Healing Through Pain

I was thiiiis close to letting my friend take me to the orthopedic walk-in clinic today. I actually used to joke about that because it seems like that’s the one specialty that hasn’t yet weighed in on my life. Be careful what you joke about! Some of you who follow my shenanigans on Facebook know that I was messing around on the Wii Fit a couple days ago and it told me I was a bodybuilder. It also asked me if I trip over my own feet when I walk but, you win some, you lose some. The excruciating pain in my arm yesterday shattered any bodybuilding delusions as well as my normal life function. I’m not kidding. I thought I tore something. I couldn’t even lift my hand to my mouth to take medicine. There was no way I could sit, stand, or lay that didn’t scream agony. To be fair to the Wii, I had already been experiencing some discomfort for about a week prior and I can only speculate that my dog yanked my shoulder out of socket with the leash but I’m not exactly sure a ten-pound dog doing that much damage is any less sad. Her innocent little ears heard a lot of crying out yesterday as I reached my bad word capacity so I thought I was going to have to make yet another unexpected doctor visit. Thank goodness the pain is a little less curse-worthy today so I’ve decided to tough it out.

I’m discouraged by how broken-down my body has become. I try to exercise even just a little bit and cause myself terrible pain. So I continue to sit around and gain weight because I’m almost always hungry. I should be happy about the hunger and the weight gain and I am pleased that I am actually now capable of it, given the previous nightmare of nausea, rapid weight loss, and concern that I would eventually succumb to a disease I didn’t even know I was fighting. However, I can’t trust that the weight gain is not the medicine I’m on or my thyroid so I’m constantly second-guessing. It certainly couldn’t be all the nuts I constantly consume! Who really wants vegetables for a snack?! It’s a good possibility that I will be wearing yoga pants to Thanksgiving dinner at my in-laws because I finally let go of the weight-gain dream and got rid of my twelve different sizes of clothing quite some time ago. And, side note, I’ll be eating at home prior to Thanksgiving dinner because sometimes you have to adjust to your circumstances for the sake of healing, no matter how lonely it feels.

Having just put more pieces together in the ‘why-I-am-the-way-that-I-am’ department, I’m struck by how parallel all of this is to my mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Every time we uncover something new, it feels like something inside me tears. The pain shatters me for awhile as I grieve. Thankfully, I am learning how necessary the grieving is to the healing.

There are many things I am learning from the transformation of all aspects of my life. The first is that I have to feel the hurt in order to heal properly. I discovered this when I started having tendinitis in my wrist. The pain was so terrible that I kept it in a brace 24/7. Even with the brace, the pain never went away and I could barely move my thumb due to stiffness. I went back to the doctor and he said I had to take the brace off because if I didn’t start moving my thumb, nothing would ever heal or worse, it would heal improperly. Even though the pain was terrible, I had to feel it, to move around in it to loosen its grip on me. I absolutely believe this is true for emotional pain as well. I’ve done my best not to feel it for most of my life and that practice has stiffened me. It has built up walls around my heart. Wrestling behind the walls hurts very much as they crumble jagged with my tossing and turning but, if I keep pushing up against them, they will eventually come down and free my heart to be as God created.

Second, sometimes it takes a total breakdown of what was, before the healing and rebuilding can happen. I wrote about my flu awhile ago, how awful it was and how much I questioned God for not understanding that I couldn’t take it anymore. I thought I wouldn’t survive but, miraculously, it made me stronger. I believe with everything in me that my nine-day fever killed something terrible that was living inside of me and when I healed from that illness, I felt better than I had felt in a very long time. I felt something shift in my body and, while I still have a long way to go, I could allow myself to believe in the possibility of healing again. I think this is also what is happening in my emotional and spiritual life. It certainly feels like a complete and total breakdown and probably looks that way to my closest people. Sometimes I believe I will not survive. I question God when I don’t understand but as I cling to Him, sometimes just by a thread or, as he drags me kicking and screaming, I can see the miraculous healing up ahead. I experience small miracles of healing as we go along together and those are my reminders that He is doing something so beautiful that if I saw it right now all at once, it would hurt my eyes. I don’t want to miss the miracles in and of the process. And just as I am having to relearn that I can’t eat anything I want simply because it’s all healthy (five pounds of healthy nuts is still five pounds) and to adjust to every new restriction my body throws at me, I have to let God teach me the way He created me. I have been asking how it’s possible to relearn something when it’s all I’ve ever known and feels like a permanent part of me, but the only thing permanent is Jesus. Everything else is a shifting, adapting, moving part of the good God will continue working in me until Jesus comes.

Third, the process is much slower than I wanted or ever dreamed it would be. I want quick fixes. I wanted just a few counseling sessions to ‘fix’ me and that was two years ago. I almost jumped the gun about going to the doctor today because I just wanted the pain to go away. But, you know what? The pain tells us something important if we will just sit with it for awhile. Just as I will ‘work out’ my legs today because my arms can’t handle it, sometimes I have to let parts of me rest so I can work on others. It is possible to push too hard, analyze to death, and completely exhaust myself. Guilty! But I cannot even describe how thankful I am that I didn’t quit because after two years, I look back and see growth. I see miracles. I see what pain can accomplish.

And lastly, one of the most difficult lessons I am learning is that we have to be the gentlest with what is weakest or we will cause further damage. Apparently I haven’t yet learned my body’s limit. I thought I was doing a very light activity but I learned that I need to treat my body with even more care. I am clueless when it comes to how gentle I need to be with my weaknesses but I am so thankful that God knows my breaking point. He knows exactly when we are ready to unearth certain things that live inside of us and that’s why I am still learning more about myself each day. I wouldn’t have been ready to hear today’s discoveries two years ago, or even two weeks ago. They would have caused too much damage. God knows how little grace I’ve had for myself. I have thrashed myself over each weakness I discover, punishing myself for all the sins Jesus already died for and working far too hard to make myself stronger in those areas. It has only been very recently that I have started to offer myself grace. I am not perfect and God never expected me to be. I am the one with that expectation. As I slowly, painfully learn how to gently pass my weaknesses into the hands of God, I am experiencing small bits of peace. Peace is a very new experience for me. Overcoming the guilt is still a work in progress but lovingly handling my weaknesses is slowly healing the damage I’ve done by punishing them.

It has been difficult for me to believe that I will survive all of this unmaking but, deep down for many years, I have always known that the beauty at the end will be worth it. That’s what this entire blog is all about – the beauty in the rubble and the beauty OF the rubble. The tearing down of all that’s comfortable but suffocating so that God can breath new life into me. This quote by Annie Downs deeply resonates. “I decided that if I was really going to survive this, it had to be worth it. It had to have some sort of worthy redemption. It had to be beautiful.” If I don’t survive the undoing, I’ll be with Jesus and that will be beautiful. If I do survive, God’s good work in me will be beautiful. But if I don’t let the painful healing happen, I will never get to experience the beautiful miracle.

Song I’m Feeling: The Unmaking, by Nichole Nordeman. This could be my theme song.

“This is where the walls gave way
This is demolition day
All the debris, and all this dust
What is left of what once was
Sorting through what goes and what should stay

Every stone I laid for You
As if You had asked me to
A monument to Holy things
Empty talk and circling
Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do?

What happens now
When all I’ve made is torn down?
What happens next
When all of You is all that’s left?

This is the unmaking
The beauty in the breaking
Had to lose myself
To find out who You are
Before each beginning
There must be an ending
Sitting in the rubble
I can see the stars
This is the unmaking

The longer and the tighter that we hold
Only makes it harder to let go
But love will not stay locked inside
A steeple or a tower high
Only when we’re broken, are we whole

I’ll gather the same stones where
Everything came crashing down
I’ll build You an altar there
On the same ground

‘Cause what stood before
Was never Yours.”

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So I’ll Cherish the Old Rugged Cross

The time change has me so messed up! I went to bed early last night, as I have done since it’s started getting dark at dinner, but for some reason I struggled to go to sleep even though I was exhausted. I say “for some reason”, but I know the reason. I had gone down the worry road. I was obsessing about the same things I always obsess about, the things I can’t control but at the same time, wonder if there’s something, anything, I can do to help God hurry it along a bit. As if He needs my help at all.

I’ve been praying a lot lately that God would take over my dreams. My dreams are almost always stressful and it’s exhausting. I have also prayed that He would speak to me in my dreams. During waking hours, I wonder if I’m hearing His voice or mine or a mixture of both. I figured my thoughts might take a back seat while I’m sleeping and I wanted to hear His voice more clearly. Another prayer I have prayed is for God to be more real and important to me than anything or anyone in my life.

Last night as I was obsessing, I drifted off to sleep for just a brief moment and immediately dreamed about the song, “Old Rugged Cross.” I jolted awake knowing that I had received a gift from God since I haven’t thought about that song in years. I believe God was answering my prayers, reminding me to focus on Jesus so the obsessions and worries won’t matter as much. Focusing on Jesus will automatically bring me closer to where God wants me so I can allow Him to solve my problems His way instead of me trying to fix them on my own.

The song holds treasured memories for me because, if I’m not mistaken, it was my great grandma’s favorite and we used to sing it to her while we visited her in the nursing home. I never understood why people love the song so much until Jesus became so precious to me. Honestly, I don’t like to think about the cross. It’s too gruesome for me and very hard to think about Someone dying for me like that. The love is difficult to absorb so, instead of allowing it to consume me, I look away. But God wants me to see, to know deep in the depths of myself that He loves me… insignificant, worrying, fixing-obsessed me… more than my mind can comprehend. But He wants my heart to feel it, and to rest in it. He wants me to lay all those worries at the foot of the cross because, while focusing on Him, those worries are exactly where they should be.

I have been singing the Old Rugged Cross all day long, praying the worries drift away with the melody. I pray for the strength to deny myself, to deny my control, to deny my desire for things to be better, to embrace the overwhelming love pouring from the cross, and to cling to the One who died there. He will lead me on a better path than I can walk myself. Thank You, Jesus.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”- Mark 8:34

Song I’m feeling: This beautiful cross medley. https://youtu.be/GLeHDfCGKM0

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The Gift of Tears (Part 3) – Don’t Forget to Laugh

Make sure you click here to read Part 1 and here to read Part 2.

Well, I already sobbed my eyes out at 6:00 this morning… how about you? Please don’t hear me making light of depression. There is such a thing as excessive crying and, who knows? Maybe I’ve reached that point. I’ve been stuck in sadness plenty of times but I also believe if I have the feelings, they should be expressed. And I’ve got a lot going on right now, from my illness to loneliness to missing my friend to loved ones who are going through so much. I’m sure I’ll be able to share more as time goes by and test results come back. Sometimes abundant tears are warranted but if you ever experience excessive sadness, I definitely encourage you to seek a counselor. I have one who has helped me through so much (Thank you, Wendi!). Actually, I don’t think it’s a bad idea for everyone to have a counselor. Many of us try to hide our feelings and do life on our own but it helps to speak them out loud to someone we trust. It helps the thoughts and feelings to lose some of their power over us.

Sadness has been following me for quite awhile, sometimes consuming me and sometimes just poking me where it hurts. My depression was quite a bit better for about a week (taking it one day at a time, friends) but for some reason it’s been especially lurk-y the last few days. I’ve tried so hard to stay out of the pit by ignoring it but, as we’ve already established, it doesn’t work that way. So I just keep pouring it out to God and trusting that He hears and holds me. And He has been faithful to help me cry, but miraculously faithful to help me laugh in the midst of it all. It’s important not to forget that part. I have been guilty of forgetting that joy is allowed in the midst of sorrow. I haven’t been able to experience joy in a very long time, but I also haven’t prayed that God would help my joy either. I was neglecting that important step.

Lately, God has given me glimpses of my previously silly self and I kind of miss her. It is definitely amusing my husband and a nice change to hear laughter in this house and realize it’s coming out of me. I’m not even kidding you, I was trying to test our bark collar (the citronella kind, not the mean, electrocuting kind) so I was barking… and then my dog started to bark too… and I’m glad no one had a video camera. Then last night Jason and I were watching something on TV and it was so hilarious that I couldn’t stop laughing, and he was mostly laughing at me! It’s been awhile since my stomach hurt from laughing. In the midst of so much weeping, God has helped me find laughter again. Allowing ourselves to experience emotion without holding back doesn’t just allow the negative emotions to pour in and out of us, but the positive ones as well. We can’t let God help us cry while skipping the laughter. Blocking one emotion blocks all the others. All emotions are His gift to us and He wants us to fully experience them.

I love the passage that non-coincidentally showed up in my reading the other day so I will include the whole thing:

“When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like men who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy. Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” – Psalm 126

I wrote about dreaming in several recent blog posts so I found this amazing. The footnote in my Bible says “men who dreamed” could also be translated as, “men restored to health.” It’s just another God-wink for me, underlining the importance and health of allowing God to help us dream and hope. But the last two verses are my current focus. They highlight the benefit of allowing ourselves to weep. The passage is also careful to point out that we still have a job to do while weeping. There are two important messages I receive from this Scripture. First, we cannot completely give up in times of sorrow. Sowing may mean resisting Satan’s lies, continuing to serve others, talking to a counselor, or even just clinging to God instead of letting go and walking away from Him. Second, we need to sow our actual tears, to bury our faces in God’s loving shoulder, allowing ourselves to cry to Him. In doing this, the tears that we sow will grow into a bountiful harvest of joy one day. It is often a precious ministry to continue clinging to God while weeping. It can lead to a harvest of joy for other people as well as for ourselves. But we absolutely cannot experience the sheaves (the bundles, the heaps) of joy without allowing ourselves to feel the sorrow. We can’t have one without the other. Perhaps I should start looking at my sensitive heart as a beautiful gift, one that will eventually bring me heaps of joy.

Jesus Himself said, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21b). Jesus blesses our tears and, one day, will fill the ache with laughter. I wonder if that’s why God keeps our tears in a bottle. Maybe one day He will rain them back down on our dry, thirsty ground. They will water and grow our fruit (Galatians 5:22), not the least of which is… JOY.

"I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing" (Ezekiel 34:26b).
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The Gift of Tears (Part 2) – A Physiological Discussion

To read Part 1 of the series, click here.

“As counselors, we’re reminded continually of our tendency to stuff our hurts rather than allowing time and space for them. Well, those things have to go somewhere, so they go into our physiology and they eventually get our attention in another way” (Susie Larson quoting her counselor friend).

I’ve mentioned before that I used to be a therapist. I should have known better. I DID know better. When I started to get panic attacks, I pretended I didn’t know why, even though it was obvious. I pretended even to myself because I didn’t want to face the massive amount of stuffed pain threatening to crack my walls. But since I wouldn’t let the pain out, it had to go somewhere.

Some of you may not believe that autoimmune diseases have an emotional component but the timing in my life is spot-on. I lost my first grandparent at age twelve and never cried. That’s when I first sent my body the message that emotions should not be felt or released and my body started doubting itself. After grad school, I was miserable in my job. It was far too much stress for me to handle and it owned me 24/7. I was a therapist with a sensitive heart, seeing and hearing brokenness every day, but I never had time to let myself feel anything. It turned into the perfect storm when I lost all three other grandparents during the span of just over a year, while continuing to work at that same job. So much stress and deep grief, completely unexpressed. I’ve written about this in several posts before so if you’d like to read a more detailed version, click here. To be honest, it’s still difficult for me to even read that post.

Emotional tears contain stress hormones. Crying releases toxins and endorphins so it can actually ease pain. When we hold in our tears, the fight or flight response kicks in and our adrenals release stress hormones, increasing our blood pressure and heart rate, causing chest pain, blood sugar issues, anxiety, insomnia, physical pain, and, over time, disease. Stopping ourselves from crying increases the stress and makes us feel worse.  After crying, breathing and heart rate decrease and it puts us in a calmer state. If we don’t allow tears, the stress only continues and sits in our bodies (Medical News Today, Psychology Today).

Since I got sick, I have spent countless hours searching for answers. I did not realize/did not want to admit that shutting off my emotions was hurting my body. When I got my first diagnosis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, I finally had proof of an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases happen when the body starts attacking itself. I would not allow normal emotional processes so my body received a confusing message that it should hurt itself. As I’ve continued on my journey and told practitioners that I have Sjogren’s before I told them anything else about my life, two of them immediately said something along the lines of, “you don’t let yourself cry, do you?” Whoa. It is apparently well-known in integrative medicine that a major cause of Sjogren’s is often shutting off tears. It makes sense if you think about it. Sjogren’s is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks the moisture-producing glands. It’s why you will rarely see me without water, my parotid/salivary glands are often swollen, I choke on dry food, and I can no longer wear contacts. For many years I was sending my body a message that tears are not permitted. My body received the message that it no longer needed to produce moisture in my eyes or anywhere else. How I grieve what I have done to myself!

And I’m one of the lucky ones. My eye doctor says I don’t produce enough tears and the ones I do produce aren’t good quality and evaporate too quickly, but at least I still have tears. Many, MANY tears. Some Sjogren’s patients aren’t quite so blessed. There are often people in the Sjogren’s online support group talking about how they feel deeply but can’t cry anymore. Their tears are gone. Can you imagine not being able to have a release? To not be able to cry when something deeply moves you? Imagining that breaks my heart, and makes me want to cry! I don’t want to take it for granted anymore.

When I held back such an enormous amount of emotion during those two short but horrible years, my body went into fight or flight mode and I began having panic attacks which started while I was driving back to TN after my last grandpa’s funeral. I numbed those with medication instead of allowing myself to feel. It would be many more years of unexplained knock-down, drag-out illness before I finally snapped awake to what I had done to myself. Many years before the dam finally broke.

Now I think I must be making up for lost time. Rarely a day goes by that I don’t cry. Everything moves me in some way or another. God created me this way. Honestly, sometimes I get angry with Him for creating me with such a sensitive heart. Anyone who knew me during the ‘dry years’ would think I’m crazy for saying I’m sensitive, but I am. Extremely. I always have been, but I was denying my true self. I was pushing away the gift of emotion that God gave me. I believe God’s heart is moved by many things, and my heart is a reflection of His. I don’t want to squander the gift to feel the heart of God anymore. Habits die hard, though, but I’m working on it. God is working on it. “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6). I’m so thankful God allows me to be a work in progress.

I will close today with a reminder of Jesus’ grief over Jerusalem in Luke 13:34, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” and Luke 19:41-42, “As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace-but now it is hidden from your eyes.'” Jesus wept over the hardness of the people’s hearts… and I believe he has wept over the hardness of mine. I can hardly stand to think about grieving the heart of Jesus in such a way. He longs to gather us into his protecting and loving embrace and he longs to give us peace, but we won’t let Him. We favor the protection of our own hearts. I am thankful that He is softening my heart and I pray that He softens the hearts of His children everywhere. Beautiful things happen when the walls come down and we allow ourselves to feel the heart of God.

Song I’m feeling: Weep with Me, by Rend Collective
“Lord, I believe You weep with me.”

Thank you for entering into such a sensitive subject with me, and stay tuned for the next post in the series…

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The Gift of Tears (Part 1)

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” – Psalm 56:8 (NLT)

Ummm… excuse me, God? I think you’re gonna need a bucket…

I don’t know why I kept this picture. I guess maybe I wanted to remember the many excruciating, precious nights of clinging to the feet of Jesus, washing His feet with my tears. Even though it’s extremely painful, expressing my emotions to God has become a lifeline for me. There was a time when a bottle would have been more than enough to hold my tears. Throughout my teenage years and my twenties, I rarely cried. Actual years went by without me shedding a tear. There were many reasons for this, some I’m still figuring out. I didn’t think people were supposed to cry. I was embarrassed by tears. I thought they made me look weak and needy. I was afraid that once I started, I would never be able to stop. And mostly, I didn’t want to let myself feel the kind of pain that produces tears.

So I bottled up my emotions… but that wasn’t my job. It was God’s job, according to Psalm 56. But He can’t bottle up our tears unless we give them to Him. God knows that tears are precious treasures and they are never wasted. He keeps our emotions close to His heart. Did you know that humans are the only creations that cry emotional tears (Psychology Today)? Isn’t that amazing? God gave us a beautiful gift when He gave us emotions but we often fear and resist the gift. He gave us hearts that reflect His, but we turn them off.

Jesus was a very emotional man, and we are to be like Him. Why do we resist so hard? I read something the other day that touched my heart. “Jesus knew Lazarus would rise again. Still, he wept. Because embracing pain does not negate faith. It’s actually part of being in the likeness of God. So have hope, but don’t deny your emotions. Pay attention to them. Feel what you feel. And enjoy the coming resurrection” (Carlos A. Rodriguez). We sometimes think that being sad means we lack faith, but that is so far from the truth. I wish I could throw that lie as far as the east is from the west! Tears are Christlike. That’s why I think Satan has created a war against them. He has inserted so many lies into our wounds that make us believe feelings are to be avoided. But Jesus never hid His tears. In fact, He prayed “with loud cries and tears” (Hebrews 5:7). David cried so much that he talked about his tears being his food (Psalm 42:3) and flooding his bed with them (Psalm 6:6). Mary washed Jesus’ feet with her tears (Luke 7:38). Paul often accompanied his writings and teachings with tears (2 Corinthians 2:4). Tears move the heart of God. How can we resist the chance to share something so precious with Him?

I am not, by any means, communicating that I am cured of my aversion to tears. Far from it. Once it becomes such a habit to avoid something, it becomes a pit in your brain and it’s difficult to climb out of that pit. In fact, just writing this post has caused trembling panic and a headache because of my instinct fight-or-flight response to tears. But I am getting better. My tears are helping to heal me when I allow them to fall. I have much more to say about this topic, so much so that this post was getting lengthy. So I’ve decided to give it a whole series. I hope it will be healing for me to talk about a subject I have avoided for a very long time and I hope it will be healing for you as we appreciate the gift of tears. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think it’s time for a good cry…

Song I’m feeling: Tears of Praise, by God and me

“Creator of this world and Painter of the sky
Your beauty goes beyond my words and Your joy fills my eyes
Protector of my soul through trials and through pain
You’re patient in my sorrows when my tears fall like rain

There’s a deep river of love flowing through my heart 
Welling up to overflow with the blessings You impart
When the floods rise in times of joy and pain
Drops of love flow from my eyes that my heart cannot contain
You, oh Lord, accept my tears of pain
Because deep in my heart of hearts, they’re all tears of praise.

Giver of all good and of blessings from above
And the gifts from those who understand and who walk with me in love
Healer of my grief and Lifter of my head
I place my life into Your hands for whatever lies ahead

There’s a deep river of love flowing through my heart
Welling up to overflow with the blessings You impart
When the floods rise in times of joy and pain
Drops of love flow from my eyes that my heart cannot contain
You, oh Lord, accept my tears of pain
Because deep in my heart of hearts, they’re all tears of praise.

Take my life, the blessings and the pain
It’s all for You, Your glory, and all my tears of praise.”

Stay tuned for the next post in the series… hopefully coming in the next few days…

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