Hurt to Healing

Former teachers do silly things. As much as I have told students over the years that vocabulary is best acquired by reading, hearing and using words rather than through dictionary exercises, this former teacher stillIMG_0882 found herself going to a dictionary when one certain word kept circling my mind. The word was “pain.” But, not the physical type of pain that we usually associate with that word, though that certainly is a terrible thing. Instead, I was looking for insights into the emotional and mental type of pain. That seems a far more complicated issue to me. Or, maybe I just seek for answers because this is the type of pain with which I am most familiar.

Webster provides the following among its definitions of pain: “acute mental or emotional distress or suffering:  grief.” Really? Grief is a synonym of emotional pain? I considered that for a moment. I have always thought of grief as the process of dealing with and recovering from a loss. But, isn’t every moment of emotional pain I have ever experienced the result of dealing with a loss? There is pain in the loss of relationship. There is pain in the loss of justice. There is pain in the loss of significance. There is pain in the loss of a dream.

So, perhaps healing from emotional pain means that I must go through the entire experience of grieving the loss that caused the pain. Many people have written about the stages of grief since Kübler-Ross identified them. There seems to be general agreement that stages of grief are not necessarily sequential and some stages may repeat numerous times. For me, though, the stage of denial has always been a particular favorite. I pretend that I am not in distress and try to continue as though there was no hurt. Some degree of denial – or rather numbness – may have its place when an extremely hurtful life event contains simply too much pain to absorb all at one time. Yes, a degree of numb denial might allow me to weather an initial shock. But, if I stay in that state, I know I’ll have no hope of healing.

And, healing is exactly what is needed for recovery from emotional pain. I don’t just “get over it” as time goes by. Yes, time is involved, but so is intentionality. I believe that healing occurs best in community; but I also know that when the hurt or disappointment is the greatest, I am most likely to isolate myself. I need someone outside myself to begin the process.

A very dear friend of mine has ongoing back issues. Left to her own devices and without intervention, her pain grew increasingly debilitating. But, with the aid of a surgeon who did what she could not by cutting away much of the source of the pain, there is now hope for a healing that goes beyond a simple masking of symptoms. I believe that emotional pain works the same way. After owning and experiencing the pain that I carry, I need to allow the surgeon – or rather the Great Physician, Jehovah-Rapha, the Lord who Heals – to reveal and then to cut away from within my heart the source of my hurts, disappointments and grief. Pain will never be completely eliminated in this earthly life. But, I can open my heart to the surgery. Then the Great Healer and Restorer can take whatever remains and use it in a way only He could imagine, returning me in the process to a place of joy.

Admit the pain is there. Open yourself to the surgery. Experience healing. Joy will return. How do I know? Been there, done that.

Mixed Metaphors

I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw it.

I often take walks around the neighborhood, and recently have been attempting to use these walks as times to communicate with my Father God.  On one particular day this past week, I spent a brief time thinking about the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” It’s not that I spend much time thinking about hymns, because I don’t. But, this hymn had been brought to my attention two or three times in the previous few days – and by separate people – so I thought maybe it was time to pay attention.

I have long loved picturing a fortress as the place to hide from potential harm.  In my mind though, I imagine a fortress as a giant stone structure – cold and imposing, preferably – into which one runs and cowers while waiting for the impending threat to pass. During a tempest or a battle, a fortress sounds wonderful.  But, my imagined fortress has use only during the time of danger.  I never really thought about the purpose a fortress would have after the immediate crisis is averted.

So, I tend to more often think that the metaphor of the vine and the branches better fits the Christian life.  That sounds so much warmer and inviting.  A living plant is far less forbidding than an imposing stone edifice. And, a vine makes a beautiful metaphor. After all, how much more connected to God can we be than a branch is to a vine?  The branch has the very life of the vine running through its veins.


But, this day, with many near and dear to me enduring unimaginable difficulties, I pictured only the fortress, and thought of the old hymn. Until I rounded the corner.

There, the fact that a fortress and a vine are not mutually exclusive concepts was boldly proclaimed in front of my eyes. A rugged stone retaining wall, very fortress-like, protected me from the winds as I turned that corner.  But, appearing to grow from within that very wall grew a vine. A living growing vine. A vine just as protected from the winds as I was because its branches connected leaf by leaf, tendril by tendril, to the stone.

I stopped for a time, just gazing at the vine interwoven with the texture of the stone.  As the wind changed direction and began to whip my hair around my face, the vine remained unmoved.  And, in that moment, my metaphor changed.  I want to be a living, growing connected branch.  But, I want to be solidly anchored in that immovable stone. A mixed metaphor. Where no winds can change my direction and where protection exists for all of life’s storms.  The storms are here, and they certainly will continue. But for the branches anchored in the vine and clinging to the stone – well, they will just keep living and growing and holding steadfastly to their fortress.

Beyond the Rainclouds

Though I lived in Florida for a short time as a toddler, the rest of my years prior to my 2014 relocation to Florida were spent in the Midwest. As a Midwesterner, my view of Florida weather was formed during short vacation trips to the Sunshine State. I viewed Florida as a land where seasons were marked simply by the change in the level of the humidity and each day brought the possibility of a cloudburst, after which the sun would quickly return.

But on a day last week, I learned the potential schizophrenia of Florida weather. I was working from home in the morning hours, but woke to a beautiful sunrise, so I decided to delay breakfast and take an early morning walk. During the time it took to tie the laces of my walking shoes, the sun had disappeared and a downpour had begun. No problem. I would just work without the distraction of the sun luring me outdoors. As I set aside my work a few hours later, I saw that the sun was once again shining. I pulled on the walking shoes once again, and once again a downpour was in progress before I could make it out the door. The sun returned as I ate lunch, so I headed quickly out the door – only to feel the clouds obscure the sun within the first two minutes. And, shortly afterwards, the rain once again began to fall.

At least two more times that day, I repeated the cycle of beautiful sunshine followed by gray downpours. The weather was in a more rapid cycle of change than any I had seen during the seventeen months I have been here. As I thought back, I had not seen a day like this on previous visits either.

Ah, those previous visits. My mind went back to those days when I had to catch an airplane just to enjoy the Florida weather. I would leave the Midwest with snow on the ground and, after a couple of hours above the clouds, I’d arrive to the humid warmth and inevitable rainshowers of Florida life. I loved those flights, especially when I had a window seat. I loved to view the sunny tops of clouds as I was transported from one world to another.

And then I realized. While above the clouds, the sun always was shining. The variance in weather – from snow to rain, from cloudy to clear, from humid to dry – is not noticed above the clouds. That weather is visible from theIMG_4790 perspective of life on the ground. Regardless of the weather in my life, there exists a place that transcends my current storms and where light of the sun persists. Storms that I face do not have the power to eliminate the sunlight; they merely temporarily obscure my view of it.  I get it, God.  I can be confident that through each storm I face, You remain as unchanging as the sun beyond the clouds.

James 1:17 (ESV) Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Why Chapter Two (and not Twenty-two)?

One would think that in the decades I have been alive, I would not be just now talking about entering “Chapter Two” of my life.  But, every part of my future is so vastly different than every part of my past that it seems logical to me to lump the entire past together.  (Maybe I actually am entering Volume II!  But, stating it that way makes me feel ancient.)  I feel new in many ways, as though I have just turned to a fresh clean page in this book that is my life.  So, Chapter Two it is!

Some of the very best characters in Chapter One of my life will make an appearance in Chapter Two.  Those continuing with me into this new season include my God, my children, my mother, my sisters (and their families), and some very special friends. The Midwestern setting of Chapter One has been left behind.  And, I fully intend to leave the baggage of unhealthy relationships and the lack of a clear perspective of my purpose firmly in that last chapter.

Appropriate for a clean-slate start, Chapter Two begins on an entirely different set. A late-in-life divorce resulted in a sudden relocation to a place 1300 miles away from familiarity.  The domino effect is that the nature of many relationships has altered, and the word “family” has required a new definition, so the cast of characters continues to expand. But, the central theme of this new chapter of my life will no longer revolve around me trying to please other people enough for them to give me the enduring relationship for which I long.  In Chapter Two, I am fully cognizant that only God’s love endures.  And, the irony is that it is this very understanding that allows me the best opportunity to have loving, lasting human relationships, because  I am left free to simply enjoy others with no expectations and no disappointment.  God meets expectations, and He does not disappoint!

Hello, new chapter!

A new chapter implies that at least one chapter has already been experienced.  I consider Chapter One of my life to be the first 55.5 years of my time on earth.  When that chapter closed, all of life as I knew it changed – completely and irrevocably.  I have now spent 30 months orienting myself to this sudden change of direction and I have nearly regained my footing. I am ready to proceed with the many new experiences in the adventures of this second chapter.  And the latest “new” thing is this – my first attempt at a blog!

So, welcome to my Chapter Two!