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. 

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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?”
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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.

 

 

Making Things Round

I was leading a women’s retreat in Germany this past weekend.  It was a wonderful time to say a joyful “hello” to beloved friends whom I had to say a tearful”goodbye” to years ago.  And during this time, I learned a beautiful German phrase and concept that has deeply blessed me.  About halfway through, I asked a friend how she felt it was going, and she answered, “It isn’t round yet.”  What she meant was, the circle wasn’t closed. The start was good, and she could see the intended trajectory.  But the story of open circleour time together, of the material we were talking about, of what it might mean to her personally, was still open and not quite finished.  It needed some closure to be able to hold it properly.

As I walk with Jesus through the life He has planned for me, I’m learning that He isn’t nearly as uncomfortable with un-roundness as I am. In fact, the discomfort of unfinished things seems to be a primary shaping tool He uses to lovingly heal and grow His children.

Of course, sometimes prayers get answered in the way we want. Lives move forward. Decisions get made and get made well.  People grow and transition to whatever is next.  Progress can be seen.  Joy in the past, in the now and in the potential future is experienced.  Things become round all the time, and will become ultimately so upon His return…all this is cause for great celebration.

But then…there are the dreams that are birthed with the best of intentions, and then get shattered just within grasp.  Disappointment with God’s plans, unanswered questions, the unknown ‘why’ behind a painful ‘what’.  Loss.  Grief.  Shame.  Seasons of life, difficult relationships, wounded people…sometimes they can be like rocks in the middle of a river…instead of moving downstream with the rest of us, life just flows on around them. They are awkwardly stuck in an unfinished place for all to see…and people pass on by, wondering why they can’t move on like everyone else. At least that is how some un-roundness in my life has felt to me.

My experience with life in Europe has been an un-round thing for me for a while now.  Coming to grips with the reality that we will not be able to return in the near future, watching that dream die and seeing that God’s plans for us are different than we thought…I’ve been wrestling with the almost universal mid-life experience of realizing that important external elements of my life are not what I would choose for myself.  At the same time, I’ve been attempting to walk in the very individual experience of realizing that the most important, internal elements of my life are very much within my control. My character.  My responses. My spiritual orientation – towards Him or away from Him. In the face of disappointment, will I become better or bitter? Will I create with what I’m given, or consume?  Will I take responsibility for my own personal/heart growth, and choose a life that is spiritually and emotionally healthy for myself and others…or will I choose to continue the destructive patterns and life strategies that have hurt me and those I love for so long?

Even when we think we don’t have choice, we always have choice.

These are some of the tensions that have been stretching me for a few years now: opening my hands and letting go of good things, so that Jesus can fill them with better things.   Learning how painful a chisel must be to marble, yet what a joy the resulting beauty must be. Embracing the truth that pain can be a fertilizer that grows the most beautiful things in my heart.

When we are stretched…we never go back to our original size.  And now, after walking through a prolonged season of stretching that has lasted years… my trip back to Germany, where so much of my stretching began, has allowed me to see that I am bigger.  My heart is bigger. The Jesus I know is bigger. How He works in my life is bigger. God has allowed me to come full circle, and I am grateful for the relief and release that comes from the closure of it.

At the end of our weekend retreat, my friend let me know that the themes of our weekend did eventually become round.  (As a Bible teacher, that was so great to hear!)  What a gift to me to realize that I did too.

 

Healthy Rhythms pt. 1

“For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made so that men are without excuse.” Romans 1:20

I’ve been thinking recently about rhythms. God obviously loves a good beat. He spun the earth to the rat tat, rat tat of morning evening, morning evening. Then He threw in some swing with winter spring summer fall, winter spring summer fall. On top of that, He layered 6 days on, one day off, 6 days on, one day off. He sprinkled in the steady repetition of monthly moon phases and tides. One of natures most soothing sounds is the whoosh, whoosh of waves meeting the shore, one after another in a steady rhythm. He threw astronomical bodies into elliptical orbits, almost as if they were dancing with each other. Electrons and quartz rocks pulse so regularly we keep time by them. In our bodies He gives us life with the lub dub of heartbeats and the in and out of our breathing. Animals and women follow reproductive seasons that come and go predictably.  Sex is all about rhythm. When we hold our babies we can’t help ourselves: we rock back and forth to a rhythm only mothers hear. Who doesn’t get sleepy on a boat rising and falling in gentle swells? We clap when we are happy. Some people sneeze in threes. We don’t teach our children to dance. They just know to wiggle and move their bodies in time, as do all people throughout history and across all cultures.

There is a rhythm, an underlying beat woven into the very fabric of creation that speaks of order and harmony. It points to a Creator who loves to clap, dance, move and paint His portrait on the canvas of nature and into the most intimate places in our lives. Everyone sees it. Everyone feels it.

I think about this and begin to wonder about other rhythms in my life. External rhythms of what I do and how I express my faith that determine so much of the quality of my life. Internal rhythms that invite the Creator deep into my soul. I tend to live by a calendar and a schedule, which is sort of rhythmic, but doesn’t feel nearly as life-giving or enjoyable. Could it be that there are some things that fall naturally into an organic and gentle rhythm, like waves on the shore or seasons passing over the course of a year?

Rhythms of rest, study, prayer, disciplines, community. Rhythms in healthy relationships and the practicalities of being a Christ-follower. I’d like to explore this theme with a few blog posts.