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.

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).

To the Child Who Has Been Sexually Abused

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I realize this is not a light topic, and I’m terrified to post this. I’d rather just be safe, and not talk about uncomfortable things, but I choose to do the uncomfortable anyway because I want to live differently than I have for my entire life. I want to look at the hard things and speak the stories we’d rather leave unspoken or hidden. I want to acknowledge the darkness, instead of pretending it doesn’t exist, and then I want to shine the Light. I wrote this piece a few weeks ago, and it is part of my story.

To the Child Who’s Been/Being Sexually Abused,

You are not alone. I know you need to know that because sexual abuse makes you feel completely alone. How do I know this?  I, like you, was sexually abused as a child. And because of it, I grew up feeling like I had been abandoned. Even as an adult I struggle with feeling that way sometimes.

I want you to know that you are not your body–it’s just a body, but your body isn’t who you are inside. I grew up secretly thinking that all I was good for was my body and that all men wanted was sex. But it’s not like that. You and I are valuable because God made us worth something; our bodies don’t add to it–we have no price tag attached to us because we are truly priceless. Psalm 139:13-18 says, “For you (God) formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you” (ESV Bible).

For a long time I was mad at God. To be honest, I still have moments when I get mad at Him. In my heart I’ve raged, “How could You let me go through that?!” He didn’t yell back; He just listened. One day, after about a year of counseling, I was remembering one of the times I had been abused as a child, and I saw that God was with me. He was protecting me in the middle of the abuse, and He was whispering to me, “I’m here.” That was the first time I was able to look back at my abuse and not feel abandoned by God. I think one of the reasons He let me see that was so that I could encourage you. You are not alone. God is with you. He will bring you through this, and if you trust Him, He promises to use that evil to bring good into Your life. I think some of the good that came from my childhood sexual abuse is to be able to stand on the other side of my abuse, to hold out my hand and tell you, “Hold on. Don’t give up. Trust God, and He will help you get through this. You are not alone. There is HOPE.”

~Christine

Note: The abuse was someone outside my family.

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