Heaven’s Hug

img_5332

I felt the familiar fear and panic rising up within my throat as I heard the sound of screaming and loud banging and thumping sounds. My 8-year-old son and teenage daughter’s clash of the titans had just erupted and a new screaming match started in the stairwell outside my room.

Each of their angry footsteps pounding up the stairs felt like an electric shock to my chest and abdomen. Their hateful screams became the mirror-image trauma to my ears that the raging footsteps were to my core.

Not again. Not now. I just can’t.

I had just laid down for the first moment all day—and that was only out of sheer necessity. I felt dizzy and like I was going to pass out. I’d pushed my body and soul to the max yet again—forgetting lunch till 3pm and then using every last ounce of my energy to clean my messy house and attend to the kids’ thousand questions and demands.

My heart was now racing with the aftermath of pushing my adrenals too far. My kidneys were feeling achy from too much coffee and not enough food. And my stomach had somewhere decided to join in this chaotic body symphony by now punishing me for my lunch choices.

I just can’t be a parent right now.

I felt angry, scared, and like a little girl again—hiding from raging family members. I just wanted to stick my fingers in my ears to block out the sound. Maybe it would all just go away if I waited long enough.

But it didn’t.

It got louder and more volatile. I knew I had to intervene but I had no idea what to do. I wasn’t cruising in my adult brain at the moment. Instead, I had been traumatically flung into animal brain and flight mode—I actually just wanted to run away. I had zero strategies floating around.

The only thing I found enough energy to do was shoot up a desperate SOS prayer as I shakily stood up from where I had been lying on my floor:

Jesus, I can’t do this…

I walked out into the hall and quickly surveyed the damage of the moment. I had emerged just in time to see my 12-year-old daughter charging up the stairs with fiery hate in her eyes. I knew I had to act fast. My son was standing 5 feet away from where she would emerge with a clock poised in his hand—ready to throw it at her.

Stupid yard sale clock. It’s so ugly. Why didn’t I already put that in the donations bag?

That’s where my exhausted, trauma-triggered brain found itself. No strategies were surfacing—just thoughts about how much I hated that clock and questions as to why I had even let my daughter buy it in the first place.

I felt like I was in the middle of a war zone. Chaos dominated.

Emotional shrapnel was flying everywhere and I didn’t know how to contain it or where to direct my efforts. Two of my kids were visual at the moment, but I had no idea where the other two were. Were they hiding around a corner, also waiting to engage? I didn’t know how many soldiers were involved in this particular battle.

I was just hoping for the least amount of casualties as possible.

I walked over to my son, since he seemed to be right at the centerpoint of battle and I placed my hands gently on his shoulders: “What’s going on?”

I could tell he wanted help. But before he could even answer, my daughter emerged from the stairs and started hurling more emotional missiles at him.

My son cried out loudly in response, dropped the clock, and ran off to his room—slamming the door as he sought solace in the only place he knew to hide. Wrenching, angry sobs immediately followed—broadcasting from behind the door.

Oh my God. Was I raising another emotional isolater?

I felt devastated at the thought. That possibility in itself added another layer of fear and trauma to my own heart. I knew that I had spent an entire childhood isolating whenever I felt emotionally or physically hurt. Was I now perpetuating this same behavior onto my children? I couldn’t handle the ramifications.

Just then my second teenage daughter emerged from a nearby bathroom, where she had clearly been hiding from my son’s wrath. The participating soldiers and battle issue was now becoming clearer to me: One little boy pitted against the snarky world of teenage harassment.

I felt a rush of adrenaline and anger course throughout my body. Why couldn’t they just stop pushing his buttons? And why couldn’t he just ignore their lameness?

My anger then transferred over to my own injustice. I felt persecuted in my own home. I felt completely desperate and alone—even though I was supposed to be in charge. I had my own issues to work on. But this constant emotional barrage of triggers launching from my children’s immaturity was just making everything worse.

If only I could cry to get some of this out—but I couldn’t. I had learned long ago to stuff my emotions in favor of survival and not rocking any boats.

I was at the end of myself here. I had nothing left to give my kids. The fear, anger, and adrenaline that had just coursed through my body as a result of the screaming and loud stomping around had left me like a deflated balloon.

But I had to do something:

KNOCK, KNOCK.

“Don’t come in!” my son cried out.

“It’s Mommy. Can I come in?”

“No!”

“Please? Can I come in?” I asked—cracking the door open a tiny bit.

And there he was—sitting all alone and bereft in his chair. When I first opened the door, I still had the anger and adrenaline rushing through my veins. But as I saw him sitting there, something majorly shifted within me. Anger melted away and my heart just broke. It was like Heaven’s veil parted and I saw my son with supernatural eyes.

My entire being was illumined with God’s love and compassion.

In that moment, it didn’t matter how many times this kid had put me through the emotional fire or how many times he had triggered my own issues. I saw him now in his humanity through the eyes of love. He was irresistible. I just had to love on him.

“Can Mommy come in? Can I just hold you?” I asked him.

I didn’t know what I was doing other than following the prompting within my own spirit. My soul had been taken out through the earlier emotional barrage. It was totally benched. But my spirit stepped forward in that moment and reassured my soul: “I got this one.”

My son let me come into his room and pick him up into my arms.

It had been a while since I’d held him. He was so much bigger and heavier than he used to be as a toddler—when I’d held him all the time. So I transitioned to sitting on the floor and holding him in my lap.

He was sobbing and angrily talking all at the same time.

Story after story poured out of him. All of the day’s injustices. All of his life’s injustices. I just let him cry. I let him say everything that he wanted to. I knew somehow not to ruin the time by inserting explanations or any type of logic.

The anguish in his soul needed to get out.

I interjected a few times with various affirmations: “That sounds awful”; “I’m so sorry you had such a rough day”; “That sounds so frustrating.”

But mostly I just listened.

The whole time he was talking, I alternated between holding him tightly to stroking his face and arm to calm him down. I knew one of his love languages was physical touch, and I wanted to make sure he left our time together having his love tank majorly filled up—even if I couldn’t solve his sibling rivalry problems.

And as I sat there just holding Him—I also felt God holding me and loving me in the exact way that I needed to be loved.

It felt surreal. It felt holy.

With each new pain that my son voiced and I affirmed, God was also affirming me at the same time: “This is how I hold you. This is how I listen to you. This is how I comfort you. My arms are always open.”

God poured his love and comfort into me the entire time that I was pouring into my son.

My body may have been a deflated balloon but my heart was soaring. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. God streamlined his love to and through me at the same time.

Heaven’s Hug.

My son continued on for about ten more minutes, switching back and forth between his sobs and angry discourses. But slowly the anger started to dissipate. The sobs lessened. Pretty soon he was telling me all about his new video game and how well he was doing in conquering it. He was beating all of his sisters, he said. He actually smiled.

My God—could it seriously be this easy?

Yes.

Heaven’s Hug.

When we come to Him as little children—we will find Him.

He will always embrace us if we let Him.

That embrace is life-changing.

❤ Nova

“And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 18:3).

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these’” (Matthew 19:14).

Ministry or Codependency?

img_4937

I used to have a savior mentality when it came to helping other people. Call it codependency; call it what you like. But it became overwhelming and incapacitating. I completely emptied my tank helping other people and I got to the place where even simple text requests for prayer would almost send me over the edge. Everywhere I looked, people seemed to be looking to me to fulfill their needs. I felt like a cow with 50 teats and an empty tank.

My body and soul began to break down from all the performance anxiety I felt—ESPECIALLY with the spiritual stuff.

I liked helping people, but it all felt dependent on me. If I didn’t pray for a person, I unconsciously thought bad stuff would happen or that I was letting God down. My perfectionistic tendencies reared their ugly heads. If I didn’t help every person that made spiritual requests of me, I’d feel horrible and worry about how their situation would end up.

I ended up feeling like a spiritual puppet. I had no boundaries when it came to the God stuff.

I was getting yanked around like crazy, and I was headed straight for burnout and emotional shutdown. I wasn’t getting my own spiritual tank filled enough to attend to every crisis in these other people’s lives. I was on empty, yet I still answered their texts and various requests.

God had to intervene to cut me free from these spiritual puppet strings—this issue had become a stronghold in my life and I just couldn’t see it.

(Strongholds are blindspots in our spiritual lives. They are areas of our lives where we are operating out of false mindsets or lies. And unless we get revelation from God or have wise friends that point them out to us, we usually don’t see them.)

My root issue in this stronghold wasn’t one of pride or legitimacy—I didn’t help others because I thought I was THAT amazing or because it defined my identity. My root issue was one of false responsibility. I was picking up other people and burdens that I was never meant to carry—and all in the name of God.

I learned false responsibility in my own family system from the time I was very young, so I didn’t even notice when it transferred over to my spiritual life.

And with each request that I fulfilled—whether praying for a friend or offering counsel to an acquaintance, I began to sink deeper and deeper. I walked away from most interactions feeling more burdened in spirit and mind.

Where was MY freedom in all of this?

I had mistaken my role for God’s. I had not understood the verse that tells us that His yoke is easy and His burden is light. And because I was the first believer in my family of origin, no one had ever taught me how to DAILY walk free throughout the nuances of my spiritual life.

I had to discover through trial and error what brought freedom and life and what brought oppression and death.

The more time that I spent in God’s presence, the more I was able to recognize when something didn’t have God’s stamp on it. My discernment grew. I started to recognize the difference between God’s gentle leading and the enemy’s incessant driving.

I discovered that it is the enemy that is the cruel taskmaster. He loves it when we don’t take time for ourselves to refuel. He loves milking us completely dry. He is thrilled when we run around like crazy chickens with our heads cut off.

But that’s not God’s way.

Even when God leads us to help a certain person, there is grace that coats the way. If we feel overwhelmed or full of dread, it’s a sign to check in with God: “Father, is this an assignment from you or am I taking on something that I am just NOT meant to carry?”

God leads us by His peace in all things. And God’s heart is never to throw us into an arena with a bunch of needy people and say, “Okay, now let them suck you dry.”

His heart is always to protect us and to be life-giving to each person involved: receiver AND giver.

So when we feel that sense of chaos in a demanding moment, it’s great to take a few minutes to assess the status of our heart. Are we trying to do too much? Is the task from God but the timing is just off? Maybe we need to take an hour to downshift and rest, and then we will have what we need to answer that phone call or request.

Or maybe the request doesn’t lie within the boundaries of our jurisdiction. We don’t have the ability or grace to meet that particular need. I’ve encountered these times when I’ve had to tell someone, “I don’t know the answer to that. Have you considered talking to a counsellor or a pastor?”

Knowing our limits and personal boundaries is important.

Even Jesus had boundaries. Jesus walked towards certain ministry situations but away from others. He was very familiar with the needy, and He is our ultimate example in how to lead a spiritually-balanced life. He navigated all those nuances and we can learn from Him.

Jesus also modelled how important it is to take time alone in the Father’s presence to regroup and be filled up before we pour out onto others.

As for myself, I came to realize that operating out of a place of lack when it came to helping others was a recipe for self-destruction. So I became better at waiting to help people until I’d had my own spiritual regrouping and soul-care time. And sometimes, I just had to tell the person that I didn’t have time to chat that day but that I would pray for them.

I became better at navigating the balance of spiritual and natural tasks.

Another huge breakthrough for me came once I started releasing each person to God after I was done with my small part. So after I offered my listening ear, my prayers, or my spiritual counsel to another, I would literally and symbolically hang up the phone. I had to leave the requests and any heaviness that I felt in God’s hand.

If I didn’t, I ended up taking their warfare and burdens with me throughout the rest of my day—and that wasn’t my cross to bear.

I got good at praying: “Jesus, I release these needs and burdens to you. I’m not strong enough to carry them and your cross has already made provision for each of these things.”

I found visualization was also HUGELY helpful in releasing these things over to God. Because some things were just so heavy on my heart that my prayer alone wasn’t enough to lift the heaviness. I needed to actually see Jesus take the burden before I would feel that release of mind and heart.

So I would close my eyes and visualize myself handing the burden over to Him. I would see Him take it. And then I would ask Him what He had for me in exchange.

Making a divine exchange here is key.

When God removes something from us, He always LOVES to give us something wonderful in return. It’s that whole principle of God cleaning house. Once He cleans and empties out the negatives from our lives, God wants to fill those recently-vacated places with more of Himself.

And He always gives us good gifts.

This tool of making a divine exchange is now something I utilize on a daily basis to keep myself free from spiritual heaviness and burdens.

Just the other day, I felt incredibly burdened for Israel. I wanted to pray but I just felt consumed by grief and worry for their people. I knew in that moment that it wasn’t a time for prayer; it was a time for release. If I had prayed from that place of worry and fear, I wouldn’t have been praying from God’s heavenly perspective. I recognized that I had inadvertently taken a burden on myself that I needed to release.

So I visualized myself handing Jesus the entire nation of Israel.

It was a beautiful moment. After He took it, I saw Him place a tiny box in my hand in exchange. And when I opened the box, it was fully of tiny little things that brought me joy and made me laugh. His playfulness and comfort surrounded me in that instant. I would pray for Israel later when I was in a better mindset.

His yoke really is easy. His burden really is light.

I’ve found SO much freedom in this particular journey. My boundaries are continuing to get better. And I walk with more spiritual awareness now—especially in recognizing when I’m carrying any heavy yokes or burdens.

The God stuff is enjoyable for me again because I let Him do all the heavy lifting.

I pray you find the same freedom.

~From Glory to Glory

“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit”
(2 Corinthians 3:18).

“Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:29-30).

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

“But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

How Do You Love? (Part One: Receiving)

 

img_4196What is the blueprint for loving? Can you ever love too much? Too little?

What is the proper distribution of love?

I believe so much of life is just about redefining the priority and positioning of love in our daily lives. We are told to love God with our entire beings and to love our neighbor as ourselves. But how do we walk that love out in a healthy way?

How do we know WHEN we are loving well?

The reality is that we all love something. God is love and we were created to love. Loving is in our DNA. We can’t help but give our heart’s devotion to something—or many things. But where and how we choose to love is where the battlefield and many misunderstandings lie.

Love can be mismanaged, misused and manipulated. We can love others in unhealthy ways. We can even love God wrong, depending on our motives.

Motivation matters in love.

I’m sure we all know people who tend toward extremes and who love others in unhealthy ways. People love others for all sorts of reasons—usually to meet a deep need inside themselves that they may not even know exists.

We are all motivated throughout life by our needs.

That is why it is so important to pursue the inner healing of our hearts. The more that we receive God’s cleansing love in the channels of our hearts, the purer the love flow that then pours out onto others.

The sequence of loving is so key to that pure flow.

God actually gave us a roadmap of how to love long ago:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

We are told to love God first BEFORE we are encouraged to love others. And then when we are exhorted to love others, it is highlighted to do so in the same way that we already love ourselves. This adds a hidden second to this 3-part sequence:

Love God. Love ourselves. Love others.

But wait…because we cannot ever give something unless we have first received it, we can actually look at this commandment as a 4-part love sequence:

Receive God’s love. Love God. Love ourselves. Love others.

He has already told us that we love Him because He FIRST loved us. We learn even as babies that receiving comes before giving. A newborn baby can’t feed or clothe himself. He has to first learn to receive way before he is ever able to give back to the world.

God uses these natural principles to mirror His unseen spiritual realities. These parallels are supposed to synonymously teach us about God’s ways as we also figure out our way through this natural world.

We were designed to receive His love WAY before we ever pour it out again. Unfortunately, many of us were not loved well by our parents or other caregivers, and that polluted perspective on loving transfers over to how we expect to receive love from God.

But if we never learn to receive God’s love for ourselves, we will always love others with a handicap.  We cannot give something to someone that we haven’t already received ourselves. Natural love will always fall short.

Until we receive, we have nothing to give. Until we learn to receive God’s love, we will be loving others from a place of lack rather than fullness.

So we start the journey of loving well by first attending to our own relationship with Love Incarnate. We choose to let God love us. We purposefully invite Him in with this goal of letting Him love us. It doesn’t matter how long we have already known Him; God always wants to fill us with more of His love.

God is a gentleman and will never force Himself on us—but He is always waiting at the door. We need to let Him in because we desperately need the FULLNESS of His love to empower and bring life to our hearts.

Receiving His love is not a one-time event when we first meet God. It is meant to be a lifestyle. We need to have the expectation that God is going to continually douse us with His unconditional AGAPE love.

His love is a consuming and contagious fire.

It is in receiving the fullness of this love that we then transform into holy-love machines. His agape love becomes the catalytic force that empowers us for all other loving. Without this catalytic love propelling us forward, the embers of our own natural love will eventually burn out.

Loving that flows from our spirit is different than loving from our natural strength.

The world doesn’t teach us healthy ways to love and be loved. The world teaches self-indulgence, using others, and giving in order to get. So we have to partner with the SOURCE of love in order to learn how to love from our spirit.

Sometimes God will lead us into seasons of time alone with Him where we can reconnect our damaged receiving lines and rediscover how to receive His love. Don’t rush these times. Allow yourself to be fully saturated and immersed.

The deeper the reservoirs of His love that take residence in our hearts, the deeper the places in Him that we are then able to lead others.

Being able to receive from Him is crucial to our entire life’s journey. It isn’t a luxury; it’s a NECESSITY. Everything else in our lives will be built from this very basic spiritual building block. He IS our source for all things. If we don’t look to Him, we will forever be looking to man or stuff to fulfill our longings and needs. And they never will.

If you haven’t figured this out yet, it’s crucial to take the time to do so. Focus on the first part of God’s love sequence. Develop your foundation of God’s love first—it is the basis of all other loving.

Learn to receive His love.

Let Him love you.

That’s it.

“We love him because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…and You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).

(Stay tuned for Part Two of How Do You Love?)

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).

To Sleepover or Not to Sleepover?

sleepoverpicOur kids’ annual birthday marathon just finally ended—thank God. Seriously…it’s the biggest pain every year to have three of our kids’ birthdays back-to-back. July. August. September. No reprieve. And having two of them at the beginning of the school year just convolutes things even more. Nevermind that my 40th b-day was also thrown into the mix this year.

It’s all about the kids, right?

My husband and I decided a few years back that we’d switch to the every-other-year birthday celebration idea, but somehow one slipped through the cracks this year. This was actually supposed to be our off year.

“What happened? I thought we were going to skip birthday parties this year?” my husband asked.

“Yah. I don’t know what happened. But we started the cycle—no going back now,” I replied.

Our March birthday kid must have somehow hypnotized me. Either that or she used her covert charm and mad skills to cast me under her birthday spell.

Anyway…she totally snuck past my radar.

But now we were stuck and obligated to fulfill the rest of this year’s birthday round. One kid was also turning 13—so that was a significant milestone. Next year, my other daughter will turn 13—it always seems to be something.

Somehow we keep getting looped back in.

Birthday parties wouldn’t be such panic-inducing material for me if I had better boundaries with my children. My overly optimistic perspective is my downfall every year. Somehow each of my kids manages to slyly cram two birthday parties into one event. And my alarm bell must be broken, because it doesn’t RING that it’s a bad idea until it’s way too late.

“Sure you can have a couple of kids spend the night after the party. Why not?”

But the couple of kids somehow turns into four or five. And it’s never a quiet night. It usually turns into eight wild banshees running around my house, having the time of their lives, and a 10pm food fest—as the natives become starving again.

Shoot. I only planned snacks, dinner and dessert, and breakfast for the next morning. What do I feed them now?

Our yearly birthday hoorah wouldn’t cause me nearly as much anxiety if the kids could just invite our regulars—aka those kids who have been over before and whose parents already know the drill. You know…the families who totally get it when I answer the door in my pajamas Sunday morning in total sleep-deprivation, birthday-hangover mode. No judgment.

“Yah, I WON’T be going to church today. Can you bring me coffee when you pick up your kid?”

Seriously though, I think the two hardest party variables that I deal with every year are the new-kid ingredient and the sleepover element.

The new-kid ingredient usually entails a lot of extra planning and detailed communication. It means texting new parents from tiny scraps of paper that my kids have brought home from school. It means awkward introductions and really hoping that the numbers are correct. It means using my college marketing degree to parent-smooze and YES, even includes name dropping. I mean, COME ON, I’m trying to sell someone on coming to our party, right?

“You know so-and-so, right? Yah, their kid is TOTALLY coming to our party. Their parents trust me. I’m legit. Promise. Oh, and I have my daughter looking up at me with her puppy-dog eyes, so please don’t say no.”

Then once I get past the awkward introductions, I get to tip-toe around the hot sleepover topic because I actually told my daughter YES for some crazy reason. I’m a glutton for punishment apparently.

My mommy friends tell me every year that I’m loco for trying to cram so much in.

But back to the sleepover topic. It’s a very real and hot issue among parents these days. Our world is such a crazy, messed-up place. It’s wise to be aware and careful about where we leave our children unsupervised.

If I could be completely real and transparent when texting a new parent about a sleepover, I think I’d give this party and family disclaimer:

“Hi. My kid would love to invite your kid over to our house for a sleepover party next Saturday. I promise we aren’t psychopaths, your child won’t get molested at our house, and we don’t watch porn. But YES, I will feed your kid gluten and sugar, they will most likely be inundated with “high school musical” songs, and they will probably come home totally zombified from too-much play and not-enough sleep. I’ve been told our house is like Disneyland. Hope your kid can come.”

Keeping it real, right?

I TOTALLY get it though. Slumber parties, aka sleepovers, are such a tricky dynamic. Plus, they are a TON of work. I encounter it every time I plan one of my sleepover-obsessed kid’s parties. And every year I swear that next time, I’m only going to let my kids invite our regulars—that is, if I ever do a sleepover again.

Sleepover parties are like giving birth. I don’t remember the pain of them until I actually have another one.

I USED to be one of the ANTI-sleepover moms. I didn’t let my kids do ANY sleepovers when they were little. It was just too much emotional and physical hassle to even think about. Plus, I knew that once I unlocked that door, the floodgates would rush in, contagious sleepover-fever would hit, and my kids would start keeping detailed tallies. My kids are like fairness Nazis. They are zealously aware of any scale imbalances.

“But I haven’t had a sleepover in two weeks. That’s not FAIR!”

You’re right. It’s because I play favorites. I must not have balanced my Excel-sleepover spreadsheet this month. Not to mention that my son doesn’t understand why he can’t have sleepovers like his sisters.

Sleepovers are just a PAIN. Plain and simple. I’m still not really a fan. But I host them anyway, and I let my kids go to a fair amount of them now that they are older.

Why?

Two reasons:

First reason: I have SO many good memories from my own childhood sleepovers. They were, for the most part, positive learning experiences. It wasn’t just about the fun. I was able to watch how other families lived. It was like traveling the world and learning about other family cultures. I also got to know some of my friends’ parents—a little outside mentoring never hurts.

Yes, there were the occasional times when I watched a scary movie that I never would have been allowed to watch at home. There was one friend’s brother who was highly inappropriate in his conversations. But for the most part, what I gleaned was way better than my handful of negative experiences.

I know that I CAN’T protect my kids every minute of every day. I know my kids hear bad words and other inappropriate material even at school. But I know what I CAN do. My kids and I talk about these things afterwards. And I PRAY.

Every morning I pray for God’s protection over my kids’—spirit, soul, and body. I pray that God guards their eyes, ears, and hearts. I pray that God edits their people interactions. I declare the promises of Psalm 91’s protection.

The second reason I allow sleepovers is that I decided years ago that I didn’t want to make my parenting decisions out of fear and paranoia. Instead, I wanted to make them out of wisdom and peace—which is actually a much trickier road to navigate.

It WOULD be so much easier just to say NO. To say our family doesn’t do sleepovers.

I’ve encountered two common sides of this Sleepover Road in my lifetime. One is the side of permissiveness and naiveté. My parents landed on this side. They were pretty clueless in general about what could happen at a playdate or sleepover. Trust me, bad stuff can happen at playdates in the daytime too. I had way more bad things happen to me as a young, unsupervised child dropped off at a friend’s house than I EVER had happen at a sleepover in my older childhood years.

The second is the side of fear or paranoia—usually including but not limited to the complete opting-out of sleepovers. I know many parents who choose to walk on this side of the Sleepover Road. I have zero judgment for them. I totally get it. Anyone who has ever experienced trauma in their childhood has a tendency to take this route. And even without the experience of trauma, opting-out of sleepovers feels much safer, is less hassle, and it avoids those awkward conversations of having to say no to invitations.

People generally respect the family sleepover opt-out.

There are days when I think about re-opting back out of sleepovers. But each time I see the excited anticipation in my kids’ eyes and hear of their fun sleepover exploits, I decide not to.

Instead, I try to walk in the middle of this Sleepover Road. I walk cautiously and I have to use discernment. I have certain friends’ homes that I allow them to frequent, and there are certain homes I will not allow them to go to–no matter how much they beg me.

But with new people, I have to check in with God and see whether I have peace about any upcoming invites. I ask questions that will help me weed out uncomfortable variables. I want to know who else lives at the house, who else will be spending the night, and what movies they will be watching.

I also try to be clear about our family’s own rules and boundaries, because I know that each family is its own organism with differing values and norms.

I have to always use communication, discernment, peace and prayer. These are crucial tools to use in making any decision. I also employ the weapons of research and education. I try to learn more about the families of my kids’ friends and I educate my children on how to stay safe. 

I try to educate my kids on how to walk in authority, have good physical and emotional boundaries, and how to also trust their intuition when someone or something feels “off” or “creepy”. Plus, they know that they can always call me if something goes south.

These are tools I never had as a child.

And honestly—a lot of times if I say no to an invitation, it’s just because we are already busy or oversaturated in parties. So if I say no to your kid’s party, don’t take it personally.

I promise not to take your no personally either. If I happen to invite your kid to one of our future sleepovers and you say no, I will not be offended. And I won’t automatically assume you have some deep trauma in your past.

Instead, I will assume you are a fantastic parent who adores your child and is trying to protect them to the best of your ability. Your kid can still come to Part One of our party. Because that’s how I roll.

To Sleepover or Not to Sleepover? That is the question.

Because it’s not a question of morality: what is right or wrong.

It’s a family decision.

You get to decide which part of the Sleepover Road to walk.

Party on.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

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).