Living in Safety: Honor and Respect

We try to keep the rules pretty simple around here.  Kindness.  Honor.  Respect.  If only things could stay that simple.  In reality, things can get pretty messy.  Relationships are difficult.  We need to give each other the grace to grow through them, to make mistakes, and to learn to be healthy.

A concept like respect or honor can be very abstract.  I believe it must be modeled and taught, but sometimes we lack finding healthy people to learn it from.

We have posted on our refrigerator some basics of how respect manifests itself.  (This is taken from Peter Scazzero.)  Respect is giving both myself and others the right to:

space and privacy

to be different

to disagree

to be heard

to be taken seriously

to be given the benefit of the doubt

to be told the truth

to be consulted

to be imperfect and make mistakes

to courteous and honorable treatment

The book goes into more detail to help explain it further, but even just this list is very helpful to me.  Not only does it model for me how I want to treat other people, but it also speaks to what relationships are healthy and safe.  That is how we are training up our children — to have a home that is nurturing and safe.

We’ve used this list to sort through sibling difficulties.  Often when someone is mistreated or disrespected, it is difficult to work through the concern to a place of health.  Having these guidelines helps us pinpoint where the boundaries were crossed, and how the relationship can be repaired.

We decided to have some fun with these lessons on boundaries with our kids.  We love to watch football together, so now we have terms that help them understand some relational dynamics.

One sibling offends or upsets the other, and within moments, there is a growing dispute. We take it as a teaching moment and intervene.  First there’s a penalty…

We explain the offense, or boundary failure, in terms of personal foul or encroachment.

It lightens the mood as we compare our emotions and relationships to the football field.  They understand encroachment is when you’ve gotten into someone else’s space.  You’ve gone too far.  You’ve crossed the line.  Boundary failure.  5 yard penalty means give them some space.  And as we work through it together, there can be amends and repair.

Our kids are learning to see their own responsibility in having healthy emotions and how to navigate in relationships.  These are lessons that are lived out in our daily interactions.  And it is for more than just kids to learn.  Adults need to continually be reminded of health and safety too.

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Healing Together

A woman sat next to me in a crumbled heap, broken and sobbing.  Her husband’s addiction devastated her and the consequences of his actions bore heavily on her soul.

I felt her pain.  Her breathing heaved, with the weight of life and death crushing on her.  She had been completely devastated and wondered how she could live again.

It was all she could put to words at the time, but her heart went to a much deeper place.  Perhaps she wondered, “will the pain ever stop?”  And “how will I ever survive this?” 

An addict doesn’t realize the hell or havoc they cause their loved ones.  When they are lost in the world of their addiction, they are blind to the consequences and checked out of relationship.  And when it goes too far, they unleash earthquake consequences on the ones they love.  That’s the nature of addiction. It destroys.

As a codependent who learns to live enmeshed, we lose a sense of who we are.  Life becomes more of how to stay connected, how to pray hard enough, how to please or help or serve or care take.  Whatever we can frantically “do” to come out of crisis.

The step back into serenity comes through boundaries.  Realizing the mess of an entangled relationship needs better definition of who I am and who you are.  What is my responsibility that I need to own and act on, and what do I need to release and step away from?

I have fond memories of healing and growth in Lexington, Kentucky. God allowed Wilmore, specifically, to be a place of sacred retreat and refuge for me.  I find incredible beauty in the rolling hills and horse farms. They stir my soul with life and vitality that is hard to explain.  I’m just drawn to them.

I soaked this picture into my heart as I drove through the rolling hills of Lexington.  It filled me with great warmth and serenity.  And then I realized, those fences give me a picture of the buffer I need between my relationships that have become enmeshed.

These are healthy boundaries.  There can be a gate, where we are open and relate and have connections.  But there are times that I need to just be responsible for what is inside my own fence.

I believe that is the essence of what is healing my heart and my marriage.  Where I can step back from the entangled mess of addiction and find myself again.  I can nurture my own soul.  I can heal and find serenity.  

It doesn’t come in isolation or cutting myself off, although that is what a battered soul is tempted to do, to hide and run for cover.  Healing comes in stepping out to trust safe relationships.  Surrounding myself in a variety of support so that I can rebuild.  Reaching out, risking being known, and finding that I can live again.

I have had the privilege to hear the stories of many broken hearts.  I am honored that they would trust me enough to count me as part of their safe support.  The pain runs so raw and so deep, but it also connects us with profound compassion for the hurting.

I can enter in because I have been there and experienced it to the core of me.  And I have great hope for how a heart can heal.  I know the journey and exasperating work of healing.  And I know the joy beyond description of working it through.

It is extremely costly and it can take everything you have.  But if you are in a place of profound desperation, what other choice do you have?

I see the anguish of this woman’s pain and I want to tell her there is great hope.  There is great healing.  When we learn to surround ourselves with healthy people, we can walk it together.

We’re still here. In the long haul.

It is difficult to be somewhere, indefinitely, for the long haul.  When life has taken its toll and it has been too hard, too much, and too long.  The accumulated distress has sunk my spirit, made it  too heavy to keep picking up, keep walking, keep hoping.

I’ve been learning to break things down, small steps, and live in the moment.  It helps my sanity for sure.  It keeps me grounded, helps me focus, and teaches me the concept of one day at a time.  But strangely this day looks much like the one before.

For as much as I’ve tried to rally and keep going, despite our circumstances, there is still apparently more to be learned here.  God hasn’t opened the door yet.  We are 14 months into unemployment, the consequence of my husband’s addiction.

Last year I bought a house plant, with leaves that were full and bushy and abundant.  I was drawn to its life and vitality.  It looked fresh and alive and welcoming.  It seemed like a great thing to nurture and enjoy.

Over the past few months, this beautiful and thriving plant has been thinning out and dropping leaves.   It has gradually gotten far worse.  Pathetic.

I brought it out into the light to see if it could be revived.  Now it sits right there in front of me, and I realize it mirrors how I feel inside.

Drooped.  Depleted.  Worn thin.  Weary deep in my soul.

Like a pile of broken, dried sticks, that you aren’t even sure where to prune.

Little signs of new life, but not really sure if they will hang on and revive.

There are these honest moments, when you know you are doing all you can to live into recovery, but you aren’t sure if it will be enough to take you through to the other side.

When you are in the thick of it, sometimes it is hard to see that you are actually going somewhere.  Especially when you look back and see the toll life has taken and it quite frankly has been far too much.

Bear in mind that I have no clue what I’m doing with these plants, other than enjoying a little bit of nature to care for.  Another plant we had was dying.  (I’m not sure if this is a pattern in my greenhouse skills, or a lesson God intends for me to learn through metaphor.  Most likely both.)  I decided to cut it back and prune off whatever seemed to be holding it back.  It was hardly green at all, mostly just sticks.  You would have thought I could have tossed it to the curb.  And this year, miraculously, it is coming back.

Growth where there could have been death.

I watch these plants, wondering about this mysterious cycle of death and life.  Pruning and transformation.  Cut back to grow further still.

I believe authentic growth goes in cycles.  There are days, seasons even, where God allows us to experience profound pain.  Anguish and despair taunt us.  Silence, waiting, and unanswered prayer.  Days are long, months crash one into the other, and we are still here.

Scripture tells us, Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.

I want to be in a place of thriving — life-giving abundance in my spirit.  Some days I am.  I am pouring all I have into this healing.  I have the eyes to see the hope.  It’s what we trust in but don’t yet see that keeps us going.  Fulfillment is coming.  It’s worth holding on for.

But there are other times that I’m just worn out from hanging on so long.  No direction or clarity.  No end in sight.  No new word to hold onto.

All of this purging, and pruning, and wrenching of spirit WILL birth something NEW.

Therein lies my hope and my peace, even on the days that leaves drop to the floor.

Love Reaches In

Clear across the world to a now familiar place, a second home.  It is the birth place of my youngest daughter.  It has been my privilege to return to her native land and serve in the orphanages there.

On this particular trip several years ago, I was asked by an adoptive mom to get an update on how her daughter was doing.  She was eagerly waiting for travel dates to come get her and bring her home.

Her sweet Chinese name was Dong Dong, and when said with a Chinese accent, my heart was instantly warmed.

I had grown accustomed to this orphanage from our previous visit.  I had even served in several other orphanages in several other countries.  But something about Dong Dong seemed unusual to me.  I was drawn in.

She was facing the wall, standing stiff.  When she moved around the room, her feet shifted across the floor rigidly.  If anyone came near her, she screamed in fear.  We were told she was afraid of strangers. We honored her space and gave her time to adjust to our visit.

I was in the outer corridor, taking a picture of a team member walking with one of the children.  I stepped backward to get a better angle, and didn’t realize that Dong Dong had followed me.  She bumped to the ground and I scooped her up in my arms in an instant.  I held her close to me, still stiff as a board, and soothed her with prayers and singing.

Together we walked those outer corridors.  As I held her in my arms, I told her about her mama coming to get her.  I told her about her two older sisters and how she would be loved in a family soon.  I trusted that the bond we were creating transcended the language barrier and her seemingly frozen state.

Love can do that.  Love can reach where no one has dared to go.  Love can melt what had no hope to soften.  Love can heal the orphaned soul.

No one wants to be frozen.  Some build walls to try to protect our hearts, afraid of more pain if someone comes near.  Some ball up, withdraw, and stay back — not because we want to, but because somewhere and somehow over the years we learned to cope.

Hidden, stiff behind walls, we wonder.  Would it ever be safe to be found?  To be heard, seen, known?  Or is that far too risky?

Deep down we wonder if there is a warmth and a welcome that can embrace our hurting.  But who dares reach?

Come near.  No longer isolated, rejected, outcast, and alone.  There is hope.  There is healing.  Life doesn’t have to be filled with walls and pain.  Love reaches in.

Dong Dong is home, surrounded in a forever family full of love.  She is transformed by the warmth of a healing embrace.  A commitment to nurture her heart and soul so that she can thrive.  Glorious adoption.

The door is open.  The opportunity is there.  Hearts can be healed.  Orphans can come home.

 

 

Colliding Priorities

I’m surrounded by kleenex, hot tea, blankets and books.  If I felt well, it could be a refreshing retreat to soak in some studies.  Instead I’m trudging my way through a week of not feeling well, day after day.  You can only have so much echinecea, airborne, tea and tissues before you start to feel fed up with dragging.

 

I’m sick of being sick, without the energy to keep walking and keep growing.  My body won’t let me do what my hearts want to do.

My old self by nature pushes hard and cannot slow down.  My old self wants productivity, drive, determination, order.  It is my inner critic that says I need to do more and be more.

It’s as if an invisible clip board hangs over my shoulder, reminding me of the tasks at hand that I seem to have no strength to do anything about.

What I wouldn’t do to have taxes done, filing sorted, and things crossed off my lists.  And here I am — I can’t.

I’ve been learning I can’t push so hard.  I’ve been learning humanity and limits.  I’ve been digging deep into nurture and self care.  Isn’t it ironic that I’m now in a week of testing to see if I get it???

Julie, do you understand grace?  Are you good to yourself?

I have done a tremendous amount of work to understand what recovery looks like for me.  It is a whole new world to factor in my own needs and feelings.  It is brand new for me to accept and live into my humanity without always pushing myself for more.

So on weeks like this one, where my body feels heavy in need, I see these two inner worlds collide.  My old self pleads to please find productivity (translate: WORTH) somewhere.  I need to DO something.  Other people are done with their taxes, after all.  Why can’t I?  I don’t want unfinished things weighing me down.

I am self critical and self defeating.  I fret over time and my lack of accomplishment. I want to feel better, and do more, and still be nurturing to my needs.  I wish I could have both.

I want  to give more of myself to my children.  I want to work hard in my home.  And I have nothing right now to give.  The whole week has had such limited functioning.

I’m grateful for this post.  It is bringing my honesty and conflict to the table.  It’s showing me my colliding priorities and how I want my new self to rise.  It’s a test that I want to come forth with new outcomes.

The same temptations persist.  Can I push more, do more, be more — but ultimately hurt myself?   Or can I accept that things have to wait?  To live with my own sense of disappointment that not everything can get done when I want it to.  It’s uncomfortable growth.  But I’m hopeful that in the midst of this messy lesson, I’m starting to get it.  It’s starting to sink in.