Healing “Future”

I am very proud of myself. I am fairly sure that sounds pretty cocky as you read that sentence. But it’s true. I am proud. I did the journey and I got to the other side. This is the right type of pride to have; where one can celebrate a victory and say that the tough battle of emotional healing has been won. Were it not for the scores of people who crossed my path, especially my most special friends, family and mentors who accompanied me on this difficult and at times, incredibly time-consuming road, I would not be where I am today! And most importantly, I would not be here if it were not for God’s steady and never failing guiding of my steps as the truth set me free. I arrived at the pot at the end of the rainbow.

But what does one do when you get the pot of gold? If life has always been about that inner surge searching for truth about my past and towards my true identity then what was I to do once I arrived? To be honest, I initially felt lost. You would think that I would be standing on the mountaintop and constantly yelling hallelujah but the reality is that once the motivation for in-depth searching was gone, I’ve had to find a new way of living. I often think of the woman described in the Bible, bent over for 30 odd years and seeing the world from only one perspective. Once healed and able to stand straight she would have had to learn to walk in a new way and view the world from a totally different angle. Well, that is what I have had to do as well.

The last four years have been about picking up some of the pieces after certain losses created by my process over the years caused me to lose valued attachments. Some people are not really able to navigate the hard road; that is one of the things I discovered. They don’t like the messy demands that healing requires and not everything is done linearly and perfectly, causing no dents and bruises in life. Those are losses I have had to grieve. But they are only a few who are unable to do the tough work of truly loving. They like the idea but not the requirement it takes to do the daily tough chore of relationship dynamics. Letting go of those people was a cost that I had not counted on nor had seen coming. Regrettable because now they can’t celebrate with me and claim their spot on the podium with the gold medal of victory.

But there were others who were nothing short of outstanding in their faithfulness, faith in me, lifting me up continually, cheering me on, and reassuring me without ceasing that I was loved and valued and nothing about me was different just because I was being messy as I was healing. I say a profound and respect-filled thank you to those. They understand the amazing sacred ground of trust that is so very necessary in the midst of trauma work. I have many times been one of those people who serves as a cheerleader, wise sage, intuitive guide and faithful warrior for those who are willing to trust me with their sacred and holy vulnerability and process. I believe because I know the price of what it costs to be that transparent and willing to bare it all that I can say ‘amen’ and hallelujah as they heal and whole heartedly be there for them. That will always be part of my life; the willingness to walk alongside those who are hurting and willing to do the hard work of becoming whole.

The ‘now what?” factor is one that many have to contend with when a whole chapter of their life is completed. After the grief there is a need to find a new powerful surge inside for growth and building and that is exactly where I am at right now. For instance, originally I thought my blogging and book writing was going to be strictly about the old but today I realize that it is about building and growth. I have a plaque that has constantly been with me over the years and sits visibly in front of me on my home desk where I do a lot of my writing. I am already on ‘the new way’. No longer necessary to look ‘into’ the past but rather ‘at’ it only as a reflection to share hope and motivation with others as they go into their own story and find wholeness and the original identity they were meant to have from the beginning of time.

When one lives with trauma as part of one’s existence, much of the emotional energy is spent on surviving. Many survive well. But I desire more than that. I want to be able to use all that zapped energy and redirect it by applying it creatively into new ideas, concepts, and creations. I don’t have a ‘survivors’ identity; rather I have a ‘freed’ one. And out of that upright posture, new beginnings and creative ideas can flow. It seems timely that I have moved into a new home; quite symbolic to be honest.

I have spent the last few months putting all the old behind me and letting go of anything that would hinder my step forward. I did some major reading lately, specifically about narcissists and narcissism, potential future blog posts. Since my life was weighed down from the start by living in the shadow of a narcissist (my father) and even until recently having had a string of that same type of relationship dynamic, I am endeavouring to live free of the narcissist’s shadow and power once and for all. Much like the sun peeking out from behind the storm clouds, so I am finding my voice and helping others do so as well, especially women. I believe there are ideas that are brewing inside which are waiting for the right time to burst forth and blossom. And I look forward to discovering a creative perspective in life that comes with freedom. It’s as though I have been held captive to some degree most of my life (at times more than others). But now I get to fly completely free, unencumbered by the past definitions of myself. I woke up last night thinking of this line: “I no longer have to be defined by someone else’s flaws”.

In between writing this blog I had to run an errand. The roads around here are not yet familiar to me and on the way I had the delight of driving along a beautiful winding creek. I felt like the twists and turns of that creek was very similiar to those I took over the more than twenty years I have been on this journey of healing. On the way home, I took an interesting turn and happened upon an unpaved, freshly rained upon road and immediately I thought of how this same path represented my future. What I have ahead of me is not paved in stone, certainly not like the trauma which had been lodged in my brain like hardened cement. Rather this road is yet untravelled, full of potential ruts still to be figured out, a few tears like the rain and certainly in a direction to somewhere I don’t clearly know (at least not for my time on earth). But I am anticipating that there will many interesting, if not significant bends down this highway and with delight I am already on it! New ideas are emerging. Creativity is rising up.

I wonder how many people can tell me they have the same experience as me? Once captive, now set free. I welcome those responses. And for you who do not yet have freedom. I share this blog post  “Future” because I am walking straight now, no longer bent and I know that is possible for you as well. I welcome you sharing your struggles with me, even in a private message. (all comments are filtered to me before going public). You are not alone. I was not. I want you to know you are not either.

The future can be a bright place. It’s what I searched my whole life to find. The pot has plenty of gold to share. Enjoy some of it with me.

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Healing “Present”

Shocked, I sat shaking in my chair as I realized my mind was being flooded by flashes of memories I knew had always been there but I had not ‘seen’ so clearly in my mind’s eye as I did now. I had had this experience years before after I had walked through my childhood home in Edmonton and I had this oddly familiar and horribly difficult memory of my father and a gun. Confirming it later with my mom, I realized I knew what repressed memory bursting into the present world meant. Clients had told me about it scores of times but now I was on the receiving end of the exact experience myself. Again. This flooding, as it is referred to, was part of the necessary process as piece by piece the fragments of different ages and stages in my life surfaced. The tangled strings of my past, all crumpled in a ball, gradually became unknotted and untied so each memory piece could be sorted through and healed.

It is a fair question to ask how accurate memory actually is. It’s not. That is the bottom line. But it’s not the precise accuracy of what they contain which is so much the issue; it’s the power of the hurt, the damage to thinking and feeling and self as a person that is the focus. The power inside the memory has to be disarmed, much like a breaker shutting down an electrical current. The trauma memories generally are triggered by something in the here and now which is exactly what was happening to me when I was being challenged by the environment and experiences I was facing. I spent many hours in the indoor hot tub in my
beloved spa room as the water not only calmed but allowed the flow of the memories to come to the surface with as little resistance as possible. Memory resurfacing can not be done through a cognitive exercise but rather via the sensory which bypasses the rational thinking part of the brain and triggers the recollection of pictures lodged deep in the long term memory centre. They were originally placed there through the emotional filter which hardwires them into place until they are triggered again. What I am saying is that memory seldom comes out through sitting down to “think” about it. Generally it needs to be triggered in some way to open up the vault of emotions and pain attached to the recollections. Once triggered, then the exercise of ‘thinking it through’ and sorting and processing begins.

I had four strategies which worked for me. I needed to do things experientially since I had already spent plenty of hours being a client myself and/or a ministry recipient. Though all this laid an excellent foundation for me to confidently venture into this stage of processing, I knew intuitively that for my healing I had to create my own unique way which would work for me. Besides the fact I was daily interacting with pastors up close and personal and was in itself experiential and reparative in more ways than I can describe (in fact at times my mentor served both as a trigger and helper) these four strategies were very practical and successful. Ultimately they have become a template for how I do some of my clinical work now. Though each deserve their own blog posts I will limit it to four paragraphs in order to give a general overview.

1. Journalling/emails. I wrote my memories as best as I could but I also spun around a lot before I ‘allowed’ them to come out. I battled endlessly with the fear not only that I might be fabricating something and yet was so ‘real’ in my mind, knowing it had always been there and could not be buried again but also with the weight of what those memories actually meant. One of the greatest tools I used which helped me to no end was to write them via email and journalling, sharing them with my mentor. It was beneficial because it allowed me to distance enough to look at the content, receive feedback and reinforcement I was on the right track, being reassured I was still okay and stabilized through feedback when necessary. This laid a significant burden on my mentor as exasperation and stretching of boundaries met with what I intuitively knew I needed to do for my personal healing.  And though it was a priceless method of processing for myself in that it benefited me remarkably and without it I would not be where I am today, it unfortunately created a distracting but very understandable crisis. What was unquestionably a necessary opportunity for me was an obstacle for the other and this is something I have learned from as I help clients go through their messy trauma work. All told, the spinning around or circling the wagon as I call it was tedious but ultimately allowed for the truth to gradually come to the surface as my defence mechanisms were dismantled. Observing the thoughts, struggles, part of memories in front of me on paper while being very much part of the content and knowing they would be read by another person allowed me to journey head on into the battle between truth vs the lie.

2. Symbol and ritual. Though for reasons of publication rights I can not fully show or define any direct pictures of my specific symbols, I collected a series of doll statues which represented for me the different fragments of my story. Each time I bought one, that segment of my story swam to the surface in the sea of memory. It was like a subconscious part of me was prodding to pick out the next one, knowing what that element of my story represented. Having them in front of me at all times forced me to pay attention and stay focused on the task at hand, which was not to avoid or bury again but rather to face the realities of what these symbols actually depicted for me personally. I coupled this with an incredibly helpful tool which I have since recommended repeatedly for many clients who need to ‘let go’; namely ritual. As is said, ritual replaces ritual so burning symbolic tokens, be they pictures, items or significant things which connects a person to the hurtful experiences was a major repeated step I took. At each juncture, I chose something which represented that time period and experience. For instance, I described in my FIRE blog about the burning of my childhood doll. Another example was burning a dollar store snake since one of my traumatic memories involved being held down on the ground while the boys on the farm poised a snake over me to get me to succumb to their power. Ironically, after I had cut up the snake into pieces and tossed it into the fire, the head of the plastic snake jumped out at me. Somehow I felt that was eerily symbolic of how hard the effort is of letting go; where resistance and denial would have one avoid rather than face the hard truth and emotions that inhabited the memory which was holding me down.

3. Safe Place (prayer). A traumatized mind has an overwhelming sense of chaos, ranging from sane and healthy cognitive and emotional thoughts and reactions to a sea of denied feelings and memories vying for attention but being actively ignored. When one starts to undergo the process of trauma work, it is necessary to find safety on every level. First one has to choose to trust the individual(s) working alongside. Then often there are triggering brain responses at unexpected times and being in the present day while working with the past is a balancing act not easily navigated. If the brain has nowhere safe to land, it becomes overwhelmed and at times paralyzed in the sea of memory and current expectations. I had the privilege of connecting with a colleague in the States who introduced me to the concept of ‘safe place prayer’. I had already known about finding the safe place from where to work, but had not actually personally experienced it in action until I was working through my own trauma. With several timely visits I had a ‘safe place’ experience which allowed me to see in my mind’s eye a safe place absolutely no one, but Jesus and myself, could be in and from which I could then journey to each of the locations in my memory through choice and deliberate action. I may in a later post describe this in more detail since it’s effectiveness is absolutely invaluable. For anyone with any sort of trauma history, regardless of how and what has occurred, this method is by far one of the most appropriate and safest tools available. I attach two pictures of the safe place I had drawn in my mind (never having been there before) and which six months later I actually got to see and experience in the physical world, reinforcing for me that this truly is legitimate in every sense of the word! (my apologies because the picture was taken from my journalling book and though they are not very clear you can get the gist. It was an island to which I had to kayak and once there, I was in the woods in the exact same visual image I had been given in my colleague’s office during our first prayer time together.)

4. Guided prayer. With my mentor witnessing and sitting in on several guided prayer times, I was able to go into each significant memory and deliberately allow Jesus to show His presence and speak His truth to me about each experience. Now this is where some will have grave difficulty since they do not feel that Jesus was ever there. For some reason, the fact that I had a definite encounter with Jesus when I was seven, namely at my babysitter’s house (read my first blog post), I had no difficulty understanding that somehow what was happening was apart from God in some way. I could go into a long theological debate and certainly I understand other’s perspective about this, but as I am speaking personally here about my own healing process I found this prayer strategy incredibly beneficial. Perhaps it’s been because I had worked hard over the years growing my personal walk with Jesus and aside from the significant curve ball I describe in my Cottage post where my faith was challenged in a very dramatic way, I have continued to develop and be stretched to new levels. For myself, this method of prayer allowed me to put each of the trauma pieces to rest once and for all. I no longer have any type of reoccurring experience which makes me feel that I am still living in my old trauma state. I have a sense of wholeness which I can not fully express but will try to do so in my next post called “Future”.

I know this is a very long post. It is hard to describe three years and four methods in as concise a way as possible without doing injustice to the process. I welcome your questions, thoughts and reassurances as much as I desire to be able to have made a difference in the lives of all of you who have experienced hurt and trauma, or are currently walking alongside others who have, by sharing my journey with you.

Healing “past”

I have been asked numerous times about my healing journey so it seems fitting to write about it in three posts titled ‘past’, ‘present’ and ‘future’. I hope that my story will be encouraging to you, especially if you are someone who needs healing in your life from emotional hurts and damage. My own process of healing is one alternative; it does not mean that anyone should follow the same steps. In fact, that would be unwise since everyone has their own specific unique story and processing needs. Regardless, I would encourage you to find your own specific way of going through your story because I can assure you, healing and wholeness is possible. I am someone who can attest to that both processionally in my work with scores of clients over the years and personally with the healing and wholeness I have in my own life.

Without getting into any details, I have a sexual abuse history and plenty of emotional damage which would take pages to describe. It is not helpful for you, the reader, to know any of the specifics in this post because I am relating only to the ‘process’ of healing and not to  the ‘content’. Even though I had struggled with emotional issues and invasive memories for years, when my father died in October 26 years ago I really began the journey of healing very intentionally and purposefully. When he passed away it was as though a door finally opened, permissioning me to examine without as much fear of reprisal as there might have been if my family had stayed intact. Following his death, my family of origin completely dispersed and for the almost three decades since has never been jointly together again. Initially I went through the details of my past in a garbled ball of mess with my very dedicated pastor and his family who took me under their wing and guidance, along with attending a couple of different therapists situations. But after a few years I stopped looking deliberately into the content of my past because I became focused on building and strengthening myself in other ways and growing my children into their young adulthood. Not that the story was ever completely put to rest. In fact it came up in several ways at several different places in several unique ministry and counseling experiences. For instance, my Master’s thesis was PTSD and the relationship to Childhood Sexual Abuse, (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder); a topic well ahead of it’s time from our current research and literature of today. I attended numerous conferences and workshops, ministry weeks at Singing Waters, healing services, small groups etc; all too many to recount in detail. Yet the bulk of my energy was put towards growing spiritually in a personal relationship with God, raising my children and establishing a well functioning private counseling practice.

None of those years were wasted at all since it set the groundwork to eventually dealing with the details once and for all. Seven years ago, by God’s wisdom, I was invited to move my counselling practice into a church setting, allowing me to have team around me while serving as a consultant and support for staff and congregation as well as maintaining my already well established private practice. I realize in hindsight how instrumental this step was since I had been raised in a minister’s family and this move had me come face to face on a daily basis, doing life with pastors and their nuances, weaknesses and strengths. Talk about a dynamic made to sharpen and expose the wounds inside of me around which I had created amazing defence mechanisms to keep from being hurt again! Two things made this work for me. First, I believe it was helpful that I had done so much work, on every level emotionally, cognitively and spiritually so I could still function with professional excellence while being personally taken through the fire of healing. Secondly, the right person(s) were in place to challenge and force the issues into the open. The phrase “it was the best of times and the worst of times’ adequately sums up those first three years.

Healing is a very messy process! If one thinks about the sheer magnitude of the defence mechanisms being torn down, the actual content of the story with all its pain and anguish being exposed and the risk of this exposure and learning to trust in a new way, it is fair to say that it’s not a tidy linear process, nor is it a neatly wrapped birthday gift where the wrapping paper is the messy part while the gift inside is the treasure and something of delight. Quite the contrary. Were it that easy I suspect we would all embrace the process of healing far quicker and more often. But the reality is that there is ice that has to be melted, (emotional) temperature fluctuations to be monitored and managed and flooding of memories to be navigated through. The PTSD brain does not easily let go of its trauma without incredible pushback and resistance along with shock waves of depression and anger. So to that end, the people, especially my family and closest friends along with my mentor who walked with me through those three years, had to sustain (often times) terribly taxing and energy draining requirements in helping me through this. To them, I say an incredible and forever grateful THANK YOU!

My next post called ‘present’ will take you through the steps I took to get through the content. I titled it ‘present’ because it was a current way of healing the ‘past’ and can be used by anyone if they do so with some of my well earned experience and wisdom. If I were to do some of this over again, I probably would try some things differently but I believe, for myself, it was the only way I could go through my story and still maintain my life on a daily basis without being too messy. The past is a messy place for some of us. The process of healing is bloody and intricate. But the reward at the end, which is what I talk about in the ‘future’ post is part of the prize waiting for you. What I do want you to realize from my process is that it took years of piece by piece, growing and dismantling, growing and dismantling some more until I was ready to face the hard work. I needed my children to be launched into adult life and then I could turn the focus back on my own deeper inner healing work. In fact, I recall having a prayer time with God when I said that I could not look inside my story one more minute because it was costing my children too much of my energy being directed away from them. God took me at my word. As soon as all my children had moved out, I was put through the healing fire and I was ready. Resistant but ready. That is step one: being ready.

Finally, one of the words that accompanied me throughout my life and which carried me through the most difficult part of my healing journey is the word HOPE. I had hope at all times, even when I had bouts of depression and anxiety which comes with a traumatized brain and repression of memories. I never lost sight of that hope. I knew that I knew, especially as my spiritual assurance became more and more solid and trusting in God that hope would always be there. My question is for those who feel like they are “lacking” in hope.  Realize that having faith comes before hope. Faith confirms and reaffirms those past postive experiences which one needs to recall in the face of what lays ahead. Hope focuses to the future and based on the love that ties both faith and hope together it is possible for healing. Don’t let discouragement and hurtful past experiences rob you of the opportunity to believe that there is a better tomorrow ahead. I know because I took those difficult next steps, hoping that wholeness would be the final outcome.

“In Between”

For the last few weeks I have been living ‘in between’. It’s a strange place to sit; not belonging in the one place anymore yet not quite fully landed in the other. Added to this is the exercise of letting go while still hanging on. A strange and awkward posture to be in when you are used to feeling a sense of control over one’s life. The funny part is I chose this; it is not being done to me. Definitely different than other times where I have been at the mercy of other people’s choices over my life, whether it is about moving to new cities and homes as a child or others forcing the movement away from connection and belonging in relationship through their moving or decisions.

I can’t say I have relished these last few weeks even though I’ve known all the way along the outcome was going to good. I am moving from a home that has been my dwelling place for well over twenty years and into a new one, sharing time and space with my daughter and son in law. The house I am moving into is absolutely terrific in every sense of the word and a blessing magnified. Where I am landing is delightful and not in the least bit negative!

So then one would ask why the struggle at all? Well, it’s not that easy because I am leaving behind a legacy. The home I am moving from was initially a house and not a “home” when I relocated there well over twenty years ago. It was dark and oppressive but it had huge potential for newness and that is what caught my eye. I knew intuitively it could eventually be a ‘forever’ home. Indeed, that is exactly what evolved. The house was gradually transformed from a dark place with broken pieces taped together (literally…duct tape apparently did wonders even 25 years ago) to a place of light with repaired and renovated rooms which it is today. The new owner walks into a house that has been gutted to the bare bones, where vapour barriers did not exist (can you believe the builder?) new walls both inside and out have been built, wiring and heating replaced, new roof, siding and foundational cracks repaired; everything complete. Nothing left to be done other than to create new options. Much like the house I am moving into which does not need one thing replaced thus allowing for creative ideas to grow instead of energy on renovation, so the home that I am leaving has all the features in place for the new owner to allow her creativity to shine.

My house has been “home” to me in ways like no other house ever has been! Like I said, when I moved into it well over twenty years ago it was oppressive and dark but it had a lot of potential for restoration. Looking back I see that it was very symbolic of my inner house, namely my ‘self’ at the time. I had just separated from a fourteen year marriage, three children in tow with no financial support and back to school to get my Masters. I had a story churning inside and I embarked on a deep and at times very painful journey of healing. A few years ago I was able to focus very specifically on digging through the memories and having God bring His truth to each crevice and hidden place and since that time, aside from one major curve ball which I referred to in my cottage blog post, I found myself able to declare that healing is complete. Much like the physical house that I am leaving, I have an restored inner self which is whole and filled with truth and light.

As I sit and write this blog post, I have a new spot. My old home had a pond and plenty of sanctuary spaces where I could write to my heart’s delight. So this new home also has a pond (okay, so it’s the canal; see the boat amongst the trees) with plenty of places of safety to sit and ponder the wonders of life and share the mystery of healing and wholeness. Yes, I am ‘in between’ but it’s not the first time, nor will it be the last. This is a place of light and wholeness and I enter this new phase in exactly that same way: full of light and wholeness. Though this ‘in between’ phase has some tears as I sat in my backyard one last time with my daughter as we appreciated the pond and talked about both the incredibly blessed and also the terribly difficult times we had in the home I am leaving, it was never without hope. I bought #36 (after having lived in #10 on the same street for 9 months!) and I always had a deep inner hope that life could come from the painful and hard places. I am leaving behind very special steadfast neighbours along with a safe and secure neighborhood that is oh so familiar. I have moved onto a new street, in a new town with a new number #35. This house has character, history and a definitely delightful legacy of the previous owners which they have shared with us. It will be full of laughter and delight along with tears but it will always, always have hope. Of that I am sure!

What we do with our ‘in between’ is an opportunity to look back and appreciate, assess what we might have done differently, learn from the mistakes and see the past with a perspective that perhaps will help us do the next phase with wisdom acquired from experience. I have been in those ‘in between’ several times before. It would be advisable that if you are in one today, you ask for support and a listening ear so you don’t make rash choices that will impact your future landing. Allow the grief and tears of your yesterday to be there for a season and then move on. I am almost done with my ‘in between’. I will probably always have some tears when I think about my old ‘home’. It had my heart in it. But now my heart has moved and its only a piece of my heart in my memories that will always remain with that precious ‘home’. Once done with the ‘in between’, it will be time to move on and forward into the new adventure, full of hope for what awaits to be experienced.

Purging

It’s been a while. Actually it feels like a life time ago since I last posted a blog. Probably because on some level that is exactly what it has “felt” like as I have been going through my life with a fine tooth comb. You see, I have been purging. Not throwing up like a bulimic might, but rather throwing out. For the last while I have been purging myself of certain people, places and things. As I am entering a new space and phase in my life, it’s time to get rid of that which might hold me back from the new adventure ahead of me. The process has been both freeing and invigorating while threaded with some sadness as I ponder the symbolism and meaning of the things and relationships I am discarding.

For many of us purging is not an easy thing. In my case, I am certainly not a hoarder or pack rat by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, over the 2+ decades I have lived in my home I have gone through the experience of purging several times but never this drastically and strategically. Truth be told, I have hung onto too many things, certain relationships and places far longer than they are good for me. As I look at them I realize they have begun to tie me down and hold me back from growing and thriving. Identifying the specific elements as to how and where exactly they restrict me while at the same time evaluating if they should be part of the future is all part of the purging process. It takes choice and decision-making which can, at times, seem utterly ruthless especially when those things or relationships have meant so much to me.

I recommend the process of purging for everyone. Just like evaluating whether to take along every drawing our children have ever done (you know those unidentifiable scratches which we hang so proudly on the refrigerator door?) or the thing we were so thrilled to own which represented another time and place we don’t ever want to forget (though you haven’t looked at it in years as it sits in a box in the crawlspace or attic!), so we have to decide whether its lodged in our memory without needing the reminder that they serve or is the ‘item’ itself the container of the memory. I find that looking through the old parts of my life has been both a gift and a frustration. Some of them I could have thrown out a long time ago. Other things I realize are not as precious as I originally thought they were. Too many things clutter our lives and our thinking. That has been the same with some of the my recent relationships which I thought might still have brought me joy but instead remind me of something I need to lay to rest once and for all.

Personally I have a much easier time letting go of things; relationships are another story. Though I attach symbolism to certain items as part of that current time (like the sea shells collected on one of my many trips), I attach my heart to certain relationships. Thus the letting go takes time and can’t be done quickly and abruptly. But if we pay attention to what the relationship is doing to us or whether it has served it’s time and purpose and perhaps we have outgrown and need to move on, it can be very freeing to let go of those that are unhealthy attachments for us. I will use one of the relationships I am letting go of as an example. During it’s time and season, there was a lot of positives peppered with about as much salt on wounds that were negatives. Despite the encouragement of my close friends I just could not let this relationship go. Something was holding me back. Much like the box of memorabilia that I hung onto that were broken nicknacks from years gone by which I could just not part with, so this relationship kept me going back. I knew I was looking for an answer to something; an internal question I had been asking since the beginning of the relationship. I wanted it to make sense and it just did not. I recall a saying that a good pastor friend of mine told me over twenty years ago. “If you wait long enough, when the wash hangs out to dry the stain will eventually appear”. In other words, if I waited long enough the answer would finally come my way. I just had to wait and see. My propensity has always been to ‘go after it’; ask the question directly. But that just served to hurt me too many times. So for the last year (almost exactly) I took my old friend’s advice and waited. Sure enough a couple of months ago I found myself observing an interaction which this person was having with another individual. The responses were oddly familiar to me and I felt I could identify with the dynamic. It led me to ask a couple of rather neutral questions and in the process received the answer I had been waiting for. I would never have been able to get the answer from this individual directly; rather I got it through watching and observing. Now it all finally made sense. It was a click and literally everything of the past couple of years fell into place!

The picture that came to my mind as soon as I got the answer was the car game we used to play for hours: lining the numbers in a square from one to nine.

Frustrating as it may seem, working on it long enough all the numbers will eventually fall into place. And what a relief and sense of accomplishment when it does all come together.

Much like the origami puzzle which forces you to find just the right sequence to fit the puzzle into place so this person’s answer related to what I had intuitively always sensed and ‘known’. It made it incredibly easier to let the relationship go since it was not ‘relationship’ or ‘friendship’ I was purging, but rather the stain that had been affecting my life. It became amply clear to me that it was time to move on for the sake of my emotional and spiritual health.

Things can ultimately tie us down. They can own us more than we can own them. We obviously can’t take them with us when we die. We can’t even take our relationships along with us, though hopefully we will have them again when we reach the other side of death. Purging is healthy. It does not mean making room for new things to own, but rather it should be such that it allows us to make room for more of ourselves to grow and thrive. If a relationship weighs you down and the person is playing with your mind and heart, then begin the purging process. LIke me, an answer will come as you wait. I did not wait without doing something about it. I waited with anticipation for an answer. It may not come in an obvious way but if you know that the stain is there, it will show itself on the clothes line after the wash is hung to dry. In the meantime, be sure that your own stains are purged and cleansed.

I might add that purging relationship does not always mean throwing the relationship out but it does mean getting rid of the things that are not helpful or necessary anymore in the relationship. If the interactions are healthy then obviously it is one to stick with, even if you never see each other on this side of heaven. Nor does it mean that the relationship itself was bad. In fact most often that is not the case. The relationship was there for a reason and its imperative, before throwing or moving away from it, that you take the value from it that was there. And remember, you were part of that value because it had your heart in it. And in many cases, also involved the other person’s heart. That is why it seems so much easier to throw ‘things’ away in the purging process. Unless of course, they have your heart in them.

As for me, I am done with my purging process. My things are being settled into a new environment, the relationships I want to expend energy and time on are healthy and bring life and the new place I have been moving into is allowing for a new type of space and time for adventure. I may still be ‘in between’, the article for my next post, but the purging is done. And I feel clean and less cluttered in both my mind and my heart, something I recommend for everyone.

Rocks

I had no idea until early this morning that I would be writing a post about rocks. But I woke up with a picture and understanding in my mind of something that we all deal with in our lives and felt it might be worth reflecting about. Have you ever had rocks thrown at you? I don’t mean physical ones; I mean emotional ones. These are the type of rocks I am referring to in this blog post.

There is nothing soft and gentle about rocks. They are solid structures, often part of a greater picture. Some are sharp edged stones while others are smooth from years of wear against surface experiences. This is not a post about scientific and physical reflection about the dynamics of rock formation. Rather it’s about how rocks play a part in our emotional world. We have stones in our emotional lives which we carry around, some sharp edged, some smoothed over time as we repeatedly rehearse the hurt they embody. We even display those rocks as a form of pride, particularly when we have created an identity out of being a victim, something I will expand upon further in a future post. Regardless, just by going through life there is no possible way not to have experienced the emotional rocks I am referring to.

Many of us have incredibly hard hearts, like stone. This hardness comes from years of hurt, hardened over time by anger. We may have begun life with a gentle soft spirit but experiences and relationships bring challenges that we can’t always manage well and eventually we make judgements which shape the nature of our hearts and minds. Left over time, these become hardened into a stone-like feature and we protect ourselves behind this structure so we won’t be hurt again.

I spent a great portion of the last couple of decades dealing with my own hardness of heart derived from the years of hurt and harm I had experienced. Over time, I brought each stone, one by one before the Lord and gradually I was able to let His healing touch bring a softness and understanding that turned each stone from hardness into a pliable fleshy form. I took seriously the scripture verse which says that God will take a heart of stone and turn it into a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel). Unless we take a look, both at how we actually got the rocks in our hearts together with how we also play a huge part in creating the hardness of those formations, we will never be really fully healed.

The risk we run is that when one has a softer heart it’s possible to be hurt again. Like I mentioned in my last post, I was hurt a few years back but as I said, God showed me He never let go of me even when I let Him go. It allowed me to forgive, not rehearse the hurt anymore, gain an understanding into the dynamic that I participated in and contributed to on my part, and take my own full responsibility regarding the interactions. And though I hated the experience and the valley I went through I still deeply love the persons who hurt me; that has never changed! I believe this is the direct result of having a heart of flesh rather than the heart of stone I used to have.

But there is always the other side of the equation about these rocks, namely the ones that are (unjustly at times) thrown at us by others. These stones are particularly hard to handle because they come directly from the inner hardness of the other person’s heart. Often it’s difficult to determine whether we deserved the rock throwing which is just another form of blaming us for their hardness of heart and their hurts. After all, hurt people hurt people. I realized last night that I had to learn to handle these hurled stones much better and rather than pick them up and throw them back again, I had to carry them for a season. Sometimes that is all we can do when we are unrightfully being blamed for things outside of our control. We have to own what is ours in the dynamic and then carry the rest, in love. It’s ‘how’ we carry these rocks that is key. Will we lay them down at our God’s feet and not cast them back at those who hurt us with the rock throwing? Or will we absorb them so they become hard inside of our own hearts and become rocks of judgements which we will eventually throw at others who get in our way? Or even trickier still, will we get others to participate in the rock throwing, tempting as that might be at times? What we do with rocks and rock throwing is our responsibility. We can’t control the stones that come at us but we can choose how to deal with them constructively.

Today I was reminded by someone who knows my story very well to be careful with how I handle the last series of stones directed my way. It’s easy to look at them and absorb the pain and believe they are deserved when they are not. Especially for myself where I have been put in positions of being blamed for things that were really the other person’s issue to own, I have a propensity to become unhealthy and either withdraw completely or allow another person’s problems to define me.

All day I have been thinking about two stories. One is from a movie based on a true story, “The Stoning of Soraya M”,  which I highly recommend though I suggest caution since the subject is very sensitive. In it the main character is unrightly accused and the result is something which still happens today in certain countries. I think of this story symbolically because it reminds me of how we careful we must be with how we participate in stone throwing. The second story is of the woman caught in adultery in the Bible, (John 18) where she is to be stoned for a sin she has committed (not alone I might add!). We are no different from her, though our wrongs might not be the exact same ones.The only one, Jesus, who could justifiably cast a stone at us because He is innocent, does not do so! That is the model we need to follow.

I have an interesting rock collection in my home. Many of the stones are very beautiful and significant. These stones have become treasures or symbols serving as reminders of places I have been where peace and calm was part of my life and healing was given to me during those experiences. This is the healthy way to deal with stones. May you be able to collect yours as a memorial of positive choices of your own healing journey from damage done by rock throwing. And may you lay yours down and celebrate the freedom so your today may lead to a better tomorrow.

Cottage


It’s been a while since I have blogged. There have been reasons for this, quite personal ones. It’s the nature of life, where stresses ebb and flow. Some of those are easier to take than others. When they accumulate together into one big mess my instinctual nature is to retreat and withdraw. I have been in one of those withdrawal states. Fortunately, I am in the best setting possible for my retreat: the cottage.

Two years ago I sat on this very dock recovering from an incredibly hurtful experience.I can’t explain in any detail why it was so difficult since that would involve speaking of others and I am not about to implicate anyone in what turned out to be one of the most disappointing incidents that I have had in the last few years. But I can tell you that it took me into a valley that caused me to question the very existence of God and my faith. The trust that I had so painstakingly worked to keep in others had been ripped out of my heart and an arrow, a statement against my character, had been placed in its stead. I went through a emotional and spiritual winter journey like none other I have ever experienced before. Surprising because one would think that considering all I had been through as a child, I would have forsaken God and faith way back then. But instead it was this adult encounter that tore at my very core. In the end it was turned into a redemptive experience and one which I can unequivocally say I would never have wanted to miss having had. I discovered in the depth of myself that even when I let go of God, He never let go of me at all. It’s been one of the most profound examples of Love Wins I have had in my life!

This most recent set of stresses is nowhere near the same degree as two years ago. And yet as I sit on the dock overlooking the water at this family cottage I realize I am in the midst of another transition that is calling for all of my inner resources again. So far some of the stresses have been positively resolved. But there is one that still hangs in the balance and it’s out of my hands as to what will be the ultimate outcome. It would be incredibly sad if it happens the way it threatens to play out but I also know that this week at the cottage will have been a gift of being filled to overflowing in order to deal with it, should it turn out badly in the end.

I love the cottage. We all need places where we can recuperate and be renewed. This is one of those environments for me. Currently I am sitting on the awesome deck of the bunkie, throwing a tennis ball into the water for our most loved dog, Phoebe and writing this post. We have spent most of the week with our best family friends whom I love and trust more than any other people in the world! It’s been invigorating and incredibly fun, filled with laughter, great conversation, a few tears and a peacefulness that only this quiet northern Ontario lake can offer. I have so frequently said that this must be what heaven will be like that my daughter laughs and states I say that statement more than anything else! But it’s true. If this is what heaven will be like than who could possibly ever be bored and complain about anything!

People and experiences will disappoint us. That comes with living on this earth. Finding ways to be filled so we can deal with these disappointments is a huge factor in handling whatever comes our way. Inhaling and internalizing the positive experiences so that they can be ‘recalled’ later helps when things get tough. There were multiple times when I sat remembering and re-experiencing in my mind the time I sat on the dock and the journalling and messages I got during my cottage experience two years ago which sustained me through the following months while I lived in my dark and sad valley. Those positive memories were easily able to be ‘recalled’ because I had been fully present and intentionally inhaled the environment and the peaceful feelings, depositing them into my mind for future comfort. Again, I have done the same with this week. When I go back into the world of stress that awaits me, I will be able to ‘recall’ this week and live off the deposit of this week’s incredible loving embrace of both nature and nurture.As I am writing this a humming bird is flying past me. I am not fast enough to take  its picture but the sound resonates in my mind as does the memory of her hovering over the planter by my feet. The breeze on the lake causes ripples which look like shimmering lights of blue and silver while the sun beats down hard on what has been a very dry and incredibly hot week. The loons are calling to each other in their unique and beautiful (canadian I might add) voice saying ‘eh’ to all of us in their own language. An occasional boat crosses over to a cottage across the way reminding me that others are engaged in cottage life as well. Tonight we will make a fire while watching the brilliant and magnificent sea of stars in the sky. I am allowing all of these things to become deeply internalized memories so that next week I will be able to ‘recall’ the sweet recollections of this cottage experience. Something tells me that I will need to ‘remember’.

If you look close you can see the humming bird between the deck rails

Phoebe diving for her ball

Loving the fire!