Who am I? Why does it feel like something has broken loose in my soul? Where is my joy? What has squelched my creative spark?

These are the thoughts and threads running through my mind recently. Many jumped to the forefront in the last few years. After a year of counseling and prayer, I don’t know that I’m any closer to an answer, but I’m also at a breaking point. I’ve been stuck in this morass and I need to reach solid ground again. I know writing helps clarify what I’m thinking and often things surface I was unaware of. So I’m returning to a habit that has been dormant for many years.

I’ve been looking at these questions from multiple angles to see if there is one root issue. The first angle of approach is to look at my lack of writing along with a lack of energy to write. I haven’t written anything of significance or substance in three years. I’ve retraced my creative steps to find the cause of this drought. All the things that feel like they should be the cause: criticism, imposter syndrome, fear of failure; in the end, feel more like symptoms than the disease.

The next vector of approach is my mental state. I returned to counseling about a year ago. I reached a breaking point and sought help. I’ve seen incremental improvements but it doesn’t feel as though I’m any closer to the root of my issues. I’m not stopping but we’re in the phase of heavy work. It’s hard to not become discouraged during this phase of counseling. I have gotten better at seeing my episodes of depression as just that. They are episodes and they are something to work through instead of seeing as a characteristic. But I’m still frustrated these episodes continue to sap my energy and motivation.

Another byproduct of counseling is I’ve reexamined my life experiences of the past few years. There has been a lot of change and grief. I lost a job. The stress became so overwhelming so it was a relief but it was also a gut punch being asked to leave. Many good friends moved away or got married and started new lives. My church went through some trials and I squandered leadership opportunities. My family went through health issues and I’m confronting the issue of aging parents. This was heaped upon the continual reminders my life had not gone as I expected. And I began to come to terms that things I’ve spent decades praying may never come to pass.

As I’ve wrestled through this grief, one of those questions buried deep in everyone’s heart bubbled up to the surface. “Where do I come from?” A lot of who we are and how we see the world is shaped by our families. In that vein, my family history has always interested me. I think because there was so little I knew of our history. My mother, along with aunts and uncles passed down a few stories over the years, but there are gaps and many of the sources are gone. I never knew my grandfathers, both grandmothers died in my twenties and my father died when I was thirteen. Aside from the small collection of stories I heard, most of my family history feels distant to me. It’s just names and dates on grave stones, as close to me as monument inscriptions from Ancient Rome. So I dug out a box of old letters my dad wrote home while in college. I thought it might give me a bit more insight into my dad.

The final thread I followed in this grand adventure was to examine my spiritual life. It feels as though I’ve regressed spiritually over the last couple of years. As if I’m back at the beginning, but instead of the energy of a new faith, it’s been replaced by weariness and cynicism. As I worked through these ideas before Christmas, a particular image struck me. What if all the losses and grief I’ve suffered have added chains to my heart like Jacob Marley. The question I began to ask myself, “Do I believe this is my lot, to ramble through life with chains of grief and loss reminding me of the things I’ve lost and locking away my joy?” Or do I believe that my life can be restored? That God can turn beauty from ashes. And here is one of the issues. I know God’s promises but it has been hard to hold onto them. How do I go from believing them to holding fast to them and seeing them expressed in my life.

Now I return to the questions I asked at the beginning. As I thought through these ideas and began doing some research into my family history, I decided to write a travel guide of sorts. I’ll follow each of these threads further and documenting the process along the way. In the end I hope I can weave all these disparate thoughts into a cogent story. The story of who I am, how events shape me, an understanding of my current trials and seeing how God has worked and will continue to work in the midst of it all.