Expecting Home.

There is a little four bedroom cape cod home in Oregon.  It is blue and white with redwoods in the backyard and a chicken coop.

It has a fireplace made of white bricks and a blue and white country kitchen.

You can almost hear the laughter of a family on a Sunday morning when you walk in.

It smells like cinnamon.

It was the first house my husband and I put in an offer on. We walked in, and felt like home.

And I don’t live there.

There is a another little yellow Craftsmen home in Oregon too.

It’s been painted now, grey or blue,

I don’t know.

But I see it yellow.

Yellow with white wrought iron porch railing, that winds like vines. It would rust, but I would paint it with my dad, entrusted with a paint brush, a bucket and one of his old Texas Tavern tee shirts.

And we would paint.

The backyard had a garden with zucchini and strawberries.

The wood floors were almost a hundred years old and spoke to us when we walked on them.

Each persons foot made a unique music,

you could always tell who was coming down the stairs by their foots steps.

In the bathroom there was an old iron clawfoot tub, and the closets had big windows.

But I don’t live there either.

There is a small stucco home, in Phoenix Arizona with porcelain tile that is cold on your feet even in the extreme heat.

The kitchen only has room for two adults, and there are just two bedrooms to share between three kids.

There is groaning. The house is smaller than expected.

And downsizing is harder than expected.

The piano squishes us in our living room.

But the ceilings are tall.

The backyard is magnificent, but the fountain is broken, it is full of bees

And zucchini don’t grow here.

A thousand times I’ve rearranged the furniture to make it fit.

We all have to share our space. The close quarters makes us dance our lives together, a tango of space,

I need more space, your in it,

or lets enjoy the closeness.

Love grows bigger this way, they say.

It’s close to a park, that I expected to be bigger

It’s nowhere near Oregon, where I expected home to be.

And this is where I live.

And I wonder now, a lot about expectation.

Because that yellow house was the home I grew up in.

And I expected to live there forever.

Forever seems possible when you’re 6.

We never expected for Dad to die there.

But he did,

in the clawfoot tub.

The floor rang hollow as the first responders thudded and stomped, and echoed as the gurney pulled his body out.

We didn’t expect it.

And the cape cod home was infested with rats.

Our future in Oregon fizzled away

when they said the rats had taken over the ducting.

Repairs. Roofing, and ducts, and rats.

And the Sunday mornings, and Christmas mornings we imagined were gone.

And all we held was the reality of living in a small town that didn’t fit.

We moved expecting to find a church.

But we didn’t.

We moved expecting to find something.

We moved home to Arizona,

away from expectation, we thought

And yet I still expected to find a different home.

A larger home, that felt more like home.

A home that was closer, or farther or different or more the same. Bigger.

And I realized that I was buckling under the weight of my own expectations.

Life was never what I expected.

And this fluid idea of home, the never grasping it, the never finding it;

I only found the stirring and unrest of soul instead.

And I wonder about it.

I wonder about the groaning of my soul and all of the seeking of what I cannot seem to find.

A place for my soul to rest.

Why can’t I rest?

I hold on too tightly to my heart, to my expectations.

I cling to it with rigored hands;  clutching, clawing.

I pray expecting God to give me the answers that I want.

Selfishly.

The way that I want them.

Vainly I labor to build myself a home.

God I want what I want when I want it, and I expect it.

And instead of waiting in expectancy for what the Lord has said is good,

I worry.

I cling.

I build

I  labor

I groan.

God I need a home. I need to feel at home.

I sin.

As I cling to houses that are made of brick, built with weak hands.

Homes that can be destroyed so easily by death, or sickness, or disaster.

My heart clutches visions of perfect Christmas mornings.

With the tree placed just so, and the neighbors caroling, and the perfect kitchen to bake the perfect cookies.

And everyone smiles and laughs and there is no fighting or brokenness

or arguing about recipes and the dryness of the cookies and who makes what better.

And on Sunday we wake up and we eat breakfast, unrushed, pancakes and bacon and eggs,

Before we jaunt leisurely to church down the street.

But that place doesn’t exist.

Not here.

What I long, for, what my heart wants,

is the feeling of home.

And God is teaching me, I am longing for heaven.

This need for deep interconnectedness,

for deep fellowship,

for family, for unbrokenness,

for the perfect home,

that can’t be destroyed or waylaid, or sold or bought, where we can celebrate in unity,

is my longing for heaven.

For a place where I can be unburdened and free.

And slowly God brings life back to my fingers.

As I release the grasp,

And wildly abandon my heart and expectations

And instead wait, in beautiful expectancy,

For an eternal home that Jesus even now is preparing.

Where there will be no more tears or pain or strife or burden.

Only joy and singing and freedom.

And as my expectations loose, so too, does the noose around my heart.

And it flies.

And one day I will be

Home.

***

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on[a] we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

2 Corinthians 5:1-10

 

 

 

 

 

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Beauty From Ashes: Our Testimony

I woke up one morning with Gods voice in my head. Not so much audible, as a pressing into my spirit.

Go now Keely.

Get in the car and drive four hours to Flagstaff.

This morning. Now. 

This was an idea that obviously came from outside of myself. I hate driving. I am loathe to drive, and the thought of packing up a two and a half year old, and a four month old baby in my Prius and making the four hour climb from Tucson to Flagstaff, up thousands of feet of mountains, in the snow, in January was not my idea of a good time, let alone even something I thought possible.

This was the sort of thought that usually terrified me. It was something that I assured myself, and God, that Keely did, could not do.

God, I can’t.

But God was moving me into new and deeper waters.

Leave your husband.

Pack your things, enough for a week, pack each child a bag and go. Stop in Phoenix for a night and go to your Sister in Flagstaff tomorrow.

Go.

And my spirit did this thing. This weird, quiet in the middle of the storm, peace from with-out thing.

Because God had just told me to leave my husband, and that caught my attention.

Not forever, not divorce, but leave. I had to leave him.

We had been arguing a lot and our arguments were growing. I was living in constant animosity with a man who treated me at best apathetically and worst with disdain. He would lock himself in the bathroom for an hour, maybe more at a time, several times a day. Who would escape us at the gym at 4 am, and not come home until after work.

A man who had completely checked out of this whole parenting deal.

The kids and I when Wee was born. “Did I have at home they asked.” As my husband slept.

He never woke with our baby, he hardly spoke to me the week we had our Wee, those first precious days in the hospital.

The nurses asked me if I would be okay at home, if I had help, as they glanced at my snoring husband on the horrible overnight couches he somehow managed to sleep on. Mortified I squeaked, “Yes.”

“Does he know that a c-section is a major surgery?” they pressed.

“He is a nurse too,” I assured them, as tears dropped.

I didn’t know where my love, and kind, and funny husband had gone, but he had seemingly disappeared. And I missed him.

He now had a silent, stoic, but bubbling in anger beneath the surface stance, permanently adopted.

Walled off from me.

His warmth was missing and his heart was stony.

He would make jokes at my expense, pick on me and tease. The terrible sort of joke where when you say you’ve been hurt, the its just a joke boulder is hurled down the wall and crushes you. Insidious cruelty from the man I loved so deeply.

Cruelty from a man, who I knew in his core was not cruel.

But shame came make us do and say terrible things.

And so we fought, about the normal things in life, because I didn’t know the real reasons he was angry. I couldn’t see beneath the surface. Pots and pans in the sink, his laundry, the kids laundry, him needing his time and his space away from me and the kids. His nursing school graduation. Me needing him. The more I pressed into him, the more he pushed back.

Our biggest fight was over oatmeal on the floor.

Because shame and guilt often look like anger and hate.

We had never raised our voices at one another, not in 7 years.

But now we did. We woke our oldest, two years old at the time, with our fighting one night. She cried and I held her. He left. I didn’t know where he went.  A mortifying moment, a blow to who I thought I was as a mother. I did not want to raise my children in a home where yelling was okay. But here we were. Yellowing over the kitchen sink.

I told myself it was the pregnancy hormones, and things would get better

But they didn’t. Things only escalated and grew, like a festering infection beneath the surface of the skin, or a cancer.

He would leave in the mornings at 4 or 5, before the sun came out, and I wouldn’t know where he went.

He carpooled and texted women at work.

Our early boundaries we had agreed upon with our Pastor, about other men and women were no where to be seen.

It’s nursing he said, my coworkers are all women. It’s fine.

And I believed him.

I didn’t know why he hated me. But I knew he did. My own husband.

But it wasn’t his hatred of me I was feeling. He hated himself.

And now, God woke me up, at 8am, and told me to leave.

And I wont ever forget that peace I felt. It wasn’t just towards me, it was towards my husband. I didn’t feel anger, or distance or animosity. I didn’t feel the Wall for the first time in a long time. I only felt our love, our history, the children we had made together.

My youngest and after we left. A reminder of what we were fighting for.

God gave me a glimpse of what I would be fighting for.

Before he let the heat of the furnace in.

Before the flames overtook our marriage.

But we would not be consumed.

I packed my things, and filled the car with all of the trappings of young babies; diapers, a bouncy seat, more toys than we could ever need and a million burp clothes and blankets. Working nightshift meant my husband was sleeping after a long night at work. I quietly loaded my youngest in his little infant carseat in the living room, and sat my oldest on the couch with an episode of dinosaur train. And I woke him up to tell him.

Peace.

Peace.

I love you. I love you so much. But I’m leaving. I’m not leaving you, but I have to go away for awhile. Im going to my Mom’s and my Sister’s. I need some space to think and pray. I love you I really do, and so do the kids, but we need to leave for now. I don’t know when we will be back.

I don’t remember his words but I remember the look on his face. His massive wall crumbled and he along with it. There were tears. He helped me load our oldest and made sure we were situated and alright. He was quiet, but tears stained his cheeks. His eyes were bright red from a night of no sleep and wife who was leaving. If he didn’t understand he didn’t say.

But still peace.

And I pulled out of the Driveway,

and I never came back to that house.

What did happen was proof that God can take our messes, even the ugliest and most shameful, the blackest and darkest, the unsurvivable, relationally decrepit, pit of muck destruction, and redeem it and refine it into something wholly new and beautiful.

He can keep the flames from so much as singing your hair.

As I began my drive and got on the road, and had some distance, I heard God speak again, a check in my Spirit.

It’s pornography. He is chained by it. It’s holding him hostage. He is stuck in a cycle of shame.

This fires of the furnace burned a little hotter.

Divine revelation. I had no idea, maybe somehow I suspected, but now God was confirming it. I was sure as I drove, that was the wedge between us. He would need help, and so would I. We were both hurting but God softened my heart

There were worse things, I thought.

And there were.

The furnace grew hotter.

I began the final leg of my little journey up into the mountains.  I remember going through my CDs. Checking and double checking what I had brought, as if have all of the right things might assert me with some control.

I would pray the whole way I thought, and sing.  The temperature outside was dropping but it was gorgeous and sunny out. The kids had been happy, and, joyful, and mercifully undemanding. They were excited for their mommy only adventure, at least my oldest was, and as long as Wee could nurse he was happy too. I made sure to stop at the two Mcdonald’s on the way so they could get out and stretch and nurse. Alone. God has brought me out of my comfort zone.

But up in those mountains, in the wilderness… God beckoned again. Deep in my soul he stirred.

Keely, my child there is more.

And the fires grew hotter

And I knew. Instantly. In my bones, in my marrow, in my core.

An affair. 

And the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual

But I didn’t feel sick to my stomach like I thought I would. I didn’t need to pull over. I didn’t scream and cry. I didn’t want to go at him with golf club. I didn’t need to take revenge against his car like a country song. He was my best friend.

He used to be my best friend.

And I didn’t want to.

It wasn’t the time.

No. God was revealing to me within some sort of divine protection from this super heated furnace, that my Husband had had an affair…

…and I would be okay.

You will be okay. I have you, I have your kids… I have him… in my hands.

And I drove. I drove towards a promise now, Faster, more steady than afraid, believing that God had a plan so much bigger than the giants surrounding me and the flames licking our feet.

***

I arrived in Flagstaff safely, in the snow and cold just after dark. I had been terrified driving beside the semi trucks on the icy interstate, but God made me brave.The oldest went to bed quickly at Auntie’s while the Wee one snuggled and nursed.

I told my sister everything and she nodded. She told me there was someone I needed to talk to at her church.

And the next day I did.

And what God did in the next days was surround me with people who had walked through pornography and affairs. Miraculously. Stranger were now mentors. Everyone I seemed to meet held me in their arms and said, me too and there is life after this. And I am convinced that surrounding this group of people were God’s angels. Warriors of light.

Jesus.

Saying, “No. Not this family.”

Singing over us even as we wept.

Now my hedge of protection was divinely appointed people, standing around me, holding me.

And willing to hold my Husband too.

And it was now, now that there was safety to feel, and people to hold me, Gods hands on earth, it was now that my stomach hurt, and I choked back the bile. Now the tears came. And now I felt the full force of betrayal.

How could my best friend hurt me. How could he choose porn over our family, over and over. How could he choose it over dinners together, and mornings together.

How could he find the support he needed from the words of another woman.

And not from me.

I felt the sting of betrayal. The death of a relationship. The death of a marriage, the death of what I had thought we had.

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Our wedding photo, 2006.

I missed my best friend.

And I cried out to Jesus.

I called my husband, and I told him. I knew. I knew about the porn. I knew he had an affair. I didn’t know any details but I knew and I needed him to tell me. It was his turn.

He agreed to drive up that weekend. To go to church and to talk.

And confess.

He arrived on a Saturday night. I insisted he stay with a friend and he obliged. He was thankful I agreed to see him. He told me he was here to fight for us. That he would make this right. That he would do anything.

He pleaded, and more tears fell.

A grief overtook me so deep, so cutting, so raw, it paled in comparison even to the death of my father. My most important relationship had die. My reality was crumbling around me. I was holding only ashes now. Only ashes.

On Sunday we attended church. We came separately but sat together. My sister helped me check the kids in, I could no longer think straight and would often find myself zoning off, a million miles away. I don’t know what I thought about. My mind would just disappear. Maybe it was protecting itself from thinking too much.

I cried through worship, and so did he. My sister was kind. “I’m glad you’re here,” she told him. We planned to speak with the Pastor afterwards and ask for the help we desperately needed. Help us find a way back, out of these flames.

But God had already prepared a sermon for the Pastor about David and Bethsheba, about pornography and adultery, about the 51 psalm. About the shame we choose to live in when there is forgiveness at the feet of Christ.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
    blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is always before me.

 

“I don’t know who this sermon is for.” He said. “God woke me up at 3 am and told me to write this. To throw out the other thing I had planned to teach on.”

God said to me, I am bringing someone to you who needs this. 

And my husband broke. Not in the way he had been broken before, not broken by sin and shame and porn and other women and self loathing, but broken before the Lord.

Beautifully and boldy broken.

He lifted his hand. “It’s me.”

“Come to the altar.”

He did.

I watched as my husband, before the entire body of Christ, came to his knees and admitted to adultery and pornography. He asked for forgiveness before everyone. Friends and strangers and family. He bowed and asked for Jesus to be the Lord of his life again, to lift him up out of this pit.

And we all prayed.

And it was powerful.

And it was painful.

Because his sin brought me shame too, and now everyone knew. What if it was my fault? What if they think I drove him to it, what if it’s because I wasn’t good enough.

But there was only love surrounding us, because God had brought us to this place to heal. He had prepared it in advance for us.

A way out of the furnace.

God reached down into my husband, took out his stony heart, and made him flesh again.

***

I wish I could say the rest came easy. That instant healing happened. We do so love instant things in our culture.

But no. There was no insta-fix, there was only choosing to walk through the fire together. Everyday. Choosing to hold onto the thread of our marriage as the storm battered it and raged.

There is nuclear fallout when affairs happen, in the midst of deep addiction. And there are consequences to devastating choices.

And every moment was a struggle. For both of us.

Even if it was a one time thing. Even if it was just emotional with the 2 other women.

Even if its just porn.

Even if.

As if we could somehow minimized the impact of their whole sale destruction.

And in those days I remember waking up crying out to Jesus. I would awake with his name on my lips.

My heart was shattered and the pieces all cut me when I tried to put myself back together.

I didn’t know how I fit together, I was so wholly shattered. Not anymore.

But Jesus did. The fierce lover of my soul.

And thats the devastation of an affair. The not fitting. The betraying and removing of something so deep. If we are made into one flesh, and half of that flesh betrays the other, how can we survive the tearing and ripping and piercing and rending apart? How can one half a body go on?

And I thought about Jesus. When he was betrayed with a kiss. For my sin.

My sin too.

And I thought about how deep the pain must have cut when he saw Judas approach him. When he saw him lean in.

Knowing.

Oh how the knowing hurt. It’s the knowing that hurts the most.

Judas kissed Jesus and betrayed him.

And all of those times my husband kissed me, holding his secret.

And I cried.

I mourned the loss of loyalty.

We forget Jesus was a man. That he had emotion. That he felt. And I was so sorry. So sorry my sin made room for the betrayal.
And so relieved, that Jesus, despite the knowing went to the cross anyway because his love was so fierce. It never failed. His love was jealous for me.

And I needed fierce love because right then, because then love felt feeble.

A reminder from my Husband. Our love may falter, but Jesus’ love never does.

And in those days, I lived in that promise, the promise of Jesus’ fierce and jealous love. I was his, even if I wasn’t my husbands any longer.

I belonged to Jesus.

God I can’t forgive him

I already have, hold on to me, and I can help you. My forgiveness will extend through you.

God, I can’t trust him.

But you can trust me. I am trustworthy and true. My love never fails. 

God, this hurts!

Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making? Trust in me even when it hurts,

God I am in pieces.

I know, let me hold them, and one day they will make the mosaic of your testimony.

God how can I love him?

Love me, and I will fill in the gapsI have enough love for you both. 

God I am so angry

You can be angry, but do not sin in your anger. Justice is mine alone, and I will right the wrongs done against you and bring healing from it.  

Because to fully heal, a wound must be fully cleaned. The dead a necrotic tissue must be carefully carved away so that it can grow back together in a healthy way, free from infection. My marriage had to dissolve and die away, so that a new one could form. New vows, new hope and a future.

And there were gaps. But Jesus stood in them and fought with us.

A cord holding us together.

So I never went back to that house I left.

I think sometimes God protects us from the knowing. Knowing I was leaving for good, that those were my last days living in that house together would have been too much, and God is kind.

And I wonder how often do we get angry about not knowing what God is doing, instead of trusting in His plans. His ways, that are pure and good. What destruction would we heap upon ourselves if we knew everything?

He knew it would take time. In his infinite wisdom, God prepared a permanent home for us in Flagstaff with a promise.

Take this chance on him, move into this place, and I will make you a family again, and I will make this a home.

So I believed. God had led us to this city for healing, for a clean break from adulterous relationships, freedom from addiction, a fresh place to restart, and restore. We gave up our smart phones and tablets and computers and lived so simply.

And the home came, and a job came.

And when my husband would leave for work, and I would be home alone at night with two crying kids, I would hold to that promise.

And when the feelings of anger and unforgiveness would rush in, I would hold tight. I would batten myself down in his love.

God had claimed this place for us. And I was fighting for our family, in his strength.

And our house was small, and the carpet was brown and I had given up so much.

But God said this is the place where you will heal.

I would have rather had brown carpets and my husband, than a castle anyway.

And for a year we lived and wrestled and counseled, and learned how to love again. For a year we fought our Goliath, our Smaug, our Empire, our insurmountable odds.

For a year we lived in a furnace heated seven times hotter than usual.

But we were not burnt.

Because the yelling, it was done. And the animosity, it was crumbling in the light of day.

Our 7th anniversary; our 1st post affair/addiction. One month after finding out. Proof that the Joy we have in the Lord can shine through in the darkest places. 

And in it’s place was growing a new love. A committed love, a more holy love. A love without a shame, a love that says: I am naked and I am not ashamed.

We had become spiritually naked in each others eyes. And we were left with only the core of who we were, and what God said about us; that we were precious, and his children, and grafted into his family. We were masterpieces and more precious than pearls.

Even in the pit of our own sin.

It is true when God says a cord of three stranded is not quickly broken. My husband and I both broke, our cords snapped and frayed and unwound in the most terrible way.

But God.

God’s strand will never break.

My Claddagh necklace, Love, Loyalty, and Friendship. Given to me as a promise of loyalty on our first anniversary after.  

That was five years ago now. God has woven us a new cord, stronger than before.  He broke down the earth around us and built up a more solid foundation from it’s ashes.

We went on to have another child, a baby girl, whose name means Bittersweet. Because out of the bitterness and fallout of an affair and an ugly addiction, we recommitted ourselves to God and to each other, and experienced an intimacy we had not known before.

And a little girl, who I wasn’t supposed to be able to have, was given to us.

And my husband didn’t miss those days. He gave her her first bath. He washed her head in the water so gently she cooed at him. He changed every diaper. He stayed up with her in the night and in the morning so that I could sleep, he meticulously kept track of feedings and wet diapers and handed them to the nurses. He cried when he held her.

A second chance.

God gave my husband back to me.

And we were given another chance.

When the shame is gone, you are free to show your true self.

And when the shame was gone, when Jesus put it to death on the cross, he freed my Husband. Not just from porn and affairs, but from the cruelty and the anger, and the self hate. The shackles of shame were gone.

And the man who was underneath, God’s handiwork emerged. Kind, courageous, empathetic and giving. Gentle.

Fruits of the spirit growing in him again.

God gave us great counselors and therapists and professionals.

He gave us hope.

And he gives me small glimpses, even now, a quiet moment at the park, reading bedtimes stories, happy mundane moments, that I know would not be possible without the miraculous hand of God, reaching down to save us.

So that now we live in an unbroken marriage, new, and unmarred by a past that sought to destroy us. Unsinged by fire

And we are proof.

little glimpses, of what we chose, when we chose God and each other. 

Proof that God will always keep his promises, and that new life can come out of even the ugliest places.

This is not the testimony I would have chosen, these aren’t the trials I would have picked. but this is the cross I bare, and I bare it gladly, because in the weakness of our marriage, then it was made strong.

In our weakness God’s strength was perfected. In our furnace, God was ultimately glorified. So I will sing his praises for ever, I will boast so gladly;

for my redeemer has delivered us out of the fire, and given us new life together.

So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, 27 and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them.

28 Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king’s command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Daniel 3:26-28

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Five years later almost exactly, we celebrate the masterful work of our God.

 

 

 

 

Seeking the Beauty in Longing

photo-1434735327738-ddce4141037aSometimes I travel in time. Usually to specific times and events. To memories that are locked up tight. I don’t know why we remember what we remember; scientists say strong emotion can burn memories into our psyches, and I think thats true. But it doesn’t account for the small moments we remember. The monotonous and simple, the moments we don’t realize are important, but become somehow, the building blocks of our cores.

“Here,” my sister said as she handed me a pink and black wrapped gift on my wedding night, Victoria’s Secret wrapping bound the box perfectly with the familiar pink stripes. When I opened it the pink tissue paper ruffled and inside was a small purple pack with the words Lovespell. I looked up to see her blue eyes wide with excitement, her teeth grinning. “If you use this every day, on your honeymoon” she said, “you will never forget the smell, and years later, the scent will take you back to that very day.” She was sharing a great truth to a new bride.

I ruffled through little purple and violet soaps, and body washes and body sprays. “Okay I said. “I’ll try it.” I was careful to pack it away in my suitcase.

Hawaii. It was the first thing I unpacked as Mrs. Ernst. I arranged the small bottles on the counter. I carefully ordered them in the corner from tallest to shortest. I frowned a bit as I put the body wash in the shower. We only had a shower in our room, and I had romantic ideas. It was harder to shave my legs in the shower but religiously I did, with care and with lovespell.

11 years later and I unpacked my boxes from my latest move. It was exhausting now and I was bone weary. The girlish excitement of playing house was gone, and I was no longer a shiny newlywed. I had experienced a lot of life now, and together my Husband and I had tasted bitterness as well sweetness. I pulled out q-tips from a half used box, and an obscure candle holder covered in sand. A half used bottle of suave conditioner, why did I even pack that I think as I place it in the bathtub. A real garden tub, finally. Our old house only had a shower. I pulled out some towels, haphazardly thrown in the box and a little purple bottle tumbles down. Lovespell. I smile and smell it and close my eyes.

I’m back in Hawaii now, I can hear the ocean. My curtains blow in from the balcony and the sound of laughter wafts up in the sweet, thick, island air. It’s muggy, it’s been raining since we got there. I looked down at the pools and the people, my husband had gone to grab some champagne, I was technically not supposed to be drinking since I would only be 19 in two weeks. He came back into the room with a victorious smile and this time a poorly wrapped package. He carefully pulled out two blue longstem glasses that said outrigger from a crumpled brown paper bag. I laughed, it was so much better than drinking out of water cups. We kissed and smiled until our lips and cheeks hurt. We had everything ahead of us.

Laughter wafted through the air, only now it was my kids running into the room, and I’m back with a half unpacked box. I spritzed the fragrance again in the air and left my box half done. There will be time later.

And so she was right, that it would take me back in time. Time traveling scents. Hibiscus and jasmine send me right back. I needed that smell during the affair, during the wrestling clenching, churning, grasp of pornography, as God freed my husband from it. It ensured I wouldn’t forget. I wouldn’t forget what we were fighting for.

I keep a bottle in my bathroom always now. A reminder of the sweet times increasingly longer ago so they never grow dim or waste away. We have filled that space with college and moves and jobs and 3 little humans, with up and downs, God has blessed us and kept us more than we ever could have known or vowed.

But then there are the memories I visit without an obvious trigger. Places that are so sad, because they are so far gone. They stir a deep and profound longing in my soul because they are so far away now.

Every Sunday my Pastor speaks with a West Virginian accent. It’s toned down a bit I think, probably because of the sheer amount of speaking and traveling he does, but I suspect, like most West Virginians he can turn up the drawl all the way if her chooses

Like me Mema. She was from West Virginia and her accent and her stories captivated me. My Uncle Mark used to love to tell West Virginian jokes, even she would laugh and laugh.

I go there sometimes. It hurts, and cuts, because that place came to such ruin, but I go back, in my mind to my Mema’s house.

I sit in her chair, yellow and green and orange. It was next to her fireplace in the living room. Not the formal den with the piano and weird carpet shampoo smell, but in the gathering room. There was a brick fireplace and on top was  a sword and helmet of some sort my dad had brought back from his exploits in the Navy. It was a gift for my Mema and her Bill. Grandpa Bill whom I never met.

The wasting and ruin began before I was born.

But this is a happy memory and next to me is another chair and they both face a brown couch, and above it is a shelf with little, small nick knacks. Everyone was there. 4 uncles and 3 aunt’s and my Dad’s cousins and my great aunt and my Nana. And we would all gather. Because Virginia was so far away from Oregon. And everyone would ask if I remembered them, and I would smile shyly in a 5 year olds fashion and think maybe.

And what I loved most was how loud it was. In every single room there were groups of family laughing, or yelling, and joyful noise was everywhere. My uncle Mark calling for his dog Misty and everyone with their loud southern laughs and the porch swing swinging and the crickets and fireflies going.

And I would sit in that chair and listen. My own Momma’s voice would ring out “John?” and somewhere my Dad’s laugh would ring out like a bell. In the evenings Mema sat in the chair and cross stitched. She would show me her fine work and try to explain it. She would buy me practice squares with yarn and big plastic needles. Except for the time we went to visit for her bypass surgery. Then I sat in the hall and practiced stitching myself, determined to make her happy, and help her feel better.

Slowly we were wasting.

Upstairs I slept in the sewing room. I would align my allotted stuffed animals on the back of another brown couch that pulled out into a bed. Puddles the dog always took the place of prominence on top. This room was quieter, and across the hall was where Mom and Dad would sleep. Im a quilt of little doilies I would climb in bed with them in the mornings and we would all snuggle. Down the velvet wallpapered walls was Mema’s room. And I can go there too.

I can go back to when I was sick. Momma gave me chewy purple tylenol and sat in Mema’s rocking chair. She rocked me while she watched Rush Limbaugh on Mema’s tv. Voices would still ring from downstairs in laughter as everyone caught up with one another and watched tv. The ambient loudness and laughter helped me fall asleep and the televisions light danced in the darkness,  and when I was calm enough she laid me in Mema’s bed and I fell asleep.

I remember snuggling my Mema in her bed too, with my big sister. We would fall asleep so happy and content, and wake up to the smell of bacon in the morning. People would spread out and adventured all day and reunite around the table at night when chicken and dumpling and green beans simmered in that morning bacon grease were served. Evenings were spent on the porch telling stories.

I loved the stories. The reminiscing. They time traveled too. I can’t remember their stories. They’ve gone now, like so much else. But I remember how they made me feel, that love.

and I’m happy.

But I’m also sad, because that place is gone.

Gone to ruin and waste. And I long deeply in my sould for that togetherness. But they died.

Everyone.

And I wonder how, and I wonder why, and I ask my God who brings every good and perfect gift what happened, because none of it was good, and none of it was perfect.

I love these moments  I travel to, because what I don’t see is the drug use behind the scenes, the alcoholism. The anger and resentment. Hidden abuses.

Just the reunion. Everyone can be their best selves for a week.

I miss the best selves.

And don’t our souls long for reunification? For separation to be put to death. For the fullness of who we are in Christ to be revealed.

Mine does.

And the wasting away of my family began before I was born into it. My grandpa, my half sister. Heart disease and cancer. Then my own Dad died and that place was less. Then my young cousin, then two uncles, aunts left to their addiction or for their own personal health.

My Nana too.

Until finally even my Mema flew away. She wasted away too. Only at that point she had buried all but one son. How can you survive such loss. There were no pallbearers because she was about to be buried next to them.

And the house had wasted. It had fallen into disrepair and disuse and as my Mema and her remaining sons neglected her, I watched as it fell apart.

And now the house is gone and what was left is stained with nicotine. My Uncle James died there from drugs and alcohol and no one knew. Neighbors asked for a welfare check, and when they checked they found a dead man who had neglected his own mother and spent her money on booze.

And the memory wastes again. Even more faint. Where is the joyful noise now?

There is no one left to visit, and my chair is gone. And the clanging of her coo coo clock at midnight, when I felt like such a grown up at 5 years old, for staying awake to hear it is gone too. The chimes are gone.

No matter how much I want to hear stories from my Great Aunt and my Mema about their younger days and their own crazy Aunts, their adventures and exploits as young women. No matter how much I want to fall asleep in Mommas arms in Mema’s chair, its gone. Torn apart, aged.

Gone.

And I’m left with this longing. This desperate desire to visit a place and a time that no longer exists. To see and feel and touch and love a whole family, that has died away.

And I ask my Father in Heaven why was it this way? And why are people so selfish? And when can we all be together again healed and whole and renewed. And when will the ugly stain of sin be wiped away forever.

Because right now it hurts. And sometimes I visit those places unwittingly. Sometimes my mind just goes to them, in the twilight of sleep or the early morning. Or when I hear my Pastor call a creek a crick.

But God holds me. He tells me that this longing is really a longing for him, a longing for home. He gently reminds me that we are all passing through. People are broken, but Jesus came so we don’t have to live in that brokenness, or pass that brokenness on to our children.

He says,

I came dear child so you could fall asleep in the arms of Jesus with the joyful noise reverberating, without the wasting. 

Because Jesus stopped it. The war is won, even in our suffering and pain, even as battles rage around us. Even when my chair is a distant memory, even when the places I love are gone.

Jesus came so that we might all have a place and a table together. A place to gather when our days are done and we are home from and adventures, and break bread and green beans together and laugh and cry over the journey.

And there is beauty there, because that longing is a longing for Jesus, and Jesus is the only fountain that fills and never runs dry.

And one day, it’s his arms we will fall asleep in, and it will be the joyful songs of angels we will hear, and the scent around us will be even more heavenly than Lovespell.

And it will be the pain and death that have wasted away.

 

*****

 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21: 3-5

 

 

Seeking Beauty in the Reality of Medication.

take-it-1568875It’s hard to say that there is a beauty in my need for daily medication to manage my OCD.  There are days I struggle with the need to take so many pills at the moment to fee normal. There are days I struggle with the side effects.

There I days I struggle with guilt.

But I have a hope that Jesus has already overcome my affliction.

A blessed assurance that Jesus has indeed overcome all afflictions on the cross.

Heart break

A bad prognosis

Infidelity

Porn

Abuse

Loneliness

Depression

Wayward children

Broken families

Whatever the affliction this side of heaven, there is hope that our Savior has already won the war.

Even as the battles still rage all around us.

And my battle is my OCD and the sometimes sad reality of choosing to treat it with medication.

This isn’t always a popular choice in the world of professional internet researchers and orthorexia. I’ve discovered that everything seems to have a “natural” alternative as if a naturally occurring chemical is better than a lab perfected one.

They both have a purpose in treatment.

And before I decided to reach out to my doctor for medication I did try. I tried to think myself better. I tried oils to calm my anxiety, I tried natural supplements. I tried self help and christian self help.

I prayed. A lot. 

But the St. John Wort failed me, the lavender only just smelled good, and exercise didn’t keep the obsessive fear away.

So I asked for help.

But there is a reality in that help that people don’t talk about. We know all about insulin as lay people, we know vaguely about thyroid medications, and blood pressure medications, and asthma medications.

We speak and walk and fun run in support of all of the other afflictions.

But we never tell sufferers to pray it away. We never suggest a person with diabetes try an essential oil or new supplement and stop testing their blood sugar and taking insulin. We accept that this side of heaven, sometimes a pancreas breaks.

But not the mind.

We can’t except a broken mind.

There is still so much stigma, so little open discussion, and so many hushed whispers or suggestions about how to not medicate, because medication is scary.

SSRI’s like prozac stand accused as the boon of Big Pharma. Benzos are referred to with fear. Sedating antihistamines are joked about as zombie inducing.

And my personal favorite.

atypical antipsychotics.

“I am not psychotic.” I say to myself every night as I pop my Abilify.

This does not define me.

I refuse to let it.

Because the truth is, the only One who defines me is Jesus Christ.

He says:

I am Beloved.

I am Pleasing to the Father.

I am His daughter.

I am a priceless treasure.

I am His masterpiece.

I am reconciled and grafted in, and adopted into the Kingdom of God.

But still, I live with the reality of my broken brain. And that reality can be hard. The reality that no one talks about. The reality that I have often been shamed for speaking of.

The reality that people make out to be bigger than Jesus himself.

Because isn’t that what we do when we minimize sickness out of fear?

Isn’t Jesus bigger than the medication I need to be human?

Isn’t Jesus bigger than mental illness?

Because the fruits of the spirit do not flow from me when I am sick.

There is no peace, or joy. Love is hard. Faithfulness hides, patience is an impossibility. Kindness and goodness?

More like angry and afraid. 

And that fear and anger that comes from nowhere but the back of my brain, even as my lips and heart sing hymns and cry out to God, is grating and soul destroying. It’s not me. It’s not who God calls me to be.

And I won’t let it define me.

I won’t let it take over when on the other side of stigma, is help.

So I choose medication. Because with medication I do have peace. I feel deep contentedness and joy. I speak to strangers at the grocery store, and laugh with them at the gym.

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With medication I’m not cowering in fear all the time. Instead I am offering encouraging words to people I meet. Speaking what is beautiful when I see it.

And I see.

And that is what medication is.

It’s being able to see. To see beyond myself. To see color in a word that is otherwise red with fear or grey with disassociation from coping with that fear. It allows me empathy, and kindness. I’m not afraid, so I don’t need to rush I can be patient.

I am fruitful when I am on medication.

And that is how I know it is from God.

But that means I choose the side effects too.

And that’s hard. That’s where the struggle is. The side effects aren’t feeling like a zombie, or not feeling like myself, or feeling numb, as people commonly think.

No, I actually have energy, because my brain isn’t diverting itself into constant fear. I feel more myself now than I did before. I know myself better and can speak up for myself. I feel deeply in fact. Happiness, laughter, joy. It’s not just the red of fear.

The constant taste and smell of panic.

I feel calm.

But today I had to adjust one medication because for a week I could not pee. Urinary retention was the side effect. It was awful. There is no worse feeling than needing to pee and being unable too.

So we had to switch a medicine. But in stopping one the hyper-vigilance came back. I jumped at everything. Doors closing, dogs barking, my kids saying, “Mommy?” A toilet flushing. And thats exhausting.

So in changing one, we needed to then change two because the medications work together in symphony to help my brain fire correctly. The medications are my Conductor.

Which means my SSRI was changed. A change in an SSRI means a guaranteed two weeks of feeling like you have the flu, with brain zap electrical head aches and full body aches. And nausea.  Never forget the nausea.

And we start the song over again, hoping that this new arrangement will be the one to   balance the fear and the side effects. Hoping my libido stays around and I still desire my husband. Hoping this one lets me sleep instead of causing insomnia. Hoping I can pee.

Hope. My doctor and I have to hope together. Because this is the serotonin art of  brain and body chemistry. The science ended in the pharmacy and now we arrange the instruments and conduct the orchestra and pray and hope that Keely comes back.

And still I say it’s worth it. It’s worth it because at the end of the day I would rather not pee, than not be myself.

Because that’s what medication gives back to me.

Myself

And that is what God promises to give us too. A new definition, a new self. A new identify in Jesus. One where our afflictions and our pain and our stories don’t define us, but rather reveal the mighty work of Jesus on cross as we are redeemed through it.

As others are redeemed through our testimony.

And that is where the beauty is, I suppose, in the daily reality of my medications, the bottles that line my medicine cabinet, the atypical antipsychotics that can scare even, the xanax and lexapro and atarax.

The beauty is that these meds don’t define me,

Because Jesus does.

And that is beautiful.

******

 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” –1 Peter 2:9 

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” -Galatians 2:20

Seeking the Beauty in Change

raindrops-1147382It’s hard when the world changes, and I am not ready. When life moves forward and I don’t want to go that way. Every atom, every cell that I am, somehow screams against the change.

No, this isn’t right. 

No, I don’t want it. 

Please, just let it stay the same, how it was.

Even if it wasn’t good for me.

Even if it was. Change doesn’t care.  Like the wind, it just comes.

Even if God is calling me out into unknown waters teeming with untapped life, fish that could fill my net full, if I only trusted enough to cast off the line. But letting go hurts. Especially when we loved what we are leaving behind.

I have found myself screaming inside against lost relationships, death, change, the brokenness of my body and mind. The sort of internal anguish, where there are no words, just the groaning of the spirit the Paul writes about in Romans 8. The groaning when every piece of you cries for what was, but isn’t anymore.

And I wonder, how to I reconcile myself to change in these times. How do I allow myself to feel the hurt and then move on; let go of what isn’t and embrace what new things are being birthed.

My daughter came home from school last week. I knew the moment she stepped off the bus she was upset. This sweet girl is like her mommy, and I knew from the familiar heaviness of her steps, and the quick, “I’m fine” belied by scrunched up features and quietness that told another completely not fine story that something was troubling her heart.

We walked home together and she was snappy. She yelled at her brother, she gave some dirty looks at her sister. She wouldn’t hold her daddy’s hand. At first we assumed she was tired. The end of the school year is tough, and for someone who feels the world as much as she does, it’s a hard transition.

And then she did what I do best, because she is so much of me. She began picking fights. Just picking a little bit here, a little bit there. One small jab to her brother, “You’re such a baby.” Words she knows cut him deep.

To her sister, “Don’t touch me, you ruin things.” Knowing her sister worries at almost three years old that she breaks things in her enthusiasm

. I was “mean Mommy.” She refused to do a single thing her Daddy asked of her.

Isn’t it funny how we know how to hurt the ones we love the most, so it cuts the deepest.

And I knew. I knew because our hearts are so alike, that this deep cutting meanness was borne of own deep hurt. Deep unexpressed grief and anxiety looking for an excuse, a crack to escape full force.

When the impending emotional explosion happened we learned her teacher was moving away. Having just moved ourselves this deeply unsettled her. You don’t see the people you love when you move away and she loved her Kindergarten teacher. A city four hours away, or on the other side of the world, it didn’t matter. Her teacher would be gone.

Like her Gramma and Nana back in Arizona felt gone.

Like her best friend felt gone.

Like her cactus and her splash pad and her own bedroom.

Like her church.

Gone.

And the visceral meanness dissipated in a instant, and she collapsed into my arms in a heap, and she sobbed heavy, back shaking sobs. Those silent tears that shake your body. Where the only sound you make, is from inhaling and exhaling sadness, and disappointment, and the need for it to be different than it is.

And then she spoke the truest words.

This is hard. Moving is hard. Changing teachers is hard. I don’t like it.

And my own tears began to fall. I rubbed her head, buried my nose in her hair gold hair and whispered that I knew change is so hard.

It is so hard when life changes and we aren’t ready.

When things change and we don’t want them too. Its hard. and it hurts. And we held each other, and felt our pain. And our tears fell.

My life has changed too. Without my permission it feels like. As if I ever had control in the first place. After finding myself in heart failure after having my son, I was told another pregnancy might kill me. Postpartum Cardiomyopathy is rare, and when it recurs, the second time it can often prove fatal, or at least life altering. Words like heart transplant were thrown around, inability to recover heart function. Permanent heart damage. I was blessed to know my body when it happened. Blessed to have a husband in nursing school. Blessed to know sometimes you fight your doctors and I was diagnosed exceptionally early, because at 6 days postpartum I refused to leave the hospital without being admitted. Usually it takes weeks for a diagnosis, of during cardiac arrest because it hasn’t been treated. And so I recovered. Completely. Quickly. God is good. I was a medical miracle in some ways.

Our intentions were to always have my tubes tied after that, in accordance with the medical recommendations. And then a miscarriage happened. An accidental pregnancy at a time when my marriage was struggling after nearly falling apart. We were unsure of our future. We were in counseling together, relearning how to be married, relearning how to put God first in both of our lives, relearning how to love each other. I was devastated. It was so early, there was no sympathy from our doctors. More like, wow, you dodged a bullet.

But we knew after that. As our marriage healed and renewed we knew we wanted another baby. And so we risked it. And our youngest was born. Only, during her pregnancy I developed a rare liver disorder called intrahepatic cholestatis of pregnancy. Followed by high blood pressure and of course some pre term labor sprinkled in for fun. My pregnancy was filled with IVs. non stress tests twice a week, echocardiograms, steroid shots, two different drugs to stop contractions. Lots of hospital stays.

But my baby was born healthy via csection and again I recovered. No relapse. Only this time, I consented to a change that broke my heart. We tied my tubes.

I still remember the smell when they burnt them. My baby girl was crying and healthy. Her Father was holding her by my face, because you are strapped down during a csection and I couldn’t hold her yet. Blissful moments despite the pain. They had closed up most of me, but now was the part where they cut and burnt my fallopian tubes, where the sterilized me. Were they supposedly saved my life.

And it smelled like burning. And they laughed and joked about the weather, and my world changed. I wasn’t ready.

In my mind there was another blonde little baby, or maybe the only dark headed one we would have. And my sweet son was no longer alone as a middle child, but had his little sister, because a new baby had come into the family. And our car was full and our house was full and our hearts were so full. Four babies. Four children. I had always wanted four. Another baby to nurse, more diapers to change, that intoxicating smell of a newborn.

Instead I was trading it for the smell of my burning fertility. I wasn’t ready. Life was changing and I didn’t want it to.

There was little time to dwell. They sewed me up and we became immersed in raising our third little human. And she grew, and her growing was bittersweet. Because I knew she would wean, she would potty train, she would leave babyhood and toddlerhood behind and I would have to face my fertility.

And so it was when I held my oldest, crying that life had changed when she wasn’t ready, that I was crying too.

I wasn’t ready either.

Our youngest would be three on Saturday.

And my period had been 9 days late.

And I wanted with every piece of me to be pregnant. But I knew I wasn’t because of my tubal ligation. The mind plays terrible and cruel tricks. And again I imagined that baby, that fourth little one. Snuggling and cooing, and keeping us up all night. The intimate hours in the middle of the night where it’s just the two of you. The way your husband looks when his strong hands hold his tiny baby. The absolute love of siblings. Siblings who have been asking for a baby…

But Mommy can’t have one.

For nine days I prayed. All different things really, but what I prayed most I think, was please.

Please don’t make me go through this. Please let it be some other way. I know how it will end, with a late and terrible period, and it will hurt like a cruel joke.  So please Lord. 

Because life had changed and I wasn’t ready. And it hurts, and it’s hard.

I don’t know what to tell my daughter. Change will always be hard. Jesus prayed to the Father to find some other way too, to take the cup from him, but instead he allowed himself to be crucified for my brokenness. For my healing.

And I think about that. How Jesus was a man, and felt that unrelenting grief of wanting it to all be different when it couldn’t be. Mourning the loss of what should have been. But God’s plan was so much bigger.

God’s plan is so much bigger.

And so I am waiting, and crying out to my Father.

This is hard Lord.

I know. 

This hurts.

I am collecting all of your tears.

I want it to be different

I am making a way where there is none.

I’m so tired Lord, of this hurt. I fell old, and worn. Useless in infertility somehow.

But can’t you see? I am doing a new thing. You have a hope and a future.

What good could possibly come from this.

Don’t lose heart Daughter. I am renewing you and preparing you for eternal glory

And just like I held my daughter weeping, Jesus holds me.

Because he knows it’s hard too. 

So I cling to my savior. My savior who has felt grief. My savior who has wanted it another way. My savior whose body was broken. I cling to him when I have nothing else.

There was no pregnancy. And my daughter will say goodbye to her teacher at her last day of school tomorrow. I can’t fix her grief. But I can hold her as she struggles with it, with the change she says she is not ready for, and remind her of a God who loves her, and has so many wonderful things planned.

Even if we aren’t ready.

New things. If we only let down our nets and trust in our savior.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.  So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”  For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken. Luke 5:4-9

 

Beauty in Fear

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It’s hard to be afraid; especially when we have been taught to think a certain way about fear. I’ve grown up in the church. I’ve been told countless times that God tells us not to fear. It’s almost trite now.

“The Bible says, ”Fear not nearly 365 times, once for every day! We obviously have nothing to fear.'”

Or how about,

“God commands us not to fear or worry, choosing to do so displays a sinful lack of faith in the Father.”

As if I had a choice in the matter.

“Think positive, pray harder! Trust!”

As though I don’t weep and cry out to God to take my fear from me daily.

“Be careful not to give in to the temptation to fear! It’s from the enemy and is the antithesis to faith. Fear means you lack faith!”

Tell me to resist the temptation to breathe, because that would be easier.

Or my favorite,

“You can’t love like Jesus when you live in fear.

My fear is borne of my love. I love so much it makes me afraid.

And my heart grows heavy.  And I feel small and faithless. Sometimes the Church has made me to feel like I am a broken Christian. Not broken, in the glorious way they ask us to be for God, where our cracks are filled with gold and we can boast about our “brokenness” because we have already been healed. But truly, completely broken in a wrong sort of way. A Christian doesn’t worry, doesn’t fear, a Christian has confidence and joy and hope! Optimism!

And I sink into my fabric seat on Sunday’s with coffee stains and I worry.

I sink into the couch and close the blog link.

I have struggled with fear my whole life. I was a shy and sensitive child. I see that in my own kids. I passed it down. I felt more of the world than most. It was so loud and quick and bright, but also beautiful. My dad knew how seriously I took the world, and encouraged me to laugh more and joke more and let go more. And I remember laughing with him.

But I also remember when I was six years old. I remember the night my brain broke. I remember when it fundamentally changed. When the mylination and the development of the limbic system in my brain that was learning to control my emotions, and my prefrontal cortex that was developing to control my behavior, when my paraventricular nucleus the lights up our fear response, was overloaded with and the delicate systems, the orchestra of neurons in my brain, was altered completely.

I remember the night my daddy died tragically and traumatically before me innocent six year old eyes.

Like a burn, the memory is seared into these systems of my brain. Now it remembers how one moment life was so good; the crickets were out, the smell of late summer was in the air, the smoky pine scent of Labor Day evenings in Oregon. The smell of dusk. The days were still long but there was something almost crisp about them. A bike ride in the park, laughing, plans for the park again tomorrow. My brain remembers how absolutely normal life was, until the very moment it wasn’t.

Obsessively. Compulsively it remembers the rug being pulled out. Even when I am not consciously thinking.

In an instant, a fathers relaxing bath at the end of the day to wash the dirt and sweat and fun off, became something sinister. Laughter with my mother turned to fear in milliseconds as my father moaned through the bathroom door.

Death.

Life. Normal life. Daily life.

And then death.

It was a normal night right before the first grade was supposed to start. We had plans and a future and regular day ahead. A night of me sneaking into bed with mom and dad, and them dragging me back to my room again. Regular bedtimes struggles.

Until it wasn’t.

And the fear came.

The fear has never left.

My brain learned in those following moments that life could change for the worse in an instant. It didn’t know these things before. But it learned.  And I watched. I watched my mom preform CPR on my slippery 200lbs naked, blue daddy. I watched as she begged him to come back, because he was already gone. I watched as the paramedics lifted him out of the claw foot iron bathtub and laid him on our wood floors in the hallway. Water spilling everywhere. I watched as men in uniforms tried to resuscitate him. I watch as they used the defibrillator.

Once.

Twice.

Three times.

I watched as they carried him out on a stretcher, a sheet covering his naked body, with an oxygen mask on his face, a bag in their hands. Squeezing. I watched as they loaded his grey body into the ambulance as my mom held his cold hand.

And my brain learned. My little child’s brain with no context and a tenuous grasp of death. My brain changed that night. Overload. Critical failure. Reboot, and then,

It was rewired.

Like a pancreas loses its ability to produce or control insulin, my brain learned how to fear. It learned adrenaline, it learned fight or flight, it learned at any moment horrible things could happen. Any second the normal and routine will slip and it will happen again. It learned excessive emotional response.

I was physically changed.

And as a woman, as I developed, as my brain grew that fear grew too, and so did my desire to control it. And so that’s when the OCD began, and the panic attacks. If I could control life somehow, the terrible things I feared wouldn’t happen. I didn’t realize any of this. It was all happening in my brain, just beyond my grasp, subconsciously. It seemed normal to me. I had always been this way I thought. Everyone was this way. This was how brains worked.

But that is not how regular brains work. Mine was different now.

And then I had my own children and the small compulsions, the triple checking of things and the panic attacks gave way to intrusive thoughts. The worst part of OCD. The worst part of fear. The part where it takes over, the part where it hijacks your thought patterns.

When I had my oldest I began to worry obsessively. That is what the obsessions are in OCD. When she was just a week old, my brain began to misfire in a terrible way, with terrible thoughts.

What if my dog eats her?

Now I was afraid of dogs. I compulsively couldn’t go near them. Our dogs had to stay with family.

What if she rolled off the bed and broke her neck?

Now I was afraid of my bedroom.

What if I drop her down the stairs?

Now I was desperately, horribly afraid of stairs. I couldn’t  even look at them.

What if I left her in the car?

Now I couldn’t leave my house.

What if she dies of SIDs?

Now I compulsively checked the thermostat to ensure she was cool enough because I read in an article once that 72 degrees was the ideal temperature for newborns and if it changes a half degree in either direction she will definitely die. My fault.

What if the air conditioning turned off while I slept?

Now I was afraid of sleeping.

What if she was ever cut with a knife?

Now I was afraid of my kitchen and could no longer prepare food.

What if I hurt her?

Now I was afraid of myself.

And after a month of living that torture everyday, I got help.

And a diagnosis.

Postpartum OCD and anxiety. Only surprise! The fear I grew up with had a name. OCD.

I’d had it all along.

My psychiatrist was a blessing, and my support group for mothers with postpartum mood disorders was even more so. Medication saved my motherhood. And likely my life, because I was so afraid I might hurt my own child, I would have rather taken my own life than have lived to hurt her.

The change was drastic. One simple pill, zoloft, took the thoughts away. Because my brain needed help. My brain that had been so fundamentally changed by trauma needed an aid to function. It need help turning off the fear center.

But in today’s mommy world, and in today’s church that wasn’t always okay. While my support group held out open arms and said, “Us too.” My church said pray harder, be more grateful, rethink medication. The message from the greater mommy culutre wars said “big pharma” was selling me snake oil, to keep me sick of all things, even though for once I could hold my baby without fear.

But still the stigma remained. It still remains. And there are still those sermons, those blogs, those devotionals I sit through, asking me, no telling me, not to fear.

And I wonder is that really Gods message?

Maybe for some. Maybe for those whose brains function as they were designed to, but what about those of us with stigmatized mental illness? Is it Gods will for us to think ourselves better? How cruel that would be. Can we ask a person to think their bone whole again when it’s broken? Or ask a diabetic person to think themselves more insulin? Can we ask a liver patient to think their enzymes lower? Or a kidney patient to think themselves into dialysis?

No. I believe he is bigger than that. And kinder. Bigger than my OCD. Bigger than my fear. It’s not a command, “Do not fear.” But a comfort.

A lullaby. Hush my child, do not fear.

My kids are older now, I have a toddler, preschooler and my oldest is in school, and recently I have been struggling again. Fear is with me again. I don’t know why. It just is.

Sometimes it’s hard get out of my shower because I’m afraid someone will be standing there to murder me.  Sometimes I can’t drive across the river because I am afraid my kids will drown. Sometimes we can’t go on hikes because I’m afraid they will fall into a creek and drown or wander of into the forest and die of exposure. Some days I can’t leave the house because I know we will get into a car accident and definitely die. I don’t let my kids eat popcorn because I read an article on Facebook once about a child who aspirated and died of lung infection. Sometimes we don’t swim because I cannot cope with the constant fear of drowning. Sometimes I leave a cartful full of groceries because I am too afraid to talk to the cashier. Sometimes, I am overwhelmed by the fighting back the fear.

I have to say the same words to my husband every time he leaves, to make sure he will come back safely.

I have to hug and kiss my daughter before school in the same way, sometimes two or three times so there isn’t a school shooting and she doesn’t die.

It feels like a responsibility. A heavy burden, to keep my loved ones safe. Meanwhile I know each action and thought is completely irrational. Each ritual I devise to keep them safe, a cruel joke, but I can’t stop. And so I count in my head, I pick the skin off of my feet, I pick my lips until they bleed, I say things repetitively, ask the same question over and over.

Or I avoid.

Its not that I don’t believe that God is sovereign and in control, rather, I am a prisoner to my brain. It thinks these things whether I want to or not. Compulsively. It thinks.

And I wonder, is this a sin? Is this fear that I am told is the antithesis of faith really the antithesis of faith?

If it were, if I were faithless, I wouldn’t cry out to my God every day for strength. I wouldnt collaborate with my amazing doctor to find meds that work. I wouldn’t go back to alter them when they needed alteration, and I am struggling again. If I had no hope I wouldn’t get out of bed because this fight is exhausting and my brain can torture me. But I hope, and so I can fight. Fight for treatment, fight or normalcy, fight for coping skills, fight for myself and my family.

And so, I think the church has this one wrong.

My God is loving. And he holds me in his arms, and when I say to him, “Lord I am so afraid!” I am not met with condemnation, but understanding and grace and strength.

People take for granted the strength it takes to live sometimes. It takes great faith to do it all afraid.

And there are days, when I do it all afraid.

I wake up afraid.

I make breakfast afraid, laundry, coloring, cleaning, gardening, grocery shopping, walks, games, dinner time, showers, bedtimes.

Afraid.

But never once has God scolded me. Never once have I felt a check in my spirit.

No. I tell the Lord I am afraid.

He says rest in me, my yoke is easy.

I am so afraid Lord.

I know. You are hard pressed my daughter, but you are not crushed. Perplexed but not in despair.

This is hard Lord.

I sweat blood for you in Gethsemane, in my strength you can do hard things too.

Im afraid again Lord.

Be still, I am fighting for you child.

He calls me to read the Psalm 23. He calls me into Lamentations 3. Terror and hurt and bitterness is not new, living underneath the shadow of death is not new. Our hope is in him, even as we walk through the suffering of fear.

His Holy Spirit leads me to the still waters.

So I am not ashamed of my fear. I may never overcome it this side of heaven. I pray for healing absolutely, but the healing may come from talented doctors and medications. It may come through me refusing to give up on myself and my husband and my kids, knowing they deserve a whole wife and mother. My healing may come from perseverance and endurance to find the right combination of meds so that I am not constantly and compulsively and obsessively afraid.

I endure because Jesus gives me strength, even as I fear.

I have seen the cost of refusing treatment, of letting fear win. I have seen what self medication looks like in my family, when fear and trauma are burned into your neural pathways. I have witnessed what it looks like when people reach for alcohol or drugs, or life in complete denial because the fear is just too much. I have seen what it looks like when people crumble beneath it’s weight.

I refuse to pass that legacy down to another generation. I live with fear, yes, I live with OCD, but it does not define me. And it is not a sin. It is not keeping me from the fullness of Christ. Through this very affliction I have come to know his strength, his love, his mercy.

It is the thorn in my side that I will boast of gladly because in my weakness He has made me strong. His strength is made perfect in my weakness, in my fear.

And that is beautiful.

We like our testimonies packaged in pretty little bows, with neat resolutions, left in the past. It’s hard to say this is still my struggle. It is hard to say there hasn’t been healing yet in the way that sells books and pureflix movies. Miracles.

But Paul said suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character,  and character hope.

And maybe hope in the face of often crippling fear is a miracle.

And while it’s easy to think in today’s culture that fear and hope cannot coexist, I am proof they can. I have OCD, I struggle with it, but I have hope and assurance that the battle is already won and one day there will be freedom. In the meantime God has provided for me treatment and medication and I am blessed by that.

God gives me the strength, everyday, to do it afraid. My fear is not too big or messy for him, even when it feels too big and messy for me.

So today, we adjusted my meds again. Added new ones, changed doses around, looking for the right combination my brain needs to fire correctly without too many side effects. And that’s hard too. It reminded me of those early germ theory days when scientists knew germs existed, but couldn’t visualize them yet. It’s early days in the study of our magnificent brain. And I am a pioneer in the treatment. So much of finding medication is trial and error, we don’t know exactly how or why the medicines work, but they do, and we are so close to finding the secrets, revealing the mystery, visualizing and mapping the trauma changed and OCD brain.

Until then, a stigma remains and the church will preach that fear is often wrong or a spiritual symptom of something else, and maybe sometimes it is. But there are vulnerable ones like me sitting and listening and maybe hurting in silence, and it’s up to those of us who suffer to use our voices and our testimony to inform people, to encourage.

I do not believe that God inflicts pain or disease, rather that it is a byproduct of the fallen nature of this world. My brain is changed by the curse of death, we all are in some way. But I also believe there is great opportunity; that God can use my suffering, this road I walk for good. He can transform the ashes of my fear and redeem them into something beautiful. Simply because others walk this road too, and we need to know we are not alone.

Trauma is everywhere, we are just good at hiding it.

But we don’t need to. God wants to bring it to light, he wants healing and wholeness for his people. And if my story, my struggle, my mess, my thoughts can shine light into someone’s else’s dark then I will rejoice all the more gladly in my suffering. In my fear.

I know the end of the story already, even if I am not there yet. Jesus has won the war. Death and fear have been defeated. And one day my brain will be healed and whole again.

But until that glorious day, the medications I need to take to help me function don’t define me. My OCD and PTSD and generalized anxiety don’t define me. My fear does not define me. My worry does not define me.

Jesus does

And that is beautiful.

 

“And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Cor. 4:8-10

 

 

 

 

Beauty in Spring

Spring is finally giving way to summer here. Since it’s our first year in Southern Oregon, every seasons change has been an adventure; not knowing what we would find when we looked out our window. We have loved the rain, and the grayness. Truly. We’ve learned about different types of rain: sprinkling, showers, downpours, storms, dense fog, freezing rain, freezing fog. I fully comprehend what Emily Bronte meant when she talked about Wuthering Heights rising above a silvery vapor. I also know what she means when she describes smaller dwellings becoming invisible.

It has been a long time without the sun.

I am told by people who have lived here awhile, it was a long spring; and a longer winter. I love how the local people here talk about it. Everyone collectively hopes for the sun, and when it comes out, the community is so alive. Smiles beam from every corner and every block. Everyone is outside. Then it rains again, and it’s like the very city itself shrugs and slumps its shoulders, dismayed as late spring storm after late spring storm has wandered in.

“It’s been a terrible winter.”

Thats what they say, here.

The deadness of winter has persisted well into spring.  I’ve been in the desert so long, I thought I knew what dead looked like. But the desert thrives really. It only looks dead and brown on the surface. Sure the cactus have their little hats that bloom in March, and bougainvillea, given enough water grow its pink bracts, and reaches and climbs the cinderblock fences, but not much changes. It stays shades of brown and palo verde green.

But here, in the winter. It seems dead. And it feels dead. A deep, deep sleep surrounds everything. And for so long. Empty branches line the roads and the river, and the leaf litter crumbles into dark brown paste in storm drains. You forget even, what grows. Green is a memory lost in Emily’s silver vapor.

And isn’t that how life is. There are times in our lives or places in our heart that seem so dead. I can feel dead in my motherhood, or dead as a wife. Spiritually, I can feel such a deep and heavy deadness. Its as if parts of us go to sleep sometimes. And we want them back, but it isn’t the right season. Relationships, and the dying off of them. But maybe they are just sleeping.

Maybe God is saying not yet. This isn’t the time. Let that part rest.

A tulip needs to be allowed it’s foliage to whither in the sun, because secretly, beneath the dirt, the bulb is collecting sunshine and recharging so that next year it can bloom again.

A deep sleep for our own sake.

That relationship that hurts, that’s so broken.

Maybe it’s not yet the season for restoration. Maybe something is happening beneath the surface instead.

Solomon writes that there is a season for everything. God has appointed a time to every purpose under heaven. Doesn’t this include the seasons of deep sleep? Of perceived deadness? Of pain, or grief? A time to cast away stones?

And it hurts. And it lingers. And as the brokenness lingers, we can begin to lose hope. The rain continues, the brown continues. Things don’t change. There are no blooms, only woody sticks and twigs that look broken and tangled.

And its hard.

It has been a hard winter here. A hard first winter. I have mourned friendships and distance, and what had become familiar for me. Even if what was familiar wasn’t healthy.  I have had to let got of broken things, and people, and that left me feeling broken. Pruning away the dead things. Setting boundaries that hurt, but had to be set.

And nowhere, could I see a sign of spring.

But my hope is in Jesus. And He is the life giver to dead things. The flesh giver to stone things, and the hope when winter seemingly will not end, and the rain continues.

But the rain has a purpose. And so too, does the dying back and pruning.

It makes way for the new and feeds the new growth that’s yet to come.

Jesus’ death, made way for the resurrection and the redemption of all mankind. Without the great loss of leaves, the trees would buckle under the weight of rain and snow. Without pruning back, roses become twisted, and woody and spindly and don’t produce the most coveted of flowers. Even the dead litter on the ground provides nesting areas for insects who will awaken in spring to pollinate flowers, and fruits and vegetables.

If God has shown me anything, it’s that what often appears dead to me, is merely sleeping, awaiting God’s transformation. Transforming stone into flesh, and winter into spring.

And I am learning, that my hope needs no timeline. Or plan. All I need to know, is that God will awaken and redeem what needs to be, when it is the appointed time. Without my input or planning. My fallible planning.

So when my heart yearns for another baby, and mourns over the loss of my fertility and the frailty of my body, I know my God is big enough to hold it. I can come up with a million “good” plans about adoptions and foster care and accidental pregnancies after tubal ligations. I can easily get lost in the seemingly insurmountable financial barriers and bureaucracy of each. I can lose myself in the google rabbit hole of actual statistics of non ectopic pregnancy in women with tubal ligations, and then I can present each “plan” to God and ask for His blessing. All the while I continue to worry over my dead and hurting pieces. The dead leaf litter I hold in my hands, wet and brown and pasty, not from rain, but from tears. My fallible plans.

I can hold up my broken relationships. My mother. The hurt and the pain and the confusion. I can dream up a thousand ways to fix her, or fix me, or fix us. I can rewrite history, and dream up a fanciful future where everyone is whole if only X, Y and Z happen. I can imagine a breakthrough with my in-laws, where there isn’t tension and past hurt.  I can replay arguments and hurts in my head and play the “should have” and “if only game.” I can clutch these dead pieces too, and give my cracked plans to God, demanding fruition on my terms, on my time.

And then I wonder why nothing is changing. What about my plans God? They seemed good. They made sense. These are the only ways forward I see!

Bless them!

Please.

And winter continues. And my plans whither. And there is no way forward. That I can see anyway.

But then.

But then Spring.

And the world begins to awaken.

And we have forgotten how green it all was. And the scent; of the earth, of the flowers. It lingers in the air and breezes through windows. The smell of heaven. Every tree blossoms with a flower of a different color, in a way we couldn’t have dreamed up if we tried. Flowers grow everywhere. Roses grow wild here in literal ditches. Ivy and moss dance their way up tree branches and lichen hangs like wreathes from old growth trees. Bulbs yawn their way up from the ground and unfurl their thick leaves in curls, in places we didn’t know they were planted. Recharged. The trees sprout leaves together in a chorus, and the grass greens, and grows and grows and grows. At such a rate we seem to need to mow it every single day.

And then the gardens. If you just look at the ground here it seems one grows. Every finger and toe is green. This ground that just weeks ago looked barren and dead, is now bursting with life. Seeds simply scattered in dirt come up as zucchini and strawberries and lettuce and tomatoes, pumpkins and sunflowers. Rhododendrons and peonies, irises, camellias, hydrangea, poppies  and a thousand others whose names I don’t know, each one more vibrant than the next, appear all over where once there was only dead twigs and dirt. Cottonwood seeds float on the wind and the sun like fairies. And every shade of green. Green I can’t describe in shades I’ve either never seen before or have somehow forgotten about. I don’t even know where it comes from, but suddenly everything is alive and bursting. You need no gardening expertise here, life just grows wild. Almost untamed.

God, the Master Gardener who calls forth life from the ground, in shapes and colors and patterns and scents in ways we couldn’t plan if we tried. In just a few weeks everything is unrecognizably alive. Beautiful. Hanging baskets line the streets and bridges. Laughter is in the air until the sun sets, even after.

Life has returned. We could not predict it, we didn’t know when. At times it felt like forever. The fog, the rain, the grey sky, it persisted. But we knew, we were certain, spring would come. Summer would come. Even if it felt delayed. Even if it was delayed. We had hope because we were certain we could trust the calendar, and we knew as April gave way to May, and May slowly creeped onward towards June that the warms days were coming. It was only a matter of time.

And how much more can we trust our Savior? The very Author of the seasons?

When my life feels like a crumpled mess of dead leaves on barren ground, I am certain, that spring is around the corner. New life will spring up in beautiful ways I cannot imagine, like wildflowers. And so I hold on. And I hope.

I hope for restoration, and freedom for my mother.

I hope that one day I will hold a baby in my arms again, and call him mine.

I hope that my children will grow up loving each other, and that I will send them out into the world with wholeness as their legacy, and love, and laughter and connectedness.

I hope for the dead things, the stone things, because my God has promised to make them alive and flesh again. Because God has promised that He will work all things for good and glory. Because He has good plans for me.

But I don’t need to know the plans. I need to be okay if my plans are not His plans. I need to trust that Spring will come, even if it looks different. Even if it seems delayed. I need to hand Him my crumbled dead leaves, so one day, he can give me a bouquet of fresh flowers.

I need to allow him to turn over the rocky compact soil in my heart so things can grow.

I need to invite him in, to the dead places of my heart, the places I hold close out of fear. If a tree feared losing it’s leaves every fall, would it survive the winter? It must let go. And wait. If it blooms too soon, likewise the frost will kill the blossoms and prevent a harvest of fruit that year. It patiently waits for spring, even if the waiting is long.

My savior has appointed a time to all things in his infinite wisdom and I am safe to trust in it.

And the waiting may hurt. And the brokenness and barrenness can feel so overwhelming. But hope is here already and spring is coming.

Even if my plans fail. Even if I never hold another baby I call my own. Even if there is never reconciliation and freedom this side of heaven. Even if.

I will not trust God if only.

I will trust him even if. 

Because I cannot imagine the myriad of ways He can work good and meaning into my life if I let him. If I give up the painful planning with my limited sight, things beyond my imagination can bloom when I allow him to tend my heart;  if I let the Master Gardner weed and prune and water my life.

Of course I can mourn last year’s spent blooms, there is a time for that too, because life this side of heaven can hurt, but I also need to be sure that I wait with expectant hope, for this years new growth. Because He has promised that it is coming.

And this Spring. Jesus, I will let you in to those woody thickets I’ve fenced off.

Those painful places I cannot figure out.

The barren soil that I feel ashamed of. The rocks and clumps and frozen ground.

I invite my savior in, even if spring is delayed. Even if my favorite flowers don’t come back this year. Even if it doesn’t look like what I thought it should have looked like.

Take my dead leaves, and give me Jesus.

My hope, my spring, the one who makes me alive again.

For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. Song of Solomon 2:11-12