Sometimes we don’t need any further proof than our dreams to know that our mind is trying to work something out. Some weeks ago now, I woke with a headache and realized my pillow was wet and that I was crying. Trying not to wake my sleeping family, I hurried to the bathroom, turned on the light and the fan, and sat down on the foot stool Cohen uses to brush his teeth. As the backdrop and the characters and the story line washed in waves back over my awareness, the tears continued to stream down my face.
I couldn’t stop.
I heaved and my shoulders shook and I felt a sense of loss so deeply it felt like it was pouring out of bottomless well in my soul.
Twenty or thirty minutes later I turned the light and the fan off and shuffled my way back to bed in the dark. Quietly crawling under the covers, my sweet husband pulled me to himself and a few minutes later whispered, “Are you crying? Are you okay?” It was only then that I realized I was doing the same thing I have seen Cohen do more than a time or two… the tears were gone, but I was breathing the rhythm of the sob and still sniffling and choking. I told David I had a sad dream so he held me close and I cried for awhile longer until my breathing evened out and I fell back to sleep.
Never one to shy away from something real, over breakfast David enquired about the dream. I told him it was silly. That he wouldn’t understand how it was even a sad dream. That I didn’t want to talk about it. He gave me that look that said he’d ask again and he has… a few times.
The thunderstorm this morning woke me on and off between midnight and the wee hours of the morning . At three I realized tornado sirens were whining and shouting just above the sound of the wind whipping the world outside our bedroom window. I convinced David we should all go downstairs as hale pelted the windows. He fell immediately back to sleep on one couch, while I checked the weather online. As luck would have it, the storm was downgraded shortly after our move so then we all shuffled back upstairs and into bed. Again, as if on cue, he was immediately back to his gentle snoring and I was lying awake on our bed, listening to the storm and feeling the baby do somersaults in my middle. And I was thinking. Thinking about that dream and about a trending topic on twitter from a week ago that I had plummeted my emotions back to that somehow not quite purged well.
I had seen the topic repeated over and over for about a day. Friends I actually know and well-known people I don’t alike we tweeting and retweeting a link. I watched it on and off, wondering if I should click or not. Eventually I took a deep breath, moved my arrow to the shortened group of letters that would take me to a website I wasn’t sure I was ready to see…. and I clicked. I told myself that I was a big girl and I could handle it. [That's my go-to mantra when emotional panic tries to take my avoidance land]
The professionally done website had the colors and feel I would have anticipated. Beautiful art was well placed and caught my eye (adda boy, marketing). I read a little about the project everyone was raving over and couldn’t help my smile to myself. It was a good idea. I even felt myself hoping for it and wanting to love it.
I had almost decided to retweet it myself, when at the bottom of the page a photo caught my eye. A head shot. Eyes, hair, smile, glasses. I felt like the wind had been sucked out of my sail; that all the air had been knocked out of my lungs. Warm tears sprung from the corners of my eyes.
I shut the computer.
During the beginning of the separation we did counseling with a pastor and friend that I have long respected and loved. I would drive to Michigan four hours each way every other week or so for these gut wrenching, long into the night, bare your soul kind of sessions. At the time I felt like it was the right thing to do and even now I don’t regret the effort. I even think it could’ve really helped under different circumstances. That is to say, it certainly wasn’t for lack of insight or wisdom or guidance on the pastor’s part. After one of those sessions, while discussing my at times harsh reactions, he said something that stuck with me:
“Kate, you’re like a dog who has been drug behind a truck for miles and has old bruises and open wounds and cuts and is generally rubbed raw. It is understandable, but sometimes then when someone reaches out with no intent to harm, it still hurts. And like a torn up animal, you’re bound to bite back.” [a lot of paraphrasing- he was more eloquent than I]
The imagery wasn’t flowery, but he was right.
And while I am happy to report the open wounds have healed and the gaping holes have been sewn back together and there is notably less flinching and biting on my part. But the old bruises? Well you know how a bruise can be… even when the colors have faded from a deep purple to a barely noticeable yellow, it often still hurts for awhile when directly touched.
There was a gathering- a camp meeting, a church service, retreat or something of the like. Someone who taught me to love the Bible when I was still a young adult was to be speaking. This person took me aside and gave me some Scriptures and asked if I would mind reading them during the service. I eagerly turned to the passage and began reading and rehearsing it, not wanting to disappoint the speaker. Even more so, I wanted to impress this person who for so long has been a hero of mine. The passage was hard- one of those with a million tongue-tying names and places. I stepped outside the main entrance doors to try to pronounce them to see what sounded right. Singing began inside but by the time I slipped in, preaching had begun. I tip-toed to the outer edge of an aisle near the front and stood, waiting to read. The speaker looked at me… a first like there was annoyance at my being late and possibly a distraction… and then when it registered to the person that I was waiting for something, a strange look came over his face. A look that said he didn’t know what I was waiting for… a look of questioning. He had forgotten. Even in the dream, I could feel my face flush with color and shame. He had forgotten. I wasn’t needed. It occurred to me that the passage had already been read, either by the speaker or someone he had randomly and quickly chosen from the audience, totally unaware that I had taken his asking as a privilege. He was unaware that I had been practicing in the hallway, glad to be a part of what was happening. What I had taken as special and important, was really a task for anyone. While I had felt I had an intricate role, it was one effortlessly filled by anyone. Though I had felt weaved in, I was really forgotten.
In the dream, once all eyes had drifted questioning off of me and back onto the stage and the speaker, I quickly and quietly and unnoticed made my way back into the hallway just in time to explode into the very same heaving sobs I awoke with.
Cohen now says “that hurt my heart” when he’s unhappy with something. Most of the time what hurts his heart is that I won’t let him eat snacks for breakfast or stay up past his bedtime, but other times he hits the nail right on the head. It might be a childish expression- a cliche one even- but sometimes there’s just no better way to say it.
Wasn’t there a book called “When Bad Things Happen to Good People”? And then some other book that followed with a title something like “When Bad Christians Happen to Good People”? or something like that? I think a better title yet might be “When Good People Hurt Good People” or how about just “When People Hurt People”. That would probably cover it.
One of the deepest deaths I have had to die to survive the separation and the divorce was to give up the notion of explaining myself or vindicating myself or talking it out with everyone… not just the people I loved and wanted to understand, but the people I have never met who sent emails or commented in the most well-meaning way about what they could never know.
I still remember one life-changing spring day in 2009 right before I filed the paperwork. I got a call that I was going to get a call from someone important in our life. I was prepped to know that this important person wanted to know what was really going on. Seeing as I had only ever had one or two conversations of pleasantries with this person, I was shook at my core.
Thank God I had enough sense in the moment to call Pastor. I talked a mile a minute explaining this implication and that detail and how it all intertwined our life and friends and business. I am sure I barely came up for air. Pastor listened and when he could get a word in edgewise, he wisely said “Don’t say anything.”
I must’ve misheard.
“Don’t say anything.”
What? I had been for an hour rehearsing how I would explain the last four years of my life and how things had come to be as they were and where things were at right then and don’t forget- what I thought should happen- you know, just in case that important someone wanted my extra two cents.
Pastor talked about David and Saul and how David wouldn’t cut off Saul’s head even when he had the chance and even when no one else understood why he wouldn’t and even when he was justified and even when David had been right and Saul had been wrong. My heart ached in a way I don’t think it ever had before as the Lord pulled back my justifications and showed me the real thoughts and intentions of my heart…
I had wanted to vindicate myself. I had wanted to be right. I wanted this important person to know what had been done and what I had tried. I wanted him to know how I had been treated. I wanted him to take up my case, to be angry for and with me…
…. and there was a part of me that hoped he wouldn’t keep it a secret.
The ugliness of it all was startling to me. And that ache I had never before known? Now I know its the feeling of the death of my rights and my need to protect myself. And you know what? It hurts.
I was reminded of that day and the very short conversation with the very important person when I learned what it meant to obey God against my strong urges and what it means to entrust myself [my heart, my hurts, my reputation] to One who is ABLE to repay righteously on my behalf and to make me the head and not the tail. Sunday at church Pastor was preaching about Peter’s attempt to walk on the water to Jesus and how Jesus caught him and how in the book of Jude the writer amplifies that reality for us all by saying,
” Now to Him Who is able to keep you without stumbling or slipping or falling, and to present [you] unblemished (blameless and faultless) before the presence of His glory in triumphant joy and exultation [with unspeakable, ecstatic delight]–”
… and somewhere in the message the Spirit had Pastor rabbit trail into offense and self-protection and that nasty old urge in humanity to avenge ourselves. The Lord just cannot let us avenge ourselves- He can’t! Because in our fallen state we cannot vindicate ourselves without dressing ourselves in the very same wickedness we had started out to expose. We cannot avenge wrongs to our children without first convincing ourselves that we’re on the same level as God- able to see it all, able to judge and the jury, able to maintain holiness and yet correct in love. We just can’t. Pastor was talking about teachers and kids and grades, but those of us whose children have been wounded and maimed, it goes to a whole different level… and here comes that now-familiar ache.
As he continued to speak, my thoughts drifted. The movies of my life played back. And I had to ask myself, do I really trust God to repay righteously? Not just for me, but for those I love? Do I trust Him to make the calls that would be hard for me and rest in His all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerfulness? Or am I sometimes tempted to be like Jonah, okay with God as long as He judges as I would?
It is not a popular passage to preach from a pulpit, but it was alluded to and it cut, dividing up soul and spirit just as Word should. Paul, speaking to the church at Corinth in his first letter, puts them in their place for taking each other to court. He points out in the first six and half verses how wrong this is for a brother or sister to do to one another- not to mention how it looks to the unbelieving outside of the Church! But then in the latter half of verse seven, he comes around the corner for the KO [Knock Out, for those of you who don't have family members into kickboxing]…
“Why not rather let yourselves suffer wrong and be deprived of what is your due? Why not rather be cheated (defrauded and robbed)?”
Why not? Why not instead of biting and fighting and being offended and sowing seeds of bitterness, why not? Why not just allow yourself to suffer a little? to be cheated? or misunderstood? or talked about? or left out? or lied on? Why prefer our own rights over the kingdom?
Feel that dying yet, friends? After making the case that preferring one’s self over true unadulterated righteousness is itself wrong doing and unrighteousness and a defrauding another Paul goes on to boldly say,
“Do you not know that the unrighteous and the wrongdoerst will not inherit or have any share in the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived (misled): neither the impure and immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor those who participate in homosexuality, Nor cheats (swindlers and thieves), nor greedy graspers, nor drunkards, nor foulmouthed revilers and slanderers, nor extortioners and robbers will inherit or have any share in the kingdom of God.
And such some of you were [once].”
He adds the one who lives a lifestyle self preservation and self preference to a long list of persons Christians are always quick to remember aren’t making the cut.
And such were some of us, right? But now (read all of chapter 6 -so good) we have been washed and consecrated and set apart for something and Someone better.
So… people hurt people. And really good, God loving and God serving people sometimes hurt other good, God loving and God serving people. And sometimes good people who love God make bad decisions for the wrong reasons. I know I sure have and I am betting if we had a blind survey, so have most of you.
A wise friend of mine once told me about how her child had been treated unfairly by someone and how her natural knee-jerk reaction was to want to similarly hurt and alienate the other adult’s child. Ugly, right? Thankfully this woman loves God and is more prone to fall on her face than to satisfy the desire of her flesh. You know what God told her to do? He told her to bless the other child. And not in a small way. She obeyed and reported to me that her heart had never been freer. I tucked that truth into my back pocket, knowing I would need it.
As I have been writing (you know this is my therapy, right? you are all cheaper than counseling) and working out my soul’s salvation on this little corner of the world wide web, the sun has been slowly rising on the morning. What was dark and stormy and loud and commanding has now lulled itself into stillness, bathing everything in that cool, blue morning light.
The bruises are still there, yellowed with time and occasionally screaming with the searing pain of being touched too directly… but time is a gift of clarity and healing. If it is true that only those you love can really wound you, then I’d be a liar not to admit the love and fondness that exists somewhere near the foundation of the awkwardness and brokenness that can come from being in storm with other people, is still very present.
David and I saw the movie “The Grace Card” last evening with friends from church. At the crux of the story is this old worn piece of paper tucked into a Bible that said: “I will pray for you every day. I will forgive you and ask you to forgive me. I will love you and be your friend always.” It was a token of affection and a mending heart written to a slave owner from a young slave he had set free.
The Lord is reminding me this morning that I would rather suffer a little hurt, be bruised, misunderstood and even in some cases defrauded than to try any brother or sister in the court of public opinion or in the judge and jury of my own mixed motives. Good people sometimes hurt good people. Sometimes it is a wrong done and sometimes it is lack of information and others is just the stinging loss of closeness when a hard, depleting thing has concluded into an uncomfortable wedge between parties. It doesn’t really matter in the scheme of our little vapors of life unless we make it a hill for our trust in God to die on.
This morning the hurt is dull, but present. Smoldering underneath the decay of what dying has come and is coming, I sense new life about to spring up. I think we call that hope. So, this morning I am freeing my heart again of something that has been weighing it down in recent weeks. I choose the kingdom over being right. I choose love over bitterness. I choose God’s refining of me over my nitpicking and whining about others. I choose to forgive, even if no one asks for it. And I choose to bless and not curse.
And you know what? I am going not going to just wish that project well, I am going to sow some of myself and what I have into it because I love that person with the eyes and smile and the hair and the glasses and he is my brother.
Friends- above all else, guard your heart! for it is the well spring of life! What will you choose to let go of today?