The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Goodbyes

It was late spring of 1992 and I was driving away from North Georgia College, as a recent graduate. It was the longest time this military kid had ever lived in one place. (This one was at least move number 15. I had so many, they are difficult to count.) It was the first time I

A few years ago, I took a stroll down memory lane. I love this place.

A few years ago, I took a stroll down memory lane in Dahlonega, at North Georgia College. I love this place.

had friends I knew that I would be connected to for the rest of my life. It was where Jesus and I began the conversation we continue to this day, where I discovered something of who I am and what I am on earth to do, and where my life’s trajectory shifted so profoundly, I am still in its wake today. It was the first time I had the opportunity to, and let myself love and connect to anyone or any place.

And I got about a mile away, on the other side of Crown Mountain, and began to ugly-cry so hard that I had to pull over and let the chest-heaving sobs works their way through my heart and body. Just for the record, at that time in my life, I almost never cried. In fact, I was such an accomplished emotional stuffer, that in the car that day,  I was actually having two experiences simultaneously: grief over leaving people, a place, and a season of life that I loved…and more than a little concern that there was so much emotion exploding out of what I thought was a rather neutral and numb heart.

Looking back, with the life story and professional knowledge I have now, there was quite a bit of profound information about how I am wired and my core brokenness in that one moment. The bruising in my heart around goodbyes is very, very deep and very, very tender. 

IMG_2375

While this photo shows my head at RGU, my heart got quite an education also.

Fast forward to this weekend, and another beloved season of life is coming to a close. I am receiving my masters degree in marriage and family therapy from Richmont Graduate University. It’s taken 3 long, busy, and stressful years to complete. My classmates and I have shared a beautiful and transformative part of our life’s journey. As our studies and experiences have surfaced our own junk and darkness, we created a safe place for us to explore our own hearts, share it with each other, and invite Jesus to heal it – so that we can be a part of the same healing process in the lives of others.  I am about to begin a whole new chapter of my life as a therapist and trauma clinician.

A lot of life has passed between these two graduations and life transitions. Marriage. Kids. Missions and life overseas. One more kid. Broken dreams. Settling into our permanent, yet unexpected home. Cancer. Heart breaking tragedy. Two teenagers in the house. Three years of graduate school and training. Re-found joy and hope and purpose in life.

And yet, with all of the change, growth, personal healing, and experience encompassed in the passing years, this graduation has surfaced and banged the same tender bruise from the last one so long ago – the one that is linked to goodbyes. I’ve had to say so many over the years. They hurt. In a way that brings up ugly-cries and chest-heaving sobs.

In my experience, I’ve found that if we commit to searching our hearts and seeking healing there,  we rarely unearth a lot of new themes – instead we circle around familiar core ones over and over… but at newer, deeper levels. Which is why my time with my cohort at Richmont has been so special. Because with them, as I’ve re-circled around this painful theme of mine, I’ve discovered that goodbyes, as awful as they are, aren’t all bad. In order to embrace new things, we have to let go of old ones. Grief allows us to release what we can’t hold, and would hurt us if we tried. The past can’t become the past without working through loss. Cooperating with our goodbyes, while painful, actually creates space for whatever is next.

And next can be awesome.

With my North Georgia friends, I learned to relate. With my Richmont friends I’ve learned to grow and become. And ironically, I can’t walk most fully into either of those gifts without leaving the ones who gave them to me. Without saying goodbye.

So this weekend, I’m doing this complicated, conflictive emotional dance of grieving, and celebrating. Of letting go, and looking forward. Of being sad and glad…all at the same time. It’s a good thing the years have grown my heart so…because this is an awful lot to hold.

Richmont Graduates

RGU’s Atlanta Campus class of 2016. There are some wonderful friends, amazing human beings, and gifted counselors in this photo.

Same Spot…Different Day

It was one of those moments when, the only appropriate response was for my heart to squeak out an exhausted, “Really God? Really?”
IMG_5607

Context…

I am prone to bursts and gusts of despair and darkness. They blow up, sometimes unexpectedly, and sometimes very expectedly, with a ferocity that at times is crippling. Fortunately, with years of experience, with wise counsel, with some gentle and profound healing in the areas of my heart that generate the pain… for the most part… I am learning how to ride out the storms. I know they won’t last (even if they feel like they will never end), and I am often able to realize that there is an alternate perspective on my situation… that if I can just hang on for a while…I will eventually find the safe harbor of clarity. I am able to speak to my heart with words like, “This will pass. It isn’t the end of the world. There is hope. There is much to be grateful for in the middle of it all. Darkness precedes dawn. Jesus can be trusted with this.” I can usually find a storm cellar to climb in, just as the dust kicks up, the atmospheric pressure drops dramatically, and the funnel cloud appears on the horizon.

And…

Sometimes my life’s experience hasn’t felt like a day-long ferocious blizzard, but more like a prolonged winter that goes on and on. We’ve all experienced seasons of life that, if they were a color, would fall into the muted, bland shades of gray and brown and weak yellow…those seasons when stuff just happens…and keeps happening. And just when you think you will get a moment to catch your breath…along comes another punch to the gut. The result is that some days (some weeks, some months), it can be a titanic struggle to get my body and heart to muster enough energy and momentum, to engage, to initiate, to smile, to care. Of course, I am describing depression. In the past few years, I’ve wrestled with both emotional/spiritual weather systems – seasons of depression, sprinkled in with bursts of despair, for variety.

Into all of this…

I was walking in Chattanooga recently, and enjoying a beautiful evening. I was praying, being present to my heart, eating some amazing ice cream, and resting in the quiet and joy of exploring a fantastic city, all of which I love to do. It was golden and I was happy. And then, out of nowhere, on a relatively smooth section of pavement, I stepped into the one dip, and twisted my ankle. One moment, I was enjoying a needed respite from my turmoil, and the next, I was on the ground, one knee bleeding, the other ankle swelling like a grapefruit, far from home, wondering what in the world had just happened.

And while sitting on my backside, experiencing the rush of sudden bodily pain, my heart uttered the words, “Really God? Really? With all I’ve been through, You couldn’t smooth my paths and protect my ankles from turning for one night?” Without going into the details, I spent the rest of my evening…trying to figure out where in the world I was in my relationship with Him.

The next day, I got up early to take another walk. Because I wanted to see a sunrise, because I wanted to exercise before sitting in class all day, because my time in Chattanooga was limited and I wanted to make the most of it, because walking is good for a swollen ankle, and because God and I had some unfinished business between us. I am a kinesthetic pray-er – He and I often talk while I’m moving.  So I went for a walk. Again.

And, without thinking too much about it, I inadvertently ended up in the exact same spot where, the night before, I had been hurt. This time however, the Chattanooga track club was there, handing out water.IMG_5612

One day, this place caused me pain. Twelve hours later, it was where I received a cup of cool water.

Same spot, different day.

It was a powerful picture for me of some of the ways that God works in my life:

…He takes the same things that hurt me, and eventually uses them to bless me, teaching me to not fear the dips, but to learn to reframe and eventually welcome them.

…Sometimes pain stops me in my tracks because I need stopping in my tracks…because it starts different and more meaningful conversations with God than I would often choose on my own… because He wants me to pay attention to Him or my heart in a way I can’t when I’m busy with my own agenda…because what He wants to give me is infinitely more valuable than what He takes away from me while I hurt.

…There are times when God mercifully repeats experiences for me. The first time, things may not go so well. Something gets squeezed out from the inside of me that I need to see, or need to own. But the second or third time… there can be a different outcome. I learn or grow or change. By repeating an experience, He allows me to see the progress I’ve made. It allows me to see more of Him, parts of Him that may be hidden the first time around, but revealed with repeated laps around the same places. And it blesses me with what we call in the counseling world “an emotionally corrective experience”. The first night, my pain revealed something of my go-to impressions of God. I experienced God as One who callously hurts me. The next morning, I saw and experienced Him as One who lovingly provides for me. The second experience was a healing one, correcting a bit of something that was broken deep inside of me, that was actually causing me much more soul-level pain than a sprained ankle.

…And when I keep showing up for our walks, even when I’m limping…when I keep engaging, even when everything in me wants to isolate and quit, He accepts my walk with Him as an offering. He takes it and does something with it. Something for my good. Something that I would have missed out on had I slept in, or decided that my ankle was too swollen to walk on. The conversations with Him about how He uses the “same spot, different day” dynamic to bless me continues to be a powerful shaping dynamic in my relationship with Him.

 

 

Meditations On Loneliness

Sometimes, loneliness is not about the absence of people. I know this because I’ve never lived alone and I’ve still been lonely. I’ve never not been connected to my family, to my surrounding community, either of believers, of neighbors or co-workers, and I’ve still been lonely. I have lived my entire life in the presence of many people, many of whom knew my name and liked me, and I’ve still experienced terrible loneliness. How is it possible to be lonely, butmail never having been alone? While I know some people whose loneliness is a direct result of lack of contact with people, (those who live alone, are housebound, who are new to an area or culture, whose work or geography isolates them, whose life circumstances are tragic, etc) there is another form of it that I am more familiar with. It involves being disconnected. Let me explain.

We all have two worlds – our inner and outer world. The outer is very familiar to us, it is that which is outside of us, which we present to others and which all can see. Our outer world includes our physical selves, what we choose to post on Facebook or social media, our accomplishments, our words, our body language, our conversations, our attendance, our appearances, our choices…etc. It is the part of us that is open for everyone to interact with and see. But it is our inner world that is most truly who we are. In our inner worlds are those parts of us only we and God see – our memories, preferences, emotions, the stories we choose or are not able to share, our dreams, our fears and doubts, our character, our internal monologue, our thoughts about things, events, people…and this is the part of us that we sometimes (often) choose to hide from others for a variety of reasons. Maybe it isn’t safe or we aren’t comfortable with who we are on the inside. Perhaps we’ve figured out that people prefer a different self than who we are, so we pretend to be the preferred person. For some, what is going on inside of us is such a mystery to us (and maybe so powerful as to make us afraid of it) we can’t even explain it to others. Maybe we are ashamed of what is in there.

And so, when we choose to relate to others through our outer world, if it isn’t aligned properly with our inner world, our deepest, truest self, we can feel disconnected. Deeply misunderstood – and how could we not? People are relating to a part of us that isn’t authentically us. Our bodies may be one place, but our hearts are somewhere else.  It is like being very hungry, yet eating potato chips. Or having an itch on your shoulder blade, but your friend scratches your nose. It just doesn’t satisfy. And it can feel kind of awkward. This practice means we can be painfully lonely on the inside, even when our outside has a very full social calendar: because we are trying to connect with the wrong part of us.

This can hurt because…

Disconnection is one of the most painful of human experiences. We are wired for connection. In fact, God said it isn’t good for us to be alone. (Gen. 2:28) Even a cursory reading of scripture and observation of how the world works and how humans thrive indicates we are meant to be in community with each other. We are not solitary creatures. When we are forced into cultural forms and patterns that deny us connection with people, it produces loneliness. And a whole lot of pain.

I sometimes explain to my visiting non-American friends that America is what happens when you get everything you want. We wanted bigger houses, more stuff, bigger yards and privacy. So we bought them with our time and relational bandwidth. We don’t have time or energy for other people anymore. Not the way we were meant to anyway. We rarely live near our friends and family, and we are too busy working and driving to see them significantly. As a result, we are now a very lonely people, sacrificing the daily interaction people historically had with their communities in pursuit of our wants. How else to describe a society that is so affluent and materially blessed with all we could ever want, yet is so depressed, overweight, anxious, fearful of the future, angry and lonely? We are disconnected from each other.  And it hurts.

Disconnection/loneliness has one of its roots in unshared experience. We don’t just want to be connected to anyone. We long to be connected to people who like us, who are like us and who understand us. This means that often, we are looking for those who have similar experiences to us. Yet, how to find those people if our experiences are locked away in our inner worlds and we don’t share them with others? This is a conundrum. And it can become more complicated if we are in pain or experiencing loss (I wrote about this in more detail in Meditations On Grief). Not everyone has lost a parent, has a spouse with a cancer diagnosis, has a chronically sick child, is infertile, has been betrayed by a loved one, etc. We need to find those people we can connect with around our pain. When connecting points are missing, either because we haven’t shared our experiences or because we don’t share the same experiences, we feel alone and lonely as a result.

Disconnection has another of its roots in shame. Shame is the powerful feeling of being unworthy of connection. (Daring Greatly by Brené Brown) We feel that there is something so wrong with us that if someone else knew it, they wouldn’t want to relate to us. The girl who was told, implicitly or explicitly, that it is her body people want, not her. The boy who struggles with a porn addiction he can’t control. The couple whose marriage is in shambles. Abuse victims with tragic stories tucked away in their hearts. While the circumstances are different, we all feel shame. WE ALL FEEL SHAME – which again, is the feeling that if others really knew us and our inner worlds, they wouldn’t want to connect with us. So we hide. We disconnect from the world around us. We become lonely. Gen. 2:25 describes how God intended for mankind to live. It says, “The man and woman were both naked, and they felt no shame.” We were made to be seen and known, with no hiding and no shame. Connected to others. Just a few verses later however, man and woman sinned, are flooded with shame, are now disconnected from God and each other and begin to hide.  We’ve all been lonely ever since.

God has a heart for the lonely. Ps. 68:6 says, “God sets the lonely in families…” God says that He will be with us always. (Jn 14:16, Matt. 28:20, Ps. 23:4) One of the primary things He longs for His children to learn is to abide in Him – to be with Him. (Jn. 15:4) If we can learn this, we will never be alone. He knows our hearts (Ps. 33:15) shares our experiences (Heb. 4:15), knows what it is to be lonely (Matt. 27:46, Matt. 26:40) and frees us from our shame (Rom. 8:1, Ps. 34:5).  He also longs to restore us into healthy relationships and connection with others. (Jn. 13:34-35) God has a heart for the lonely and wants to meet our need with Himself. If we can learn to open ourselves to Him and let Him love us, He is a most satisfying friend. 

But sometimes, we still need friends with skin on. While God indeed is great, and He loves us and wants to be with us, it is still possible to be painfully lonely, even with Him in our lives. Because we are made for connection. With more than just Him. With each other. We’ve been hardwired for it. So, part of relating to Him means we learn to relate to others better. In more healthy ways. We learn to not hide our inner selves from those in our relational circles. To share our experiences and stories, to really and truly listen to the experiences and stories of others and connect around them. To learn our shame is a liar, telling us things about ourselves that aren’t true. To create places for others, if they choose, to lay their shame down in the presence of safe people who love them.  These are most powerful spiritual skills, not often taught and often not learned. We often prefer the spiritual skills of Bible study and prayer, because they are safe in the realm of our outer world – and we can do them alone. But if we can learn to practice the subtle and messy skills of community, they invite us to relate more healthily to others and to God at the same time. They hold the potential to ease our loneliness.

(originally posted on 5/28/13)

Just How Married Do I Want To Be? – My Annual Anniversary Post

Today is my wedding anniversary – and Jeff and I are celebrating! A few years ago I started marking the date by writing something about marriage in general and my marriage in particular, for Intersections on this day. (Past

Our brick in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta.

Our brick in Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta.

examples are here  and here.)  As you can imagine, with the last few years we’ve had with Jeff’s health, I am reflecting quite a bit. Not that I need much to push me into reflective mode, mind you;) but… What a ride we’ve had. So, what follows are a  few meditations on marriage that have been rolling around in my head and heart for a while in light of our present season of life.

  • Just how married do I want to be? In some ways, being married is sort of like being pregnant. Either you are or you aren’t. And in some ways, marriage is sort of like milk. There’s skim, 2% and whole – you have some choice in your experience with it. There have been times in the last few years, with the threat of losing my Jeff hovering over me, that I have found myself pulling away from him emotionally in order to protect myself. Because it is so painful to fully feel all that is going on inside of me. Even as I’ve been very present and very committed to physically taking care of him. This is a natural tendency we all have – pulling away to protect ourselves. So I am asking myself these days, “Just how married do I want to be? Am I willing to go “all-in” even if I know it will hurt unbelievably to “stay in?” (I wrote about this phenomenon here a while back. It is one of my favorite posts I’ve ever written.) “Do I want the type of marriage that protecting myself builds, or do I want the type of marriage that an “all-in” investment, both emotionally and physically, builds? I’ve decided that I want to be very married, as married as one can be. Because “skim” marriage is so watered down…I don’t want a roommate and babysitting partner. I want a husband. And having one of those well takes a lot of work. And emotional capital. And time. And tears.  And I’m willing to pay for THAT experience with marriage… b/c kisses from a man I truly love are so much more satisfying than kisses from a man I just like…b/c I want my kids to grow up in a home where their parents are really married…b/c I want to be loved by Jeff fully like that…b/c when Jeff and I married 18 years ago, this is what we were agreeing to try and do together.
  • Even when I don’t think I have choice, I always have choice. I did not get to choose whether or not my husband got sick. It would be easy to focus on that – and allow helplessness, despair, anger and jealousy of others rise. (And those emotions, and many more, have certainly had their way with me many, many days. Have you read my blog in the past?) But there is so much I do get to choose in my life’s situation! For instance…When our family’s story is told years from now, I get a lot of choice in determining who I will be in that story. Will I be the woman who ran, if not physically, then emotionally? Will I be the woman who allowed bitterness to rise and rule in her heart and life? Or will I be the woman who decided to keep her vows – not just the letter of them, but the spirit of them as well? Will I be a wife who loved her husband as best as she knew how, as fully as she knew how, even as it held the potential to utterly break her heart? Will I choose to find the joy and humor in it all as best as I know how, even when the easier choice is to indulge the despair and self-centeredness that tempts us all in the middle of pain? I also get to choose much of how I walk with my Jesus through my pain – letting Him speak to me through it, heal me with it, strengthen me as IMG_1179a result of it. Which brings me to my next point…
  • Pain isn’t the worst thing that can happen to me. A life without meaning is. It is so easy to try and do my life and marriage without Jesus. Because sometimes He just complicates everything. (I wrote about this here.) And when I hurt, my natural response is to avoid, numb or medicate. Or to assume that the presence of pain indicates I am out of His will for my life, that He is at the worst, cruel, and at best, too busy to notice me. But what if…what if my pain is actually an invitation to more? To allow Jesus to do a deep and healing work of the heart within? To know Him more. To become more. To become a potential blessing to those I love? What if I decide to “stay in” those painful circumstances, and ask Jesus what exactly it is He is doing in my life …and then cooperate with whatever His answer is? I have found that walking with Jesus through pain (instead of around it) does this most amazing thing. It grows my heart bigger. It allows me to love more. Forgive more.  Weep more, yes. But also to laugh and enjoy life and being married more. And when my heart has a greater capacity to feel all that…to be more fully human…really great things happen in my marriage. And in my parenting. And in my life. My marriage can have greater meaning than just making me happy – although that is certainly a part of it! It can be a way Jesus makes me more whole. And I am finding that everyone around me benefits when I bring a more whole me to the table. But I have to choose to stay in it, even when it hurts, even when there are easier choices out there, even when how things are playing out isn’t what I would choose on my own. Because…at least on the days I can gain a glimpse of clarity…I want my life to have meaning. I want my pain to have meaning. And pain is often a doorway to meaning. To clarity. If, and only if, I am willing to walk through it.

So, choosing to stay “all in” my marriage, wholly and fully, even when it hurts…can be absolutely wonderful. Even on the days it most definitely isn’t. And this is part of what I am celebrating today with my husband. Happy Anniversary to us!

He Walks Into Our Pain With Us (Jesus pt. 90)

Sometimes I come to Jesus with tears in my eyes, almost always with them in my heart, and I ask… sometimes sob, sometimes wail, sometimes just whisper …”Fix this. Oh please, fix this.”

And instead of fixing it like I hoped, wanted, asked, begged…He does something different… unexpected…at times so very disappointing…yet ultimately better. He walks into the pain with me.

Walking with Jesus...is a bit more intense as one walks further with Him.

When you start walking with Jesus there is no telling where He will lead you.

A God who doesn’t always fix things. Who has the power to resolve and heal with a word yet chooses not to. Not how I expect anyway. Who says, “I know this hurts. I know how things are playing out is profoundly disappointing for you. I know my choices for you aren’t what you would choose and lead you to question my goodness and love for you. But what you see as a “non-answer” is actually a better answer. There are things I am doing in you through the pain that are worth far more than just the avoidance of the pain. Will you trust Me? Will you let me walk into it with you? Will you follow Me where I am leading you?”

Somehow, walking with Jesus into my pain is better than Him just fixing it.

A God who willingly gets His hands dirty in the mess of my life. Who not only allows, but welcomes the questions and wrestling that come with an honest experience with Him. Who doesn’t phone in His participation in my life, but goes there with me, to the darkness, the weeping…and walks with me in it all. And then, when I can’t walk anymore but just crumple on the roadside, sits with me, holds me, watches over me, till I can get up again.

The journey of sanctification, of growing in my faith, of growing me, leads through pain, not around it.

Pain has a work to do in my life. One that is so important, so valuable and ultimately so wonderful that Jesus, in His love, can’t deny me. It leads me to Him. To more of Him. To bypassing the trap of knowing a lot about Jesus and thinking that is the same as actually KNOWING Him.

A God who gives His presence as the greatest gift. Who refuses to allow me to think His gifts are the greatest gift. Who takes my pain and flips it, using it for me and not against me.

Ps. 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

Meditations On Pain

After the last few years we’ve had, with loss and disappointment piled on top of grief, sadness, shock and lots of spiritual banging our heads against a wall…I’ve been thinking a lot about pain. About what it does in us. About how God uses it and how we respond to it. Here are some of those thoughts:

Pain reveals what is in our hearts. Pain not only squeezes our bodies to their limits, it squeezes our hearts too. And when pressure is applied to our hearts, just like when a tube of toothpaste is squeezed, whatever is on the inside comes squirting out. Bitterness? Optimism? A tendency to hide or deny? Pain numbing behaviors?  A love for others and Jesus? Willingness to endure? A love of easy outs? Self-discipline? Joy? Relational patterns of hiding, using, blaming…or healthy communication and expression of emotion? As Solomon said, our hearts are indeed deep waters. (Pr. 20:5) And what is in there, is complex. It takes an awful lot to get what is hidden in there to show itself. But once we get a glimpse of what it is…then we have a starting point of where Jesus might want to do something in us. And if we are willing to pay attention to what comes out of us during the darkness, and deal with it honestly…well…this has the potential to be a very good thing for us.

Pain is unique to each of us. What hurts me may not hurt you to the same extent. Loss of a job may be a bump in the road for one and the end of the world for another. A three-year old loses a beloved stuffed animal that is her best friend. A wife loses her husband of years to a terrible accident. Both are in pain. It isn’t fair to compare and rank it because it is so unique to each one of us. (Pr. 14:10) Let me clarify – I don’t think all pain is equal. Some pain is definitely more…well…painful. But what I am saying is that I think everyone should be allowed expression of their pain, whatever it is. Each individual has value and each person should be allowed to feel and process their hurt as it is for them, not as someone else thinks it should be. And the rest of us should offer compassion – or a graceful distance so that the person can work their way to recovery.

Pain has a work to do. Nothing opens a heart, revealing what is inside quite like pain. Nothing opens us up to the possibility of change, asking for and accepting help like pain. Nothing opens our hearts to the realization that the truth of a situation might be much different than we’d ever imagined quite like pain. Nothing opens us up to the realization of the pettiness of what occupies so much of our time and affection like pain. (I Pet 4:1) Nothing drives us to the place where we need Jesus and want Him more than anything else like pain. If we don’t run from it, numb it or insist it can’t be God’s will for us, pain has the potential to do something beautiful and deep within us. (Rom. 5:3)

How God views pain and how we view pain is so very different.  It is an amazing experience to take off in a plane when it is overcast and rainy and ascend through and over the precipitation to what is above. Because the topside view of a cloud is so amazingly different than the underside view. I suspect the experience of how we view pain (from down below) and how God views it (from up above) is a similar one to a plane ride. We hurt and think, “Ow! This is so horrible! This can’t be God’s will for me.” Or, “I’ve got to avoid this, ease it, minimize it, deny it or medicate it.” Or, “God, how could you let this happen? If this is Your plan for me, I’ll handle things on my own from here on, thank you very much.” And maybe God sees us experience pain and He sees…the potential it holds…for soul-deep healing, for awakening to spiritual truth, for greater reliance on and intimacy with Himself. Maybe He leans forward a bit, catching His breath, knowing that the potential fruit of pain is eternal, while pain itself is temporary. Maybe He grabs a hold of our hands, speaking to us and granting us greater dose of His presence and love – hoping we will slow down long enough to notice.

We have some say in what we do with our pain. I know that sometimes, our pain is so great or our resources to manage it are so stressed that sometimes, we just react. We don’t really have the option to respond. But sometimes we do. God gives us the dignity to allow us to choose much in our lives. When pain comes, as it does for all of us, we have some choice what we will do in response. We can run. Avoid. Numb. Medicate. Deny. Minimize. Descend into despair. Pretend it isn’t happening or doesn’t matter. Create two lives – one we present to the outside world and the reality we live with in our inner worlds. Blame. Grow bitter. Or. We can let our pain turn our hearts to our Healer. Open us up to relationship with others. Invite us to grow from the inside out and find, with Jesus, we are capable of so much more than we ever thought possible. Show us the depth of His love by meeting us deep in the mess. Our responses can be as varied as we are. But the one constant between us all is the choice – what will we allow our pain to do to us? What will we allow our pain to do in us?

I Meant It, Even When I Didn’t Know What It Meant

(Written Friday night in ICU at Jeff’s bedside, after his surgery)

Jeff,

When I said, “For better or worse,”,  “In sickness and in health,” I meant it. Even when I didn’t know what it meant.

I'm wearing his ring, since he had to take it off for surgery.

I’m wearing his ring, since he had to take it off for surgery.

On that cold November day in our mid-twenties when I spoke those words…you were so humorously nervous about becoming a husband. Me, so in love and so oblivious to just how hard marriage could be. We were so sure we had it all figured out. The older couples around us must have looked on with a curious mixture of fear for us at our ignorance and joy with us at our enthusiasm. The same way we look at young couples now. Years in together, three kids and many adventures later, we are finally all grown up. Or at least significantly on the way.

And look at where we are tonight. You just out of another surgery to deal with the damage cancer is doing to your guts. Me weeping at your bedside, my guts all knotted up too. Who knew this was coming?

Really, no one knows what their vows mean until they have to keep them. I guess we know something about it now.

I look at you laying in ICU. Again.

I see you sleeping, exhausted and pale, attached to beeping machines with tubes running everywhere. Again.

I feel my heart ache, literally, with a visceral spasm that rolls through me from the inside out. My soul must look like angry waves on the front end of a hurricane. Again.

And I know I will have to do all of this again.

And I will.

Because I love you. Because just like on our wedding day, I am choosing to love you. I didn’t know what it meant then. I sort of have a clue what it means now. And I’m still in. Even though I don’t know what we will both have to do in order to keep our vows. I will try my best to love you with all I’ve got, even as it breaks my heart, even as it leads me to places like this. I will hold your hand and kiss your face and honor you until it is time to hand you off to the One who loves You infinitely more than I do.

And that must be a lot – because after all these years together, I’m learning to love you quite a bit.