Beware of Trains

People say tornadoes sound like freight trains when they’re on the ground.

I’ve never been in a tornado, but I have seen (up close and personal) the destruction caused by them. And, in a way, I’ve survived a different type of tornado – one that struck my heart and my life.

It was 2013. I was in debt up to my eyeballs, I had health problems the doctors couldn’t diagnose, and the man of my dreams…well, I thought he was going to propose. I really did. But he ended up leaving instead.

The breakup came by text message, right before Valentine’s Day, and right before a big trip he and I were supposed to take.

My life came crashing down in what, quite literally, felt like an instant.

path of destruction
A real, actual tornado struck this person’s house – ironically, this is how I felt on the inside

After the dust settled, I began clawing my way out of the hole I was in. I saved money however I could: by eating cheaply or not at all; by scraping deodorant from the bottom of the deodorant stick; I even cut open spent toothpaste tubes to salvage whatever paste might be left.

I also canceled all my travel plans, including the trip I’d been planning with my ex, and I refused to go anywhere except to work and to the doctor.

No more makeup or clothes.

No more hair products or haircuts.

No more going out.

Basically, I let myself go. I had to – because of my finances, yes, but I also didn’t see the point in trying anymore. If such intense, horrible heartache could happen in an instant, why bother? I was only setting myself up for failure. At least, that’s what I thought.

beware of trains
I didn’t heed the warning signs, the red flags. I hadn’t meant to get stuck on those proverbial railroad tracks while a train was coming full-speed, but somehow I did.

Battling extreme depression, I tried to tell myself that my writing was enough, that I didn’t need anything else. But no matter how much I poured myself into my work, I couldn’t make any progress. And nothing, absolutely nothing, quenched my thirst.

Thirst. The very word makes my throat dry as I remember that season of my life. It’s like I was searching for something and hadn’t even known it. Acceptance? Love? The kind of love that wouldn’t toss me out like yesterday’s garbage?

As the weeks unfolded, I succumbed to depression more and more. I was mired in darkness—and not the kind that’s fun and exciting. It was the kind that’s gut-wrenching and heartbreaking.

Emptiness, by its very nature, is weightless – yet, the emptiness inside me somehow carried an unbearable weight.

dark gray
Searching for hope in dark places

The weekend of my birthday arrived. Desperate to make the emptiness go away, I partied so hard I was sick for three days. My friends took pics of me passed out at my dining room table. In one pic, my forehead was resting on a banana (“banana pillow birthday” someone captioned the pic).

I had hit a new low.

That same weekend, an F5 tornado struck the small town of Moore, Oklahoma, killing 24 people and injuring 212. The tornado was a mile wide, and it was on the ground for 37 minutes. The destruction was inconceivable–like a nuclear bomb had obliterated the small town–and I was moved by the images I saw on TV.

More than moved. I had a long history of recurring nightmares about tornadoes, especially when I was a kid, and I felt drawn (like a calling) to go and help with the cleanup and relief effort.

The idea sparked purpose in my heart. This was my chance to do something that would make a difference. Sure, I was incapable of helping myself, but I could help others.

Right?

american flags
Memorial at Moore’s elementary school
believe in hope
I had been searching for hope in the chaos of my life…but it was Hope that found me

Yes, I thought to myself. I could lift people up. I could rescue them…little did I realize, I was the one still in desperate need of rescuing. You see, I went to Oklahoma, thinking I was going to save people.

In reality, it was Christ who led me there because I needed to be saved—from destructive behaviors, from unhealthy mindsets, and from a whole lot of brokenness.

group photo_during
Our cleanup and disaster-relief crew – we all need a support team around us to make it in life. We weren’t meant to be alone.

Stay tuned for the conclusion on Thursday….