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.

Seen. Known. Safe.

Duck #120

Psalm 139 1-6 says this, “O LORD, you have searched and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.”

I remember being younger and avoiding this passage like the plague. With younger eyes, and sometimes still even through my current lenses, the encouraging words of the Psalmist felt threatening. To be seen and known and deeply understood meant to be shamed and abandoned and hurt. The unconditional love of God was actually not so. In fact, it was very conditional—contingent upon not only my behavior, but what sat behind my behavior, my heart, my mind, my dreams, me.

I’m not shy about my mental health. I’ve written and spoken about it often. I struggle pretty heavily with anxiety. It is not the ruler of my life, but it’s a monster that lurks in corners at night and attempts to have tea with me in the afternoon sun. It’s a royal pain in the ass and the practical means by which I cope with this monster are ones that I owe deep gratitude (lookin’ at your therapy and medicine!)

Over the past several months, the attacks of anxiety that have harassed my mind and heart have been some of the worst of my life. And simultaneously, I have never been more sure of the Lord’s love for me. Still, I have previously remembered that truth better. You see, the thing about growing up and being in your twenties is that it’s hard. No one knows what they’re doing. Everyone is faking it until the make it (and even then, faking it often seems like the best option). Sexy vulnerability is running rampant. CVS and Walgreens have a steady flow of Millennials picking up prescriptions. Bars are always busy. Offices have tear soaked bathroom floors. And we all realize that this is a part of life and that we need not take ourselves so seriously, that we need to breathe, that working hard is a good thing, that community is essential, that we’re not alone…

And yet…I sit and wonder, “Am I worth it?” “Am I lovable?” “Am I too much?” “Will anxiety get the last word?”

The answers to those questions are yes, yes, no, and no, respectively. I know this. I believe this. I repeat this. I forget this.

So in comes Psalm 139. My God, he has searched me. Not only that, he knows me. He knows the thoughts of excitement and joy I feel are too silly to share with anyone. The irrational worries I believe are safer kept inside. He sees and he sets up camp. Preparing a meal and setting the table, my God makes me feel at home in my messy, sinful heart.
As I lay my head down and ask, “Daddy, will you stay until I fall asleep?” He says, Of course,” watching over me and calming the thoughts that would otherwise keep me up at night. While I toss and turn, he is there. When I awake, before I speak, the Lord has met and answered every need I could bring up. Before me, behind me, beside me—my God, my defender, my protector, my friend—He is there and he isn’t running away.

Indeed, like the Psalmist, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me…” To be so seen and simultaneously so loved. I was made for my God. I was made to love and be loved by Him. I was made to be utterly dependent.

And while I can rest in this assurance, I must also be active. Yes, I must be an active participant in my sanctification. Right now, that looks like letting myself fall apart. Right now that looks like, again, taking down the mask that I have re-structured around my face. It looks like practicing humility in asking for help. It looks like being wrong. It looks like letting people in. It looks like allowing myself to disappoint people. It looks like prayer and praise.

I am seen.

I am known.

I am safe.

I am okay.

I am okay.

I am okay.

“As I grow
And as I change
May I love You more deeply
I will lean upon Your grace
I will weep because Your goodness is unending
You are my vision
My reason for living
Your kindness leads me to repentance
I can’t explain it
This sweet assurance
But I’ve never known this kind of friend”
Hidden || United Pursuit
[Dear Lord,
I love you. Hold me. See me. Know you.
May I be more like you.]
<3Amen

This Place

Duck #115

Growing up is a funny thing. I’ve never really wanted to do it. My childhood was lovely. Any time I spend looking back over it brings nothing but a smile to my face. It was filled with adventure, dancing, laughter, imagination, color, love…
This all took place in a home that I loved, in a neighborhood that felt like something made of magic. Moving away from that childhood home was harder than I ever anticipated. I was eleven and I remember crying for a good portion of the drive from New York to North Carolina. Since then, I think little Jayna has been in search of another place to call home. Not one to replace the former, but one where I can settle and rest and let my roots establish themselves in the earth.

I thought, as I got older, that perhaps I would create this home. That it would be the place where I lived that felt the most safe. The Lord is funny and kind, though. Sometimes he gives you what you need in a way you didn’t know you needed it, in a form you weren’t expecting. A soul sister of mine lives in a house she’s created to be a home. Not just for me, but for all who enter. It feels like a fairytale, but it’s so much better because it’s real. I thank the Lord for this place and the friendship that sustains it.

Sadly, the writing of poems is not my forte. However, the way I know how to best describe the way this place makes me feel is through poetry. So, here it is…

——
This Place

near the end of the street clad with age
it sits
light blue, candle lit
quiet
unassuming
robed in welcome
a screen door that whispers the secret of hospitality
yes, You may enter
“please, sit. stay a while,” the walls hum
light rushing in to meet a scent familiar and sweet
cool air
wood floors
opened windows

a crooked chimney makes its debut
an invitation for crooked hearts
(masks removed. it’s okay.)
even the backyard’s greenery beckons to be inside
it longs to be a part of the magic
there’s a rhythm in the baseboards
“won’t You dance with me?”
of course
one, two, three
hours pass
island time vacations here
water & wine play together
hurt & hope converse
mirth & misery swap stories
together…
this place is meant for Us
together
papa in a frame
ink stained on glass
fresh fruit
coffee poured over and over and over

the sun!

oh, how the sun warms this place
oh, how the sun warms this heart
oh, how the sun warms
“look up, Love.”
“how?”
“just as You were always meant to.”

this place
drenched in a thousand exhales
flooded with a New Song

near the end of the street, safely clad
it sits
“You’re home.
breathe, Dear.
You’re home.”