My September Liturgy

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Since 2014, every September feels almost liturgical to me. Some of this is simply from my mind remembering and reflecting—I am an expert at reflecting—and part of this is from memories that pop up on my Facebook news feed. Trying to explain why I mentally go through this ritual might seem dark or strange to some because I am remembering the night I confronted my (now ex) husband, but for me it is a remembrance of who I was, how I’ve grown, and where I am today—that night, although emotionally catastrophic, was a catalyst for positive change. I don’t simply remember September 19th, I remember the time leading up to that date and the time after it; I remember the year of the confrontation (2013), as well as the previous and following years.

An example that came up recently was a family visit to Butterfly Wonderland on September 15, 2013—just four days before that *poop*-storm rocked my world. It’s ironic that we were among the butterflies because the butterfly is a symbol I had deeply connected to, so much so that I had gotten one tattooed on my lower back just three months prior (see cover photo).  Seeing that Facebook memory of the visit to Butterfly Wonderland reminds me of who I was at that point in time: living with mostly-suppressed emotional turmoil, unwittingly choosing to believe lies, enabling, and battling severe anxiety (which was mild PTSD). I also didn’t know how to bring my heart and my brokenness to God…but I was about to learn.

butterfly wonderland 9.15.13

In my September liturgy, I notice Bible verses and quotes I posted prior to that night in 2013, and I see those in the context of who I was. Then I think back to her, the me I was right before that time and say, “Girl, all that theology is about to get real. What’s left is what you really believe (because everything else is just what you say you believe).”

I look back to the days, weeks, and months after, and I see pictures of myself—no one knew, except my pastor, that I was barely keeping it together; I was like a volcano about to erupt from the pressure of holding so much inside. Everything felt dark, sad, and too heavy to bear. I didn’t know how I would survive and just wanted God to take my life…but then I thought of my daughter—she needed me.

God was faithful and helped me through that time, slowly and gently. I was happily busy in Young Life as a leader; my fellow leaders were like my family, and I needed all of the support I could get. By the time September 2014 rolled around, God had provided good for me. (In fact, I had a happy distraction every year from 2014-2017 on September 19th, and I didn’t work a normal day—or at all on that day—until 2018.) Young Life had a leader retreat around this time. I sobbed while journaling, processing my life up until that point. It was also in a forest, and I love forests. Not long after that, my daughter and I went to Louisiana for my dad and stepmom’s wedding on September 20th, with a light and lively rehearsal on September 19th, complete with a Nerf War set to James Bond music after we practiced the ceremony; I also gained four more step-siblings, which added to my joy (The bags in the picture contain our surprise Nerf guns and ammo, a gift from the soon-to-be bride and groom).

In September 2015, I attended two weddings. The first wedding was for a former student set in another forest. It was beautiful and early. The second wedding, on the 19th, was for a former Young Life student.  This became a group road trip to Southern California, and we stayed in a nice hotel—the wedding was right on the beach!

Each September has been an upward spiral of increasing emotional and spiritual health. God has scaffolded His intense closeness with me: when I was at my lowest, I most vividly sensed His presence and frequently saw His messages of encouragement to me. As I got healthier, there were fewer events, trips, and obvious little notes from God. I went through counseling during this time (fall 2014 through late winter 2016), and a few months after I finished counseling, I enrolled in Sustainable Faith’s School of Spiritual Direction.

On September 19, 2016 I technically worked, but I went on a field trip with my freshmen students to a university in the forest. It was like a little trip for me, and the forest always relaxes me. Then, a few days after that, I attended my first Sustainable Faith year-one module; it was the first time I shared my story in person with strangers. I felt terrified, loved, and heard.

In September 2017, I felt a bit more on edge. My dad had successful heart surgery, but I was nervous for him nonetheless. I took off on the 19th to be with him and my stepmom; I was grateful to be able to spend that time with them, even if it was in a hospital. Shortly after that, I had my first, year-two module for Sustainable Faith. Compared to who I was the year before, I felt significantly more at peace inside. I was blessed to have a cohort of friends with whom I had bonded and grown in Christ.

Today is September 19, 2018. I was reflecting on finishing this post today, and the reminder of this day’s personal significance felt so much more intense that I even accidentally wrote “2013” when I wrote the date on my board before school this morning; one of my students pointed it out in second hour. For some reason, this year has been more emotional as I have reflected on my annual September journey. Perhaps I’ve been more emotional this year because I have fruitlessly gotten my hopes up a few times in the last few years; I am still waiting on God to fulfill His promise to me that He made some time in September 2013, after that fateful night. I thought His promise was going to be fulfilled in specific ways over the years, and I have been wrong each time. In spite of that heartache, I am in the best place I have ever been. I am thankful for how God has continued to heal and grow me from September to September, and I can truly echo the hymn, “It is well with my soul” as I conclude this September liturgy.

September

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When Your Undoing Remakes You

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September 19, 2013 was my watershed moment, although I didn’t know it at the time; I even later got the date tattooed under a butterfly tattoo I already had on my back, which represented my hope for God’s renewal of me.  This day was not my only trauma in life, but it embodied the day my life switched tracks.

Some of you know my story because I either told you, or you read about it a couple of years ago in my post, “My Unexpected Life.” For those of you who don’t know my story, here is a summary of it. At the time of my watershed moment, I had been existing in my (then) marriage for many years, not allowing myself to grasp that I was living with a porn-addicted husband who preferred men. On the night of September 19, 2013, I had the opportunity for a non-negotiable confrontation when my (then) husband’s phone received a sext while laying face up on the kitchen counter as I was standing right next to it; he was out of the room. With an immediately racing heart and shaking hands, I nonchalantly picked up the phone, walked to where he was, and whispered in his ear that we needed to talk upstairs “Now.”

That moment sent me quickly into a dark hole that took me years from which to emerge. I was face-to-face with a pattern that, for about thirteen years, I couldn’t acknowledge existed, even with plenty of evidence. It was not my first confrontation I had with my (then) husband, but it was the only one, up to that point, where I held my ground and wouldn’t accept any legitimizing stories that were used to try to excuse his behavior. I didn’t know how to operate in this new way; I felt completely alone, afraid, and many times, despairing—even though every ounce of me wanted direction and intervention from God.

That was when I felt the most desperate in my life, and I think it was my sheer desperation that God used to begin to change me. I already had a relationship with God, but everything in my life was operating at my lowest common denominator. I desperately didn’t want to be alive, living in that nightmare (even though I didn’t want to actually kill myself). I desperately wanted to hear from God, to know what to do (Divorce was not an option I was even willing to consider for months and only after speaking with a counselor and a few others). I desperately wanted to protect my daughter from emotional damage resulting from divorce, or from living with parents who had an unhealthy and then bad marriage. I desperately wanted to be done confronting, but that was not to be the case. I desperately wanted help.  And then I desperately wanted to express how I felt, to be heard and known; I was exhausted from hiding what was inside of me.

It was all of this desperation that slowly drove me to begin to live differently, to start to become healthy.

I started finding more trusted and safe people to talk to. I never realized until my life fell apart that I lived in almost complete isolation. I wasn’t a hermit (My ex is an extrovert, so I didn’t have the opportunity); I never revealed my heart to people until the end of the marriage—I don’t even think I was aware I was doing that.

During the immediate aftermath of that evening in September, I quickly realized that I was an emotional wreck. I started reading books, we saw a marriage counselor four times before he recommended divorce, and a couple of months after I told my (then) husband to leave, I began a year-and-a-half of counseling.

In this time, I became closer to God than I had ever been in my life, and more importantly, He seemed even closer to me than He had ever been. I really started to recognize His “still, small voice” because I kept running into the same messages repeatedly without even trying; this lasted for about one-and-a-half years. For example, one repeated message was from Psalm 46:10, “Be still, and know that I am God.” I would have to find my journal that documented all of the specific details, but I ran into it six times in about a week. Someone read it at a Bible study. A parent of one of my students gave me a card, and on the back was that verse. Another friend of mine invited me over for tea, and my tea “happened” to be served in a mug that had that verse on it (I documented that on Instagram).

Another, more attention-getting example of God interrupting my daily life with goodness happened a little over a year after that September confrontation. I shut my phone off and on, and when the screen reloaded, I had a different lock screen with a picture that was not saved in my pictures—“my phone” changed the lock screen by itself. It had the following verse in Isaiah 46:4, “I am He. I am He who made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” I’m pretty sure that if God can speak through an ass (It’s in the Bible), then He can change my lock screen to reassure me that He IS taking care of me in my (then) hellish life; I also documented that lock screen on Instagram.

Within a few months of stopping counseling, I was invited to learn more about Christian spiritual direction; it was an interest meeting for Sustainable Faith’s School of Spiritual Direction, and one of my friends had just completed her first year of their two-year program. It was a perfect fit for me. I witnessed the difference spiritual direction made in my friend’s life; she was calmer and no longer living the frantic life for God. So, instead of waiting a year (my initial thought), I signed up to begin that fall. I sensed that this was the next stage of my healing journey, and in retrospect, becoming a Spiritual Director was almost a side-note to my healing. As I healed more, I felt called to spiritual direction because God was using my pain to help others, and I had a greater capacity to listen without judging people because I now had a story that others could easily judge.

Today it’s been a few months since I completed my own two-year journey in Sustainable Faith’s School of Spiritual Direction. I learned about listening to God and others, instead of simply listening in order to have something with which to reply. I practiced vulnerability with my cohort; we each shared our own stories and ongoing struggles, something that I needed, but it terrified and embarrassed me to show what felt like filthy stains on my life.  I recognized some of my own emotional blind spots and compulsions when we delved into the Enneagram. I learned that conversations are the foundation on which relationships with God and others are built.  I also saw that there are predictable stages in our journey of faith with God; my stage was easily recognizable because it looked like a wall. But most of all, I realized (and am still realizing) just how loved I am.

I lost my life and the trajectory I was on since birth, but the life I gained in return had a substance and richness that was never there before. My life with God gained a depth that I only had glimpses of previously, and I saw that God really does work everything for good for those who love Him; I saw for myself what it meant to give thanks in all things and to rejoice in suffering. These aren’t part of my personal statement of faith; I lived these. I am far from perfect; if you heard me cuss, especially in prayer, you’d probably call me a hypocrite. I just know who I am and Whose I am.

The End of a Season in Life

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A couple of weeks ago I finished a nearly two year journey through counseling. I had been anticipating this day since I began counseling, knowing that it was just for a time, but I didn’t know when my season in counseling would be over.

It was painful to stand face-to-face with my pain, to look it in the eyes, to name it, to describe my reactions to it, to forgive it, and then to reflect on my healing. I first worked through my divorce and the toxic marriage attached to it, and then I worked through my childhood sexual abuse. There were other, smaller issues my counselor and I tackled together with God, but those two were the biggies. Am I fully healed? Nope. That will not happen until Heaven, but I am in a good place. Do I still have hard days? Yes. Usually the hardest days are (weekly) on the day my daughter goes to stay with her father for a few days. When she’s gone I struggle with loneliness because I miss her deeply when she’s not with me. I am also forced to acknowledge and hold hands with the fact that I am not in control. That day is also the day I usually battle the most with anxiety and depression, ask God the hard questions, and usually comment on my life with, “WTF?”—except I actually say the words. I say them less than I used to, but it still happens.

GASP! I’m sure some of you now think I’m not a Christian, or that I’m a bad one. I believe in being honest with God, and He knows what I try to hide in my heart, far away from my mind. It’s easier to lie, put on a smile, and pretend that life is fine. But we can’t cast our cares on God if we won’t acknowledge our cares, or if we try to minimize them. Jesus didn’t die for me so that He could make me into a smiling liar who lives in denial of reality. It’s easy to go back to denial or that lying (usually while smiling), but my goal is to be real, continue healing, and grow in God.

Back to my story: During the duration of my counseling I kept a journal in a spiral notebook, and I went through three such notebooks, as well as part of a fourth. Each of my journals had a different color, which seemed to match the place I was at in life when I began it. My first journal was black with a few stickers containing Bible verses of hope; I was in a very dark place that was saturated with hurt and anger. At that point in my life, I regularly battled despair, and in God’s strength, I hung onto Him in hope. My last journal was green, which goes with trees and other growing things: life.

The closing session of my counseling ended with prayer, preceded by me shredding my journals that I kept specifically for counseling (I knew that I would be doing this at my last counseling session from day 1, and I couldn’t wait for that day). Shredding my journals signified a finality to issues that had been thoroughly prayed through, discussed, written about, cried over, and dreamed about. I wrote tirades, letters to others that were not to be delivered (as well as some that were), confessions, descriptions of events and struggles, what I dreamed about at night when I could remember my dreams, my hopes for the future, reflections, lists—just about anything. It’s interesting…as I shredded those journals and my counselor prayed, she played Hillsong’s Empires album on shuffle softly in the background. When I got to my last handful of pages, I heard, “It is done; it is done”—those words were being sung in that moment, and we couldn’t have planned it! After the shredding, my counselor asked me, “How do you feel?” I replied, quoting the song lyrics we just heard, “‘It is done, it is done…’”

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;  a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8, ESV).