Healing, hope & slowness

Well it has been a good long stretch of quiet here hasn’t it? I used to be a fast processor but not anymore. These days the thoughts ooze slowly through my soul, taking time to steep while I fold the daily load of laundry, drive car pool, read books aloud or teach fractions. Everything takes more time  than it used to.

A few months back I started swimming again, lap after lap after lap, to wash my swirling thoughts away. Kicking to try and find clarity. It started from sheer survival - our schedule this fall with Aaron traveling more than he ever has before was frankly a bit much. My own exercise (other than my daily dog walk) went to the wayside taking with it a good chunk of my unanxious mind. My parents came for a visit and could see I was hanging on by a thread, I think. My mom had a come to Jesus type talk with me about taking care of myself and based on her verbally brainstorming for me I finally figured out that I could swim a decent amount in under an hour - in and out. Several of my kids activities take place at our local rec center with a pool, if not there is one close to drop offs. So swimming it is for now. The blue of the pool and quiet of my head under the water brings me a much needed peace. You could say it is what is saving my life these days.

I still constantly find myself having feelings about how long healing takes. Here I am a year and a half after looking at myself, unrecognizable, everything I felt I was shattered into a million pieces on the ground. A year and a half is not a small measure of time, and maybe it isn’t a long one either but I certainly thought I would have ‘finished’ processing healing already. Back to my fast processing and high coping self, of course having learned all the lessons and experienced all the growth I needed to in order to be a more enlightened person. (I wish I were joking.)

A year ago I wrote that healing takes more time than people want to give you and now I year later I am writing that it takes more time than you want to give yourself.

I remember when my therapist chatted with me about sectioning off a period of time in which to focus on my healing and my family. A period of time in which I would say ‘no’ to anything else. I landed on six months. I thought I was being ridiculous and gracious to myself to set out that long period of time.

Now I sit here with open palms, no set end date because I am much more intimate with this process. Two steps forward and one and a half steps back. Reminding myself to keep clinging to God who works all things for good. If there is one lesson I don’t want to loose there it is.

 

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Our culture tends to glorify ‘celebrity style overcoming’ and perhaps rightly so. When you are staring down a scary prognosis it is exceptionally encouraging to see people who have overcome ‘quickly’ with joy and enthusiasm. We want to believe we can self-help everything and to some extent we can. To some extent God gives us bodies and brains to help ourselves - sometimes a miracle looks like getting off our behinds and doing what God has made us capable to do. We can get our buts to therapy or yoga, we can seek out the wise treatments and therapies and modalities. But only by God’s grace does all the stuff work and we find ourselves on the other side - ‘healed’.

And then.

Then you still feel broken and lost and exhausted. Here comes the part of the story that doesn’t sell anything, so we don’t hear about it. This is where you find yourself siting in your ‘healed’ brokenness, feeling like you have messed up because this is supposed to be the easy part, the celebration.

This is the part where you get used to waiting. You get used to showing up and doing the right things to keep healing yourself even when it feels futile. Then you stop doing them and realize - nope not yet. I still need those things. At least for now but also, maybe forever. There are things you don’t get used to: feeling like a stranger in your own body, like a stranger in your own mind. You know there is more healing to come, you loose all pride you had about considering yourself low maintenance, resilient and being a high achiever.

You wish you could contentedly and serenely use prayer to let this draw you closer to God and wisdom and love (some days this happens). Instead, it is more likely you get irritated about life’s petty crap, about your unknowing what to do now, about how everything has changed and yet; nothing has.  You find yourself too agitated to make sense and plop things on a sticky note into your ‘God jar’. Not much here is pretty or presentable.

You listen. You listen a lot because you don’t have many coherent thoughts to share. You sit in silence. More silence than you ever imagined. You try to get comfortable with knowing you only know about two things for sure, while 1001 thoughts swirl around in you. You wait some more.

You move slow, slower, slowest. Sometimes you falter and shame yourself for your slow process but mostly you give yourself more grace than you ever have before. You rest more than before, because you still have to even 1.5 years later. At best this feels like progress (I’ve learned to rest!) at worse you feel like you will never be as healthy as you were.

And God. You still need to cling God. Because you aren’t as desperate as you were before, but you are other things instead. This was perhaps the most unexpected part. You are so grateful for your everyday ordinary life and also so many things are still being rooted out. You still feel sad, angry, frustrated, annoyed, tired and just done already alongside of grateful, grateful, grateful. More questions, more wresting, more learning. You are still in need of a savior and you are still in need of hope. Hope. The light. Rest from all the change and growing and learning. A glimpse of new life, an end (at least for now) of things dying away. You are aching for the bloom.

And then - and then it is advent.

Quiet. You find so much quiet and stillness. This is a natural posture for you now. Sitting, quiet. Being present. Palms open. Praying for eyes to see hope, hope everywhere. Perhaps more will die away but you are also open to receive. There is no magic. No single moment where you wake up and think ‘this is it I have bloomed’. Not yet anyway. Instead you listen for the next step, then the next, then the next. Slow, quiet, listen. Slow, quiet, listen.

This is the heartbeat of the healing.

 

When it has been a year: 5 things I learned in 2017

I love me a good fresh start just like any self-respecting Type A, INFJ, enneagram 3 and a New Year is prime time to do some serious navel gazing and where are we going from here pondering. Also a softie at heart I revel in all the look back and reflect type exercises too. Our family has a yearly tradition of writing our top ten lists on New Year's Eve. I personally love finding the good, the blessings, the wonder, and I find it connecting to hear what stood out for the people I love too. Not a shock to anyone who knows me even a tiny bit but 2017 kicked my behind. 2017 kicked my husband's behind. 2017 was a year we will never forget, even when we wish we could. During the top ten family list making, several events popped up that I had already forgotten about - a bunch of situations that in a normal year would have stood out for their 'badness'. But this year they disappeared into the cobwebs of my brain crowded out by much bigger situations. Despite all the hard things, I remember 2017 almost exactly like this:

2017 was a good year. It was a year I saw my children thrive and continue to believe in love and goodness. It was a year we celebrated Aaron's 40th birthday and our 19th anniversary and surprise! we still love and like each other very much, and to me that is no small thing. It was a year I got to jump off more things into water with the ones I love and what else could I ask for, after all that was my hope. It was a year I found Jesus my constant companion in the midst of not doing, in the midst of having to be helped, in the midst of fear, anxiety and sickness. It was a year I came to fully believe that even if the worst happened, I trusted God for good. It was a year I started to reclaim who I am at my core and how I want to live that out.

2017 was a year I survived, a fact I am damn proud of and looking back there are some things a survival year has taught me, recorded here so just like our annual top ten lists, I don't forget.

1. You can do hard things (even when you don't want to).  This phrase is a bit cliche these days but it is also true. We don't know what we are made of until we have to make it through something hard we haven't chosen and then trust me, you can do more than you ever guessed about yourself. This doesn't mean we always jump up and down with glee over these 'opportunities' for growth, or feel immediate gratitude for being drawn closer to what really matters through suffering. What it does mean is that even if we wouldn't wish this situation on our worst enemy and we are perfectly happy to remain shallow if we could pass this by, when push comes to shove, by relying on God and those who love us we can do this really hard thing.

2. Healing takes longer than you think it should. I could write a whole book about this but if you have been through a trauma like potentially loosing health, life, safety, a loved one, it takes time to heal. Physically yes, but also emotionally and mentally. See a counselor, pray, go to yoga, spend time in nature, move your body - it's all steps in the right direction but it is still slower going than you would like it to be. Most other people won't understand this and will expect you to be 'normal' pretty ASAP. Hold onto your healing path anyway.

3. It is okay just to survive. There is a movement in the cancer online world to call oneself a cancer 'thriver'. I swear I wanted to sucker punch someone each and every time I read that. Look, this shit is hard and getting through something that will kill you if left untreated is not in most people's 'thrive' zone. There will be other times you can thrive, other times you can do all the things you see other people not currently going through crises doing. Just getting through cancer or another traumatic season - I'm giving you a gold star all the way.

4. It is okay to say no. Most people I know fall into two categories. The first are people who are okay with taking help and these people also seem to be better at self-nurturing, boundaries, and saying no. The second is people who are not so great at taking help, self-nurturing, boundaries, and saying no. I was in the second category and am trying to slowly move myself more into the first category. I had to say no a lot this year, I took a lot of help this year, I set boundaries and placed a lot of self-imposed limits and sometimes it was really hard. No, scratch that out, each and every time it was really hard. But...BUT I did make some breakthroughs and learned I cannot be all things to all people and even if people might feel mad or sad or excluded I can give empathy, but it is not my job to do their emotional work or meet each and every persons’ needs. (This itself was several counselling sessions of material.) I remind myself of this often because it is still my primal instinct to change what will be best for myself and my family to make everyone else like me, and to try and do all the things because that used to be easy for me. If you are in the second category like me, know the world will keep on turning even if you say no, set boundaries, take help. It's uncomfortable at first (or maybe forever) but there is more room for authenticity and wholeheartedness which in my opinion is a decent trade off.

5. Everyone needs more grace. Including myself. Having spent much of this year in survival mode has made me act in ways I haven't always felt proud of. In survival mode things often feel scarce, like there isn't enough to go around and I am at my absolute worst when I am operating from that place. I have said and done things or not done things I wish 100x over I could undo. I couldn't do everything I actually wanted to do (not just felt I should) because I didn't always have the energy to. I try to use this as a guidepost for myself when other people do things I think are douchy too. Most likely they are feeling scarce because of a hard thing or a past hard thing just like I am. So I keep reminding myself, more grace, grace all around.

I'd love to hear what you learned in 2017 too.