PANIC ATTACK PARALYSIS

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I remember the first time I ever had a panic attack. It came from out of nowhere. It was so far off the grid of my experience that I didn’t even know it had a name other than torture.

It all started when I decided to take a driving shift on the roadtrip back home from Colorado to California with my husband and four kids. We were on our way back from visiting friends and had decided to drive straight through the night to avoid kid interruptions. It was almost entirely black throughout the mountain range—save our headlights. My husband had taken the first shift.

It was now my turn.

My kids were already fast asleep and as soon as I started driving, my husband quickly followed suit. The two-lane highway was narrow and windy, with a cement divider on my left and what appeared to be an open chasm of death off to my right.

I felt a little nervous driving, but I was doing okay navigating the narrow twists and turns of the highway until another car zoomed up right behind me and started tailgating aggressively. He tailed so close that it felt threatening and dangerous.

The pressure and danger combination mounted together into a highly-reactive panic trigger for me. These two things would remain consistent in my future episodes. They were my specific “recipe” for a panic attack.

The first thing I noticed was the tingly fear that crept up my entire body until it constricted around me like a tight blanket. I felt frozen and wrapped in fear—unable to move. My arms became fused to the steering wheel with a paralytic death grip. I was afraid to breathe, much less call out to my husband for help. I broke out into a cold sweat. 

All of a sudden, the lane appeared much narrower. I felt terrified that if I veered even one inch in either direction, we would all die. Either I’d crash into cement or careen off a cliff. Neither one appealed to me in my desire to live. I couldn’t speed up to get away from the tailgater because I couldn’t guarantee control, but I couldn’t slow down either— I was afraid he’d smash into me. He was SO close. I had ZERO margin for error.

“Oh God, oh God, oh God”, was all I could think to think.

The whole episode probably only lasted about five minutes before the road shifted into three lanes, and the other car floored it to maneuver around me—but I felt like I’d just made it through Hell. The rest of the details are still a blur. We didn’t die. We eventually made it home. I didn’t know it yet, but this episode was about to change my entire life. It would become a trigger that would affect my life for many years to come.

That was almost 9 years ago. 

Immediately after the road trip through Hell, I remember being hit by a rush of euphoria. From my optimistic perspective of a great storyline, I thought I’d query a magazine or two about my death-defying adventure. I thought certainly I could find some venue from which to share my amazing testimony about staring death in the face and surviving.

But I didn’t. 

Instead, in a cruel twist of fate, I spiraled down into an even worse season filled with many more panic attacks and new pop-up fears—including a fear of heights, fear of mountain roads and freeway overpasses, fear of enclosed spaces, fear of finding parking, and a fear of big social gatherings.

Life got worse, NOT better.

My idealized testimony morphed instead into many more mocking reminders of my current limitations. It was like an ever-increasing revelation of incapacity.

The panic attacks continued—sometime major, sometimes minor. The fear usually manifested in an either quick or slow spread of terror throughout my body. My whole body would then feel almost suffocated by the tight blanket of terror that restricted me, coupled with the fear-induced paralyzation. One of the panic attacks was SO intense that it actually dried up my milk supply and I could no longer nurse my son.

I continued to spiral down.

I couldn’t drive on mountain roads, bridges, or freeway overpasses for years. Even being a passenger on mountain roads left me with the shakes. I had to close my eyes and pray under my breath just to survive those drives—which made it tricky to visit my in-laws who actually lived in the mountains.

I lived in a place of constant fear, wondering what would trigger me next.

Many beach trips and misc outings had to be rerouted due to bridge overpasses. It became inconvenient and humiliating. One time, I accidentally ended up on some mountain roads with a friend. When I realized my mistake, I decided I would just have to power through by the sheer force of my will. Except that I couldn’t. My will was not strong enough to overcome the neurological and emotional components of my PTSD-ravished brain. Trembling, sweating, and barely able to breathe, I found a mountain turn-out and defeatedly drove back down.

Life became really hard for a LONG time after that initial drive in the Colorado mountain range. 

Xanax couldn’t touch my fear or panic at all. Antidepressants didn’t accomplish anything other than my weight gain. I already struggled with insomnia. Sleeping pills didn’t work either.

I felt like a zombie, technically alive but dead inside as the fear, panic, and insomnia swirled around inside of me—trying to finish me off for good.

I lived in that dreamlike state for years, unable to engage with much. Life was all about survival—not enjoyment. My spirit’s will to live and my desire to raise my children were the ONLY reasons I stayed alive.

Somehow I knew that there HAD to be a light at the end of my tunnel.

Years of counseling and the unravelling of my past would then enter into the scene of my life. Everything would change after that. My panic, fear, and PTSD would slowly lessen. My understanding would massively increase. I would receive lots of new information and tools. And the natural outgrowth of all of these eventually brought me my breakthrough.

I remember that VICTORIOUS day when I finally decided to try and drive over the 91 Freeway Overpass on my way out of town. I felt the Father’s gentle nudge of confirmation—“You’re ready. You can do this.”

And I did.

It’s been two years since the day I conquered that overpass. My freedom has continued to multiply into other areas. I’m no longer afraid of bridges or overpasses. I don’t get parking anxiety anymore. I actually attend a lot of social gatherings without emotional pushback. I even went through an enclosed waterslide the other day. My previous triggers have become a non-issue. 

I made it through Hell. You can too.

Don’t ever give up.

Two steps forward—one step back is still moving forward.

Love, Nova

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Not Enough Milk in My Cereal

 

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I cried over my milk last night. Not because I’d spilled it, but actually because of a much more important reason: there wasn’t enough milk in my cereal.

I was sick of partially-submerged cereal. I’d been a milk martyr for far too long.

When my servant-hearted husband brought me the cereal in the first place and I realized it didn’t have enough milk for my preference, I felt crushed. Didn’t he know? Didn’t he know how much milk I needed after 15 years together? My first feeling was one of sadness and resignation—I felt I should just be thankful and eat what was given to me. My next feeling actually came as a spark of anger—This was unjust! I was wronged!

This flip-flopping of emotions was exhausting and launched me next into feelings of self-accusation and condemnation. Just get over it. What’s wrong with you? I was tempted to stuff the pain and ignore it because I was also tired. But the Holy Spirit nudged me gently into a different direction:

“Pay attention to this. Pay attention to what your heart is saying.”

So I took a minute and just sat with the feeling. I tried to probe deeper into my emotions. What was going on? Why this extreme reaction to a very minimal event in my day? It was just a bowl of cereal for goodness’ sake—not some massive family crisis. But I knew enough by now to know that an extreme reaction like this was usually masking something much deeper. What was it?

And then BOOM!—there it was. It hit me like the BRIGHTEST freight train ever:

I’d NEVER had enough of what I needed.

The quiet introspection had paid off. I finally saw the root of an issue that had plagued me for years but I could never quite figure out. Like a newly-receded tooth, I felt like the root issue was totally obvious now.

How did I not see this before?

After discovering the emotional root, various memories began to scroll before my eyes like a movie reel. I remembered how much neglect had played a part in my early childhood years. Both parents always gone. Childcare provided by a mushpot of nannies, dysfunctional family members and sexual predators.

I remembered the emotional starvation—how often I was forced by authorities to accept less than what I really needed. Crucial emotional ingredients like attentiveness, active listening, emotional connection, healthy physical touch, and even safety were few and far between. Inconsistency had been my biggest childhood companion.

I realized that neglect had taught me not to expect too much from others or even life itself. I learned that what I needed didn’t matter. I learned that “What you get is what you get—and you don’t get upset.” 

I also remembered the abuse—times when authorities actively pushed against my own boundaries and needs. Like being forced to eat liver and oysters as a young child and almost puking. Like being forced to swim down powerful river rapids that almost drowned me. Like having a parent chase me and barge into my room when I just needed space and privacy. Like all the years of hidden sexual abuse that continued on unnoticed by the people who were supposed to be protecting and keeping me safe.

I realized that the abuse and disrespect of my boundaries had taught me that authorities got to make all the decisions. I learned that I did not get a choice. I learned submission, victimization, and powerlessness. 

I realized that I had learned a lot of things but I had NEVER learned how to get my needs met.

And now here I was: a married woman with four children who didn’t know how to ask for more milk—who didn’t think that she even DESERVED more milk.

So I did something I hadn’t done in a long time. I went downstairs and added some more milk into my bowl. I FLOODED that cereal. And then I sat in my favorite chair, ate my cereal and cried. And I invited God into that space to clean out the pain and heal me.

It felt wonderfully reconciling. I was finally grieving. It was a new experience for me but it felt so timely and God-orchestrated. The backlog of suppressed pain was finally finding its channel to be released.

These grieving tears felt so much different than self-pity tears. Self-pity tears never resolved anything. They were always an endless revolving-door of pain.

Grieving tears made me feel lighter. They were tears of release and self-acceptance. I was releasing the pain. I was accepting myself and reconciling to the story of my past. I could own the truth of my story now: so much of my childhood had majorly sucked. I didn’t need to lie to myself anymore. I didn’t need to accept the script any longer that others had fed to me over the years. I finally believed myself. 

And as I cried, a lot of the pain got out. It was like I could feel God wiping away my tears. I didn’t need to wait for Heaven—He wanted to do it now.

A bowl of cereal. Who knew? 

God will use anything to bring healing.

Trusting in the Great Redeemer,

Nova (newly-redeemed milk martyr)

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes…” (Revelation 21:4).

Landmines of Pain

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Have you ever accidentally stepped into a memory from your past that sent you reeling? Yep—me too. A few months ago, I stumbled onto a painful landmine of unhealed pain in my heart.

Trauma triggers are like that—so unexpected. You’re just walking along and then…BOOM! PAIN!

It happened not long after I started attending a new community of believers. My spirit was so refreshed in this particular community that I was FILLED with massive hope and expectation for the future. This place felt like home. I loved it.

I couldn’t wait to see what God would do. I knew I could thrive in this place. I knew my spiritual DNA would fit. So I purposefully gave it my all and dove right in. I’ve never done anything half-heartedly. I began to attend every event and activity that I could—trying to meet people and make new friends.

And then that one fateful conversation began with a person who looked strangely familiar…

“I remember YOU…”

And suddenly there it was: INSTANT pain.

In that one moment, I was flung back into the past without my consent. I realized now why that individual had looked so familiar to me. Ten years ago. It was almost ten years ago that I had spent some time with this person among a group of other believers.

It wasn’t a good experience for me.

I actually remember liking this person. But the situation? Not so much. And any of the small amenities from that short time were vastly overshadowed by the painful shut-down that followed. My pursuit of spiritual community had been majorly hijacked. I basically crawled into a six-year hole afterwards.

It felt like a lifetime ago. In a way it really was. I had travailed and triumphed, contended and grown, and healed and thrived so much since those days.

I was a different person now.

But in that split-second, all the pain came back. Scene after scene replayed before my eyes: the rejection and isolation. The purposeful exclusion. The public humiliation. The shame.

I did NOT want to be back in that place again—nor did I want to be reminded of it every time I saw this person.

It was a horrible memory to revisit—a significant pain point in my Christian journey. I was obviously not quite as healed as I thought I was. It was one thing to forgive the wounding parties from afar. It was quite another to see someone on a regular basis that had witnessed the whole thing. I had been so thankful for the physical distance between myself and everyone involved in that experience. Besides social media, our paths rarely crossed over the years.

And yet here I was—in close physical proximity to one of the people who had seen my heart get publicly crucified. I wasn’t sure if I could handle the frequent reminder. I actually thought about changing course. Despite all of this community’s innate goodness and tangible Jesus saturation, I debated just leaving.

Because that’s what pain does. It wants to hide. It wants to forget. It does NOT want to revisit.

Yet even as that warm wash of fear and insecurity poured over me, the strength in my spirit rose up with a fierce tenacity that I could NOT deny. I felt empowered with a spirit knowing in the midst of my soul’s internal chaos:

God’s redemptive fingerprints are ALL over this. My Father is up to something good.

This VERY situation felt reminiscent of so many other times when the Father purposefully brought me into awkward situations in order to facilitate my healing. What is laid down in pain can often only be accessed again through pain. I knew that I was no longer a victim that needed to run and hide. I was victorious through my identity in Him.

I knew that EVERYTHING was in the process of being redeemed.

So I settled into the reality that I could trust Him with this—even though I didn’t have the healing closure that I wanted in the moment. It was in spiritual community that I was shut down and it was in spiritual community that I was being restored. The redemptive ways of God take my breath away. Yah, there are still some spiritual logistics to work out. Healing and forgiveness are like an onion—so many layers sometimes. But my end game will always be breakthrough and new freedom in my life. And I’m ready. I want it.

Trusting in the Great Redeemer,

Nova

Re-Discovering Life

fullsizerender-8Living by sheer willpower no longer works for me. When life first became overwhelming, it forced me to find an alternative way to live. It launched me on a journey that eventually led me to discover a deeper well of life.

I’m not sure which factor became the last straw that finally launched me onto this journey.

Maybe it was my hormone and neurotransmitter levels being out of balance. I have the test results to prove this. Or it could have been my 20-year-old brain injury flaring up again. Maybe it was my sleeping issues or my soul’s ever-undulating emotions as I continued to heal from past trauma. Or maybe it was just because of the insane pace of life that a six-person family brings with it. “Jane, get me off this crazy thing…”

The reality is that ALL of these factors actually play a part in my well-being. My spirit, soul and body are a completely interdependent ecosystem, and each part of my triune being affects the others.

All of these factors ping-pong daily around my life, quickly exhausting my natural reserves of physical and emotional energy. I often short-out because of system overload. And having four kids? That’s just the cherry on top. If the younger ones aren’t fighting, then one of the teenagers is probably having an emotional crisis. Sometimes I just want to crawl into a hole where no one can find me.

I have actually hidden in my closet on multiple occasions for a quick break. On purpose. No shame.

Years ago, I used to be able to coast longer on my own strength. Pre-kids. When I was single and felt maxed out, I would just withdraw from community, do some healthy soul care and I’d revive pretty quickly. But these days? Well…my discretionary time margin with kids is basically nonexistent, and I carry a lot more responsibility now—so my coping tank is often blinking on empty.

I feel like I’m usually in the red.

Having four children that constantly pull on me to meet all of their needs is exhausting. I start to feel trapped and suffocated when my kids push past my spoken or physical boundaries to demand more than I’m willing or able to give.

They usually won’t take no for an answer.

The physical exhaustion and emotional badgering together ends up feeling like the abuse I experienced early on in childhood. I reach a sort of panic threshold—that completely overwhelmed place—very quickly. My body’s fight, flight, or freeze mechanism gets activated; and my kids’ normal developmental emotions often trigger my own emotions, which completely empties whatever is left in my tank.

I am just not strong enough to cope by myself.

Somewhere in the midst of all this life chaos, I finally had to concede: God, I can’t do this alone. I knew I no longer had my past luxury of self-sufficiency—where I could rely on my own abilities, giftings, or body strength to get me through life’s challenges. I couldn’t even do like a half-caff strength thing: half of mine and half of God’s. The bricks that I had been carrying around for so many years were too heavy and had finally crushed whatever was left of my own strength.

I was not only broken down; I was like a well that had finally run dry.

I realized that if I didn’t find another well soon, stress-paralyzation or self-implosion would probably follow. I knew I had to find a different way to live or I would be taken out.

It was then that I became truly desperate in my journey.

I’ve heard Author John Eldredge say that “Until you are desperate, you won’t seek God. Until you absolutely need His help, you will take His counsel as optional.”

It’s so true.

The trauma of life made me desperate. But desperation became the door through which I re-discovered life in a new way. I was re-introduced to grace: the lifeline of God’s enabling strength. And once we shook hands again, we entered into a new and stronger partnership.

I accessed a deeper place in God where I hadn’t been before.

In this place, grace transformed from being a mere Christian accessory to becoming my new lifeline and way of living.

I came to experience in the depths of my soul that His strength TRULY was enough to get me through any day or challenging situation that arose. Grace was no longer relegated to an ambiguous church cliché. It became a powerful force that now fueled my life.

Tapping into this deeper well and partnership with grace gave me new strength for the journey. It didn’t happen arbitrarily or overnight, but I eventually found it.

Desperation, tenacity, and spiritual hunger led me to it.

Hunger is the escort to the deeper things of God. Are you hungry?

Do you want to find the deeper well?

I believe there is a general grace that flows over each believer’s life that feels much like rays of sunshine. A broad coating of His goodness in our lives. I lived under those pleasant grace rays for many years. But when life piled up on me and I reached that place of desperation, I needed something MORE. The rays weren’t enough. I needed like a massive IV transfusion.

I found that more is ALWAYS available to those who want to go deeper in their experience with God.

The MORE that I personally discovered came through this new lifeline and partnership with grace, as well as discovering the place of abiding. Finding the secret place under the shadow of His wings and staying there—hidden in Him.

God’s deeper reserves of grace await each one of us in that secret place of abiding.  Abiding is the door that accesses the deeper experience of all-things-God.

The truly desperate often discover its secret location and empowerment; the content apathetic will usually miss it. But to every seeking and thirsty soul it calls out to discover.

How about you?

Will you let your hunger or desperation lead you to this deeper well of life?

Will you let your spiritual discontentment with anything status-quo propel you into the MORE that God has designed specifically for you?

God always fills those who hunger and thirst after more of Him.

The deeper experience of life awaits you too.

“He that dwelleth in the SECRET PLACE of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge” (Psalm 91:1,4).

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6).

“I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in SECRET PLACES, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name” (Isaiah 45:3).

Fallow Ground

fallowgroundpicThe healing process of the heart is very similar to the process of breaking up hard ground or soil. It needs rototilling and some excavation. The heart is the soil that often gets hardened and needs aeration and water to heal.

When trauma or great difficulty happens in a person’s life, they often respond by stuffing the emotional pain down—rather than actually dealing with it. It’s a common coping mechanism that people use in order to survive. That’s exactly what happened with me. More and more life pain kept getting shoved down on top of the already-buried trauma from my past.

The pain in my heart became very compacted.

Outwardly, I looked fine. I had a happy disposition. I functioned okay. I wasn’t the raging type. I think most of my friends would have said I was an optimistic person that was fun to be around. But inside, deep down, there were seismic shifts going on. An earthquake was in the rumbling. I lived in constant survival mode and my emotional equilibrium was very shaky.

As long as things stayed copacetic, I functioned okay. But if stress heightened, chaos ensued, a friend wigged out on me, or I started to feel overloaded, my body and emotions would decompensate. I had very little coping margin. The early childhood trauma had caused some major cracks in my foundation.

Put too much pressure on that cracked foundation and I started to crumble. Depression and health issues erupted.

The pain that had lodged so far back in my early history finally started to cry out for rescue. It refused to stay buried or be silenced any longer. I began to realize I wasn’t actually okay. I started experiencing severe insomnia and complicated migraines that landed me in the hospital. Other random health issues popped up on every front and I was forced to endure multiple medical tests and specialist doctor visits. I experimented with many prescription medications and holistic supplements as a result—hoping for some relief.

Nothing really worked. I felt desperate and very much alone.

I’ve heard it said that if our bodies try to get our attention one way and we don’t pay attention, they will then try another route. Our bodies can be like a stubborn toddler who repeatedly tries to get her mother’s attention. First, the child tries calling out, “Mommy, mommy, mommy!” After being shushed, the child then tries tapping on the mother’s arm and pulling on her leg. The child needs her mother’s attention but the mom is distracted by other things. That was totally my life. I lived in distraction and denial of my internal reality.

I wasn’t tuned into my emotions, so the pain started coming out everywhere else—bursting out all over my body. My body was saying, “Pay attention to me. Listen to my story.”

I finally had to start listening. I had to begin the process of breaking up the fallow ground of my heart. I didn’t choose the healing path on purpose. It chose me. When the flashbacks and buried memories besieged me on every front, I could no longer deny the truth of my own experience.

And once I started digging around inside the soil of my heart, more and more things turned up. It was awful. But I needed to get everything OUT that was continually causing these earthquakes in my life. I needed to be free.

So I stuck with it.

When I first began the heart excavation process, I was the epitome of a healing newbie. I’d never even seen a counselor before. I didn’t know any inner-healing lingo. I didn’t have any idea what to expect or what route to take. Inner healing became a whole new language and world for me to learn.

It was like starting kindergarten all over again but in a foreign country.

Healing wasn’t fun. I had to invest a lot of time and money into counseling and books. There was no shortcut to this process. I realized the only way out was through. So I had to force myself to be vulnerable, honest, and to talk about a lot of the dysfunctional aspects of my life. I had to look below the surface of any negative emotions that welled up and try to connect them to the pain that lay hidden underneath.

Whose idea was this anyway?

I was so naïve at the beginning of the heart excavation. I actually thought I could knock healing out in about six months to a year. I thought I could just sort of shuffle it into my already-busy life. Sort of like when I attempted homeschooling. I didn’t realize it would become an all-consuming activity.

Healing became the same way. It began to consume my life.

I had no idea that when trauma happens to a child who is still in the early stages of development that basically everything else gets skewed as a result. Because of this, everything in my life became fair game to put under the healing microscope.

I felt like my entire life was one GIANT trigger.

Almost any given situation started to feel triggery, painful, or would cause me to respond in a weird way. PTSD was raging. I felt unstable. Large gatherings of people began to feel unsafe, so I started isolating myself until I could find a more stable emotional equilibrium. I dialed back my friendships and daily activities. I had to conserve my emotional energy for myself and the sake of my family.

The breaking up of my fallow ground had begun.

This was the beginning of the heart-tilling and excavating process in my life. All of the emotions, memories, and reactivity began to emerge at the same time as I gave them my purposeful attention. Once I got my pickax wedged into the hardened dirt, more and more trauma, buried emotions, and pain began to get dislodged and fly out.

It felt insanely NOT fair to have all of this debris flying around me at the same time. I became exhausted and began to despair, “Would it ever end?”

It didn’t end but it did lessen.

I would get a brief reprieve now and again from the more high intensity levels of heart excavation. Eventually, these breathers became more frequent. Healing was by no means a linear progression in terms of improvement. But I found that some areas would settle down while others would flare up. Breakthrough in one area was often followed by the emergence of new pain in another.

I discovered healing was a lot like an onion. Lots of layers. Lots of tears.

But a REDEMPTIVE PERK emerged in the midst of all this heart toil. Some return on investment. I discovered that the more my hardened heart was tilled, the more I actually felt God’s healing waters pour in. It was like God had been pouring out these waters over my life for many years, but my heart was just too compacted with pain to allow much else in. The heart excavation gave me some wiggle room. New space opened up in my life and God’s healing love, comfort, and presence flooded into it.

I’d never experienced the Comforter prior to this experience. So I actually came to new YADA knowledge in the midst of my heart’s tumultuous excavation (See Do You Know Your God? for more on YADA knowing).

There was a lot of pain YES, but I could not deny the power of the counteractive love that flooded my entire being: spirit, soul, and body. I began to feel both at the same time—the pain of the experience and the gentle comfort of God’s presence.

Pain was still pain. Memories were still memories. But He was there in the middle of it all with me.

His presence became the antidote to all of the pain I had ever experienced in my past and all that I was experiencing in my present. It was unexplainable, indescribable, and mysterious—but it became a tangible reality in my heart.

It was a long road. Not gonna lie. My denial was especially thick. Other people’s pain may be closer to the surface than mine. Everyone’s exposure to trauma in life is different, and no two people’s healing journeys are ever going to look the same. However, there ARE universal elements within the healing journey that are so helpful to know ahead of time—especially when a person is first embarking onto their healing pilgrimage.

It’s good to have a small preview of what is to come.

For me personally, it took a lot of tilling before I got to the more softened place where God could rush in with his healing flood. I had a LOT of rocks, debris, and old roots in the way. But eventually, my heart became tender and His soothing waters began to finally soak in.

My life hasn’t been the same since He flooded into those spaces.

These days my heart is very tender. I am moved easily to tears whenever I hear a sad story, listen to a beautiful piece of music, worship at church, or encounter God’s presence in my daily activities. At first, I thought something was wrong with me. I thought crying was a weakness. But I’ve since realized that after decades of being emotionally disconnected, I’m finally just beginning to feel again.

I laugh a lot. But I cry a lot too. The gamut of my emotions have been reengaged and it still feels very new.

I’ve deactivated so many of those old internal security systems that used to protect my heart. I now live in the safety of God’s embrace. And even when I encounter hostility or other reactivity in people—I know I can crawl back into the safety of His arms. My emotions and heart are always safe with Him, even if they aren’t with other people.

Living Wholly Alive: fully engaged in my spirit, soul and body.

That’s my end game.

“…Plow up the hard (fallow) ground of your hearts, for now is the time to seek the LORD, that he may come and shower righteousness upon you” (Hosea 10:12).

“Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me” (Psalm 42:7).

Where are all the Boazes?

lovebringsyouhome2I have a problem with people who think all issues and previous life baggage should be worked out pre-marriage. It just isn’t realistic. Most of the time, a lot of issues actually remain dormant in our lives UNTIL marriage. Marriage is the impetus that shakes a lot of them loose.

God knows this and actually leverages marriage to heal us.

I remember my own premarital counseling experience. My husband and I were counseled by a wonderful couple about a variety of topics. We answered questions and even completed a manual that covered various topics regarding compatibility, marriage beliefs, and parenting modalities, etc.

I emerged from pre-marital counseling feeling like a total ROCK STAR. The ministry couple told us that they’d never had a couple rate so similarly in their intake-form scores before. We were this amazing anomaly. I knew our marriage was going to be flawless. How could it not?

Aww, such sweet naïveté.

God’s grace was all over my dating experience. I met my husband right before I jetted off across the country to attend grad school. We actually started our dating relationship through emails, a landline phone and AOL instant messenger (Remember those days?). I didn’t know it at the time, but my long-distance relationship was the BEST thing that possibly could have happened for me. But God knew.

God knew that my buried issues would have been a ticking time bomb if I had dated someone who actually lived nearby.

I had a few clues prior to this relationship that dormant trauma lay in my past, but nothing really loud enough to grab my attention. Feeling suffocated by attentive boyfriends was my main one. This theme repeated itself over and over. A guy would pursue me. He would be what I perceived as needy—calling me, writing me notes, buying me things, playing with my hair, holding my hands. You know—weird stuff like that. And I’d bail.

“See ya. I don’t need any more parasites in my life.”

So dating my husband long-distance was completely God’s grace. He knew that I needed the stability that marriage would bring. He knew I needed to go a completely different route from my original enmeshed family system. So he nudged me along and coaxed me to marry a truly wonderful, Boaz-hearted man.

It’s still a bit surreal when I look back.

I did have one freak-out moment though in the midst of the relationship. I don’t remember the exact trigger, but it was my same ole issue popping up yet again: I feel suffocated. I don’t think I can do this.

So I didn’t take his calls for a couple days. But somehow—by the grace of God, that feeling passed. I snapped out of it and continued to pursue the marriage. The thousands of miles between us helped me to not feel trapped. We were able to get to know each other without all the physical triggers sabotaging our relationship.

I’m not sure I would have gotten married to an emotionally-healthy person otherwise. I tended to be drawn to guys who needed rescue. I could have easily become a codependent rescuer. Emotionally healthy guys from stable homes didn’t always appeal to me.

God steered me away from all the duds and into the arms of safety instead.

I got lucky. I married a Boaz. He became my Kinsman-Redeemer, like Jesus. It wasn’t all God’s intervention though. My choices to pursue both God and an emotionally-healthy relationship were also huge factors. I had to partner with what God wanted to do.

We always have a choice—broken or not.

So I married a man who was from a loving, functional, and God-serving home. He was wise in considering the ramifications of the brokenness we both knew about—my parents’ broken marriages and my childhood shuffle. But neither one of us could have predicted the hidden brokenness that lay dormant. Only the safety of the marriage relationship would bring that out.

Known areas of brokenness “should” be weighed, just like any other variable, when choosing a spouse. But they “shouldn’t” be the criteria for an automatic disqualification.

GOD GETS THE FINAL REDEMPTIVE SAY. HE TELLS US WHEN TO EMBRACE BROKENNESS.

Previous brokenness does not necessarily determine the future of a marriage. I know friends from stable families who married but later got divorced. I know friends from dysfunctional homes that married young and are still going strong. And I know multiple friends where one spouse comes from a broken family and the other does not—whose marriages are also thriving. There is no predictive formula for a healthy marriage. No pre-marriage guaranty.

The REDEMPTIVE God factor always plays a role in those marriages that overcome the odds.

*I use the words “broken” and “healthy” very lightly, because every person has their own issues and baggage that they bring into a relationship—no matter how “whole” their childhood experience. Some issues are just more reactive in a marriage than others.

And it’s often the combination of both sets of baggage that results in the explosive marriage combustions.

But even those who are raised in loving, safe, and functional family systems have their issues. Every person has areas of their life where they still need to heal, mature, and grow. Each of us lives in this fractured, hurting world. No one is exempted from pain and dysfunction altogether.

No one’s heart will be completely whole until eternity.

But I wonder whether people think they are dodging a bullet by avoiding certain types of brokenness in relationships? Are broken people someone else’s problem? Wasn’t Jesus’ whole game plan to save and deliver broken people—to bring them redemption in every area of their lives?

He embraced the broken. It was His EMBRACE that made them whole.

People often have no problem embracing brokenness in church and ministry settings. But embracing it in their marriages? I don’t think we need to be so gun shy in this area. God gives every person as much strategy and wisdom as they need to minister to the broken—even if it is with their own spouse. They need only ask Him for it.

Seriously though, if each one of us had to wait until we had all of our shit together before we got married, no one would ever marry. So we heal and grow together within the marriage. We grow up to fuller maturity together.

Some of us just have more work to do than others.

God unites safe people with the broken to fulfill His purposes. Think Hosea and Gomer. Boaz and Ruth.

The reality is that broken people crave safety. And healing can only be accomplished in a safe environment—otherwise the hurting just continue to live in survival mode. The safety of the marriage relationship is like sunshine.

Healing grows within its embrace.

This has totally been the case in my own life. When I look back on a couple of the guys I dated, I just heave a HUGE sigh of relief. Pheeewwww…I would never have felt safe enough with some of those guys to actually unpack and heal my past trauma. I could have been stuck in a triggery, revolving marriage that just made my issues worse.

But I didn’t.

Instead I found a husband who was willing to embrace my brokenness and walk alongside of me as I began the process of healing. He embraced my quirky family too. And He has become the family problem solver—as my family members often consult with him on various decisions. He takes care of a lot of loose ends for all of us—just like Boaz did for Ruth’s family.

My husband is definitely ONE of God’s Boazes. He’s redeemed my past for me in so many ways.

Boaz was a symbol of Christ. He was a shadow of things to come. It’s Jesus that is our real Kinsman-Redeemer. He takes care of our loose ends. He provides. He protects. He embraces us in all of our brokenness to bring us to wholeness. And marriage is a symbol of the intimate relationship that God desires to have with us.

So my question is: Where are all the Boazes?

Because God still calls people to represent His heart in this same way today.

And the healthier a person’s foundational root system, the greater the breadth of shade under which the broken can find rest.

“We can make our plans, but the LORD determines our steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

“God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy…” (Psalm 68:6)

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

To Belong

fullsizerender-9For as long as I can remember, I never felt like I belonged. Instead, I felt like a lost, wandering child who was on a pilgrimage to discover her true country and kin. Like one day, somewhere, this child would find her place. Find her people. Find the place where she belonged.

I’ve always felt like a wanderer, waiting to be found.

I remember as a child how I’d pack my suitcase and run away. I wouldn’t do it out of spite like my 8-year-old son often threatens. I actually wanted to be found. I’d even draw a map leading to my hiding place once I’d run away.

There is just something SO wonderful about being found, welcomed and celebrated.

I think my heart was forever crying out to hear: “Welcome HOME!!!!! Welcome to the place where you BELONG. We finally FOUND you!”

All those fairy tales and movies where people suffer a hard life but then discover that they are actually royalty have brought me to tears over the years. Like Shasta in The Horse and His Boy, by C.S. Lewis, or Rosella in the Island Princess, or Mia in Princess Diaries. Each of these characters discovers their true place. They ARE wanted after all. They are loved and celebrated.

To belong is truly a wonderful thing.

I don’t remember ever belonging anywhere as a child.  All I remember is being shuffled around indiscriminatingly to various relatives, friends, boyfriends and hired sitters who would tolerate us while my parents abandoned us in the name of work.

It was just normal that my doctor father lived at the hospital, slept in the spare bedroom, and only came home to do laundry. I never questioned why my flight-attendant mother would leave us for days at a time with hired strangers or sketchy relatives. It was just a part of normal life when my dad decided to leave our family in favor of a better one. It became normal that most of my family memories involved various boyfriends whom my mother never married.

It was all I had ever known. How could I know that things could even be different?

So I got used to never belonging. I got used to being the bouncy pinball that my parents would fling around to wherever they needed me to go. I lived in a place of chaotic transition. I settled into being the odd man out and acquiescing to everyone else’s wishes. Mine didn’t matter. My life was the epitome of inconsistency.

Inconsistency is a heart killer.

Consistency brings with it a sense of security, trust, and a belief that the world is somehow a safe place. Inconsistency breeds just the opposite: insecurity, mistrust, self-sufficiency, and fear.

These unhealthy emotions and lenses became rampant in my heart throughout my rocky childhood. I put walls around my heart in self-protection. I learned how to survive like the best of them. I learned how to finagle, strategize, and fight to get my needs met. But belonging?

Yah, I never figured that one out.

And so this lonely child turned into an awkward teenager who stumbled through her high school years, and then launched onto college, adulthood, marriage, and parenting without even pausing for a breath in between—yet all the while trying to find her place and figure out her identity.

I longed DESPERATELY to belong somewhere.

College brought me a few years respite from that lonely, haunting sense of ill-belonging that seemed to hover over my life. I found a handful of friends who embraced me in all my awkward, chubby years of self-discovery. I still don’t know what they saw in me. But they loved me and I loved them, and to this day I still trust these people with my heart. No question.

Maybe it was all the late-night trips to the grocery store in our pajamas or the bickering over annoying alarm-clock sounds. Maybe it was the fact that they saw me completely devastated during a bad breakup and loved me anyway. But somewhere along the way, these people became my people. These people became my family.

It was a taste of belonging.

Then college ended. We all shuffled off to our various states, marriages and new responsibilities. And I was alone with myself once again. Wandering. Lost. Alone.

I was now a certified, grown-up orphan. (I even had a diploma.)

But I wasn’t alone. Turns out the world is full of grown-up orphans just like me. Having actual parents doesn’t change this inner-heart, orphan dynamic. It just makes it all the more confusing to figure out.

“I HAD parents who took care of me,” someone might think. “Why do I FEEL like an orphan?”

Well…because orphans beget orphans. The emotional neglect of previous generations continues to perpetuate itself. These grown-up orphans that never had their needs met become parents who raise up their own children in like manner—barring intervention or inner healing.

So many orphans are wandering around, seeking to be found.

Take this little wandering mud hen in the picture above. I relate to him a lot. He lives at my neighborhood lake. His hardware must be faulty because he didn’t migrate with the rest of the mud hens a while back. Instead, he stuck around and now flounders about the lake by himself, looking awkward, and trying to fit in with the ducks. The ducks don’t pay him much attention—but that doesn’t stop him from trying to integrate himself into their ranks each day.

Poor little guy. I feel his pain. It sucks to not belong.

I’m not as much of a wanderer anymore. Oh, I still have my days. Those darn days still pop up where I feel unsettled and insecure about life, days where I wonder whether my loved ones will stick it out with me for the long haul. I’ve had so much abandonment and disappointment in my life that those weaker days often trigger those familiar fears all over again.

But I’ve discovered a GLORIOUS truth along the way.

I’ve come to experience in a very real way just how God sets the lonely into families. Because He does. He puts the lonely into spiritual families. He takes people with Type A wounds (see Redemptive Side of Pain for more on Type A wounds), and He brings just the right people who will help fill them up and heal those childhood holes.

God Re-PARENTS us. He doesn’t leave us stuck in our orphan-hood.

I have many stand-in people in my life now who I’ve spiritually adopted as family. I have friends who have become like big sisters, little sisters, brothers, and aunts/uncles in my life. I have mentors who have become like spiritual mothers and fathers to me.

I can share struggles and get wisdom from the ones who are upstream from me, or I can pour out my wisdom and mentoring onto the ones that are downstream. These relationships are incredibly beneficial for both parties.

The relationships do not carry the same dynamics as my family of origin. They are a completely different spiritual dynamic. I don’t go to these people’s houses on holidays. They don’t buy me birthday presents. Some have never met my husband or kids. But these people are there for me. My life is richer with them in it.

God sets the lonely in families.

I can never go back and re-do my childhood. I can’t force my family of origin to change and heal so that they can finally meet my needs. I’m an adult now. I don’t belong in my past anyway.

I belong in my present.

I think things started to change in my life once I took my eyes off of all the ways I had been short-changed. When I took my eyes off of the things I missed or did NOT receive—it was then that I started to discover exactly what it was that I DID have.

I discovered that I already belonged to Him—that I was completely and totally accepted.

I discovered that I was already loved and celebrated by certain people—however spread out on the Earth they may be.

I discovered that I had already found many of my tribe—people who think like-mindedly and “get” me. I no longer feel like such an oddball.

You already belong too. To Him. With others.

Sometimes it just takes a little while to work out all the details.

Hang in there.

God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing…” (Psalm 68:6)

“To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he has made us ACCEPTED in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6).

“…For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).