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When you feel like you’re drowning



I sit at the stoplight numb. Watching the world drive by, I suddenly find the words I’d been trying to locate all week. Out of the silence they crash into my head and I realize I’d been holding my breath. Tears well in my eyes and flood over their gates as I choke out the words across the invisible telephone line: I feel like I’m drowning. 

For weeks they eluded me. Seemingly endless days of sadness, suffering, searching and silence. At once they capture my struggle, panic, fear and my overwhelming lack of faith.

How often do I seek to save someone as if their very life depends on me? 

How many times do I fear that in letting someone go, I am invariably leaving them behind? 

How often do I believe that if I just try harder, work longer or swim faster, I can save myself?

Another wave crashes over my head. Guilt. Shame. In a moment I feel it. I know this story. It’s a familiar dance, the desire for community and the suffering it entails. The push-pull of relationship: the cost of community.

Love will always cost you grief. Love is always worth the price. ~Ann Voskamp

I desperately clamber to tighten my grip when I realize she’s already gone. Confused, I slowly realize I was never holding her at all. The truth is: she never wanted to be saved.

It’s not hard to feel weary or discouraged in this world, because our hearts were not made for this world. 

We were made for eternity and community, and yet sometimes it’s so hard to hold on to in this life. And maybe that’s the point. Maybe we’re not always meant to hold on so tight. Sometimes, perhaps, it’s an even stronger act of love to learn to bravely, faithfully, let go. 

You cannot save people, you can only love them. ~Anais Nin

Often the stories we hold and the things we have witnessed carry an invisible grief. There’s no death to mourn, and yet death is everywhere. In marriages, friendships, relationships between coworkers, countries, neighbors, families, siblings, parents and children.

Sometimes it is impossible to understand. Sometimes it feels easier to try to change everything than to simply embrace what is.

My grandma always said: “You can’t make sense out of nonsense.” And: “You must play the hand your dealt.” 

She was stout and smart and she called a spade a spade. She always said that too. She left us with a hundred famous lines to remember her by but, more than that, they were wise. I look back as an adult and see how much I failed to learn from her very hard life and the wisdom she fought for. How often do I spend myself trying to make sense out of nonsense? How often do I try to fix what demands to stay broken?

Our job is surrender.

Community will always cost us something. But when we press in, instead of pulling out, He offers us the reward: community. It’s both the price and the gift. As Ann said, Love will always cost you grief and it is always worth the price. Because the cost of loving is losing, and in losing we are forced to surrender. To come face to face with our inability, our imperfection and our great and desperate need.

Perhaps the cost of grief is learning to open up our tightly clenched fists to receive.

Because when we’re drowning by the weight of a responsibility that was never ours, and a fear that threatens to overwhelm our faith, the last thing we think is to cry out for help. But it’s the very thing that will save us. Community is more than the friend we see drowning and whom we feel desperate to save. Community is the company of those who know us – the ones who see us and know our heart – who are still on the shore.

Life is hard and it’s not getting easier and it’s clear we cannot do this on our own. We were made for community; for strands that are not easily broken. And when the weight of the world falls on our shoulders and we feel like we’re drowning, sometimes the greatest act of courage is the one that seeks to save ourself, from ourself. To reach back to solid ground, and the anchor we have in a cord of three strands. Knowing that in letting someone go we’re not leaving them behind but laying them down. Because in the midst of our determined struggle to hold on to something we were never meant to carry, we’re the one going down.

Are you trying to carry someone or something you cannot carry on your own? Do you feel like the weight of another lies squarely on your shoulders? 

Often our greatest gifts are our greatest weaknesses, and we need true friends who can see the margins in our gift. Find your friends on the shore and call out for help. Surrender what you cannot do, and give it to the only One who can.

*I’m so proud to update you on the progress of my little sister Felicia, who after sixteen years of addiction is now fighting toward her 120th day of sobriety. Please continue to pray for her.

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{ 11 comments… add one }
  • jessica sands March 25, 2015, 3:16 pm

    go felicia!

  • Gretchen March 26, 2015, 4:41 am

    Oh PRAISE GOD for your sister! that is so awesome!!! Praying for strength for her!

  • Rachel March 26, 2015, 3:59 pm

    I’m wondering now if I need to lay myself down. I’m trying to carry so many burdens and grief and self worth issues. And still keep up with my responsibilities and goals. It’s so heavy. I’m tired but don’t know how to rest without giving up.

    • Tammy March 26, 2015, 10:43 pm

      Never give up on you Rachel. Run your race. God only asks you to take the next right step, and sometimes that step isn’t as big as we think it is. One small step today. You’re doing good work. xo

  • Hannah March 29, 2015, 7:13 am

    Yes, we are made for community….but sometimes that very community tosses people aside and pushes them under as well….with no explanations. You certainly can not make sense out of nonsense….

  • Lisa McKinney April 13, 2015, 10:12 am

    Thank you for those words. It’s exactly how I feel. I’m so happy to hear about your sister. Please pray for my daughter, that she finds the inner strength your sister has found.

    • Tammy April 14, 2015, 1:53 pm

      Praying for her today Lisa. And for your momma’s heart, too. Nothing is impossible for God. Praying He will chase after her and reveal himself in a way that she couldn’t mistake or deny. xo

  • Tessey September 4, 2015, 6:20 am

    Tammy this may be dated for March but Gods perfect timing put it in my sight today. I can’t help but have tears of joy for your message and the blessing it has given me! As I sit here and witness the change in myself He also is reminding me of His rewards! I’ve been blessed right here right now and you wrote this back in March which shows me His rewards are in His time! May you also feel and know His blessing with His message through you! Thank you for your time,energy,efforts and Faith! Hugs!

    • Tammy September 6, 2015, 1:40 pm

      Oh Tessey I’m so humbled and grateful to be used as a vessel for His faithfulness to YOU! I find it so overwhelming and beautiful that He would use us and our meager offerings to minister so much to one another. Broken vessels, healing broken vessels. Blessings to you this day. xo

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