The Long Lament

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul

 The words of Horatio Spafford’s timeless hymn roll through my mind on repeat.  Knowing the pain that birthed this beloved hymn serves as a reminder that no matter how great one’s faith is, it does not spare any of us from adversity.

I have been on a journey of lament over the past few months. A journey that has indeed brought me into the throne room many times on my knees if not fully prostrate on the ground in utter brokenness before my God. Always believing sadness to be a “bad” emotion, something that makes me weak, I have been avoiding opening the door that leads into the heart of “the great sadness”.  Through wisdom and prodding from my spiritual community, I was introduced to lament as being an integral part of the healing process as well as a part of our faith.  So, I started to dig deeper into what the lamentation process is all about.

Lament is defined as a “passionate expression of grief or sorrow” [1] or “to mourn aloud; to express sorrow, mourning, or regret for often demonstratively”.[2]

In every definition of lament that I read, many of the synonyms reflected an action such as wailing, crying, groaning, weeping, sobbing.  A physical demonstration of the inward pain that we are feeling.  Therefore, there must be something to this carnal need within me to break and weep uncontrollably, and I dug further still into the depths of faith because aren’t we as Christians supposed to be happy all the time? Why, when going through cavernous trials, do we put on masks of perfection just to go to church?  Where is there room for lamentation in our worship services? Why are we not taught more about this?

I have often pondered this while sitting in church, unable to sing the hymns of praise to my precious Lord because I couldn’t get the words of joy up and out of my mouth.  They were clogged behind the doorway of sadness that weighed so heavily in my soul, choked out by sobs. It is so difficult to sing words of joy and gladness when the shadow of sorrow has enveloped one’s life.

It made me feel almost guilty, ashamed that I could not bring forth the joy that I know my faith is supposed to invoke. Realizing from wise counsel I sought along this journey, that lamentation is part of our faith, it’s right in the Bible, there is an entire book of the Bible called Lamentations for a reason!  They gave me the freedom to weep, mourn and wail for all I have lost. To fully break before God and know that lamentation is actually a very important part of my healing journey.  One must enter into this place of darkness in order to experience the joy and freedom that awaits on the other side of it.

So, dropping my bags of burden at the door, I opened the door to the deep place in my soul where no one goes, crossed the threshold and curled up with Jesus in a whole new place I never even knew existed within me. There in the breaking, I experienced healing I have never known and struggle to put into words. It is there is the wailing and mourning that Jesus held me fast and would not let me go. It is there in the depths of my soul that Jesus spoke into my very being. It is there as I wept in His embrace that I felt the love only the Saviour can give.

He whispered, His words like honeycomb to my beat-up and weary soul. In the depths of despair, He just sat with me, His arms embracing me as I wailed bitterly.  There are no words that can describe lament, its quite plainly put, a spiritual groaning. And as Jesus held me through it there was such peace at the end of it. Knowing that I am loved despite all of my shortcomings, despite all of my strivings to be enough, to hold it all together, to wear the mask of perfectionism…it was here in the caverns of my soul that I found true rest and peace in the darkness of my lamentation.

There is such beauty in the breaking. There is such love that defies all logic that meets us at the core of who we are. Such love that whispers…You are mine…You are my masterpiece…just as you admire the sunset and stand in awe of its sheer beauty, so I adore seeing you, my beloved.

 Often in our sorrow we feel invisible, alone, isolated. The thing I love most about this journey into lamentation is that there is always a “but”; there is always hope.

 Joy has left our hearts;

Our dancing has turned to mourning,

The garlands have fallen from our heads.

Weep for us because we have sinned.

Our hearts are sick and weary,

And or eyes grow dim with tears.

For Jerusalem is empty and desolate,

A place haunted by jackals.

 

But LORD, you remain the same forever!

Your throne continues from generation to generation…

Restore us, O LORD, and bring us back to you again!

Give us back the joys we once had!

Lamentations 5:15-21 (emphasis mine)

 

I was given a bracelet last week that had a card with it and it reads “Hope is the only thing stronger than fear”.

Hope: to desire with expectation of obtainment or fulfillment[3]

We have hope!

Yet I still dare to hope

When I remember this:

The faithful love of the LORD never ends!

His mercies never cease.

Great is His faithfulness;

His mercies begin afresh each morning.

I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my inheritance;

Therefore, I will hope in Him!

Lamentations 3:21-24

Despite our sorrows, despite our trials and tribulations, despite our lack of understanding why; we have a beautiful HOPE.  We are never alone in our suffering, we have a Saviour who suffered and knows suffering intimately and longs to hold us through our lamentation. In some ways, I am grateful for the sufferings, because they have brought me closer, into a more intimate relationship with my Saviour. I have experienced His love, His strength to hold me up through the breaking process, His grace to shelter me through the storm, to protect me from shame or embarrassment, and to simply be able to embrace this season in my life.

If you are suffering, know that you are not alone. Know that as you open the door of lamentation, that you will be met with great joy as our Saviour longs to see you and hold you; to give you grace and hope!

 

[1] https://www.google.com/search?q=define+lament&rlz=1C1GCEA_enCA779CA779&oq=define+lament&aqs=chrome..69i57j0l5.9158j1j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

[2] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lament

[3] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hope

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

The Great Sadness Overshadowed by The Great Hope

Christmas carols are one of my favourite things about the Advent season. I love sitting and contemplating the words of these ancient ballads.

“God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” floated through my consciousness the other day and I stopped to consider the lyrics.

God rest ye merry gentlemen

Let nothing you dismay

Remember Christ our Saviour was born on Christmas day

To Save us all from Satan’s power when we were gone astray

Oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy

Oh tidings of comfort and joy

Many years ago I read that there is a difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness depends on “happenings” or circumstances in your life, but joy is rooted in something much more powerful and cannot be swayed by the ups and downs of life. Joy can still be had even amidst the greatest of sorrows. Joy comes from God. From His eternal wellspring of hope.

We have the joy of the Lord that goes with us into even the darkest of circumstances, but for months I couldn’t sense happiness. Now, I realize that happiness is a little more superficial than joy because happiness depends on your “happennings” or the circumstances I’m facing. However, after months of surviving and just making it by, I was desperate to feel happy. I called out to the Lord time and time again.  Now don’t get me wrong, the joy of the Lord was definitely with me. I could sense His peace and His joy, but my daily life was missing that final touch, happiness. I felt a little foolish praying about feeling more happy, but I knew that God would understand my heart and so I prayed. And then one day, I woke up and for no apparent reason, I felt happy!  God had answered my prayers! Now, happiness comes and goes like the ebb and flow of the waves on the seashore, but I was so excited to finally sense happiness returning to my body.

As I was walking to the car after dropping the kids off one day, I got this sense that I should be downcast and depressed. Sometimes the waves of self-loathing wash over me and I am tempted to believe the lies that I am no good, that no one could ever love me, that I am ugly and overweight and that I will always struggle with my self-esteem so why even try to work at overcoming it?  And as I wrestled with these thoughts, the verse of the day came up on my phone and I read it. I stopped dead in my tracks. How could a verse be so timely ordained to bring the needed encouragement to my wounded soul? Zephaniah 3:17 spoke richly to my tormented mind:

“…The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” NKJV

I don’t need any ‘one’ to be impressed with me or to think I’m beautiful or to tell me that I’m great and wonderful. I have God and He delights in me. It brought a smile to my face, like the scripture had entrusted me with a little secret that I could cherish forever in my heart. Like Mary, who “pondered all these things and hid them in her heart”, the little nuggets of truth that God gives us can be our own secret weapons to fight back the darkness.

Did you catch the magnitude of this?

My God will rejoice over me with gladness. 

My God will quiet me with His love. 

My God will rejoice over me with singing! 

God literally sings for joy over my simply being alive! I didn’t have to earn His favour, or do anything for Him to delight in me. He simply delights in me because I am His.

When you suffer abuse at the hands of the man who is supposed to honour and cherish you, who is supposed to forsake all others and provide an environment of safety and security for you and your children, it’s like all the things that are supposed to be normal aren’t.  Your world becomes the opposite reflection of what it should be or was intended to be. In other words, you live in a world of opposites.

So, when I broke my silence and started sharing my story, I finally realized that what I had experienced wasn’t normal at all. And I knew what I went through wasn’t normal, but it had become my normal. The reactions on people’s faces when I shared what I had endured, made me realize the gravity of what I had gone through. It made me take stock of what really went on. With this realization comes the gamut of emotions and The Great Sadness becomes an unwelcome friend.

In William P. Young’s novel, The Shack, his main character struggles with carrying the weight of grief that accompanies losing a child. He calls this burden “The Great Sadness”.  Time and time again I have used this phrase to describe the blanket of sorrow that covers me, that weighs me down, that causes me to stop and consider where these deep emotions are buried.

The beauty of humanity is that we all carry some form of this “Great Sadness”, whether it be a frightening health diagnosis, or the loss of a loved one, or a tragic accident.  Every single one of us walking this earth has a loss or pain so great that it overwhelms us at times.  Sometimes it takes me by surprise and other times, I know the Great Sadness will envelop me, like at holiday times. As I stand and watch parents out shopping for their children, I wonder, do they know how blessed they are to be able to do that together?  And then the loneliness sets in and I feel the effects of abandonment rage within me.  I wasn’t meant to do this parenting thing alone! I am not equipped to make all the decisions about children, and schooling and Christmas presents, and extra-curriculars alone! How could this be happening? This is not at all what I intended for my life.

Then, the words of the famous Christmas carol ring in my ears….let NOTHING you dismay….I have to stop and ponder. What about abandonment? Should that not cause me dismay? What about other precious people that are suffering at this time of year? What about the woman who miscarried?  What about the family whose child was just diagnosed with cancer? What about the parent who just found out they have Alzheimers?  I could go on an on, fill in your great sadness here……….should we not have a reason to be dismayed?

But God knew, in His infinite wisdom, that this life would be devastatingly difficult. He knew that the burden of sin would be too much for us to bear, and so He sent Jesus, His own son, to save us, so that we wouldn’t have to walk through our Great Sadness alone.

Oh tidings of comfort and joy.

Jesus, born in a manger, became flesh to dwell among us.

Oh tidings of comfort and joy

But He was pierced for our transgressions,

Oh tidings of comfort and joy

He was crushed for our iniquities;

Oh tidings of comfort and joy

The punishment that brought us peace was on Him,

Oh tidings of comfort and joy

and by His wounds we are healed.

Oh tidings of comfort and joy

There must be a reason that God calls it a “wellspring”.  It’s like the more trials I endure the more this hope just keeps rising up within me.  It’s like a bubbling brook that started out as a small trickle, barely conceivable, but now, 14 months into my healing journey, it has become a swiftly flowing creek that cannot be stifled.

When the pain of our circumstances is excruciating and too much for us to bear, we can take comfort in our Great Hope.  It is more powerful and more potent than our Great Sadness. It is the wellspring that rises up within us at times when we feel nothing but sorrow and pain and suffering. We have hope!  We have a Saviour! We have a Divine Helper to hold our hand and carry us through the most difficult of days!

Oh tidings of comfort and joy

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:13 (NIV)

 

The Woman in the Mirror

It sounds foreign. Like it’s coming from a place within myself that I don’t recognize.  And maybe it’s not that I don’t recognize it as much as I can’t.  The words “I was abused” crawl off my tongue heavy, and dripping with shame.  Tears immediately spring to my eyes. The word “abuse” carries so much weight to it.  I struggle to even write it! So much so that I wrestle to understand that buried place within myself that allowed someone to violate my body in such a way that my neck is curving the opposite way as it should. Having to explain this to my massage therapist who has noticed after our first session that something is up with the vertebrae in my neck.

It reminds me of the time 6 months ago when I finally went to a chiropractor. He was the first medical care professional I told about the physical abuse I had endured. When you say it out loud to a stranger for the first time, it sounds so sterile. Like a cold, hard fact. Something that just is. Not wrapped in warm, loving feelings of friendship around a cup of tea and a warm hug; but bare-bones reality.

Both times the words stuck in my throat like a rock had lodged itself back behind my tongue and I had to force the air up out of my lungs to produce the sound.  And both times my eyes welled up with tears.  The emotions are still there. After 12 months of healing, the emotions are still there, riding just under the surface.  They lay dormant under the emotional salves and spiritual poultices I’ve been putting on my wounds.  Though the wounds can no longer be seen, the scars remain.

In this case though, the evidence is still there in the x-rays. You can’t deny the truth when it stares you directly in the face, when you are forced to confront the gravity of what has taken place. It’s like the first time I went to get my hair cut after my return home.  A simple, innocent question about new hair growth and, “had I noticed any hair loss recently?” turns into a blunt answer of, “maybe it’s from being ripped out of my head”, accompanied by a dark laugh that comes from a place within me I don’t recognize.  And the stinging tears come again. The words, like a dagger, piercing straight and true.

Truth is like that.  When it’s naked and said without pretense, it can take your breath away. Especially when it’s your own self saying it back to you.

I don’t know or understand this woman inside of me that keeps striking me with the truth.  It’s like she’s locked away inside my psyche and it’s not that I don’t want to meet her or face her, it’s that it’s easier to ignore her.

It’s easier to fill my mind with all the logical ways of healing.

It’s easier to read about “Why he Does What He Does” and learn about strategies to overcome Post Traumatic Stress Disorder than to really dig into the side of myself that allowed such outrageous abuse to happen to herself.

Maybe I can’t face her because I think she is weak. Only weak women are abused….right? How could she let herself be lulled into the perpetual cycle of pain/hope that things will get better/honeymoon phase/pain strikes again?  Who in their right mind would be so foolish?

I watched a Ted Talk video about why women stay in abusive relationships.  I have attached the link for anyone interested in knowing more about this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V1yW5IsnSjo

I meet all of the requirements for why women stay.

  1. I was young when I met my husband
  2. I thought I was “helping” him
  3. I didn’t recognize his behavior as abuse.

No one comes up to you and points out to you that what he is doing is abuse. And honestly, who would know what he was doing because I was lying to cover up his behavior all the time. It wasn’t until I was seated on an airplane on my way home that I FINALLY saw the light. I was finally able to admit that what was being done to me had a name.  It could be compartmentalized and explained. And once I could call it what it was, I could start the healing journey of recovery.  I really wasn’t losing my mind. I was coming to my senses!  Thank God for that still-small-voice to whisper healing into my tortured mind and spirit.

So who is this woman in the mirror staring back at me? My counselor tells me that she is the younger, childish version of myself. The vulnerable, sensitive, hopeful girl I have long forsaken.  My counselor also suggests that I need to start addressing the woman in the mirror when I look at her. To tell her and reassure her that everything is okay.  To thank her for being strong and helping me through my pain.

I have a very difficult time with this. If I speak to her, I have to admit she exists. And if she exists, then why didn’t she stop all of this from getting so out of control?

Maybe she is a part of my development that I missed as I skipped straight from adolescence to motherhood.  My girlish side, the vulnerable side of myself that I haven’t faced because I’ve been too busy surviving for the past 12 years. Been too busy trying to cover up someone else’s lies.  Been too busy finishing university and working to pay bills, and parenting the majority of the time on my own.

Most days I look in the mirror and recognize the woman staring back at me. But days like today, I don’t know this woman. I recognize the face and the features.  The blue eyes, the long face and nose; but I don’t truly recognize her.  I don’t KNOW her.

This is the story of my reformation.

This is the story of my journey to find out who this woman in the mirror truly is.

 

 

Breaking the Silence

The words of Elie Wiesel resonate with me as I write my first ever blog post.  I have been nudged and prodded by the Holy Spirit to write about my experiences as a way of bringing not only closure for my own journey; but also support and encouragement to women who may be enduring hardships that are similar to what I have endured.

Elie Wiesel was a Holocaust survivor and it took him 10 years of silence before he was able to even verbalize the atrocities he witnessed, experienced, and survived.

“I wanted to be sure to find the words, the right words,” Wiesel said. “I’m not sure I did. I have doubts. To this day I have doubts, because there are no words.” [1]

There is something deeply unsettling and unnatural about trauma. It’s not what God had designed for us when He created us. We were not meant to carry the burdens we often carry, and in this unnatural state, we don’t have the vocabulary to be able to communicate properly what we truly have endured.

My prayer is that by breaking my silence, as Wiesel finally was able to do when he wrote his memoir, Night, is that I may be able to shed light on circumstances and experiences that some women face. And by so doing, allow us to move forward in community and support for women who are facing trauma and trials right here in our own communities.

To pretend that abuse and harassment don’t exist doesn’t help us deal with the issues, it only sweeps them under the carpet and causes the woman who is living in an abusive relationship more shame and disillusionment, believing herself to be completely alone. I realize that Wiesel was talking about human injustice in a different context than domestic abuse, but I want to parallel the truth that human injustice exists in the homes around us as well, and our greatest enemy is indifference! When we pretend it isn’t happening and refuse to address the issues because they make us uncomfortable, we simply perpetuate the cycle.

Wiesel states, “I came to a conclusion that the peril threatening human kind today is indifference, even more than hatred. There are more people who are indifferent than there are people who hate. Hate is an action. Hate takes time. Hate takes energy. And even it demands sacrifices. Indifference is nothing, but indifference to hatred is encouraging hatred, and is justifying hatred. So what we must do — I mean your peers and mine – is fight indifference.”[2]

Today marks one year since I walked away from a 12 year marriage. A marriage that I spent 12 years of my life trying to love a man who couldn’t love himself and therefore lacked the capacity to love me.  I tried desperately to love him into health and wholeness.  As I have spent much of the last year reflecting on this relationship and its inevitable demise, there are many things I have learned.  One major thing I have learned from all of this is that even though my marriage has failed, I am not a failure. I have a gracious Heavenly Father that delights in me and is in the process of turning the ashes of my broken life into a beautiful new life. He is granting me beauty for ashes because though divorce was never on my list of life-goals; my God is willing and able to take the shambles and broken pieces and turn them into a beautiful work of art.

Psalm 18:16 -18 says,

16 He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
but the Lord was my support.
19 He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.

I just adore the last line of that passage, read it again. “…he rescued me because he delighted in me.”

A woman who has been told repeatedly all kinds of lies about herself, no matter how strong and self-confident, eventually starts to believe that these lies might be true. She starts to believe…

“Maybe I am not worthy of love”

“Maybe I am not beautiful”

“Maybe if I work hard enough for my husband’s affection, he will love me”

“Maybe I have to work for God’s affection”

“Maybe I have to prove myself through being perfect. If I can be perfect for my husband, my family, and for God, than I will be lovable.”

These are lies, but they are thoughts that plague women in abusive situations daily.

I am here to tell you that those lies, all of them, are FALSE! God says right there in His word that He DELIGHTS in YOU!

  • Even in the midst of a messed-up life, He still DELIGHTS in you.
  • Even when your world feels like its crumbling around you, He DELIGHTS in you!
  • Even when you can’t put two coherent thoughts together to form clear communication, He DELIGHTS in you!
  • When the laundry is unfinished and the sink is filled with dirty dishes, He DELIGHTS in you!
  • When you have indulged in one too many sweets and couldn’t fit in any exercise, He DELIGHTS in you!
  • When you feel like you are living duplicate lives, happy on the outside and dying on the inside, He DELIGHTS in you!
  • When you have expended all you are to your family and have absolutely nothing left to give, He DELIGHTS in you!

You are lovely to God simply because you are HIS! He crafted you in His image because he wants to walk with you through your pain and your trials and your broken and your hurt and your chaos.

Let’s stop believing the lies, ladies, and start believing the truth about who we are and WHOSE we are.

Let’s stop living in a world of indifference and let’s step into each other’s messy lives and get dirty caring for one another’s hurts and brokenness. It’s time. It’s time to speak love into each other; to make time to sit down and have a cup of tea with our fellow woman because we were created for community. Together, we can break the silence by breaking bread together. Together we can stop the plague of indifference.

[1] http://www.wbur.org/news/2014/02/10/elie-wiesel-visionaries

[2] http://www.wbur.org/news/2014/02/10/elie-wiesel-visionaries