Thursday, January 23, 2020

Seeing life in Depression hair

I've been frustrated with my hair recently.

No matter how carefully I gather it up, and bind it into my braid, there is this chunk that falls down and just hangs there. It reminds me of that famous photo from the depth of the Depression years: the worn, exhausted mom with her waifs of children. They're all shabby and smudged, and pieces of her hair are straggling down. That's what I think of when I catch sight of myself with my hair wisping and falling down. It's frustrating. I don't want to look all bedraggled. It looks messy, and it makes me seem tired and sad. It makes me look like someone who is not doing well.

A while back, I was looking in the mirror, about to fix that hair flop yet again, and I had an epiphany. For once, rather than just being frustrated, I actually looked at the piece that keeps falling down. And when I looked, I realized something important. I realized why this piece keeps falling down.

It's much, much shorter than the rest of my hair.

I held that chunk of short hair in my hand, puzzled, and then all the lights began to dawn.



The rest of my hair is down to the middle of my back. This is only six or eight inches long. This is new hair, growing in.

In the months after Michael died, I lost a lot of hair. So did our daughters, my mom and my sister. The intense emotional stress and shock of his suicide caused all of us to lose hair. Stress will do that.

This falling-down hair, that has annoyed me so much, is actually a sign of life.

It's a sign of healing- of restoration.

This is my hair, slowly coming back- a quiet, hidden proof that in spite of all the trauma, I am still here, still alive.

My messy hair now makes me smile tenderly, as I gently tuck it back into my braid.

It's a symbol of hope.

Friday, December 13, 2019

What Forgiveness is NOT


I have learned many things about forgiveness, and one of the most important is what forgiveness is not.

Forgiveness is a personal matter, concerned with how each of us chooses to handle the emotions we have surrounding an incident of hurt. It means freeing ourselves from the prison of bitterness. In the process, the other person might be freed from a solitary confinement we have created, but it is not about them. It concerns only our own hearts.

It is possible to forgive someone who will never understand what they’ve done, let alone apologize. It is possible to forgive someone who has died. If the wounding took place in childhood and the wounded person does not learn about forgiveness until they’re grown, sometimes the opportunity for restoration is forever gone. The opportunity to forgive, though, is never lost.

*Forgiveness does not need to involve the other person.

Some people have the damaging idea that to forgive means to give the offender complete, unbridled access into their life. This could not be more wrong!

One of the best contradictions of this I’ve heard:
“If someone embezzles from you, you may choose to forgive them. You do not let them handle your money!”

(I wish I knew where I’d heard that, so I could give due credit!)

*Forgiveness, especially for large, deep wounds, must include the setting of wise and careful boundaries for the future!

Creating a new, more safe and healthy future does not mean that you have not forgiven. To protect yourself from further harm is not “holding grudges.” It simply means that you have learned from a hard thing and are doing what is best for your heart’s future.

To forgive and completely forget is mostly God’s business.

For we humans, a better wisdom is often to take important lessons from hurt, in order to create a better future. As the old saying goes, “He who forgets the past is doomed to repeat it.”

If we have moved through the process of forgiving, the memory of the hurt may fade and lose its power over time. That’s good and can be a huge relief, but forgetting is not required for true forgiveness to take place. 

*Forgiveness does not require telling the offender they’ve been forgiven.

The decision to share that information much be considered very carefully, taking into consideration the many aspects of the relationship and whether that conversation would lead to a better place. In some cases, it can lead to good, healing conversations and a better, brighter future. I have also known people who expressed forgiveness and had the conversations explode in their faces. Be very thoughtful about telling someone you’ve forgiven them when there has been no prior conversation about the hurt between you. 


*Forgiving does not mean that what was done to us was somehow fine.

That is not what it means at all. It only means that we will no longer allow that hurt to hold power over us. We willingly set it aside, to free ourselves from its pain.


*Forgiveness does not mean glossing over the offense as if it never happened.

It is vital to our healing that we acknowledge the very real hurt that was done, and the wrongness of it. We need to acknowledge that our wounding is both real and justified.


*Forgiveness is not a moment in time.

The decision to forgive is a moment. The process of living out that decision is a journey.


*Forgiveness does not necessarily mean staying in that relationship.

There are offenses and circumstances so deep and wrong that a complete severing of the relationship is necessary. There comes a time when we must, for our own physical, emotional, mental or spiritual safety, cut an offender out of our lives completely. That decision is often very painful and hard, and may continue to be hard for many years. Ultimately, it is our job to protect ourselves from all forms of assault…and we have every right to do so.

People may be deeply hurt, offended, mystified or very angry when that door of relationship is  closed. That’s unfortunate and can be very hard to face, but it does not mean it is wrong to set that boundary. Whether or not explain what you are doing and why must be wisely considered.

I have had to do this once, and in that case it was the right thing to tell the other person what was happening and why. I wrote a letter, laying out clearly what was done, and that this deep breach of trust in the friendship left no room for a future. It was absolutely the right decision for my own well-being. It was also hard and painful, and remained painful for a long time. It still makes me sad, nearly twenty years later, but it was still the deeply right decision.

In other situations, it may be the best, wisest and safest thing to just close that door quietly and privately, and move on without a word. Neither way is right or wrong. Each situation must be handled in its own unique, best way.

One of the best analogies I've ever heard:
"Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and waiting for the other guy to die."

In the end, holding onto hurt, resentment or bitterness does the most and deepest harm to our own hearts and minds. Refusing to forgive is like insisting on staying in a prison cell when the door is wide open and we are free to go. 

Even where the hurt is vast and profound, choosing the path to forgiveness is still the best possible healing journey for the sake of our own brighter futures. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Jesus and Grief


Recently, in my weekly email, I wrote about the idea of women as bearers of Gods messages to His people. I loved what I found.

In the process of that research, as I was reading/thinking/writing about Jesus' having given Mary of Magdala a message to speak to His followers, I started to notice another facet of the situation. I saw it in the account given in the gospel of Mark, but wanted to double check my theory. I read through that same section in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and also the first part of Acts, just to be sure.

Here is the thing that has been driving my eager search:

While Jesus rebuked his disciples for their hardness of heart, for not believing those He'd sent with news of His return to life, He never rebuked the disciples for their grief over his death!!

I have heard Bible teachers scorn Jesus' followers for huddling together in grief and despair, as if they really should have known better. We, with the benefit of hindsight and the whole New Testament at our fingertips could easily roll our eyes at their response. "Seriously. He told them, over and over, what was going to happen! They should have just believed Him! Sheesh!"

We've gotten it so wrong! Having walked the harrowing halls of tragic loss this past year, I have a whole new view of the situation. I have grown a deep compassion for those shocked, traumatized, devastated disciples. Of course they were huddled together behind locked doors, shaking and grieving! Of course they felt abandoned and completely at-sea.

They did not have the benefit of hindsight or a fistful of explanatory New Testament Scriptures to enlighten them. They had just seen the one they loved the most tortured and torn to pieces and brutally killed. The mob that screamed for Jesus to be crucified could very well have been out for the blood of His followers as well. They must have been terrified! And absolutely heartbroken.

Then, in came Mary, shaking and stumbling over her words, insisting that she'd just seen Jesus and spoken to Him. They brushed aside her claims. I imagine that some of them may even have been angry at her. Under intense emotional strain, people often revert to less-developed versions of themselves. Trauma does not tend to bring out the best in people. Everything in their cultural background, and in her own personal, pre-Jesus history, told them she had no right to speak and should not be believed. They refused to believe her. A few, including Peter, at least went to check out her story. In fact, it says Peter ran to see for himself.

Later, when Jesus himself suddenly appeared among them, behind those closed, locked doors, did He shame them for their shock and grief? No. He rebuked them for not believing any of the messengers He'd sent to tell them of His resurrection.

Mark 16:14 "...he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen."

Each Gospel gives the account of Jesus' life, death and resurrection differently. Not that any is right and the others wrong. They were written by individuals who were more deeply impacted by one fact of their experiences or another, and told it from their own point of view.

-Matthew leaves out this first encounter, skipping to their final meeting on the mountain in Galilee.
-Mark says He rebuked their hardness of heart and unbelief.
-Luke tells how startled and frightened they were at his sudden appearance, how he questioned their troubled, doubtful hearts and then assured them of the truth of His identity and life.
-both Luke and John say that He greeted them with, "Peace be with you." John also tells what Luke did- that Jesus showed them the wounds of His crucifixion to assure them of his identity.

He never rebuked them for their traumatized far, and, so important to me just now,
He never rebuked them for their grief. <3 <3

In some circles, grief is shamed as weakness or a lack of faith. This is not biblical! The Bible does say, in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 that we should not grieve as those who have no hope, but it never says that we should not grieve at all. The Bible does not urge this sort of forced, stoic, false "victory" over justified sadness. On the contrary, Jesus himself said, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Matthew 5:4

There is no shame in grief. There is no agenda to hurry through it. Grief, in Jesus' agenda, was met with compassion and the promise of comfort.

In the same way, He meets us today in our grief, with tender love and bottomless compassion.



*Where to find those accounts:
Matthew chapter 28, Mark chapter 16, Luke chapter 24, John chapters 20 & 21
 *Soon, I hope to have my website finished, with a handy link for subscribing to my weekly emails. In the meantime, if you're interested in joining my mailing list, you can write me at kristiewrites@yahoo.com and I will gladly add you. My weekly notes are generally light-hearted, random musings, with occasional bits of deeper thought.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

I can't write it yet...

People have asked me to share what are good things to say to those who are grieving, and what are things better left unsaid.

I've tried.

I've tried four times.

I have not posted any of it.

Why?

The hurt has still been too raw and ready, and it has taken me to a very angry place. I don't get angry over most of the things that were said to me. What stokes my fire the most is the memory of words that have hurt our children and made this already agonizing road even more painful. Mama bear. She has a hard time letting go of hurt to her cubs.

 What have I learned?

I will write about those things someday. First, though, it is essential that I walk the road of forgiveness over all of those clumsy, thoughtless, well-intended, damaging, hurtful words. I wrote about this in my most recent post. I have not posted anything since because I am living the journey right now.

I am doing the hard work, prayerfully, sometimes reluctantly, but committed to pressing on.

I will not be able to write in a healthy, hopeful, helpful way about the words that hurt until I have excavated the buried pain and resentment in my own heart and let it go.

For now, I'll continue to share the journey toward forgiveness.

And someday, when I can do it without fire shooting from my fingertips, I will write about the words that were spoken to us in our hardest days.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Lord, I forgive....help my unforgiving heart

"Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"
Mark 9:24 NKJV

These words give me such comfort and such hope. They tell me that it is truly okay to come to God with what scraps I have; to speak to Him from where I truly am.

It is not only okay, He invites us, calls to us, longs for us to come running to him in the middle of our confusion and mess.

"Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."  Hebrews 4:16 NIV

Jesus wants us to come straight to him in our greatest weakness and deepest need.

This is where I am.

I wrote before about my need to forgive. (Blocking the Peace- Sept. 17, 2019)
This is real and soul-deep. These are some of the greatest wounds my heart has ever endured.

At least...that is how it feels to me.

What is it that I have been clutching to my chest, refusing to let go?

Blame.

That is the naked, ugly truth.

Holding onto hurt and refusing to forgive means that I hold blame to people for hurt to myself or to my loved ones.  Here's the thing: Whether these people are truly at fault (and some of them are) or whether my heart and mind have laid blame where it is not really justified...the need to forgive is the same.

Forgiving means that I will surrender my toxic emotions that are tied to each situation. It means that I will relinquish the "right" of resentment.

Whether or not my hard feelings are justified does not actually matter. Either way, I must let go of my hurt and anger. I must hand it all over to God and allow him to wash my heart clear and set my mind free. I need to give up to Him my ticket for endless re-runs of the incidents that caused hurt.

So, how am I doing with that?

Well...I have made a start. I have made a small baby step of beginning.

I have looked at each name on my list of "People I need to forgive." I have recalled why each name is on that list, and I have prayed for the grace to forgive.

I paraphrased that verse in the book of Mark to fit my own deep resistance and need.

"Oh Lord. I need you. Please help me. I choose to forgive. Lord, please help my unforgiving heart."

After many months of refusing to even discuss with God the wounds festering in my heart; after weeks of giving frowning side-eye to this list on my table...I heaved the first reluctant sigh of surrender. I took the first small, pained step on the road to healing.

No fireworks burst in the sky. No choirs sang or trumpets sounded (none that I could hear, anyway). But I know that my loving Father wrapped His arms around me and held me close as I did this first, small, hard thing. After I prayed, I felt the first, tiny, quiet easing of this tight know of hurt.

It's a start.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Blocking the Peace

"And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts..." Colossians 3:15b

Having been in church since before I was born, these words have mushed into a blur; all run together into one word. letthepeaceofChristruleinyourhearts... Having heard them times beyond counting, they had almost ceased to have meaning to me...until today.

I have been feeling for a while as if there's a thick curtain between God and me. I've resurrected my practice of daily devotional and Bible reading and prayer, but it feels...effortful. It is a meaningful time, and I have been touched, moved and learned important things, but my spirit feels sort of stodgy. Recently, I have been praying about this, asking God to show me what roadblock I have put up.

A feeling of distance from God is never caused by Him pulling back. He is unchanging, and His love is poured out in never-ending, changeless bounty. If I feel far from God, or cut off from Him, it is always because I have moved away or allowed something to come between us. But what is it this time?

The light began to dawn last night, as I talked to our daughter on the phone. I think the feeling of broken communion may be tied directly to a sticky note on our dining room table.

The note signifies a move in the right direction, but it also represents the sticking-place in my walk with God. The note is a short list of names, and it is titled, "People I need to forgive."

Thankfully, because of God's deep, heart-deep, decades-long work in my life, the list does not extend beyond last year. I have been on a long journey of forgiveness, starting about thirty years ago. I have learned that forgiveness comes in layers, as a long process over time. I have learned to forgive, by God's grace, in the exact moment I am being hurt; to forgive instantly rather than carrying around the offense like a trophy of my victimhood.

I have spoken boldly on the topic of forgiveness, and urged others to walk right into those deep waters, because I know the incredible healing and freedom that bloom on the other shore.

And yet, I have a list of names on my table, of people I have not forgiven.

There is a common thread to this list. It is comprised of a couple of people who have a fairly short path of influence toward the suicide of our son, people who said thoughtless hurtful things to me in the wake of his death, and people who made this already-agonizing year even harder for Lee or our other three kids. Mama Bear struggles to forgive hurt to her cubs.

God, in His infinite, gentle mercy, did not address my need to forgive for long months after Michael died. I think it was probably eight or nine months before He started, ever-so-gently, nudging the idea of forgiveness. I knew the hurts that lay behind that door, but I felt that unleashing all that wounded rage might tear my fragile self to pieces. Despite God's loving nudges, I kept that door firmly, emphatically locked, barred, bolted and nailed shut.

The first, most tiny of baby steps that I have taken forward was to write this list on a sticky note, and to acknowledge the need to forgive. I made that step, and there I stopped.

Given my decades of experience on this topic, I have no illusions over the process. I know that I can't just hurry by with a quick, "Yeah, I forgive them." For true freedom and healing to take place, I know that I need to sit still and let those incidents out one by one, honestly facing the pain and hurt and deep betrayal that are bound up with them. Before I can let go of those heavy wounds, I have to feel them, at least for a moment.

I know that the moment will be brief, if I then turn and release the people and incidents into God's hands, but I have been avoiding even that short time of feeling the pain. I'm just tired of bearing hurt and sadness. It gets really, really old.

I also know, though, that I will never move forward into healing, into peace, into many things, until I let go of these hurts and my rights of resentment.

This is why the peace of Christ is not ruling in my heart. It can't, because I have filled that space with hurt and anger and resentment. If I want to move back into God's peace, I have to clean house. I have to relinquish my "right" to hold onto those offenses and surrender them to God's much-better justice and wisdom. I need to move from my sticky-note list to the actual work of forgiveness.

The broader picture and beautiful benefits of this are spelled out in the rest of the verse I quoted above.

Colossians 3:14-15 "And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful."

- I am not acting in love by holding onto these hurts, no matter how deeply justified my hurt may be.
- It is love that creates a commerce of harmony between hearts. It is love that heals. I am not acting in love by holding stubbornly to this list. God's love is all around me, poured out to me like Niagara in flood, but I am letting it lie on the floor, not taking it up, because I am holding other things in my heart. His love heals, and makes possible the love that flows between hearts.
- Letting the peace of Christ...I used to hear that like, "May the peace..." as if it were a benedictory wish from the author to readers. Now I see that in that one small word lies a wealth of choice, determination and opportunity. I have to choose to allow the peace of Jesus Christ to operate in my heart through the avenue of forgiveness. My willingness is the key that will open the door to His peace.
- And be thankful. My eyes need to move from the hurts of the past to the face of Jesus. My heart will rest in His peace when I fill my thoughts with gratitude, rather than rehashing or clinging to past hurt.

These hurts are big, and beyond my strength. I cannot, in my own abilities, do the heavy work of rooting them up and moving them out. I just have to be willing to look at them, and then let go of them. Once I do that, God will do the heavy lifting.

Sometimes, the process is quick. Sometimes, it is a layered work that takes place over time.

I see now that I will not move out of this stuck, clotted place until I let this process begin.

One of the best quotes I've ever heard is: "Refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and waiting for the other guy to die." It is so true. Holding onto hurt and resentment, nurturing them and clutching them close...it only hurts me. It keeps me from really wonderful things that God wants to do in my heart and my life.

So, this is me, preparing to do the hard and scary thing; preparing to tear off the locks and start letting the big things out of their closet. And you know what? I'm pretty sure that God is already sitting in that moment, with a heart full of tender love, ready to meet me there. He will not leave me to face these hard things alone. He will hold me close through it all.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Beginning and Ending With Thanks

My greatest battles take place inside my own head.

The giants I wrestle with most often are hurt, resentment and a complaining attitude. It is so easy to fall into those traps. My mind can be spinning in toxic spirals without my even realizing that I've gone there, yet again.

So... how do I fight the battle for my mind?

The stock answer would be, "Just pray. That will solve it."

But it's not always that simple.

Prayer can take many tones. There are whiny prayers, and resentful prayers, and angry prayers. Praying angrily or resentfully does not help to pull my mind out of its unhealthy track. Toxic prayer does not heal.

I have a long journey with this struggle, and I have learned a few things. Many would say that if you're having a bad attitude about someone, you should pray for them. That can work, or it can just be a continuation of the same destructive thoughts, dressed up in spiritual clothes. Complaining about someone in prayer is no different than complaining about them in my own head. Praying angry prayers about someone can feel like flinging sharp rocks at their head. Spiteful prayer is ugly.

Angry, resentful, complaining, whiny prayers do not help move a person to a more healthy inner space.

What does help?

Here is what I have learned:

When I am in that space of toxic spinning, the only thing that will stop it and send me in a fresh direction is to focus entirely on God. Talking to Him about my resentments does not help if my attitude still stinks. Talking to Him about the beauty of His own character helps tremendously!
Singing worship songs, even silently in my mind, helps. Recalling Bible verses about God's love and faithfulness helps also.

In my struggles with sleep, I have learned that the moment my mind goes still it will leap to upsetting places. It will either fling me into some painful place about the death of our son, or it will dig up hurtful words and dismissive actions that have come my way. Either one is sure to kick my adrenaline, which guarantees that I will not sleep for a couple more hours. Reading the Bible just before I go to sleep often helps to circumvent this cycle. I have the Bible on my Kindle, which sits next to the bed. If I put my thoughts on God's Word just before I sleep, that puts me in a better frame of mind and helps me to downshift from the day.

There is still the moment after I've put down the Kindle, when I'm settled and ready for sleep. What I'm thinking of as I drift off makes all the difference. For me, if I start praying about issues or for people at that point, it can wind me up all over again. The one thing that works is...gratitude.

The same is true in the morning. If I can plant gratitude in my mind before it has a chance to take any other tack, it sets a better tone for the entire day.

Gratitude is not fancy, but it works. All I do, as I lie in bed, slowly waking up, is to say, "Thank you," in my mind. I do the same at night. When I'm all settled, and drifting toward sleep, I simply think, "Thank you, Jesus. Thank you."  It doesn't have to be thanks for anything specific. Simply saying thank you is enough.

This, making my last and first thoughts be words of thanks, has helped me more than anything else.

I do still deal with skirmishes inside my mind during the day, but it truly does make a difference if I begin the day by pointing my heart toward gratitude.


Seeing life in Depression hair

I've been frustrated with my hair recently. No matter how carefully I gather it up, and bind it into my braid, there is this chunk tha...