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.

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.

 

 

Daily Steps

I continually wrestle and battle with grace.  My humanity comes to the surface, longing for acceptance and welcome.  My shame batters it and beats it down.  Pressure comes as a familiar foe.

I have to intentionally plant my heart in hope.  I’m surrounded by distress and anxiety, fears that tempt to encroach me.  One by one, I have to set them aside. Choose Hope.  Life.  Healing. Growth.

Recovery comes in the moments.  The daily steps.  The choices we make in how to frame the opportunity before us.

Perhaps the ongoing trauma feels so heavy, so life threatening, that we just want out. Internal stress pile up.  No end in sight and endurance chokes.  Who can survive?

I go back, again and again.  Daily.  In those moments,  I get grounded in truth and light and perspective.  Solid footing.  Without it, the storm would destroy me.

Julia Cameron writes of the grace that needs to accompany our journey.

…it is necessary to go gently and slowly.  What we are after here is the healing of old wounds — not the creation of new ones…. Progress not perfection…

Too far, too fast, and we can undo ourselves.

Grace beckons me to come and rest.  Be still here.

Allow the calm to soothe my spirit.  There is purpose in timing.

Accept that where I am is okay. This step. This one small step is significant.

Slow down.  Live just this moment, and live it well.

 

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.

 

Gather Hope

How do we live into hope?  How do we unpack such a thing in our hearts?

It is something we are reaching for that hasn’t come yet.  It is looking, watching, and waiting.

It is not knowing when, or how.  Keeping our hearts expectant, alive, and fresh with wonder.  Even when some days it hurts to lift our head.

It is living with more ambiguity than answers.  Accepting uncomfortable, because that’s the reality of where we are.  Planting our faith in this moment, to see God here.

It is courage to know this story hasn’t been fully written.  There is more to come.  I have yet to see, but it is coming.

How do we hold onto this longing in our hearts — this thing that keeps us walking forward — when our storm hasn’t passed and our spirit wears thin?  Because for anyone willing to admit it, life can be really, really hard.  And if you’re walking that, it’s painful.

I’ve lived enough trauma, walked enough healing, to have some idea of how to go through.  There are no simple formulas, but I’m grateful for this journey: while it has been seasoned with pain, it has also grown wisdom.

I want to offer one glimmer of inspiration that God has given me over many seasons and years of pain.  Gather hope.

You actually have to gather it.  Just like the Israelites had to leave their tent each morning to pick up the manna God provided for that day.  Gather hope.  Surround yourself with encouragement and truth.

I gather quotes, scriptures, songs, and reread them over and over until they sink down deep into my soul.  I gather clippings from emails, books I’m reading, facebook and twitter.  I make playlists with songs that encourage me for that season.  I light candles, turn on lamps, and constantly bring myself back to hope.

Things will resolve and unfold over time.  But as we wrestled with how hard it is to wait in recent posts, we have to cultivate 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.

It’s a one step at a time kind of progress.  Perhaps slow at times, but I’m realizing slow isn’t a bad thing.  It is the time you give to something of quality.  Something that matters.  Something deep. And how you get there is just one moment, or one day, at a time…  and then the next.

What is hope if you already have the answer and the clarity?  Where is the wrestling and growth in that?  We hurt, we stretch, we get uncomfortable….but our lives are transformed there.

We will come through different than when we began.  Stronger.  Healthier.  Deeper.  More whole.  If we invest well.

So as we wait, as our hearts long for something yet unseen, let’s hold onto the gifts God gives us along the way. Gather them up.  It will sustain us to walk another day.

(If you want to follow me on twitter or facebook, I attempt to post words that bring life, faith, and hope.  I’d be honored for you to join me in that journey.)

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.