Friday, May 3, 2013
An Altar of Memories, Healing in Relationship
“The thing that wounds us is often the thing that God will walk us through again to heal us.” – Mary DeMuth
The introduction caused me to flinch. Her name brought flashbacks of memories I desperately tried to leave behind. I was broken and the reminders were painful. The walls I had built around my heart resembled garlic and crosses in motion pictures warding off vampires. I may not have needed protection from fictional predators but the fear I experienced at the thought of friendship was certainly comparable.
Shortly after I was married at the young age of eighteen, I felt the pain of abandonment sharply. While my husband has been alongside me for the entire journey and experienced much of the heartache together, I resented the way he encouraged me to pursue community. After being excommunicated from the church of our marriage union, relational betrayal was magnified in my life. I wanted nothing to do with religion anymore. Memories from my growing up years revisited and confusion flooded my thoughts at friendships that no longer were. My plan was to shut the door of hope and my heart for good.
Too many times I had been wounded by friends. Keeping everyone at arms-length was the only way I could be certain to avoid being scarred again. Truth be told, I longed for friendship but was tired of getting burned. I set boundaries and allowed self-talk that only fueled my feelings of loneliness. In my opinion, it was better to feel unloved than to experience pain. My heart was cold and hard and, I thought, impenetrable.
While my husband saw value in searching for a healthy community, I went like a child forced to obey. Somehow God tore down the walls I built. Even in my resistance, He brought healing through these very relationships I dug my heels in against. But just like the Israelites were reminded of His deliverance in their lives, He continues to remind me of the freedom He has brought to me as well.
I have come a long way from the young married woman who refused to allow anyone into her world. This past Saturday, ten women gathered in my family room for the very purpose of pursuing community with me. Few of them would likely believe that I was once an avoider of conversation. The irony of my now hosting one of the many (in)RL 2013 meetups is surreal. For now, embracing my responsibility to incite authentic connection is with an intensity that has been admittedly intimidating to some.
Listening as each woman shared their reason for attending, I thanked God for the healing He has performed in my life. I found myself reminiscent of the way God used my community to transform my heart of stone and make it flesh once again.. A phone call yanked me away from my thoughts. Caller ID showed the name of my friend that once brought hesitation but now acts as a magnet. She would only interrupt the moment with good reason.
Her daughter’s birthday kept her from attending this year’s meetup. And now, on the very day of celebrating her oldest’ life, my friend was calling to inform me that her water broke. What are the chances of two siblings sharing a birthday five years apart? While everyone else gawked in amazement at this wonder, God was tugging at my heartstrings in the same way he did five years ago.
It was only two short months after my dad's death rocked my world that my sweet friend’s oldest was born. I claimed her daughter as a gift from God to me that April 27th date. It was a painful day for my family as we should have been celebrating my dad's 56th birthday but instead we were still wandering in the desert at our loss. That day, I chose to accept the birth of her daughter as a sign that God would carry me through the darkest of days. I built an altar of memories in my heart to remind me of God’s faithfulness in the same way they did with rocks in Bible times.
This year, once again on my dad's birthday, wrapped up in a women’s conference focusing on community, God gave me a gift in her newborn. With this sweet baby’s birth, a reminder came straight from God to my soul: He restores the years the locusts have destroyed. I felt Him whisper in my ear, “I created friendship to give you an in-flesh example of My relationship with you. If you will continue to trust Me, I will bring healing where others have caused wreckage. I will show you this over and over again. Just keep living out My greatest commandments and I will give you life overflowing.”
This year’s message was a challenge to stay in community. As I reminisced on the depths and peaks of friendship, another hugged me as she spoke into my ear, “Thank you for staying.” It was a simple statement that revealed how very deep our friendship roots have grown. Tears pooled in my eyes with recollection of the struggling times as well as the thriving. To stay is not easy. Annie Downs’ words are true: “The choice to stay has been the choice to pursue even when it’s hard.” I firmly believe that the reward on the other side of the sometimes-seemingly-impossible, however, is rich, healing relationship straight from the hand of our Creator.
In this season where I can sit among a group of women and truly be myself, I can recount the faithfulness of God. Proven friendships cut pain in half and double the joy. Over more than a decade now, through the valleys and mountains, my friends now speak life into my soul.
It’s been over fifteen years since that awkward introduction that almost sent me running in the other direction. Over and over again, God has confirmed in my heart that authentic friendship is worth the risk every time. The Israelites had the Red Sea. I have April 27th. We all have the Greatest Commandment.
This is my story to tell.
You have one too.
Tell others about it.
This is where healing begins.
"And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart." - Ezekial 11:19
"Surely He has done great things... I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten... you will praise the name of the Lord your God who has worked wonders for you..." - Joel 2