The Year-Long Breaking Point
Have you ever been at the beach, jumping waves as they roll in, managing to keep your head above water until one catches you off guard, flips your feet out from under you, and pulls you under? This is the third in the series chronicling my journey into and out of spiritual abuse. If you’re just joining, you can find part 1 here and part 2 here.
2003-2004. Just about the time I’m having more good days than bad, the bottom falls out. For twelve months, our family moves through one crisis after another in a season that feels like a year-long breaking point.
~ Mom is diagnosed with cancer and undergoes surgery. We start researching ways to support her nutritionally during and after radiation.
~ Shortly after her recovery from surgery, Mom and I are slammed by a hit and run driver who totals our SUV. As quick as an exhale, six months of neck pain and chiropractic care gets added to our plates.
~ During one chiro visit, the doctor suggests that I find out what the Bible has to say about doing ministry, because clearly “you’ve been doing it wrong.” I cry all the way home but resolve to look for truth. I’m still formulaic in my thinking because this has been ground into me: if you follow the right steps, the right way, you’ll have God’s blessing. So, if you’re hurting, it’s probably because you’ve done something wrong, messed up the formula, and are reaping what you deserve. (Can you see the lack of grace and truth here?!)
~ I’m coughing when I leave for a ministry trip to Moscow and come home with pleurisy. It’s back to bedrest while I endure weeks of agonizing pain with every breath. (Did you know lung pain is often associated with grief?)
~ My cheeks are often bright red, and I think I have rosacea. I submit to painful laser treatments that obliterate the blood vessels in my cheeks to minimize the redness. I don’t know yet that the skin is an organ and often reflects the condition of the gut. My body is trying to let me know my insides are inflamed, but I don’t understand the message. Instead, I nuke the messenger.
~ While leading a week-long program for more than 1000 participants and volunteers in another state, Dad develops a detached retina requiring emergency surgery. The rest of us pick up the slack as he recovers.
~ We eagerly anticipate the arrival of my sister’s 4th child. Anneliese Joy is born with a congenital birth defect and dies two days later. I’m the main speaker for a retreat that week and, of course, “the show must go on.” Alone, I scream over and over and, for the first time, I take meds to help me sleep.
Despite the pain, I don’t feel as alone as I once did because the love of Christ is so tangible as He and many others surround and support us through the aftermath of the loss. Some griefs are too big to hide, and I experience the comfort of allowing others to see and share the heartache.
~ Grandmother suffers a stroke in Georgia the day of Anneliese’s funeral. I leave to go care for her in the hospital and until she’s able to make the drive back to Texas for rehab and then to move in with us at the ministry center.
It probably won’t surprise you that, while in Georgia, I’m thinking about driving off the side of a mountain to escape the grief. 2004 ends with us all getting sick while in Colorado for a friend’s wedding. (Did you know that stress compromises your immune system and cripples your resilience?)
Unlike the years leading up to my first cry for help, I’m beginning to understand the difference between legalism and grace. It’s dropping like a gentle summer rain on my heart in the sermons I’m hearing on Sundays and the books I’m reading. I’m slowing starting to understand that all of the suffering isn’t because I’ve done something wrong and God is punishing me. Maybe the suffering is even the very thing God is using to draw me to Himself? (Click here for another blog post that explores this idea more fully.)
But, it’s hard to change the inside while the outside stays the same. Right now the gentle rain of truth seems to just create mud. I’m living in an environment filled with physical (mildew, mold, lead, arsenic), emotional (stress!!!), and spiritual (toxic theology) landmines. I’m slowly boiling and unless I jump out of the flippin’ proverbial pot, long term recovery and wellness are pipe dreams.
As it turns out, the mustard seed of hope has sprouted. Through the agony of our “Job-ian” year, I feel like I’m pressing into the dark, the way a root stretches down deep into the soil, pressure on all sides, absorbing nourishment found in places only God sees.
Roots are not glamorous. They are embraced in the dark and don’t know down from up. But, once in place, they enable a plant to grow in both directions. In stretching up, it begins to see and respond to the light.
During this season, I discover the work of Carolyn Custis James, and her book “When Life and Beliefs Collide” serves as a lifeline and whets my appetite for the study of theology. And since we started the post with a wave analogy, I’ll go ahead and share this version of one of my all time favorite hymns, “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.” Let the truths roll over you and breathe deep, friend. You are so loved!