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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The Dark Christmas

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I originally wrote this on Christmas Eve last year. I didn’t want to “publish” it at the time, but I’m in a much better place than I was then. The darkness was so heavy; I suppose it was a despair about my life’s circumstances. Circumstantially, my life is relatively similar. As I type this my house is empty, and I am contentedly enjoying the silence with the clock ticking in the background. My desires remain the same, but I have peace because I’m better able to trust what Christ has for my life right now; He loves me more than I realized (or can realize), and He is with me. He is Immanuel, and it’s not just a Christmas thing.  I still have my moments, but they are moments, not the undercurrent of my life.

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“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5, ESV).

In my mind I keep referring to this Christmas as The Dark Christmas. For last Christmas (2014) I was newly separated with a divorce in progress. It was the first time I wouldn’t have my daughter with me for every aspect of the holidays, which left an empty void in me when she was with her dad. The overwhelming feeling I had was, “I just want to move on with my life” because the events leading up to my separation were excruciating and crazy enough. I guess last Christmas I was still in a state of limbo, not knowing what to expect.

But this Christmas is different. I know what it is to have shared time with my daughter—it’s a heart-breaking process. This time I feel like I know what my life is (as much as a person can fathom her life in a moment), and this time it feels empty. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade my dark emptiness for my old life of co-dependency, of not facing the grim reality that my marriage was built on lies. But the hope of what I desired then is still there: a family (a husband who loves Jesus, loves me and my daughter, and who demonstrates godly fatherhood to my daughter); this is not to discount the love I know my ex-husband has for our daughter. This hope for what I desire and don’t have creates an emptiness and a heavy darkness in my heart; that situation I want is silently, yet loudly, not there.

I’m thankful for that verse I started with (John 1:5). Even though this Christmas feels like the Dark Christmas, I am encouraged that the darkness I feel inside of me cannot overcome the light, the hope I have in Christ.

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Last year I believed the hope, but this year I also feel it.