I woke up and could not breathe. Finally, the events of the last 11 months paralyzed me, I couldn’t swallow, my smart watch was pinging me with warnings, but the chest pain did that first. Lack of oxygen was making me dizzy. I laid there for what felt like forever before I was able to inhale deeply enough to fill my lungs with life giving air.
The time had come, all of it hit me, activated all the things, fear, despair, helplessness, and even some hopelessness. I simply reached critical mass with the bad, and like Jeremiah (we think) wrote, I felt extremely walled in on every side. My hope in the goodness of people was evaporating right in front of my eyes, but one thing was clear, I was afraid.
I walked to my refrigerator and emptied the last remaining drips of cream in my coffee. “I need to get some food in this house”, I thought. But then immediately “no, cash is king, it is not time for you to order food, eat some beans from the pantry.”
And this was the moment that I knew I had to get behind the microphone and capture what PTSD activation actually looks like. Even though that thought is about as illogical as it can be in my personal situation, it RULED me, and as of the writing of this blog, four days later, I just placed an order for food.
I try not to ignore that still small voice when I sense it, and I knew that even if it were for ONE person, I needed to capture this “walk back” to Truth, as I call it, in real time. The “walk back” is literally me processing fear as I have learned in counseling, and focusing on the Star of my story, Jesus. The “walk back” also includes community, and I reached out to them too.
There is so much power in these words: “I am not okay”. And I wasn’t okay, and so I got behind that mic and this is a written version of what was recorded.
Jesus is truly the star of all of our stories, and I will spend my last breath telling the world so.
I am solo on the mic today after not being able to shake the desire and a prompting to share a message with you. Many of you may be in the same boat I am in, overwhelmed by information, exhausted by processing it, and fearful of the consequences of all of it.
This is essentially a PTSD patient processing fear in real time. It may be just for me, but my guess is there are many of you out there who are navigating your own waters of confusion and concern. Because 2020 has provided plenty of opportunities for fear to murky the waters of our faith.
Shallow water is murky, it is the deep waters that provide clarity, and so I swim out to the deep, clear water. I am terrified of the depths of the unknown. I swim out because fear is stealing my peace, killing my desire to matter in this world, and destroying my body. Just as the Bible describes the author of all confusion will do, he comes to kill and destroy. But I know that the Star of this story is NOT the author of confusion, and so I swim.
If you are like me, walking through this season may feel a little bit like trying to keep your head above water in a rip current. The water threatens to steal the air from my lungs if I attempt to take a deep breath. Treading water is becoming harder because of this paralytic that we call fear. The water is cold, very much like the world feels right now. Waves are crashing into the earth with an anger I understand. Even though God has proved Himself faithful over and over, I am terrified, and in so many ways, it is difficult to pinpoint why.
I know that before I can process this fear, that other things are standing in line first, they are all friends of fear, they destroy in tandem, anger requires my attention first.
I know that this anger is turned inward as I can’t think of a single person that is the reason for my ire. This anger is mixed with its buddy guilt. How can I be so fearful? After all, I have published 16 episodes on PTSD and talk about the Star of the story, His redemption, His goodness, His love and the miracle that is me. How much more does God have to actually DO before I trust Him even in these times, the times when everything is out of my range and out of my control, but stands to heavily affect how I live my life?
“Is my faith too weak or my God too small?”, I ask my myself.
I know my God is not small.
The battle rages, and confusion fills the empty spaces because I truly don’t understand after all that God has done for me in my life how I can still be so afraid. I am so angry at myself.
So, I am trying to keep my head above water, murky or clean, I know I can’t breathe buried under anger and fear. So, I decide how to not drown. It may just be my head, but it is above water as I tread and work hard to be ok. And I am ok.
THEN JESUS. I know there is this tiny green sprout of Hope in my heart, and it looks a lot like faith in the sovereignty of God, and then I remember the promises of Psalm 139, and peace begins to sweep over me. I can’t go anywhere that He is not with me, His creation, fearfully and wonderfully made.
This passage serves as a life preserver for me, and then I know I can stop trying so hard. I grab on to these promises and experience rest, because my sovereign God is in control.
However, I am discouraged that I still have to “walk back” these fears. Somehow I blame myself, but the reality is God has decided to leave these fears and these experiences in the manuscript of my life, and in some ways that is an honor.
Suddenly those spaces filled with doubt, anger and paralytic fear begin to be filled with a stronger presence of the Star of the story. The promises of Matthew 7 serve as another life preserver, “Do not worry about tomorrow because tomorrow has enough troubles of its own”.
I stop treading water and hold on to my tandem life preserver of these two scriptures given to us by the Star of the story.
Because my faith is fine, my God is bigger than I can ever imagine. I can feel fear and thank Him for it, because it is often a gift, pushing me into a sweet commune at the foot of the cross. The air is good there, it fills my lungs without me even knowing.
And so, “I choose to take this walk by faith, I will walk on”.
No shame in fear, just beauty in the relationship with the Star of my story.
I looked around my brand-new house and wondered how I was going to pay for it. I paced as I made twelve of the most difficult phone calls of my life. As COVID-19 made its presence known to all of us, I had to furlough my entire team, and then I climbed on my couch and literally fell asleep in a puddle of tears. I woke up in a fetal position. It seemed as though my entire twenty -six-year career had merely vanished with the arrival of a pandemic.
I try to anticipate the hits, but like everyone else on this planet, I never saw this one coming. The days and weeks that followed were no different for me than they were for everyone else as we watched not only our country but the entire world literally locked down and shelter in place orders made the danger of the pandemic all the more real.
I slept a lot those first few weeks in between binges of news where I tuned in to ascertain if there was going to be any help for businesses like ours. I cried a little more than I slept, and spent a lot of time, literally, on my knees. I had not been there in a long time. My prayer life had been more about managing disappointment than actually asking God for anything. I’d ask him to comfort the sick and dying, I couldn’t dig deep enough to ask for a miracle for anything—even though every day I look a miracle in the mirror. My prayers were more tears than anything and it wasn’t just about potentially losing my career, but it was the loss of an entire team of people and last but not least the people dying of the virus broke my heart in a million pieces.
A few weeks ago, I was asked in an interview about the difficulty of 2020. My answer came fast and it was one word: helpless. “I have never felt more helpless”, I answered. One of the follow up questions pertained to a prayer strategy for this season. As I was preparing for that speaking opportunity, it required examination of my “prayer life”. I had an answer, it remained to be seen if I shared with the people listening about my managing disappointment approach to talking AT God. That answer was sure to fall flat among women who had come to a night of worship and encouragement. Anyone who knows me knows I am going to be authentic when it comes to these things, but I am grateful that before I got on that stage, some real work was done in my War Room, which I accidentally designated the place where I’d beg God for miracles. My requests of Him in that room were never about my business, career or livelihood. My request of the most high God, in my closet turned communications headquarters, was for someone I don’t even know.
Casey Gray is a young man in his late twenties who contracted the virus and at one point was on not one but two “ECHMO” machines—essentially a heart and lung bypass machine. The call from his friends and family landed on social media and I was absolutely there for the fight. Friends organized a twenty-four-hour prayer chain, and I signed up for an hour. When my time came, I walked into my closet and started my normal talking AT God and asking, in advance, for God to comfort his family for WHEN Casey died. But then something shifted inside of me. The last fifty minutes of my allotted time was this experience that cannot be explained. “But what if God really did this thing, saved this kids life, what if?” I wrote Casey’s name on a piece of paper and hung it up on wall in my closet. As the days followed and Casey’s life hung in the balance, I experienced for the first time in a long time what it meant to what it meant to talk TO God. Each time I walked in that closet (which dubs as my laundry room) I would pray for Casey and his wife Savannah. Before I knew it, I was adding pieces of paper to that wall, other people’s names, and even some personal “big asks” of God. I begged God for a miracle, and there were so many times the updates from the hospital that should have shifted my request of God again, because the situation with Casey got very scary and as the updates and pleas for prayer came in, I just turned up the volume and added tears and even landed, literally on my knees, begging God for a miracle.
But somehow it wasn’t about Casey anymore, this was about God and me. He was healing my wounded soul and building something in me that had not been there for a very long time: Faith that He is Who He says He is. More tears fell, except this time I was not curled up in a fetal position on my couch, but in a room designated for war, and that is exactly what happens there. God is so faithful to still listen to us, regardless of how cynical we have gotten, He is still God and He hears us. The question really becomes this: do we (I) hear Him, or have we organized our “prayer life” in a way that essentially manipulates the God of the universe to do what WE want instead of “not my will but Yours”?
My washer in that War Room flooded twice after I made it the place where God and I spend sweet time together. After the second time, I added more paper, more names, and spent more time in there. It is refreshing as I ask for miracles these days rather than managing disappointment.
Casey’s life was spared and at the time of this writing, he has a long way to go, but God heard us and answered our prayers in the way that seemed right and just to us. Thousands of people prayed for this young man, few of us know him. But we understood and understand that God would still be amazingly good had the outcome been different. This is where the examination of my motives for prayer was important. And I encourage all who understand this need for God and His miracles (however they look) to try talking. TO Him, because He still speaks in ways you will only know if you give Him a chance.
New to the blog? Amy is a trauma survivor and creator of podcast Wednesdays With Watson, where she shares her journey with PTSD while writing a memoir to give Hope to others who have lived through trauma.
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Eighteen was the magic number.
Once I was eighteen, the state couldn’t keep her from contacting me, or vice versa. I worked hard to forget what it felt like to see that note on the door that got the state involved in the first place. It was a warm April day and after an investigation and arrest of her live in boyfriend, the state had deemed her competent to take care of me, and so the social workers, a few plastic bags of clothes and me headed to the place my mom lived, I am not sure I ever called it home. As soon as the social worker put the car in park, I saw the pink note on the door, and I knew it wasn’t good. I didn’t even get out of the car, but the nice lady did a poor job of hiding the familiar handwriting on the sticky note–“Gone To Get Married. Mom”. Her boyfriend had been released from jail and apparently, they both skipped town. My eyes still water a little as I write these words, my stomach drops, and the same thoughts go through my mind….” How, why, what did I do?”
I have since forgiven her but in no way have, I forgotten, not in the true sense of the word and my soul bears the scars of that decision that she made, my very being remembers, there has been no forgetting. And so, the subscription to the thought process that “forgiving is forgetting” was not a good thing and before I attempt to tell you my forgiveness story, I can absolutely say to you that forgiving is not forgetting.
It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that I wanted contact with her when I turned 18. Daughters want their moms and I was no different, and so 6 months after my 18th birthday, I saw her for the first time since she abandoned me 3 years prior. It was my high school graduation, where I delivered a valedictorian speech, and avoided eye contact with her in the audience. I found Mom McGowan in the crowd, it was her smile and glitter in her eyes that lowered my heart rate so that I could deliver a speech on Phil 1:6—About how God always finishes the work He starts in all of us, writing this story is a fulfillment of that very scripture. It was June 6th, 1990.
Just a little over 1 year later, I stood in an ICU unit staring at her in a hospital bed. Her body was covered with tubes and machines who’s sounds of beeps and whooshes told us that she was alive. I was in my first semester of my sophomore year of college and still lived 120 miles away from where she lay in the hospital, ironically, the same hospital where I was born—the place my life began, and now they were telling us that her life was ending. I had one weekend off a month and so I’d picked a cool fall weekend in October to spend with her in the ICU unit. I refused to leave, and the nurses took just as good care of a hurting kid as they did my mama, providing warm blankets, and snacks was their way of showing deep compassion for the decision that was coming for us. We were kids, but the decision to pull life support was necessary and I knew it, but on this weekend, I just wanted to be in the same room with the woman who gave me life. Maybe I could find some peace in between the beeps of the heart monitors and the swish sound of the ventilator. Maybe, just maybe I could forgive and figure out a way to forget like I had been taught, but I was pretty sure I was never going to forget 14 years of damage from her. But I didn’t want her to die and I had not told her that I forgave her, because I needed it to be true.
The hospital is situated just blocks from where we grew up, and the view from her room was familiar and so it was hard not to see the trauma places and not experience resentment and bitterness for the woman dying in the bed—the beeps of those machines told me I had more time—so I stood at that window all weekend trying to figure out how I could absolve her of all that she had done. After all, that is what I thought forgiveness meant, like literally just pretending it never happened.
When it came time for me to leave and go back to college, I stood as close to her bed as I had all weekend, I looked down at her hand, which was more bones than skin, I looked at her face, and even though she was intubated, I could see every single bad choice she ever made carved on a tired, and sad face. I thought about grabbing her hand before leaving the hospital to go back to school, in a way, it would have been my way of telling her that we were ok, but we weren’t ok, I still had questions and she was never going to wake up to answer them. The machine beeps had really been comforting often quieting my own racing brain as I both tried to say goodbye to my mom but also come to terms with her complete lack of care for us and that she never had and never would ask us to forgive her. So, I looked back down at her hand, watched her chest rise and fall, swallowed the bile that had invaded my throat and walked out of the hospital room. I couldn’t even bring myself to grab her hand. I wanted it all to be ok, it just was never ok. I knew she was dying, I hoped I would have another chance. I walked out of the hospital just in time for the wind to blow a coffee smell that assaulted my senses and definitely reminded me of the Jacksonville where all the trauma happened, the Maxwell House HQ across the river could tell so many stories. I cried as I drove back to school. I’d been told many times that I was to forgive, but that was included with words like “forget” or phrases like “treat the person like it never happened” and none of that seemed doable to me, all of it hurt in the deepest parts of me.
Just a few months later, I got the phone call and it wasn’t a surprise. Just ten days after I turned 20 years old, my sister called me at college and told me it was time, and they needed us to sign paperwork that meant we would be removing life support. I wasn’t even old enough to rent a car to drive to them, but I was faxing paperwork to the hospital giving them permission to remove life support. By the time I made it to Jacksonville the next morning, she was gone. She lived fifty minutes off of life support. We did the best we could to have some sort of memorial service, but it was all very obligatory and I couldn’t wait to get out of Jacksonville. I had no idea the darkest days were still very much in front of me.
As I attempted to grieve the death of my mama, I often was riddled with guilt of that memory of refusing to grab her hand—I was and am so sad that she stepped out into eternity thinking that I had not forgiven her, and she was right, I had not. At least I had not made any formal “transactions” to do so. Her exit off the planet kind of made forgiving her inconsequential, and I was still operating under a faulty definition of forgiveness, too. I could not meet those standards of forgiveness, so I stopped trying.
I went back to school and did what I do, hit the gas, lived life wide open avoiding thinking of my mom or my unforgiveness. I did make a vow to never leave things unresolved with another person again, and that no matter how badly a person hurt me, I would immediately “forgive” (whatever that meant I was there for it) and strove to avoid conflict at all costs. I never wanted to feel that pain of regret again.
Just four years later, I had married and was hopeful of a life different from the one I’d lived, I was never the girl that dreamt of a wedding or a family, every day seemed like a bonus to me, so when I met John Watson, I leaned into that and was determined to be loved, and to love with everything I had too. And, I had my companion of regret that would make me better at relationships, I was still determined to never feel the regret of unforgiveness again. And so, I tried to be perfect, I wanted to be everything he wanted and needed. He had demonstrated verbal abuse long before the first hit. I just absorbed the pain of his words, but determined to not hold it against him, or forgive him, or whatever would make me feel less fearful of that regret again. I loved him and I did not want to keep records of wrong-doings, I wanted my love for him to be I Cor 13 kind of love, I even had that read at our wedding. And so, I worked hard to just overlook all the things, in my “forgiveness” of his abusive behavior, I kept myself in the line of fire, and in a domestic violence situation, this can be deadly. That is how I understood forgiveness, we forget, and we move on with life, and so that is what I tried to do. This is NOT forgiveness.
Then the first hit came.
Nothing prepares you, though, for that first hit. I really can’t explain how confused I was. It didn’t stop after the first hit, it only ended after he locked me out of the house after dragging me to the door, the bleeding in my ear finally stopped and by that time he was knocking at my neighbor’s door where I went when he locked me out of the house, it was like nothing ever happened in his mind, and in mine, the throbbing of my nose and the bruise on my head felt nothing like the regret of withholding forgiveness. And so, I just marched on but that first hit has a strong fingerprint on my soul, that was the time I was convinced I was just on this planet to be mistreated by others. We never talked about it, the abuse just got more frequent over the years, and I kept “forgiving” him, but I was pretty sure that at some point, John was going to need to be forgiven 491 times, one more time than Jesus told Peter we were to forgive.
As the abuse got worse, he began to isolate me more, this need to “forgive” him subsided as did the freshness of that regret I had from my mom. I truly did not wish him harm but he was hurting me in the deepest, deepest parts of me, and eroding any self- worth I had left. He hurt me deeply with his words and his lack of care for me as his wife, shredded me. Seeds of hurt that I’d tried so hard to sweep off the surface of my heart began to take root and bitterness came. It was lonely, I’d not told a single soul that he was hitting me.
One night, I was sitting in the balcony of North Jacksonville Baptist Church at a Steven Curtis Chapman concert. I was there with a college buddy and it felt good to be in a church, I hadn’t been in one for a while. I enjoyed the concert but at the end I found myself unable to move, stunned and with tear- soaked tissues. SCC at the time had teamed up with an organization called “End of the Speer”—the organization is in support of missions to a tribe where 4 missionaries were murdered, most of them prominent missionaries (Nate Saint and Jim Elliott being two of them) in the Ecuadorian forest. They were brutally murdered by tribesmen with the actual death coming by way of the end of a spear. I’d heard the story before, maybe had even read the book, but I was not prepared for what SCC had for us that night.
As it turns out, Rachel Saint, Nate Saint’s sister went back to the village, and shortly thereafter her nephew, Steve Saint, joined her and together they were part of a team that did introduce the gospel to that tribe. I was stunned by the act of forgiveness and the compassion that the family of Nate Saint demonstrated to that tribe. I was pretty sure they hadn’t forgotten nor could they pretend that it never happened, but they clearly made some sort of transaction with God that equated love because that is what reached that tribe for Jesus. As I was processing that, and ignoring the rolling tears, I begged God to help me to forgive my mama and the monster that was waiting for me at home. Then….
SCC said “and I would like to introduce you Mincaye, he is the chief that killed Nate Saint. The man, short in stature, shuffled out to the state with a taller man, his interpreter, I thought. When Steve Saint began to translate the Mincaye’s story of his father’s murder I violently heaved with emotion. I was simply overtaken by the compassion of the man translating the chief’s story. As of that date, Steve Saint was still living among that tribe, building aircraft and flying in supplies for them—the tribe that took as he describes “his hero” out of his life when he was just ten years old. My friend sat quietly beside me and the entire church was silent as all of us tried to imagine this kind of forgiveness. The lyric in the song “Quiet Uptown” from the blockbuster Hamilton reminds me of what we were all thinking that night…..
“Forgiveness, can you imagine?”
“Surely, if they can forgive people that murdered their families, I can forgive mom and John….”
That was the night I started those transactions, but that is what they were transactions, the evaluation of the meaning of forgiveness and what needed to heal before I was even capable of making such a transaction.
It would have been easy to be motivated to forgive both of them by that feeling of regret I had after my mom died, but I truly wanted to forgive them and after what I saw on that stage, I knew it was possible for me to forgive both of them.
I would be lying if I told you that somewhere, deep inside, that my core motivation when I chose to pursue forgiving John was that our marriage would be restored, that he would get help and that the years of pain could be a distant memory, one that both of us used to help other people. But that isn’t how the story went and ultimately I did leave him, and he provided many more opportunities to forgive after I left, but I will never forget him saying the words “I am so sorry” with tears in his eyes, just before I left our home with a U-Haul filled with a fraction of my earthly belongings. I remembered that eternity is affected by decisions like this and on that day, the day I left, I can honestly say my words to him were accurate, as all I could muster was “I forgive you”, and then I left.
After a few years later and a LOT more trauma, I received a phone call that John had been found dead in a hotel room. He died alone and that made me sad and confused and every gamete of emotion but one thing I did not feel was regret.
I meant it when I told him I forgave him, but the years following were years of choices to do so, and my choices were driven by one thing, one thing I learned that night so many years before, a lesson demonstrated to me by the family of Nate Saint, on that stage at the SCC concert:
And that was the question that changed everything for me. “What happened to both of them? What hurt were they tending inside of them? Who or what broke them?”—those genuine questions turned into real compassion for both of them, I may never know the answer to those questions, even though I’d hoped one day to get that answer from John, that day was just never to come. I often tell people that I make transactions to forgive both of them, because for me it was never a one-time deal, the pain both of them dealt is real and it left scars, and so I often have to tend to the compassion a little more than the hurt in my heart. It keeps the seeds on hurt on top again, easily swept away by the gift of compassion.
A few years ago, I was sitting in a Maundy Thursday service at a church in Lecanto, Florida. Lecanto is not my home town, it is nowhere near my hometown and the fact that I moved there is kind of a miraculous story in itself, but it is a small town situated in a large county with little commercialism and most people have never heard of it. I tell you that because what happened next was the pinnacle of my decision to focus on compassion for their hurts thereby healing mine.
Because it was a Maundy Thursday service, it was a somber occasion and the pastor had a huge wooden cross at the front of the church. Each of us lined up with a piece of paper and a nail with the idea being to nail things to that cross that already covered it—things we couldn’t let go of, things that we wanted to symbolically crucify or more accurately remember Who was crucified so that all of it could be okay. And so I wrote “Mom & John” on my paper, got in line, nailed it to that wooden cross and made my way back to my seat. I closed my eyes and listened as others hammered their own pain to that cross, it was an amazing experience. And then, the tap on my shoulder…..
“Amy, I want you to meet someone” my friend said. I’d shared that End of Spear story with her for good reason, her name was Anne Saint Steve Saint’s daughter in law. She quickly reintroduced me to Steve Saint, who I had met before, but then I saw the man standing beside him.
Chief Mincaye. The man who shoved the end of the spear into the chest of Nate Saint. He was standing right there in front of me, in a big church in a little town in Florida. I was stunned, there it was redemption standing right in front of me. The product of compassion was standing right in front of me. I sobbed; they didn’t ask why—it didn’t matter. I was stunned at the opportunity to meet one of the men who killed 4 missionaries, and when we closed in a worship song, he didn’t understand a word of it, but his blood-stained hands were raised to the great redeemer of it all. And it reminded me of the song that SCC closed that concert with that night. Chief Mincaye sang the words that night in his native tongue…
“My Redeemer is faithful and true; my redeemer is faithful and true….”
So, what is forgiveness? Have I even answered the question for you? Probably not as I have a distain for the definitions, we normally hear about it, and we certainly are wrong when we tell people it is always a one- time decision, that it means that you will forget or even that you should not remove yourself from a toxic situation.
Most people aren’t going to like how I am able to forgive because it doesn’t seem fair, why should we have compassion on those that hurt us? Well, that Ecuadorian tribe is all following Jesus now, and had Rachel Saint not figured out a way to follow the compassion in her heart, who knows if they would have ever been reached. And that would have been tragic, just as tragic as a person who is living with those seeds of hurt burying themselves deeply into the hearts of people who can’t let it go. Love requires that you let it go, and spoiler alert, you still love the person that hurt you or it wouldn’t hurt. Love is final, and it requires you to find a way to forgive, and to live in that forgiveness and that redemption.
We see this in the Bible with Joseph, he forgave his brothers out of deep compassion for them even though they in no way deserved it. But the best example of all was Jesus. He felt such deep compassion for the very people who nailed Him to a tree, so much so that His words “Forgive them for they know not what they do” is so powerful.
Compassion, the secret sauce to forgiveness? Eph 4:32 mentions compassion before forgiveness because maybe that is what needs to happen first, I don’t know. But I do know that forgiving the trauma makers is healing to your heart, it has been to mine. Without viewing both of them through the lenses of compassion, and some information that came later, it would be so easy to live in the repercussions of what both of them did and live a substandard version of myself. But just like Jesus said in Jude 24-25, “turn, have compassion on them”…making a difference…”
Maybe you are that difference.
A very special person taught me one of my favorite verses and this is how I view the “unfairness” of …not offer a sacrifice that costs me nothing.(2 Samuel 24:24)
I realize that I may have left you with more questions than answers. But the reality is, I am telling you how and why I can forgive, not hold it against my mom and John and all the things that unforgiveness brings. I realize it doesn’t seem fair but I am grateful for the gift of compassion and love that allows me to share this powerful message of forgiveness. I reject typical definitions of forgiveness and especially in domestic violence situations strongly advise against subscribing to just standing in line for more pain. That isn’t forgiveness that is faulty logic. We all need to find a way to forgive, so the pain doesn’t just keep on giving. It is true that in order to be forgiven by God you have to forgive, but I submit to you that forgiveness is a fruit of being forgiven. And so, if you haven’t made a choice to trust in Jesus, please reach out to someone who can help you do that. You are so loved, and compassion spurs my heart to introduce you to the Star of my story, Jesus, the ultimate Forgiver.
Because he is Forgiveness, and HE is the reason we have compassion.
“It takes the ‘uber pain’ out of the memories”, he told me. Dr. Petit and I had been meeting for a little over a year, and while plenty of trust had been established, we were a long way from even scratching the surface of all of the trauma. Unfortunately, my ex-husband was still providing plenty more trauma requiring me to return to court to petition a life time restraining order. He continued to threaten my life and I pretty much lived as a hermit. I was still teaching and honestly, it was that job and those kids that got me through my days.
But once a week, I would leave right after work and drive over the bridge to St. Petersburg and have a one- hour session with Dr. Petit. It was my deal with Crissy and so I kept it. I didn’t hate it. If you have listened to the podcast with Dr. Petit, know that he is as kind and gentle as his voice. Over the course of my life, I’d seen many counselors and I did not trust any of them. Many times, I could outsmart them, fully understanding that they were looking to diagnose me with something that a pill alone could fix. Nobody wanted to admit that they didn’t know what to do with me or my story. Until Dr. Petit followed an urging on his heart to seek to not only understand my trauma, but to help me heal from it.
He and I were still in triage mode as I mentioned, my ex-husband only turned up the volume of the threats after I was hospitalized for five days. I was heavily medicated after that hospitalization, and that was a good thing, numb was good. My body was tired, and it was responding in kind. I was medically hospitalized multiple times in those two short years, and many times spent time on heart monitors connected to the pagers of world class cardiologist at Tampa General Hospital. It was not an awesome time.
When Dr. Petit mentioned to me that he was going to go for more training in additional therapies, I was definitely up for it. He explained the science of it (much of it covered in podcast) I was hooked. I have an undergrad degree in Biology, I was a high school science teacher, so he was speaking my language! He explained to me how trauma interrupts how the two sides of the brain exchange information, he immediately gave me hope that my broken brain could be fixed. I had settled nicely in the thought process that life was as good as it was ever going to be for me, so even a glimmer of hope was salt and light.
It was only recently that I learned why Dr. Petit went for this additional training, he went for one of his friends and ME; he said it was the first time he was prompted to complete new training by a person and not a professional mandate. I really can’t form the words of gratitude to both God and Dr. Petit for that, because those therapies have saved my life. But like everything else, it’s work, it’s not easy. You have to WANT to get better.
EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitation and Reprocessing) was on deck first. The second part of the podcast with Dr. Petit has yet to air, but he will explain this as my goal here is only to tell you of my experience with specifically EMDR.
Essentially, EMDR heals the brain allowing our emotional brains and our logical brains to communicate again. When trauma occurs, often times, that traumatic memory gets stuck on a loop in our emotional brains. The logical side doesn’t get a say in the matter because of literal damage to the brain. The war may be over, but the patient has not gotten that memo. Patients are then ruled by emotions and debilitating results of such. That was me. All kinds of memories and lies I believed were indeed stuck in that emotional side, and I had zero ability to believe anything but what my brain told me. My brain was not telling me nice things. My hope was weak anyway, but before EMDR I was just going through the motions again, the only difference was this time I was medicated.
My first EMDR session must have been in late 2009. Dr. Petit, in true form, had found a way to invite God into the process, and so the truths we wanted to “weave” into both sides of my brain FIRST needed to be truths that would never change, ever. I chose the promise of Psalm 139. I chose it BECAUSE I DID NOT BELIEVE IT. After establishing that truth through EMDR therapy, the first trauma we processed was related to my ex-husband and all the pain related to him. If Dr. Petit could help take away the ‘uber pain’ of anything, John Watson was top on my list. As I was sharing one of the many stories with him, immediately three words just popped in my head “I deserved better”. I said it out loud and Dr. Petit sat back in his chair a little stunned (as was I) that in just the first session, a truth we had not even planned just came bursting through all the lies. “Yes, you did deserve better, he said” and suddenly I believed that was true. All the lies that easily ruled me now hit a wall of truth, because I did deserve better.
After a successful “weave” like this was for me, every time an intrusive memory from that time in my life enters my conscious my logical brain shoots that strong emotional brain a message: “YOU DESERVED BETTER”, and that is almost always what flushes me with peace when I think of that time in my life.
I left his office that day, a believer in EMDR, and now almost 12 years later, I can honestly say that this therapy and my doctor’s wisdom in introducing God in the process is the reason I am here to write this to you today.
This game is long and the mission is impotant.
You are the mission. And so we will keep shouting Hope from where we are.
I should not be alive, I get that. I understand the responsibility that comes with surviving.
I will always be grateful that I get the opportunity to share Jesus when I tell my story. People often get overwhelmed by the gravity of the trauma and they lose the coolest part of the story, the redemption part. If you are walking life with me you are literally watching ALL things become NEW, one of the most precious promises of the Bible-and this is just the beginning of the redemption– not to be compared to eternity! That is true in your life too, it’s easy to focus on the suffering and the pain, and we so often forget the gift of redemption and the opportunity to further the gospel through our response to suffering.
Every time I get the opportunity to tell even portions of my story, I always try to remember to declare my mission: I just want to be a good steward of the pain. I would not choose most of the things that I have suffered, but I also would not ask for those things to be taken away, they have been a gift to me and I want to be a good steward of that gift.
I want Him to find me faithful in using the gift of pain. It’s terrifying though, surviving trauma seems easy comparatively speaking. But I know that He has called me and therefore has equipped me not only with lessons learned from trauma, but giftings that we all have. I am a teacher at heart with a passion that is second only to a love affair with learning. I love digging in with other learners and there is nothing that dumps the dopamine more than watching “A HA” moments! But my passion gets buried with owning a business, surviving multiple health issues and living in this neighborhood we call adulthood. I am not a fan of this hood, for the record.
Speaking of gifts, I am reminded of the precious gift of friendship. I have always been really fortunate in the friends department, I didn’t think it could get better or even different, but 2019 brought my friends out brighter than ever, and I needed them more than ever. I finished the year with friends I didn’t start the year with and new friendships grew quickly and I became aware at how awesome our God is to give us the friends we have whether it be for a reason, season or lifetime. Some of those new friendships were made in the most unconventional way –utilizing social media and a shared passion. As a result, I spent the year with amazing people in my life pouring wisdom and encouragement into me, and suddenly these people, some of whom I have never even met, became part of my almost daily life. The realization of such pushed me to question, could the gift of pain, and the gift of friendship somehow coincide with my passion to teach?
If you have the right friends, you can only avoid them for so long, and if you have two of my friends, you downright feel bullied after they throw down their gauntlet. Both of them are fairly familiar with my relatively non complaint nature, and so they use their gauntlets sparingly, and so when it’s thrown down, I listen.
“You need to be teaching” was the edict from both of them. Really, they were only giving a voice to the desires of my heart.
Could Wednesdays With Watson have a whole new meaning?!
If you are interested in joining an online Bible study, I would love to have you! We will use a universal video application for the study, it will be topical so there is no need to purchase a book of any kind (just need you and your Bible). I would LOVE if any of you also have a passion for teaching that can pinch hit for me in the event that my work or health requires me to miss a class. We will likely meet on Wednesdays, but much will be determined by the people that want to attend. I would count it an honor to spend time with any of you who want to dig deep into Jesus and go where He takes us! Details with be forthcoming, as so much depends on interest level.
There are two ways to let me know if you are interested. Preferred method is email at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can DM/PM me.
“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect. I Peter 3:15
I am so eager to share with you the reason for the Hope that is within me and I would love to hear the reason for the Hope within you too!
They were serial killers, both of them. They were also the people my mom chose to babysit my sister and me. Regardless of where we were, I was happy if it wasn’t at home with an emotionally absent mom and an abusive step-father.When we were at home we were padlocked in a room for hours every day. Generally speaking, being away from home also guaranteed us a meal or two–we did not get that in the prison room.
Henry Lee Lucas and Otis Toole ultimately admitted to hundreds of murders, one of them being my step-sister, but most notably Adam Walsh. Both men were friends with my step-father and so we saw them often. We were responsible for feeding ourselves, so my sister and I worked odd jobs. One of my jobs was cleaning the serial killers’ house. I was seven years old and have vivid memories of washing dishes standing on a step stool. I often feel fortunate to be alive.There really isn’t a logical explanation that either one of them did not add us to their murder roster.Even though I didn’t know it at the time, this was a time God showed up. His will trumped the unspeakable evil in those men and as a result I am alive to tell you about the faithfulness of God.He is, indeed, faithful and so good regardless of how it looks.
Otis Toole was arrested for the murder of Adam Walsh and Henry Lee Lucas disappeared after he killed my step-sister.Eventually they both ended up on death row where they died of natural causes. But, their arrest did not protect me from other men abusing me. My mom continued to send us to unsafe places with unsafe people.Ultimately, because of her neglect, there would be 7 different men who decided I was their property.At about age 7, I decided to pick where I was going to hang out, but even I picked unsafe places.And it was at that age abuser number one stole my innocence along with the innocence of several other kids in the same room.For years, I could not remember who the man in the room was. There were so many nights I fell asleep talking to the air, hoping somebody was listening.
About 3 years later, I was at my friend’s house when we opened the door to a man and a woman offering free candy if we wanted to go to church. To be honest, I viewed going to church as another place I could be that wasn’t home.I was all about jumping on that yellow bus and going to church.What I found there changed the course of my life forever.That “Air” I had been talking to had a name and it was Jesus, and He had a plan for my life. The people at church told me I was important and valuable.I’d never felt so loved.Every time the doors were open, I was at church.As it would turn out many years later, God used that church and those people for a season of my life when I had nobody but them.God continued to remain faithful and I know that knock on the door changed everything for me.However, it was difficult to reconcile how a “good” God could allow all that happened to me up until that point.I wanted to know this Jesus and as I sought to know Him, I clung to His promise to never leave me because everyone else had.
My mom continued to bring danger into our home. Ultimately, the state got involved and removed me from her care. They told her if she would make her pedophile boyfriend leave that they would bring me back home. She agreed, and I was elated that she’d chosen me over the man that would have been the 8th person to abuse me. The social workers drove me to our house and from the car I could see a yellow sticky note on the glass front door.The note had 5 words on it: “Gone to get married, Mom.” Those five simple words made me an orphan, alone and abandoned by the one who gave me life and should have loved me. The social workers walked me back to the car, their tears matching mine.
They drove straight to the courthouse where I watched the judge sign off on paperwork terminating my mom’s parental rights. I literally belonged to nobody, except the state of Florida.I stayed with my pastor and his family for 18 months before being placed in a children’s home in Tampa, Florida.
I often tell people that the years I spent at the children’s home were some of the best years of my life. However, when my foster parents dropped me off there, it felt like another abandonment.My already fragile heart shattered into a million pieces as I watched them drive away from the children’s home. The first weeks were brutal, but my faithful God provided for me from the first day.I was immediately loved and cherished by the people there, and that was a time when the Air I’d been praying to felt palatable to me; it felt like He just picked me up and carried me.By the time I got to the children’s home it felt like I’d lived 3 lifetimes.But the truth is I’d only traveled around the sun 14 times. I’d survived more trauma than most people would see in a lifetime.But He was still there, He changed the narrative and got me out of situations where abusive people would be added to my roster.Even at that young age, I understood that I would not survive all that happened without Him, and I was and am confused as to how people live their lives without Him.
While at the children’s home, I had many opportunities to tell my story, and I did. We traveled to churches around the country and I would stand in front of hundreds of people and tell the story of the serial killers. I testified that neither one of them hurt me, because that is what my memory told me.
But memory is a weird thing and once I was safe at the home, I began to remember other things that I’d buried in a memory bank that I wished was permanently closed.Even so, I thrived there and after graduating from college, I moved back to Jacksonville where I met and married the next name to be added to my roster.
By the time Henry Lee Lucas died in 2001, I had all but forgotten about him, but remained fearful of the things that would withdraw itself from my memory bank.By that time, I was in the throes of an abusive marriage. There were times I wished the serial killers would have chosen me for one of their victims. I’d survived 7 different abusers as a child and now was living with, being hit by, and controlled by a monster.
The prison room of my childhood was merely replaced by a prison house where I was isolated from friends and got very good at hiding bruises for when I was allowed to leave the house. He’d crowned himself both judge and jury and his game was isolation. He craved power and knew that controlling me was controlling the narrative of our crazy lives. I no longer trusted the faithfulness of God. The pain was too much and I began to believe that I was alive for the sole purpose of being the prey of others.I stopped going to church, stopped reading my Bible, and I definitely stopped talking to the Air. I survived by self-medicating which, in turn, became a full-blown addiction to pain pills. Remembering things I’d forgotten coupled with the war waging in my own home was too much for me.I didn’t want to be alive. I took a handful of pain pills, washed it down with a bottle of wine, and was shocked when I woke up the next morning. I knew something had to change and I needed help for the pervasive sexual and physical abuse that had firmly placed itself in the forefront of my memory. When I woke up that morning, grateful I didn’t die of an overdose, I started talking to the Air again.I wanted to end my decade long standoff with God.I found a Bible and begged God to change the story in my home, but also thanked Him for His faithfulness. Jesus met me at the intersection of hope & despair. It turns out that Jesus was exactly where He was when I decided to ignore Him and I craved relationship with Him—even if He didn’t change the narrative at home. I was very close to leaving my husband, but could not see my way clear to that since he had effectively taken all access to money away from me.The tipping point was the night I woke up to a massive headache as a result of being hit with a .45 caliber gun.I knew then that one of two things were going to happen.He was going to either pull that trigger and it would all be over, or I would find a way to leave him.So, with less than $1,000 I left him, spending some time in Canada first because of how dangerous he continued to be.Ultimately, I moved back to Clearwater where I went to college. Even though only a few of my friends lived there, it was important for me to get as far away from him as possible.
If I doubted the faithfulness of God at all, what happened next could not be scripted by the best of storytellers.
Signatures on divorce papers didn’t make the danger go away and I was constantly looking over my shoulder as my abusive, now ex-husband continued to threaten my life. Even though I left him, it felt like abandonment, again. I spent much of my time trying to understand God and when He would decide that I’d had enough.So, I stopped talking to the Air again; but Jesus was not going to let go. I remembered a big church on the corner not far from my apartment.So, I decided that I would give it a try.While that decision felt like my own, I can see now that this was another place where Jesus met me in that painful place. He picked me up and carried me.Again.I met friends at that church that stood in huge gaps for me and are still part of my healing today.While I was trying to figure out God, they were talking to him on my behalf, a lot.
Attempting to figure out God is exhausting.As it turned out, that big church on a corner had a school and I’d landed a teaching job.Both the church and work became a refuge for me. As long as I was at either of those places I was ok, but the real war came at night.And I was simply tired of fighting monsters that I could not see.I didn’t see it then, but I do now. God had handpicked that church, that school and more importantly those friends for the sole purpose of holding me up, because I couldn’t do it alone, no matter how hard I tried.And believe me, I tried.
I’d been in Clearwater about a year when all of the trauma caught up with me, and my body rebelled in grand fashion.Everyday felt like adrenaline was running through my veins, sleep was rare and eating even more rare.One night I laid in bed staring at the ceiling and every time the clock indicated another hour had passed without sleep, I took a Klonopin.By the time morning came, I’d taken 9 pills.I still went to work and about my day.For reasons that I can’t explain I told one of my bosses what I had taken the night before.As I spoke to him I felt like I was looking into the eyes of Jesus, because his compassion and kindness lead to a decision that probably saved my life.An hour later, one of my friends was driving me to the hospital.I signed myself into the psych ward, where I spent the next 5 days.The doctors began throwing around words like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and nervous breakdown.While I was there I felt free for the first time in my life to just breathe.Nobody wanted anything from me there, my only job was to eat, rest and breathe.
After getting out of the hospital the real work began.Memories were still stealing sleep and therefore my health was rapidly declining.Most of the PTSD flashbacks didn’t make sense, but I continued to have one very strong flashback and that was the first abuser and that hot dark room when I became the world’s youngest adult.I had several years of these flashbacks and I survived them because of my commitment to and participation in solid counseling.I knew there were things I simply could not remember, except in parts.As I got healthier both physically and emotionally, new layers of memories would present themselves.Most of them were benign in nature and I was able to use some of the skills I learned in counseling to mitigate the terror.
However, I had a true crisis of faith when my worst fear came true, remembering something I’d forgotten. Henry Lee Lucas was one of those things I’d forgotten. It was him, he was the one in the room. The realization of this crashed down on me in many ways. I ebb from grateful he did not kill me to guilty for the same reason. This has been a difficult realization because I understand that I easily could have been a victim of more than sexual abuse from Henry Lee Lucas. Remembering things like this that my brain has “forgotten” has driven me to my knees more than once in recent years. I would be lying if I didn’t say I am still fearful of the things I don’t remember. But, again, Jesus won’t let go, and so I find myself begging Him for grace to trust Him more if I do remember more things I have forgotten.
I realize that I cannot breathe without my Air.While my life is defined by abandonment, there is One who has never left, and who never will.I understand that He knows my pain as He himself was abandoned on the cross.
Because He is, in fact, good–even when reality isn’t.
The bright white building outlined in red hasn’t changed in 40 years. I could see it from my beachfront hotel room. Even though it was a couple of miles down the beach, I could easily recognize that red cross on the side of that building. That cross is internationally known to symbolize help and by proxy, hope. I knew that building well, I sought it often as a towheaded kid who clearly was born with an unadulterated love for the ocean.
We often hung around the lifeguard/Red Cross building as young kids. Having saved every penny from the week’s odd jobs, we jumped on a city bus with little more than our swim suits and maybe an extra t-shirt. When we weren’t in the ocean or playing on the sand dunes (oops), we were hanging around that bright white building with the cross painted on the side. We played for hours on the boardwalk, enjoyed the food vendors and street performers. Nobody really knew where we were, nor did they care, so we’d often stay until the last bus picked us up to take that long trip “home”. The buses were always colder than they needed to be and often elicited chill bumps on our sun kissed skin.
I stood somewhat paralyzed on that same beach a few weeks ago and those memories flooded my mind and overtook my senses. For a minute, I was that towheaded kid again. The ocean was turbulent that day as a storm off the coast of Jacksonville decided to hang out for a bit. The waves crashed into the earth’s crust with an angry energy that I understood. I decided to walk towards that white building, the one that signified help and hope. I scanned the ground for shells or rocks. My phone was shuffling some pretty amazing songs and it turned into a sweet JAM (Jesus And Me) session that I will never forget.
I was in Jacksonville for reasons that were far from fun. And I was telling Jesus about it. Come Thou Fount shuffled on my phone and just like every other time I hear that song, I was intrigued about a single lyric.
“Here I raise my Ebenezer hither by thy help I come…”
Because this part of the song ALWAYS stops me in my tracks, I knew the story behind “Ebenezer” and on this day, I wanted to raise an Ebenezer. The word, in the original text, means “stone of help”. I turned the stone around between my fingers, I didn’t remember picking it up, Jesus and I were having a talk.
I continued towards the Red Cross building. I can’t be sure if the memories drew me there or the symbolism of that building drew me there. Either way I was on a mission to get there. I replayed that song and listened intensely to that lyric. I knelt down and wrote “Victory” in the sand with my rock, and then took a picture of my Ebenezer.
I was determined to leave some things on the beach that day. I needed to leave some things on the beach that day. And so I raised my Ebenezer and thanked God for the victory that He has given me over armies of darkness, groups of traumas and multiple health issues. God, in His kindness and sovreignity, healed my brain enough for me to face, fight and win battles and wars.
Trauma is stubborn, it is greedy, and it will, left unchecked, absolutely destroy it’s tenant. I fully understand what a miracle my life is. I wanted to leave my mom on the beach that day. I thought of her a lot on that JAM walk. I remembered seeing a picture of mom and my sister Libby sitting somewhere where I was walking. I wanted to leave John on that beach that day. I had so many memories with him out there. Those memories reminded me that he wasn’t all bad and neither was my marriage. And so I kept walking, and the building of help and hope got closer and so did real hope as I just begged Jesus to take all of those things from my heart and from my mind and truly give me victory. I begged Him to help me. I had been trying to wish my trauma away. Trauma doesn’t go away because we want it to leave. And the body keeps the score.
And that is why I was in Jacksonville in the first place. My body has kept impeccable score over the years.
By the time I made it to the Red Cross building, quiet tears dripped and I remembered that little kid escaping the pain of life, running on the boardwalk, and hanging around that bright white building with the cross on the side. On this day that grown up little girl was walking on the beach in search of some help and hope. That bright cross stared back at me and I wanted to kneel in front of it and lay it all down there, because it had ceased to be the symbol of the American Red Cross and reminded me of that wooden cross where they killed my Jesus. He gave His life for me, so that I could have victories like I was having at that moment. On my way back, I realized I never picked up my Ebenezer after I took the picture. I fully expected the ocean to have devoured it, and that would have been kind of perfect, actually. A new song shuffled on my phone, this time another lyric forced more water from my eyes.
“Behold the Lamb, the story of redemption written on His hands, Jesus You will reign forever more, the victory is Yours. We sing Your praise endless hallelujahs to your holy name. Jesus you will reign forevermore, the victory is yours. We thank you for the cross.“
I’d heard that song at church the week before, “the story of redemption written on his hands” is my story, it is your story. I turned around and took one last look at the building and then down at the ground. And there it was, the rock I’d used to proclaim victory in the sand sat exactly where I left it. My heart burst with gratitude that Jesus has always been and will continue to be my “stone of help” and that nothing can separate me from the love of the cross.
The white dust could be seen for miles, and some of it still remains in the crevices of the buildings and the streets of the city so nice they named it twice.
The earth’s crust was permanently altered that day, and the soil tells stories of massive loss of life.And, if even for a short time,September 11, 2001 sent an entire nation to it’s knees.
I have had a life long love affair with the Big Apple.My introduction to the city was dramatic for a Florida girl from a small metropolitan area.The sights and sounds of the city invaded my senses as our car FINALLY exited the Lincoln Tunnel.Signs of life were everywhere,in fact, I had never SEEN SO MUCH LIFE!In the years following, I visited NYC many times and maintained that the only thing missing from that city was my favorite football team and year round sunshine-both of those things were deal breakers for a move, but I vowed to visit often and so I did.If a city can be your friend, NYC is mine.
Then somebody delivered a body blow to my friend.And suddenly the signs of life seemed to be gone, the embers of which were represented on a huge pile of steel, ruble and people.Citizens from around the world became familiar with what would be named “Ground Zero”. We watched endless news coverage that was often not produced well because the news outlets just wanted to get information to those who desired answers and hope.The leader of the free world stood on that pile of devastation and promised to hear the cries of his citizens.Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months that has now turned into almost two decades.
My resilient friend began to heal, and I got to visit her many times while she attempted to become the NYC of old, but try as she might, that never happened.Now, the pile is gone and the sky not as empty as freedom is represented by a new building by that name.There are memorial pools, museums, and over abundance of security. And yes, there are signs of life again.It’s not the same, it never will be, but people are doing what humans tend to do,breathing and putting one foot in front of the other.At some point, we crossed back over to the land of the living,and signs of life began to spring up like a stubborn weed growing out of a rock.
On a day like today (the 18th anniversary) it is human nature to reflect on that day,and the devastation left in it’s wake.And while we have not suffered a single event that claimed the number of lives of that September day, we have all, both collectively and individually, had plenty more from which to heal.
Most of us,if we are honest,will admit that life is hard and pain is real and sometimes we feel like we are drowning.For some of us, it is easy to resign ourselves to an existence void of signs of life.It is easy to lose our child like hope that every day is a new day with new opportunities and mercies that are JUST enough for that day and not meant for tomorrow.Pain has robbed us of optimism, Hope and the desire to even try to see the goodness of God in the land of the living.We doubt the goodness of God and are tempted to ask that question:
“How could a loving God…..”
The truth is that the Redeemer of the whole world is standing atop the piles of rubble that is shattered dreams, unanswered questions and bitter disappointments.He is telling us that He is the God Who hears us.He stood on a cross and did not need a megaphone to convey His message.He not only wants us looking for signs of life, He wants us to BE the life to a dark world who continues to ask that age old question about His love and His intentions for us.Do we believe that we WILL see the goodness of God in the land of the living or will we go stand on our piles of past rubble with our backs to God and an outstretched hand pushing away hope?
Life deals us body blows and we will heal, the degree to which is dependent on how much surgery we will let Him perform on our pain.Very similar to that September day, the tragedies and pain of life leaves dust that sometimes stays to remind us of His faithfulness.Pain leaves scars making the landscape of our lives look forever different.Pain will drive us to our knees.
As I thought about writing this and some surgery going on in the OR on my pain,I remembered this verse that is such a special promise and is a testament to getting through that day, every painful day after it and every one that is one it’s way:
“I would have lost heart if I had not believed in the goodness of God in the land of the living” Psalm 27:13
The question now,as it was on September 12th, is “how then shall we live?”
Water, in its natural state is still. I’ve always loved the part of Psalm 23 “He leads me beside still waters”. While I love a good wave at the beach, not much more calms me than a still body of water accompanied by complete silence. But the stillness and the silence can be interrupted by throwing a rock into the water. It makes a splash disrupting the stillness of the water and creating a ripple. But, eventually the water returns to a state of rest and peace. It’s almost like the water absorbs the energy and straightaway returns to a restful state.
The emotional ones are the ones that most of us deal with and attempt to navigate our lives around these boulders that get dropped on us in the middle of us just trying to do life, or trying to be STILL.
These rocks come in all shapes and sizes and when dropped into my stillness, serve as an emotional riptide. This riptide can destroy my quest for stillness and especially my desire to draw near to God.
The real ones also come in all shapes and sizes and are actually quite fascinating to me. I have had the privilege to travel quite a bit and I’ve been known to collect a rocks and they help me remember trips and the precious time I had with the people who chose to spend their time with me. Oftentimes, weeks, months or years later I find them in the most random places, usually the dryer or the floorboard of my car. I love the different textures and memories that go with them. I oftentimes have one in my pocket and I expend nervous energy rubbing my hand over the smoothness of the rock. Rocks are symbolic of strength to me, and I always want to remember to be strong.
In nature, rocks can serve as a natural boundary of protection. They can help nourish the ground or filter the water providing minerals for us. Rocks, in nature, are evidence of an intelligent designer. That being said, rocks can also cause damage, an avalanche can take out entire towns or villages. Gravity is sure to drop rocks in the most inopportune places, leaving the earth much different than it found it, and sometimes ending in tragedy.
The rock of disappointment and unmet expectations shakes the foundation of everything I believe. But in my quest to be still and depend on my forever God, I am trying to stop avoiding the rock of disappointment, I am trying to embrace it. I want to let it set boundaries, provide nourishment and maybe even protection from that which I don’t know, whatever avalanche that could occur had things gone my “way”. When I allow this rock to disrupt my complacencies and remind me of my forever God, it leaves a mark on my heart, leaving the landscape different than it found it. The mark from the rock of disappointment reminds me that I am not in control and that I never was in the first place. It’s hard to watch this rock drop into my stillness over and over again. I can only hope that it makes my heart more fertile for my relationship with my forever God. The tender place, the place in my heart that hurts from the impact, is a place where only my forever God can mitigate the pain.
And so I let it interrupt my stillness, because it drives me right back to it.
A close cousin to the rock of disappointment is the rock of loss. My heart should be used to that by now, but each loss still hurts, it unearths some previous cracks in my heart and drives me into performance mode. Performance mode and its fruit seems like it will replace that which was loss or taken from me. If I earn it, if I create it, if I work for it, then the rock of loss will not hurt, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Like its buddy, the rock of loss drives me back to stillness. If I let the rock leave it’s mark, my forever God is there to bind up that wound, because He is not unfamiliar with pain and loss. The rock of loss leads me to my forever God, because as people leave for whatever reason, and seasons change, my forever God does not. And, so the rock of loss drives me to Him, and while joy may not come until the morning, my rock of loss can not take away the fact that joy will, in fact, come. My weeping will only endure for the night.
Perhaps the rock that my enemy uses against me the most is the rock of unbelief. Despite all evidence to the contrary, when this rock drops, everything I have ever known about God to be true comes into question, even more so than the foundations of my faith being shaken like that of disappointment. It disrupts my stillness and that rip tide will absolutely overtake me, if I let it.
Jesus promised us that in this world we would have trouble. So, it should not surprise me that disappointment, loss and unbelief are going to interrupt my stillness. But He is THE ROCK that IS stillness and the firm foundation for boundaries, nourishment and protection for all the days of my life. He is the Rock that absorbs the shock of my stillness being interrupted. And if I let Him, my soul turns back to stillness straightaway.
And so on the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.
I stood in the judge’s chambers flanked by social workers as I watched the man in the black robe terminate my mom’s parental rights with the simple stroke of a pen. I stood shocked at the events of that day. I still can see the note she’d left saying that she was gone forever. The only words I remember the judge saying are, “Forever Home”. I was staring at the state seal behind him. I was focusing on the American flag. But I refocused after he granted my request to repeat his words. “It is our goal to find you a forever home and that this day won’t be as traumatic for you as it could be.”
Truthfully, that day, I gave up on anything being forever.
I stood in front of the children’s home the day that my foster parents dropped me off over 200 miles from the only place I’d ever known as a hometown. As they left they said the same thing to me “maybe this will be your forever home”. No longer able to even cry, I stared blankly at them and their taillights as they left me there to somehow try to earn a forever home.
The children’s home was the place where I was first introduced to the concept of a forever God. While my broken heart and shattered spirit craved human and physical attention, I was directed to God and encouraged to trust in Him; I was taught that He never changes and more importantly, He will never leave me as so many had. I heard their words and I read them in the Bible too, but my heart still craved a forever that had a heartbeat.
I stood in front of God and my family as I committed to forever to a man who said the words back to me but didn’t mean them. I ran hard from the pain of that marriage and the violence that occurred inside our home. In order to cope with the pain of my life, I performed in my job, I earned my MBA, I poured into my stepson, I self medicated and I forgave my husband, every time. He was the one that my heart loved. But, it became clear after 12 years that he was not my heart’s forever home. And so I crawled into a deep and dark place where I was convinced that nothing would be forever for me. The resignation of the dream of my forever home was infinitely more painful than any hit or punch I ever received from the man I promised to love forever.
I walked on the beach with my friend, Marla, who helped me get out of that situation. As we walked, she prayed, and I stopped walking and listened to the sounds of the beach. But even the waves couldn’t drown out her prayer where she referenced “reason, season, lifetime” friends. I opened my eyes when she prayed those words and watched the Atlantic Ocean slam into the earth. I felt a little like those waves as she prayed those words. I’d never heard those terms when describing friendships. I was determined of one thing, my friends were one thing that I could make forever and I simply was not going to lay down on that. In a world where nothing seemed to stick, my friends seemed to stick. And so I leaned on them to fill the void left by both my mom and my husband, my heart still sought any relationship that could be forever. Marla lost her battle with cancer not long after that walk on the beach. And while she was my friend for a short amount of time, a “season”, I guess, I would have been her forever friend.
I sat in a restaurant years later when I met Crissy’s parents at one of Clearwater’s best restaurants. Not many years had passed since my divorce but my friendship with Crissy grew quickly and she’d established herself as a forever friend. I’d still not bought into Marla’s assessment of the different kinds of friendships. Almost immediately, Crissy told me that I needed to meet her parents. And when I did, I knew why. Both of them firmly established themselves as my family and somewhere along the way, my heart began to believe in forever again. The day I closed on my house was one of the most precious days of my life. Papa Loughridge told me in the parking lot of the title company that he wanted me to always have a home. The judge’s words came back to me: “forever home”.
I stood in the middle of Crissy’s bedroom and listened to the words coming from the speaker of that computer we call a phone. Papa Loughridge gave us the news we’d all expected but none of us wanted to believe, his wife, Mama Bootsie got the official diagnosis of a rare form of Alzheimers. And suddenly, forever seemed like it could never be long enough.
Just weeks later, I stood in my house stunned as I held my phone in my hand. I simply could not believe what I read in that text message. My friend of over 25 years, more than half my life, decided that she, in fact, fell into one of Marla’s categories, she was a “reason” friend or a “season” one, but that text made it very clear that she was not a forever friend. I was devastated. I am devastated.
I fell to my knees at the end of my bed. I could no longer physically stand as I became resigned, for the last time, that nothing on this planet is forever. The realization of this has weighed heavily on me since that phone call giving us the news that the voice of a giant in my life was not only not forever, but that I would have to lose it slowly. I thought I had more time. I was wrong.
The two events happening so closely together has served to shake my faith in my God, diminish everything I ever believed about Him and driven me to decide if I believed that He is forever, or even God for that matter. That day in my room, when I was on my knees at the end of my bed I served as a relentless cross-examining attorney against the God of the universe.
And that is where I am. I’d like to tell you as these days are getting harder, I am always driven to my forever God. But loss like I have experienced in this life serves as a breeding ground for satan and seeds of doubt, darkness and disbelief. But I stand humbly before His throne because He told me that I could boldly do that. I stand with my head bowed begging Him to help me feel Him as my forever God. I am reminded that I can I can indict Him all I want but that He, in fact, stood in front of people who were supposed to be His forever and they betrayed Him just as I have felt. I am reminded that even though there were nails in His feet He stood dying on a cross that should have been mine. I am reminded of the words that I was taught at the children’s home: “He will never leave you or forsake you”. Those are the only words I can process right now because the loss is too much. These circumstances have absolutely driven me to grab onto my forever God, because He is not here for a “reason” or a “season”, but He is here until He users me off this planet.
And somehow I stand up straight and cling on tightly to the only One Who is holding on to me.
My forever God.
I know hard days are ahead for us. But even through my tears, anger and confusion I simply cannot walk away from my God Who has never walked away from me.
And so He is the one my heart loves. He is my heart’s forever home.
And so, I stand, I sometimes crawl, but I hope that I always bow my knee and my head to my forever God.