain function more than we usually realize. We also learned that implementing these healthy habits can take weeks, even months, to see the full effect in our daily life. This is a concept I generally knew, but seeing more of the science and facts behind it helped emphasize it and serves as a good reminder to give any positive life changes time to see the fruits of the effort.

5. The miracle is God's presence in the struggle.

It was a "why me" moment at 3 a.m. with my husband gone on a trip, my 4-year-old waking up every 15 minutes to throw up, and my own migraine brewing. I needed God to show up and, I thought, change my circumstances. But right there in the midst of the struggle, story after story came to me of how God showing up in the middle of undesirable circumstances was The Miracle.

Angels shutting the mouths of lions while Daniel still had to sleep in their presence in the den; God showing up in the midst of the fire with the Hebrew boys before they walked out; God being with Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness. A strength and endurance grew in me as I realized I wanted the miracle of resolution, but The Miracle is really God's presence in the middle of the storm. There are plenty of other "storms" in my life I've wanted calmed, and I'm learning how seeing God with me in them is more important than being saved form them.

6. Small habits build up over time, for better or worse.

Bad habits feel like they grow up out of nowhere, but they're established the same way good habits are--one action repeated again and again. Showing up was a good place for me to start. This played out in an obvious way at the gym.

I wanted to get more physical exercise, but jumping to the end result felt overwhelming, so I started with a goal of showing up. I could do 10 minutes or 5 and I'd still meet my goal by just being there. But chances are, after making the effort to be there, I'll likely finish a whole 30-minute session.

This has applied to a lot of other areas... I figure out what my minimum showing up looks like and aim to do that, then let anything more be a happy bonus. These seemingly small habits of self-care and life-care one by one help me show up to my life.

It's your turn. Pull out a pen and paper (or a notebook to collect these sorts of things). Write "What I learned last year" and start listing whatever comes to mind. This is a great way to look back and "raise your ebenezer"--noticing what brings you to life, how you showed up to your own life, and especially how God showed up.

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also see:
new? start here...
goal-planning brought me back to life
making sense of a hard year
slow + steady self-care
how to find the true you
get my emails

How to Find the True You

Book by Michelle DeRusha, True You: Letting Go of Your False Self to Uncover the Person God Created

"When I was big, did I ask my name?" It takes a couple tries, but I realize my 4-year-old is asking if he asked us What is my name? when he started speaking.

I chuckle at the thought and tell him no, I don't recall him ever asking that.

"But how did I know my name?" I now get what he's wondering.

So I tell him, "We called you by your name over and over. We said it to you so much that you just knew it."

That seems to appease him.

Then I feel God impressing on my heart: That's how you know who you are. I've been telling you since the day you were born. I've been saying your name. You are loved, you are chosen, you are created by Me with purpose. Do you hear Me calling you by name?

Too often I'm too distracted to hear it. Even in the "stillness" or in the apparent "quiet," I'm too often scrolling or filling my time with something that keeps my soul from really being still or quiet. Yet, it's in the stillness we know who God is, and I believe in the stillness is also where we hear God telling us who we are.

That's also the message my friend Michelle DeRusha shares in her new book True You: Letting Go of Your False Self to Uncover the Person God Created (affiliate link; see full note below). She emphasizes the importance of slowing down to really listen to who God says we are. Her message of getting quiet to let the soul feel its worth in the presence of its Creator: it's necessary.

As Michelle writes, "If you want to catch a glimpse of the soul's 'precious wildness,' you must get quiet."

My fear tells me that in the quiet I will be made a fraud, undeserving, unworthy, incapable. But the truth is in the quiet I find my identity, purpose, and belonging in Jesus who is undoubtedly true, deserving, worthy, capable. That sounds like a great foundation for my life.

"Our mind needs time and space to catch up with what our soul already knows," writes Michelle.

How do we do this? How do we get quiet and listen?

Michelle shares about her practice in "directed rest" to be quiet to listen, and the idea of "fukinaoshi of the soul" to let go of the false self. You can learn more about that and read Michelle's story in True You.

Here are some things that are helping me get quiet and hear God tell me who I am in this season...

Start a ritual.

Quiet isn't a one-time thing, so I've worked on building it into my daily and weekly routines in various ways. Lately, I wake up in the morning for some light therapy time and that's my quiet right at the start of the day. I also do quiet stretching at the end of the day. Then I shut down the technology for Sabbath and take a bath each week. These aren't live-changing practices, but get me back into the habit of being okay with quiet. Plus, they're doable and that's where I needed to start is with my routine rhythms.

Turn off screens.

Quiet and stillness aren't actually very quiet or still for the soul if screens are still on. So whenever or wherever I have my quiet, I make sure my phone is not a part of it. (You can always make an exception if you find value in a meditation app or a yoga video.)

Make a collage.

When I need something to do in the quiet, I make a collage card. It's one way to fill the silence that's still tuned in to my soul and what God might be trying to speak to me or about me. I am often surprised at the end result of the collage to see what's on my heart and mind that I might have otherwise missed.

Take a bath.

A bath is one of the few places I am truly still and quiet and completely okay with it. I add epsom salts and eucalyptus bubbles, and make sure the water is hot enough for me to linger a while. In the past I've leaned over the edge to look at a magazine or scroll on my phone, but lately I opt to just sit in the warm quiet. I've even added a string of soft lights over the mirror for a calmer atmosphere, and just let my mind wander. It's crazy what kinds of things can get worked out or what seeds are planted in that simple practice of just sitting (or laying) in the stillness.

Stretch.

This is a great end and/or start to the day. I used to make stretching happen during a show I was watching, which was a good use of the time. But lately I try to do my evening stretching before I go to bed without watching something. This helps create more of a meditative practice.

Read.

While reading doesn't leave the mind quiet, thoughtfully choosing reading material can still be a great way to hear God speak truth over you. Especially if it's from God's Word or from an author who points to God's Word.

Write what God might be saying.

If you're feeling doubtful or anxious or struggling with the quiet, pull out a pen and journal to write what you imagine God might be telling you. If He were writing you a letter, what might He tell you about who you are, how He created you, and where you belong?


The point is, God is saying your name. He is telling you your identity, your purpose, the place you belong. Be still and know that He is God and that you are His. He created you, He cares about you, and He is continuing to help you grow.

Are you listening?

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also see:
new? start here...
30 ways to slow + rest
my favorite books
how to enjoy reading
grow life emails

*Note: Affiliate links used in this post. Purchases through these links could earn me a small commission with no extra cost to the purchaser. Thank you!