The Most Vulnerable Emotion

Duck #123

“Jayna, what do you think is the most vulnerable emotion we can have?”
I paused, shrugging my shoulders.
“Would you believe me if I told you that it was joy?”

I paused again, looking at my therapist trying to understand why she would ask me that. I asked her to explain.

“Joy is the most vulnerable emotion because we’re afraid to lose it. Think about it, we’re not worried that fear will go away or that anger will go away, or sadness—but joy…we’re afraid that once we get it, it won’t last.”

Loose wires started to connect and unscrewed bolts began to tighten.

I nodded.

She continued, “Jayna, for some reason, you have this inner narrative that keeps you afraid of joy. It’s like your shame is trying to protect you from the devastation of losing joy. Once it comes, you struggle to enjoy it, not wanting to get attached, because you ‘know’ it’s going to leave.”

My inner child felt both seen and also extremely sad.
I don’t remember if I cried at this point, but it is very likely. Therapy does that too ya. It just hurts so good, ya know?

_________

That was a few weeks ago.

Earlier this week, at my appointment, my therapist said, “Jayna, can you take note of the times that you’re laughing? Can you take a few seconds to realize how that feels, to realize that you’re safe?”

I nodded. “Yes, I can do that. I love laughing!”

“I know you do! Pay attention to your body when you’re laughing, like really laughing.”

What I’ve realized through this counseling process is that the body really does keep the score. Apparently, there’s a fire alarm in my brain that’s been going off for months now. Essentially, my body has felt like it’s under threat and so my brain is sending off signals alerting me of danger and is doing everything it can to keep me safe. This is all happening in my amygdyla. Brains are bananas, y’all.

As I’ve continued to work through past trauma and experiences, the fire alarm doesn’t go off as much, but it’s still fairly sensitive.  Making toast in my mind is precarious work. But I’m not in danger anymore. I know that, I really do…there’s just still a part of me that’s trying to catch up to that fact.

I’m safe.

And whether I realize it or not, I feel the safest when I laugh. If you’ve ever seen me laugh you’ve noticed at least these 2 things—

1)It doesn’t take much to get me going

2)Once I start, my knees “give out” shortly thereafter

It’s quite the sight to behold. People whom I’ve just met are always concerned, but my friends are faithful to immediately say, “She’s fine. She just does this.” If there aren’t any “new” people in the mix, my friends will just say, “Oh! There she goes!”

I can’t help it. I’ve seen video of myself when my laughter “takes me”, as I like to say, and it’s pretty funny. I look ridiculous, but you know what else I look? Safe. Safe and Free.

__________

As I was getting out of my car for work this morning, I dropped an orange I’d brought with me. Immediately, the orange started to roll through the parking lot and like an animal I ran, bent over, after it. Realizing how silly I looked, I started to laugh. In doing so, I remembered another time I was doubled over in laughter outside, near a car. I was with a good friend. He was talking about something, and then all of a sudden he wasn’t. He had slipped and fallen in the wet grass. Where I could once see his head above the car, I saw nothing but black. You truly had to be there (or be me) to find all of this as funny as I did/do.

Anyway, I immediately sent this friend a video of me recalling the story. In the video, I was laughing (who’s surprised, honestly?). I walked into work still giggling to myself and thought about my therapist’s words. I tried to take notice of how my body felt.

Calm. Relaxed. Shoulders down. Jaw unclenched. Mind swimming down a stream instead of its usual race through the rapids. I smiled and thanked Jesus that for my frequent laughing fits.

________

Even though I laugh frequently, I always worry that maybe one day I won’t be able to. Maybe one day I won’t be completely overtaken by my laughter. Maybe one day this joy will be gone. Of course, the Lord is faithful to let me laugh. He lets me laugh big, hearty, loud, and body encompassing laughter. And it’s beautiful. It’s precious. When I laugh with all of who I am I’m not worried about who I am, how I’m perceived or what might happen. I can just be. I can be full of joy.

What I’m realizing now is that true and genuine laughter only comes out when I feel safe. I give the specifications of true and genuine because we all know what it’s like to nervously laugh. (Think: the awkward laugh that happens when unwanted, sexual attention is given. Laughter and consent aren’t the same, people!) But true and genuine laughter—the kind that steals your breath, the kind that puts your stomach in a tight knot, the kind that can’t possibly sound attractive because it doesn’t have the time—is the kind that tells our bodies, “Hey. You’re safe. It’s okay. Lean into this moment.”

_______

The book of Nehemiah says that it’s the Lord’s joy that is our strength. What good news that is! My joy isn’t my strength. It’s His. Sealed by the Spirit, hidden in Christ, my Father holds both my strength and my joy. He is my safe retreat and the gift of laughter is a reminder of that.

And joy, while a vulnerable emotion, can’t ever be lost. It doesn’t be long to me. At least, not entirely. I’m not responsible for it…my Jesus is. And he’s the best keeper of all things sacred and vulnerable. He’s the best at details and intricacies.

So here is this joy, Lord. It belongs to you. You’ve allowed me to hold it and it feels frail. Help me to remember that my hands aren’t strong enough and that I have to let you hold them. You give and take away, yes, but there is a guarantee that you will never leave. And in your presence is fullness of joy. So, my sweet Jesus, abide with me. Abide with me, and let’s laugh.

The Sound of Joy & Gladness

Duck #116

“I can literally feel the Holy Spirit right now…” 

Those were the words my roommate, Emily,  said to me last night as we relaxed in her bed, watching a video of Cynthia Erivo sing “I’m Here” from The Color Purple on The Late Show. As Cynthia lets the notes leave her body, she shares a part of herself. To hear (and watch) this performance feels like a true gift. As my roommate and I lay horizontal in her bed, smiles crept across our faces and breath returned to our lungs. I looked over to Emily and said, “Isn’t she amazing? Wasn’t that so good?!” She simply nodded, nearly having tears in her eyes. I crawled off the bed, knelt down and with eyes closed said “Ugh! I just…I will say this over and over again until he returns, but I’m just so thankful that God created music. He didn’t have to. It’s for our joy! And the fact that Zephaniah says that he sings over us?! I can’t. I really can’t.”

If you’ve ever hung out with me in person while music was playing, then you’ve heard me say similar sentiments before. You’ve seen my body contort or simply go limp because of particular notes and lyrics in songs. You’ve heard me scream over an unexpected harmony. You’ve seen me immediately get up and dance because the bridge of a song is just so catchy. You’ve seen close my eyes and lip sync the mess out of “Big Girl’s Don’t Cry (Personal).” I can’t help it.

There is something about the experience of listening to music that is truly euphoric. In the same way that poetic diction enhances a story, the notes on the bass and treble clef scales enhance the way we see the world. Music has a way of taking an ordinary sunny day and making it feel like it’s the best day you’ve lived so far. It also has a way of making a break-up feel like you’re drowning in the flood while your ex is sailing away on The Ark. How can it do both?! Maybe even in the same day! Music changes the way we watch movies, get through the work day, recover from trauma, study for finals, pick out an outfit, take a road trip…

As Christians, I think music also changes the way we understand the person and character of Jesus. Psalm 51:8 says this, “Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.” To give some context, this verse comes in the middle of David’s lamenting and repenting after having been exposed in raping Bathsheba. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do after having been exposed in my sin is to beg God for my broken bones to make noise. But he’s a God who will always woo us back. As his children, there’s a melody that’s just for us.

In re-reading verse 8 this week I was struck with the auditory language–hear and rejoice. I started thinking, what exactly does joy and gladness sound like? If broken bones could literally rejoice, what would they scream? I’m no theologian, but I’d like to believe that joy and gladness sound a lot like singing and rejoicing bones sound symphonic. I imagine the harmony of salvation and forgiveness is like that one time Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson sang together on Soul Train.

How kind is it of the Lord to let music be a means to point us back to him. He could call us to himself or back to himself in so many other ways, ways that are far less enjoyable. But God! Throughout Scripture the Lord calls his people to sing together, to shout, to dance, to play the harp, to blow the horn, to beat the drum, to praise the name of Jesus for all that he’s done.  The King gets all the glory and we get drenched in joy.

Gosh. I’m so thankful for music. I’m thankful for the ways it allows me to know Jesus better. I’m thankful for the ways it’s fostered beautiful relationships with friends (and strangers!). I’m thankful that it lets me feel seen. I’m thankful it consistently moves me to tears. I’m thankful that sometimes it communicates what “just words” can’t. I’m thankful that with music,”the LORD [my] God…will rejoice over [me] with gladness…he will exult over [me] with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17).

 

[Dear Jesus,
Ugh. You’re so kind.]
<3Amen

Discovering Beauty in THE TOWN

Post Grad Duck #16

The semester is about to come to a close and as it does, I’m going to attempt to put into words what it is exactly that I have been doing these past few months and what I have learned. This is no easy task. I’ve blogged about happenstances, sure. I’ve told you about hardships I’ve faced, yes. I’ve even mentioned the faithfulness of the Lord through it all, but I still feel like it’s all just been snapshots of what life has been for me during the first semester of my internship.

There are so many facets to what I’ve been learning, so many various parts of this job that I could talk about. Breaking them up and giving them each their proper respect seems like the right thing to do.  I ask that you bear with me, maybe you’ll discover something in my jumble of words that you find worth while. At least, that’s what I hope.

So let’s get started. Here’s part 1. The Town: State College, Pennsylvania.
As it turns out, it’s harder to write about the town than I thought. I’ve typed several paragraphs and found that they didn’t quite satisfy exactly what I wanted to say about this town. And truthfully, what I come up with may still not be exactly what I want to say, but I’ve got to say something…

It’s been said that you can’t define something by explaining what it’s not. For example, if I was going to describe a cup, I wouldn’t say “It’s not a bowl, nor is it a plate.” That doesn’t really give you a depiction of the cup; however, in the case of this quirky little town called

1) State College, it’ll have to do.State College is not a city. It doesn’t have large buildings, or bright lights, or a skyline.

2) State College is not a place privy to a lot of ethnic diversity. The bulk of the diversity comes from the international students on campus, and even still it’s not that great of a number.

3)State College is not very big. You can get anywhere in town from almost any spot in town in about 10 minutes or less. The only reason it would take you longer to get from point A to point B is because of traffic downtown. (And with so many pedestrians, the lights can only stay green for so long or else no one will ever be able to cross the street).

4) State College is not very loud. This could be interpreted as being a place that doesn’t really have much going on (*spoiler: that’s not true.)  The college students in the town most certainly can be quite noisy, but if you don’t live close to the university things are pretty quiet.

5) State College is not a place that I would choose to visit, at least not at this age. It’s a town that draws a certain type of person, typically  younger married couples, or those with children.

Now, I say all of these things a) because they are true, but b) because the juxtaposition of me and State College is kind of funny. I’m so attracted the bigness and the lights of the city, I’m black, I’ve already done the “small town thing” while in undergrad, I’m young and sometimes enjoy a little extra noise, I am neither married nor with children.

I am out of my comfort zone. I am wandering around a place that is unfamiliar and desperately trying to make it recognizable. But it is in this town filled with loyal Penn State fans, characteristics I could do without, strange laws, and the most 2-way stops I have ever seen within a 10 block radius that I have found Jesus.

1) State College is not a city, but it holds a community of people that have shown me the kindness and compassion of Christ in more ways than I deserve.

2) State College isn’t that diverse, but it ’s not a place that I feel uncomfortable or ashamed of who I am (as a young black woman and a daughter of Christ). I have the opportunity to move towards change and cultivate something different!

3) State College is not very big, but the number of times I have seen the faithfulness of Jesus revealed in various parts of this town has FAR exceeded my expectations. I’ve seen him work even in places like the salon where I go to get my hair done 🙂

4) State College is not very loud, but the stillness and quiet has allowed me to  be more sensitive to the presence of my Savior.

5) State College is not a place that I’d like to visit, but it is the place where I currently live and I am really thankful.

I told someone recently that moving here was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done and settling in has been one of the hardest feats I’ve had to conquer. But I also told that same someone that if I had to do it all again in order to know what I do now, to see Jesus work in the ways that I have, and to experience such sweet moments of joy, I would.

So what has the town taught me? Well, that Jesus is here and that He is at work. It’s also taught me to look for beauty–it exists even in places where we don’t always want to see it.

Yes, State College, you’re growing on me 🙂 Here’s a (mediocre) picture of one of the main streets downtown. The sun decided to make a quick appearance after days of being absent. IMG_9718.JPG

[Jesus, thank You for this little town I live in.]
<3Amen

 

…to dream again

Post Grad Duck #7

Do you remember what it was like to be in elementary school? Remember what it was like to finish math, eat lunch, and then rush outside for recess? Remember when pine cones were bread, rocks were plates, and trees were our homes? Remember when just being outside was enough entertainment to last all day? I think because I’m getting ready to move out of my college apartment and say goodbye to Boone, I’ve been doing a lot of childhood reflecting. I was such a dreamer in those days.  My imagination was deep and my thoughts seemed to run for miles. At the age of 5 I was naively optimistic and that’s okay when you’re 5, but I remained in this mindset at least until my 20th birthday. Since then, it seems like my optimism turned into a cynicysm that I never thought I’d have. I still dreamed, but far less. I still found entertainment outside, but more so when I was accompanied by my phone.

I didn’t like this change. I recognized that my naivety was maturing and that was good, but I felt foolish for dreaming. I felt silly for having my head in the clouds. I started to compare myself to those around me. If person X is really organized and sees things in straight lines, then maybe I should do the same? And well, person Y reads books by authors with names I dare not attempt to pronounce, so maybe I should look into that? Oh, person Z is only listening to obscure bands with lyrics that you discuss with people in a dimly lit room while sipping black coffee and smoking cigars, so maybe I should just give up my Demi Lovato binge days?

For the past two years, I thought that growing up meant that I had to give up so many things I loved for the sake of proving that I’m an “adult.” Recently, I’ve learned that being an “adult” doesn’t mean that I can’t dream–quite the opposite holds true.
“When you learn to pray, you learn to dream again,” says Paul Miller, the author of A Praying Life. As adults, prayer is hard. Miller makes the point to express the fact that as we age the more critical and cynical we become–we lose our child like faith because the logic of it all is so much less.

For example, as a child I would often ask my dad if he would bring home Auntie Anne’s pretzels from the Galleria Mall where he worked as a sales associate at the Verizon store when we lived in New York. I asked because I never believed that my dad would say no. I asked because the pretzel store was not far away from where my dad worked. I asked because I wanted a pretzel and I was confident in the fact that my dad would get it for me. Why? Because he was my dad. That was enough reason for me to ask my dad for anything.

Now, “because he’s my dad,” is not a good enough reason. Now, my response would be “So?” “He’s just a person.” “He’s flawed.” “Other factors could interfere.” “Let’s test it out to make sure that he can come through.” Critical and cynical.  My childlike belief has vanished and with it, so has my dreaming.
Miller puts it this way

The second thing we must do in learning to pray is believe like a child. Children are supremely confident of their parent’s love and power. Instinctively, they trust They believe their parents want to do them good. If you know your parent loves and protects you, it fills your world with possibility. You just chatter away with what is on your heart. It works the same in the world of prayer. If you learn to pray, you learn to dream again. I say “again” because every child naturally dreams and hopes. To learn how to pray is to enter the world of a child, where all things are possible. Little children can’t imagine that their parents won’t eventually say yes. They know if they keep pestering their parents, they’ll eventually give in. Childlike faith drives this persistence.

At 21, I have the rest of my life ahead of me. Lord willing, I have years and years and years to dream and hope and believe. As I press into the heart of my Father I can take on the role of daughter and act as a daughter would. Growing up doesn’t mean that I have to lose my sense of wonder and curiosity. Because the fact of the matter is, even as an adult there is still so much that I don’t know. I have to ask my Father because as His daughter there is so much that He has yet to teach me. There is a great difference between being childlike and childish. Maturity, growth, and even adulthood is an understanding of the difference between the two.
I like how Miller uses “again” when he talks about hoping and dreaming. It’s a return, a return to the likeness of a child. We must return to the dependency children have upon their parents when it comes to our walk with Jesus. The older we get, the more we should see our need for a Savior.  Our sin becomes more immense, but so should the immensity of our God. And in such immensity is fullness of joy, unbelievable hope, unfailing love, immeasurable grace, and endless dreaming.

So, what I guess I need to say to myself is: It’s okay, Jayna. Go back, dream again. Return to your Father. Ask away…

[Papa, I want to dream again…]
❤ Amen

It’s Inside, So Let It Out

Unknown

Post Grad Duck #5
Per usual, there are a lot of emotions swirling around in my head. And in that way, I’m a lot like Riley Anderson. Riley is the main character (sort of) in the new Pixar animated film, Inside Out (If you’ve seen the movie, then you know why Riley is sort of the main character). I don’t want to spoil the storyline because it’s a good one and I encourage everyone to see it, but I do want to spoil this.

IT’S OKAY TO FEEL AND IT’S OKAY TO BE SAD. 

Shocking, eh?
It shouldn’t be. I think that more often than we are willing to admit, we’re told that we need to keep our emotions in check. We’re taught that feeling too much isn’t a good thing. If you’re a girl, it makes you dramatic and if you’re a boy it makes you too sensitive. (I don’t want to gender stereotype, but in the game of emotions, sometimes that happens, does it not?)
Feelings are a part of who we are, all of us. For Riley, five main emotions of joy, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust literally make up the mechanics of her brain and control how she reacts at any given moment. In that way, emotions are what show that’s she’s alive. The same goes for us. Emotions give us vitality, they give us personality, they give us…us–they’re who we are. No, they’re not all of who we are, but they’re still a pretty big part.

In a great article detailing an interview between, Amy Phoeler, the voice of the character Joy, and Pete Docter, the director of the film, Phoeler had this to say, “…Sadness is like a superhero.” And the film proves this to be true. I won’t tell you how Sadness saves the day, because it really is a film that I encourage everyone to go see, but I can tell you about why I agree with Ms. Phoeler.

Sadness is an emotion that demands to be felt. It’s raw and it’s vulnerable and sometimes we can’t escape it. I know this personally because of the season of depression I experienced during my junior year of college. But I also know that we can’t escape sadness simply because like I sad before, it’s a part of who we are. I’ve been sad this week. It’s an emotion that allows us to be who we are. Sadness is a pusher, if we allow it to be. It can push us to the far corners of ourselves that we want to ignore. It can push us to points that make us want to break. It can push us to beyond where we’re comfortable. Is it fun to be sad? No, of course not. But sometimes it’s good. We need to feel so that all of us, all of who we are, can function–the parts we love and the parts we hate. It’s not fair to just let our favorite parts of ourselves to operate, it’s not true.

Yesterday I had a really good conversation with a friend. He said a lot of things that really resonated with me, but the one word that’s stuck with me is vulnerability. Earlier I said that sadness is vulnerable, because it is. Vulnerability is beautiful. It’s not easy, but it’s beautiful. Sometimes, sadness can push us to the necessary point of vulnerability, the point where other emotions can grow in our hearts so we can heal. But if we don’t allow ourselves to be sad, we won’t allow ourselves to properly heal. And in one way or another we need that healing…all of us.

So if you’re sad, that’s okay. Be sad. Be vulnerable. Be brave enough to heal.

[Jesus, thank You for emotions. Thank you for feeling. Help us to own them, but to not be controlled by them. May we listen to them and not ignore them, ultimately bringing glory to You.]
<3Amen

photo credit: www.screenrelish.com

streamofconsciousness1

post grad duck #4

there’s something really cool about a free write. there’s something really authentic and raw and real about typing and not letting your fingers stop until they’re done. i did that today and here’s what happened.

it’s seems like there’s been a block. something happened inside me that i’ve wanted to ignore, but can’t seem to just shrug off anymore because there’s a piece of my heart that’s grown and torn and ripped and been kicked a little bit and so now its in the process of healing and that’s great because as you grow life does too and your heart expands but it’s not easy it’s often really painful. but i don’t want to hurt, ya know? because no one likes that and when you’ve been hurt before you do everything in your power not to be hurt again and that’s why we put up walls, that’s why we try to act tough, that’s why we don’t say anything because if we speak up, if we falter, if we let our face indicate how we feel inside we’ll get laughed at and we’ll get beaten up a little bit and we don’t want that. but that’s no good either because we can’t live in fear, that’s not what life is about. but i want to protect myself. i don’t want to hurt, but i’m not strong enough to protect myself. i’m incapable of doing it alone and that’s why i need Jesus to save me. and i know that He’s real and i know that He loves me and i know that He exists but sometimes you can just crawl inside yourself and convince yourself that the cracks you see are too wide to fill, you can convince yourself that the bruises are too deep to dissolve and that you can’t be saved. you’re sad and sometimes it’s easy to stay sad even when you don’t want to be sad, but you can’t help it because it takes a lot of energy to move forward sometimes. so you try to scream but your voice is paralyzed and you try to cry but your tears are frozen and you try to feel but your heart is dry and you need water, you need water so badly because your veins are so thirsty for something that’s bigger than yourself. your muscles ache for a type of relief that can’t be remedied by stretching or sleeping because it’s deeper than that, it’s bigger than that. and Jesus is right there. He’s so in love with you and hates that you’re hurting, but it’s so hard to run to Him sometimes because you shame yourself for not believing Him when He’s right there. but He’s patient and you know that and so little by little you step forward because He’s pulling you towards Him. you can’t help but to move because He’s calling and so you have to answer because just maybe when you finally reach Him you’ll be overwhelmed with the love that you thought you could find elsewhere. maybe when He holds you in His arms you’ll feel whole again because He’s the only one that can cover the cracks and aid the bruises and grow a room inside you that’s only meant for dancing and laughing and signing and popsicles and lollipops and flowers. and you know that He’s not punishing you because that’s not His character, but you know the the world is broken just like you and you know that sometimes things get hard but you’re frustrated because i should have seen this coming and i was aware and this time was supposed to be different. so then He whispers and He says that you can’t know everything because it’s not your job and you’re human and I love you and I need you to trust Me because I’m right here and you can rest when you’re with Me. And that sounds great and that’s what i want but it’s hard and i keep saying but because i can’t help it to think of every side of every option of every thought because when your mind goes and won’t stop you exhaust everything. but i wanna feel and i want to cry and i want to laugh and i want to sing and i want to feel and i want lighting to strike inside and i want rain to fall and i want the earth to shake the foundation of my heart because at the end of the day i want to grow and i want to be stronger and i want to move forward and i want to stand up and i ant to admit that i’m not always okay and i want to be okay with that and it’s exciting because i know that you feel that too. i know that sometimes life is really crazy and you don’t understand why things happen or why you get upset or why you’re treated a certain way or why people hurt you or why you hurt people but you’re a beautiful creation and you’re so deeply loved and we don’t have to have it all together. it’s beautiful to be broken because that means that the Lord gets to make us whole because He’s always been whole and He wants to fix those fragmented pieces and mold them into a masterpiece because that’s who He is and we get to enjoy Him forever and glorify Him through our brokenness by admitting that when we’re weak He’s strong and we can say that we believe but need help with our unbelief and that’s amazing because that’s exactly how He wants us to talk to Him. honesty is extravagant and we shouldn’t have to hide even inside ourselves and when we feel deeply we don’t have to apologize, so we can run with blurry vision and exhausted legs and needles in our feet and faintness of breath and say “Jesus, i’m here.”

[…]
<3Amen