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.

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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.

Tender Mercies

I’m just coming through a difficult week.  Things of the heart that were hitting me, one after the other, repeatedly.

I’m grateful for the tender mercies that soothe a hurting heart.  God is tenderhearted with our pain.  He is compassionate with our suffering.  He is comforting with our weariness.

I’m grateful for the tool box of things I’m learning from recovery.  Things in my healing that keep me taking the next step, paying attention to what I’m feeling and what I need.

I’m learning to nurture myself and my children well.  Life is harsh enough.  We need a safe refuge, a place to come home to, embraced with warmth and welcome.

Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down….

God knows our hearts and God understands our healing needs. God understands the good that is waiting around the corner for us, the good that we can’t see yet…

Later…I see the wisdom. I see the big plan, the one not limited by my vision. Then I thank God, truly thank God for the way things worked out. Often I thank God for not letting things work out the way I wanted. We do not know the whole picture, not yet.

Soothed by healing.  Inspired by growth. Refreshed by gratitude.

Growing in Grace

The words don’t fall easily off my fingertips.  I am bewildered.  My heart is heavy in pain.

Oh how a battle stirs my soul….. I’m being tossed about with the weight, the pressure and anxiety, and continually trying to hone it back into serenity, peace, firm footing, getting grounded, gathering hope …..  candle lit, music in my headphones, writing some quotes in my serenity journal — and I can still hear life’s noise in the background, ongoing disruptions.

My heart is churning about so many things it is hard to write.  But I’m here.  Willing.

God is teaching me to wait. To wait on Him. To wait for His timing. To trust what He is teaching us, and what He is leading us to, and preparing us for.

And yet, my heart bleeds.  It cries out for the redemption that is promised.  For rescue.

Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has set them free. He has raised up a mighty savior for us — he has established for us a saving power in the house of his servant David just as he promised! Luke 1:68-70

My heart cries out.  Enough, Lord!  Mercy!  I’m ready for you to redeem this mess.

But I’m sitting with it.  I’m acknowledging my heartfelt needs.  My confusion and wrestling and churning.  I’m giving it to him.  I’m pouring out my soul with safe hearts that can hear me.

This is real life.  Real faith.  Triumph in adversity.

For as much as life has stormed hard, a hurricane of the soul, here we are.  Living, growing, being.  In the midst of it.

“growing in grace through the very adversity that was meant to harm you.”

No matter what harm festers and storms around me, God brings it for good.  Scripture teaches us all things….  All things, all circumstances, all fears and frustrations, can be worked together for good.  God can take it all and use it all.

I am not in denial.  I’m not avoiding or pretending.  I’m not medicating the pain with addiction.

Sometimes life feels raw, and anxiety doesn’t just disappear because I trust God or recite scripture.  I can’t belittle my experience or make it hurt less. But I can know God is here.  With me.

God comes.  He enters in.

He is not put off by the mess.  He touches pain.

 

A Willing Sacrifice

I’ve been wrestling with time.  I cannot master it.  It is a gift given in the moments, but I cannot control it and make it go faster or slower. I can only commit to living it well.  Protect it by blocking out distractions.  Being present with now, for what God has for me here.

It is so hard to give something to God when it ultimately makes us uncomfortable.  Can we willingly give up and surrender things that we don’t like…..specifically, God’s timing?

Can we live in places that are for our benefit, our healing, or our growth, if we would prefer not to be there?  Maybe this place stirs up pain, or unresolved places without answers, or brings us work to do within ourselves.  “Outside our comfort zones” is an understatement.  It stretches us far beyond ourselves.

We have past the point of the year mark where Todd last had a job.  The only clarity I found in prayer was that healing had to come first, then the job.  That became the only path we knew to follow.

God has led us forward, one step at a time, to spacious places of healing.  It has involved rehab, therapy, marriage counseling, and more therapy.  It has connected us with support groups, recovery, studying countless books, and dealing with our stuff.  It has taken us deeper with God and deeper with ourselves.

You would think that we could have the open door that I’ve prayed for unceasingly.

But God has said, not yet.

I’ve been willing to share our story for the greater good of those who might need someone who understands their journey.  For God to be glorified in our mess.  For hurting hearts to be reached.

A friend shared with me about a woman deeply struggling in her marriage.  I felt God give me this post for her, and for others.  I thought about the ones who are new at the two different support groups I attend.  I see the pain in their eyes and I feel it in my own heart.

Just newly raw, starting out on the journey of recovery.  My heart is deeply tender and compassionate for them.  My own story is still so fresh.

I wonder if I could open my own journey and show you the hope that Jesus has put there.  It doesn’t come from shallow platitudes, easy answers, or distant indifference.  It comes from my journey through the pain.

My heart is overflowing with hope.  Sometimes — and I remember the feeling well — we have to borrow hope from others.  We need them to believe for us.  We need them to help us hang on, because on our own we are too overwhelmed.

The surroundings I am in are critical to get this.  Coming from a place where my own prayers are still waiting.  Where my circumstances are uncomfortable, and still painful at times.  And even here, even now, there is hope.

God’s wait is so purposeful.  He is accomplishing transformation in our hearts that we can’t yet fully see.  He is orchestrating details for what will unfold next. But we’ve got to give him time.

There is hope.  Wait it out.  Give him time.

We can’t skip today’s work because it prepares us for tomorrow.  We want to rush out of the pain, rush past the work, but we will miss something crucial.

Perhaps your answer hasn’t come yet.  Your marriage hasn’t fully healed.  Neither has mine.  But I can live today, and give God my willing sacrifice.  Yielding my timing for his.

He has given me just a taste of the joy that’s coming.  Enough to know that there is greater joy ahead than any pain or trial we’ve had to walk.  We don’t have to walk alone.  We can do this.  We can do hard.

 

 

 

A Different Kind of December

The question was asked for reflection, what “blessed surprises” have I experienced that I could testify of God’s goodness.  It grabbed my attention in a fresh way, but somehow I knew the answer instantly.

This has been a different kind of December for us.

Our advent tradition for many years has been to live simply and focus on Christ.  We light candles on our advent wreath and share in family devotions about hope, love, joy, and peace.  We read scriptures and share our hearts about what it means to live it out in our daily lives.

We have a tradition of writing our thanks to Jesus every day in the month of December.  On Christmas morning, the first gift to be opened is our praise.  It brings joy to hear what each person has reflected on that month as we give God our gratitude and adoration.  It humbles us before God that this is His day and the reason we celebrate.

Advent is always full of meaning for us, lots of added family activities for fun, with the least amount of emphasis on shopping which is really only one small part.  This year is no different for me in some ways… only richer, more important, and deeper.  Something in particular though stands out.

As I have reflected on all that I’m grateful for most recently, I want to share two “blessed surprises.”  It is what has made this December markedly different for me.  These two scenes are a window into how God is transforming my heart.  Perhaps because they came so close together, I was able to see how incredibly profound and sacred they were.  God gave me a deep heart for two women this past week that I will save anonymity and rename here.

The first woman I’ll call Ruth.  We had never met in person, but through Visiting Orphans we developed the start of a precious friendship.  Ruth was scheduled to travel to China with me for a mission trip. The timing was just enough for us to start a bond, and then for God to soon bring two beautiful daughters home from Ethiopia and China.  I missed out on having her on my team, but I was incredibly honored to pray her two little girls home.

Through the months of Ruth’s adoption journeys, I have followed her blog postings and prayed my heart out for her family.  Facebook connected us further as we could share in prayer updates and family photos.  We have emailed some deep heartfelt concerns and held each other up at the throne of God.  And yet, we had never met in person.

The past few months have been horrifically painful for her, as Ruth’s dad battled an abrupt and vicious cancer.  My heart was so knitted in that I carried her family in many, many heartfelt prayers.  Her dad passed away a week ago today.

As God would have it, I happened to be passing through her town several hours away on the day of the viewing.  Details the way only God can orchestrate, I was able to hug her tight in her grief.  I was able to see with my own eyes and touch the hands of these two precious little girls that I prayed countless prayers for.  God had connected our hearts and it was sacred to be there in person.

The second woman I’ll name Hannah.  I had rushed late as usual into a church pew, apparently into the very seat God had saved for me.  It was the only one open.  I sat alone, the girls upstairs in their classes and the boys on a weekend away with Todd.  As we “passed the peace”, I met Hannah, who was already familiar with Todd from their recovery meetings.  She asked where he was, exchanged brief greetings and sat back down.

Throughout the service, I noticed Hannah wiping away tears.  Afterward, I asked if there was something I could pray for her.  I didn’t know if she would offer any words or not, but I wanted her to know God cared for her.  I knew the details were well known by God, and my place in that moment was to be present for her.

In her anguish, she opened up to me.  Her honesty and desperation were the kind of transparency that I have experienced and greatly appreciated in the recovery community.  She invited me into her story.  She gave me a part of her heart that was in deep need of comfort and hope.  She asked for nothing from me.

I embraced her with genuine depth and sincerity.  I met her daughter and jotted down the names of her family that I could continue to lift up to God.  And then in a way that only God can do through people who have walked suffering so deep, I was able to breathe life into her.  I know how hard it can be when your world is in so much pain, but there is hope!!  God can turn things around!!  It takes time, but He can and He will.

I left church with my life changed in that very moment.  It was with Hannah that I felt “church” had taken place in the way scriptures calls us to come alongside the broken.  It was with Hannah that I was able to see the transformation in my own heart of how I could relate to her story like never before.  It was with Hannah that my heart most genuinely, affectionately worshipped.  Newly found gratitude, warmth, and affection for the God that had allowed me to walk a similar journey.

Oh God!!!  I get it!!!  This is why You let me walk heartache and suffering.  This is how You invite me into the stories and hearts and lives of the hurting.  My heart sees.  My heart is compelled.  I can’t help but draw near.

I have walked incredible grief and sorrow and pain…and sometimes barely survived.  But with that, He calls me to enter into those same familiar places, where His people need deep comfort and authentic hope.  Be present.  Be willing.

The world rushes by……   I feel it so strongly to the core of my being that it absolutely aches within me.  There are so many distractions, so much busyness, so many things to do, and time is gone.  But if we fall into those traps, we completely miss the sacred.  The blessed surprises. The opportunities to see Jesus right there in our midst.

It’s a different kind of December for me.  At the top of my most treasured reflections of God’s goodness this month is in the sacred interactions with Ruth and Hannah.  I am humbled and in awe that God would allow me to be a small part of their journey, to deeply understand their pain.  A glimmer of hope to embrace them in their suffering.  God is here.  God loves.  God comes.

The Birth of a Savior

A crisp winter night.  Shining stars filling the sky.  Shepherds watching their flocks — all is calm and the hush is sacred.  Enter the scene, angels, heavenly hosts, the sweet tenderness of a newborn babe.  Beauty.  Delight.  Joy.

I’m not saying it didn’t happen that way.  I certainly believe the scriptures that tell us so.  The trouble is that our scriptures are written on such crisp, clean pages.  Some readers glide through the story like they are skating swiftly over ice.  In my case I’d be clinging to the rail and inching along because I don’t skate.  But for those who do, you can imagine the ease that we can gloss over the detail, seemingly unaffected.  It is familiar and routine and sadly mundane.

If we sit with the story with some empathy, I can feel what it is like to be great with child and incredibly uncomfortable.  I remember tossing and turning in my soft bed and barely being able to sleep in the days before delivery because my body ached so badly.  And I wasn’t even taking a long journey on a donkey.  I have experienced a tap tap in Haiti, where the wagon type vehicle jostles across the bumpy terrain, and that might be a bit like what Mary encountered.  I have been desperate enough to need a bathroom in the fields of China on a long journey through the countryside, which could possibly identify with needing to find a room at the inn.  I have given birth, but not at the age of 16, without the help of a hospital staff and the Godsend of an epidural.

I think if I had to endure what Mary did, I would be completely overwhelmed.  I would have had at least one panic attack if not more, and I would have been scared to the core of me.  As if it wasn’t enough to have angels telling me God’s plan for me being greatly chosen, to experience a virgin pregnancy that everyone in my village wondered about my reputation, and then to give birth after a long arduous journey in a smelly stable with crisp crunchy hay.  Our carols and pictures make it sound magical, like a dream.  A mystical sight to behold.  Have we fallen asleep or grown numb to what happened that day?

I mean no disrespect whatsoever.  I’m only asking us to wake up.  This was real life, and an incredible calling to fulfill.  From all human perspective, it was utterly impossible.  And yet, make no mistake, this was exactly what God had called them to.  He made it possible.  It was truly sacred and holy, infinitely profound.  But it was also a painful, brand new birth mess.

We want nice packages wrapped in pretty paper.  A good sale and a finished to do list.  But what about when life hands us a mess?  In the past few days, my world just got quite a bit messier.  Not only did the job interviews end with doors slammed shut.  Todd was denied health insurance any longer.  He was hardly covered before because of his rehab experience, but now they shut him out and the price of medication went up.   There was no warning that he would suddenly be cut off.   Then today as he applied for his unemployment, he found that this is his last week to receive it.  If it isn’t renewed in some form, the well has run dry.  Merry Christmas.

Enter GOD.  Enter there has to be a way, because our God is the Way MAKER.  I have no  sweet answer to end this post.  But I am encouraged to know that the real manger story had to be difficult.  Seemingly impossible.  Yet God made it possible.  I’m going to bring that back to mind in the coming weeks as we approach Christmas.  It was a long, dusty road, an exhausting journey, and there was ample blood, sweat, and tears.  But in the end, a SAVIOR was born, which is Christ the Lord.  And a Savior is exactly what we need to bring us through this mess.  He is LORD over this household too.