Blog

Apr15
2018

Finding Sun in the Shadows

By Lauren Penna

My friend (Liz) and I are what you’d call twenty-something-creatives. We’re often caught in the age-old struggle of chasing after our dreams and hunkering down into the grind of everyday life. We’d intended to hash out our thoughts on an upcoming road trip because sometimes our dreams feel impossible amongst the chaos. Dreams can feel heavy. Dreams can be overwhelming enough to bring us to our knees. Sometimes, we need to cry it out with our best friends. We’d planned to do just that, but we had no idea that the rest of our trip would end up feeling so full.

We were two scared little runaways, Liz and me. We ran north, away from Des Moines to St. Paul in the midst of our chaotic, confusing lives. As we watched Jon Foreman’s dream to play 25 shows in 24 hours play out, we wept for a lot of different reasons.

If you’ve ever had the immense honor of seeing Jon Foreman play live, you know it’s something special. You know that you’re in for so much more than a concert. It’s an experience, a bonding of strangers into some weird, messy family. This night was clearly no exception. Jon had asked the audience to create his set list by writing songs on slips of paper and placing them on the edge of the stage. He couldn’t promise he’d remember any of the lyrics or even how his songs went, but it was all part of embracing the evening—and we were game.

A few songs in, I was caught off guard by my sudden rush of tears. I realized it had been seven months to the day that I had attempted to take my own life.

Last September, my mind felt hazy, engulfed in shadows with nothing left but absolute darkness. I thought I was a failure, that my dreams were pointless, and that everyone I knew would be better off without me. So, I made a plan—I’d do everyone a favor by leaving the world. Before plan could become action, my husband checked me into the hospital. I shivered in a holding room answering question after question about my history of mental illness, my family’s mental illness, my physical health, and my previous hospitalizations. I could hear other people crying and a child screaming down the hallway.

Following the questions, I made promises. Promises to surround myself with family and friends, promises to seek treatment after discharge. It’s a strange thing to have to ask your friends to help keep you alive. But, I’ll tell you: if you ask, they will. The rest of the weekend consisted of coffee dates and sitting around on my porch in silence or engaging in surface conversation about the humidity. At times it was awkward. But, I was alive.

So much went into my recovery beyond that weekend: an intensive treatment program, therapy, and the right medication. I wish I could say that I understood exactly how it all happened. I wish I could say there was a moment that I suddenly wanted to be alive, but there wasn’t. In truth, it was slow and steady, but not all clear. Moment by moment, I found things that made me feel a little more okay; I clung to them with every bit of strength I could muster. I found people willing to walk next to me. I wrestled through my faith. I read a lot. I wrote a lot. I sang more than I ever had. Slowly but surely, I began talking about the depths of the darkness I was in, and it was from there that I found random bits of sunlight.

Hold fast to the break of daylight, well, the shadow proves the sunshine.

On the seven-month anniversary of that day, I found myself being pulled up on stage with Jon Foreman to sing. The crowd cheered as I sang the first few notes of “House of God Forever,” but it didn’t matter that I was living a life-long dream, I was overcome with gratitude. I was grateful for Liz and the road trip to St. Paul. I was grateful for the treatment program and the medication that helped me get better. I was grateful for my husband and the friends who sat with me through the uncomfortable silences.

But above all else, I was grateful to just be alive.

There are moments and things to stay for in this life. We may have no idea what they’ll be or when they’ll happen, but they will happen. Sure, the path may be painful at times because life is inevitably hard, but it’s worth enduring to reach those moments that give us breath. The moments that give us hope for the future and the desire to live.

I want to live to see my dreams come true, to see Liz’s dreams come true. I want to live to be presented with another opportunity to get in a car with a friend and drive five hours with a McDonald’s coffee in hand because there’s nothing left to do but cry and live and stay.

Stay.

Stay for you.

Stay for them.

Stay for the moment the sun shines again.

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Comments (3)

  1. Kat Stevens

    Wow. Thank you for your vulnerability and transparency in this blog. I know it wasn’t easy to share. A night singing on stage with Jon Foreman would be a dream I could barely handle. Obviously God knew you needed it. Meeting him in person was an awesome moment enough for me. I pray your journey continues to improve and your light gets even brighter.
    God Bless You!

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  2. Sharon

    Thank you for sharing. You are a talented writer and communicator and I’m so glad you stayed.

    Reply  |  
  3. Jasmine

    This is very beautiful.

    Reply  |