The Full Time Job of Healing 


I am on medical leave. For the first time in many, many years I have time. I am not moving. I am not job hunting. I am not on limited vacation time. Instead, my full time job right now is to heal. 

It is one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done. 

Here’s why: 

  1. Healing takes discipline. It takes discipline to set aside time for physical therapy. It takes discipline to eat properly, discipline to not just veg out and binge on television shows. It takes effort to get up in the morning when you hurt, discipline to put your feet on the ground. I am not disciplined and at heart, I’m pretty lazy. I would far rather have a quick fix then a slow, steady process. But healing has its own agenda and schedule., and it demands discipline. 
  2. Healing takes rest. So much of physical and emotional healing is about resting. And true resting is when both your body and soul are at rest. I find myself trying to rest, but my mind buzzes anxiously with thoughts about what I think I should be doing, how I think I should be reacting. Rest is uncommon in the Northeast. Instead, what is applauded is achievement, academic success, graduating from top schools, busy and successful career paths. Rest is something that we don’t talk about or give permission for, instead opting to glorify busy. But healing demands rest. Our bodies have undergone trauma – whether it be from surgery, from illness, or from an accident. The body’s needs for rest increase. Our bodies also need proper nutrition to augment the rest. 
  3. Healing takes humility. Giving up control is hard. Having to have others help you dress, bathe, cook, drive, clean, even put on your shoes is deeply humbling. Actively watching out for self-pity is also humbling. It’s easy to clothe self-pity into “well I’m just being honest about how I feel..” But at the end of the day, it’s still self-pity. It takes humility to follow the guidelines and restrictions of others, to trust medical personnel. It takes humility to allow strangers into your home to see how you live, and to give you suggestions and ideas of how to live better. It takes humility to accept that healing doesn’t happen on the timeline we request. It takes humility to respond to questions about our bodies, to use assistive devices when we go out the door. 
  4. Healing takes time. Above all, this is true.  Neither physical nor emotional healing comes quickly. Instead it’s a long journey.  Yes, there are things we can do to heal as quickly as possible, but ultimately it still takes time. 

And so I have time – and my only job during this time is to heal. 

Years ago, I listened to a recording of a woman who spoke on suffering. It was a powerful talk and I probably listened to it over fifty times in the course of the next few years. One of the many things she said was this: 

Our churches are full of wounded and hurting people who have never taken a season to heal. 

These words are profoundly true – true for the ones who need physical healing, true for the ones who need emotional healing. 

So I will not fight this season, nor will I wish it away. Instead, I gratefully accept my season to heal, and the gift of time. 

Depression and the Third Culture Kid

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Six years ago I entered the office of my primary care doctor and burst into tears. I sobbed until I could not sob anymore. I sobbed until all that was left was a broken soul and no more tears. When I left the office that day, I left with red eyes, a red nose, and the exhaustion that comes with absolute honesty. I also left with a prescription for an antidepressant.

It was my friend Carol who finally insisted that I go. Carol knows what it is to be sad. She also knows what it is when the sadness goes one step farther than it should; when no matter how good life is and how sunny the day is, you still cry. She saw all the signs in me that told her I was not okay.

I had moved two years before from a beautiful home in Phoenix, Arizona to a crowded apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The move was one of the hardest I have ever gone through. Not as difficult as moving from Cairo to a small town in Massachusetts, but almost. I moved less than a week before Christmas and that Christmas saw all seven of us huddled around a tree, with me trying to push aside my feelings of loss and  isolation. I had done moves before, of course this one would end up being fine – at least that’s what I kept telling myself.

But there was something about moving back to a place that held such pain in the past that burrowed into my psyche. I wasn’t okay, only it would take me a long time to figure it out.

It wasn’t that Phoenix was perfect, it was just that there was something about the visceral response I experienced to the hot weather and the desert landscape. Even on my difficult days, my body felt at home. While I missed extended family in the Northeast, I felt more at home in the Southwest than I had ever felt in other parts of the United States. I don’t know why, it just happened. In Arizona, I no longer felt the pressure to succeed, to “pull up my bootstraps, and make it.” Instead, I was able to relax and somehow “become.” For the first time, I felt that I might be able to adjust to life in the United States.

All that changed as we headed back to Massachusetts. Suddenly, I was a little third culture kid again, a kid who was insecure and didn’t know how to live and make her way in her passport country.

I have never spoken openly about my depression. In fact, this piece is the first piece I’ve ever written about the dark feelings that threatened to consume me. But I can’t help believing that there is an intersection between being an adult third culture kid and the sadness that led me to seek help. I think other things played into it as well — the accumulation of all the moves that I had navigated; the slow release of my children into the world as adults; the sense of inadequacy as a parent who could no longer kiss away tears, who instead spent sleepless nights of prayer that her children would be okay. But along with that was the ever-present “Where do I really fit? Who am I? How long will it take before I actually function well in this country?”

No matter what else was going on, those last three questions were floating around, never really answered.

I was not aware at the time of the complex grief, the convergence of multiple losses, that is a part of the TCK experience. I was not aware of the frozen sadness of ambiguous loss that was a part of me. I would dismiss my feelings, angrily casting them aside as unimportant. After all, I reasoned, I know hundreds of people in far worse circumstances than me and they are coping, they are living well despite those circumstances.

This was singularly unhelpful. All it did was add guilt to my feelings, making them even more complex.

When I walked out of the doctor’s office that day six years ago, I felt a sense of relief. I was finally willing to admit that I couldn’t do this alone, that there was a chemical imbalance that threatened to undo me.

Three weeks after beginning treatment I felt like a new person. It was still winter, it was still cold, and the reasons for my sadness were still present. But I had a new found ability to cope and work through some of my grief. A few months later, I began writing and found yet another way to express and face past grief. I began seeing some of the beauty that surrounded me, began experiencing life in the cities of Cambridge and Boston with joy and thankfulness.

Slowly, I began to heal. There is some pain in our bodies that takes a long time to heal. Burns take a long time. Surgery takes a long time. Bad wounds take a long time. Physical wound healing is a dynamic process. It’s a process that involves a series of  stages or phases – and it’s not necessarily straight forward. We don’t take great strides toward healing, we inch toward it.

This is what I have found in the emotional and spiritual healing that I have needed as a third culture kid. As much as I would like to have pain erased and memories not ache my soul, this does not happen quickly. I did not take leaps and bounds toward healing, I inched my way forward until one day I realized, I was in a better place.

Why did it take me so long? I don’t know the answer to that. What I do know is that I had a misguided theology and view of pain. If I admitted the pain, I reasoned, than I would no longer be the advertisement that I erroneously thought I needed to be as a well-adjusted adult third culture kid. I would no longer be able to sneer at the naysayers, telling them I didn’t know what they were talking about: My life was fine, thank you very much.

What I have realized is this: My honesty is a greater gift to the third culture kid community than my false illusion of wellness. My ability to write truth, grateful for the good, struggling with the hard, but being so glad for the experiences I’ve had and the places I have lived, is a much better connector then my false advertising ever will be.

I don’t know who you are, or what drew you to read this today, but what I do know is this: Help comes in many different ways. Sometimes it’s a person with whom you can share your soul; sometimes it’s a counselor with whom you can work through the hard; sometimes it’s a parent who can guide you and hold you; sometimes it’s a priest or pastor who can direct you to spiritual truth. And sometimes, it’s a small purple pill that a brilliant medical researcher discovered that helps you achieve chemical balance in your mind.

And for all these, I am grateful.

Resources: 

A Comparison that Consoles

A Comparison that Consoles by Robynn. If you did not have a chance to read A Comparison that Kills take a look here.

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While comparing our personal pain to the suffering of others, does little to promote compassion and care, I’ve come to recently learn that there is a comparison that does deepen our connection with others, opens the door to empathy and promotes healing in ourselves and hope for all who are afflicted.

A couple of Sundays ago at our church, Pastor Steve, spoke on a passage hidden in the heart of the New Testament book of Romans. In many ways the apostle Paul was an expert in suffering. He had endured a great deal. What he writes on suffering it is never trite. He understood deep misery, loss, and betrayal. Pastor Steve pointed out that Paul doesn’t actually recommend comparing our sorrows against the sufferings of another. That type of comparison kills. But rather, Paul encourages us to compare our suffering with the glory that lies ahead. One day it will all be over. The grief of the globe, the pain of the planet, the quiet hurts of the isolated, the traumatized, victims of injustice or of a quaking earth….all of it will be over. This type of comparison brings comfort and consolation.

In the meantime we are allowed to groan.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed. (Ps 34:18)

God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matt 5:4)

I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their groans and have come down to rescue them. (Acts &:34)

The apostle Paul says that creation groans in agony. She is waiting for the day when she’s freed from death and decay. We are given permission to groan too. We suffer. We are in anguish. We long to be released from sin and suffering. Groaning is a perfectly legitimate response. But we do so with hope and with expectancy. There is surely glory ahead!

It’s important to be realistic about our own pain. That’s true. Avoid the temptation to minimize your sorrow. It’s also important to be realistic about the hope of glory that we have. Comparing our pain to the coming glory, and with it the relief and rest, allows us to better connect with others in their pain. It gives us a focal point on the horizon to point people to. Look ahead. See what’s coming! Jesus himself, the Man of Sorrow, who ministers to the broken and the weighed down, is on his way. And we remember that by his wounds we are healed. Glorious hope and healing are present and possible because of Who’s coming! The Nepali, broken and bruised and afraid, will find healing and peace and redemption. The city of Baltimore, full of anger and fear, will find justice and restoration and the Balm of Gilead.

That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times          and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens. (Romans 8:18-21)

 

“Do You Want to be Healed?”

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In Church tradition, yesterday was the Sunday of the Paralytic. The story of Jesus healing a paralytic man is told in the Gospel of John.

The healing occurred at the site of a pool called Bethesda. The pool was said to bubble up periodically, and when it did it had healing powers. The narrative tells us that many people were around the pool – all sick, disabled, and suffering. This was a place of the invalids and paralyzed; a place of the blind and the lame – all there hoping to be healed. Hoping that when the waters bubbled up, they would be the ones who would walk away whole.

Into this story comes a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years. We aren’t given many details of his life other than this one. He was paralyzed. He was not whole or well. While I may currently live in a country where there is a constant fight for the rights of the disabled, I have lived many years in countries where the disabled are outcasts. They are the marginalized of society, without rights, without hope. This was the reality for this man. He was not a fully functioning member of society. Instead, he was at the margins, by the side of this pool.

I know this story well. I have heard it since I was a child. But yesterday I was struck all over again by the words “Do you want to be healed?” spoken by Jesus. And I realize these are the words he has asked people through the centuries —

“Do you want to be healed?”

It’s the same for us. We sit, often for years, with our paralysis. It may not be physical paralysis, but it is just as debilitating and defeating as physical paralysis. It prevents us from truly living, from being who we are called to be.

Jesus extends his hand and says to us “Pick up your bed, your stuff, your past, your background, your hurt, your anger, your very life — and walk”

With hand outstretched he offers his grace for the hard work of healing. May today be yet another day of walking in that grace.

Photo Credit: https://unsplash.com/

Series on Suffering #3: “We’re guaranteed it!”

Suffering #3: We’re guaranteed it! by Robynn

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Entitlement is an interesting and pervasive attitude these days.  I deserve to feel good about myself. I deserve wealth. I deserve happiness. I deserve respect. I deserve a massage, a night out, another drink, a bowl of ice cream, a raise at work, an easier life.

Jesus had an opinion about this idea of entitlement. There were two brothers –friends of his, part of his close circle, men who had heard him teach, men who had hung out with him– who approached Jesus with a simple request. Could he do them a favour? When everything settles down and, Jesus, you are sitting on your glorious throne, if it wouldn’t be too much to ask, could we please sit on either side of you? One on your left, one on your right? We can sort out who sits on which side later….but could we? Please?

I can imagine Jesus just shaking his head when he replies, You don’t have a clue what you’re asking.

Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with? (Mark 10:38)

It’s easy, as a reader of this story, to be pretty hard on these two blokes! Who did they think they were? Had they been listening at all when Jesus taught on humility and the hard road? They had seen him up close. They’d been camping with him. They’d gone out for drinks with him. They followed him and watched while he healed kindly, when he welcomed little children.

But maybe they were a little like me.

I once met with Father Albert at Conception Abbey for spiritual direction. I was on a three day retreat and I had signed up to meet with a director. Lowell and I were at a cross roads. I needed guidance. During our time together, tucked into the middle of the conversation about mothering and gifting and ambition, I admitted, “Father Albert, I want to be famous!” He threw back his head and guffawed. Apparently no one had ever said that out loud to him before.

If that comment was written in the gospels, readers would judge me. They’d read it with an obnoxious tone of voice. They’d roll their eyes and mumble, Who does she think she is? What does she have to offer? How on earth would she ever be famous?

But what the reader wouldn’t know is my heart in it. I wasn’t motivated by fame and the quest to be a celebrity. I longed to use my gifts, to teach publicly, to call groups of people to Jesus. And doing that to large crowds seemed somehow more efficient. As ignoble as it sounds, and really is at a deep level, I thought I would like to be famous. It was ridiculous then when I said it and it’s even more ridiculous now looking back on it. I’ll never be that. Nor do I want that any more.

My point is it’s easy to judge these two brothers. Jesus doesn’t. He does highlight their naiveté. They don’t know what they are asking. He can’t commit those two chairs to them. It doesn’t work that way. They aren’t entitled to them. The only thing he can guarantee is that they will suffer. The only thing they are entitled to is the “bitter cup of suffering”.

Several weeks ago I wrote a piece on longings. The Jesus story I cited was one that comes right after this particular one in the St Mark’s gospel. Bartimaeus the blind man, when Jesus asks him what can I do for you, responds, I want to see. Here when Jesus asks the two brothers what can I do for you, they ask for positions or roles. It’s an intriguing contrast. The blind man wants to see. The brothers want to get ahead. Jesus loves to give sight to the blind. Bartimaeus walks away seeing. Jesus doesn’t work in the advancement department. He doesn’t promote or demote. The only thing he guarantees is suffering, pain, agony.

The kingdom of God turns everything upside down. You want an exemption? You want to be removed from the circus and given an honorable place to sit down? Sorry…that doesn’t happen. Jesus goes on to further articulate. Kingdom rules for advanced placement include suffering. Kingdom rules for leadership include serving.  Kingdom rules for being first include being last. Kingdom rules for getting good service include attending to others. Kingdom rules for the good life mean laying down your life, dying to yourself.

These two brothers were Jesus’ friends. He wasn’t being harsh or unkind when he promised them suffering. He was speaking to their reality. They would surely suffer. And he would be with them in it, And lo, I am with you always. As would the Holy Comforter be, whom he would later send.

As horrendous as this sounds, we are all entitled….to suffering. I’m not saying that we deserve to suffer. Heaven forbid! This is not the life we were created for! But I am saying there are no other true guarantees in life. We will suffer, every one of us. Suffering will happen. But we do not need to suffer alone. The Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief, joins us in our pain. He waits for us there, quietly, in the hallways of hardship ready to carry our burdens.

Souls Under Construction (& Monday Muffins)

English: Charles/MGH station, and the Longfell...

A green net covering a high chain link barrier obstructs my view of the Charles River. The Longfellow Bridge is under construction. It will be under construction for three years, causing inconvenience in traffic patterns, heavy congestion in an already crowded area, and ugly, obstructed views.

But it’s necessary. It’s a part of keeping the bridge safe and strong, able to withstand the constant stream of cars, bikes, subway, and people that it’s designed to handle.

Sometimes the only way to make things better is to fix them, to reconstruct them.

And so it is with our souls. There are times when our souls need to be under construction, when that is the only way for them to withstand the constant force of life in all its uncertainty.

I heard once at a conference that our “churches are full of hurting people who haven’t taken a season to heal”. This is part of the under construction process — realizing that your soul needs to heal and the wisest thing to do is to allow time for the construction and healing process to take place.

Several years ago my husband and I went through an extended period of healing, an extended construction period. It lasted over six years. During that time we did nothing beyond attending church and getting together with safe friends. We didn’t take part in any Bible Studies, we were not involved in any ‘ministry’, we did no service. We went through a season of healing and it was invaluable.

Besides achieving the desired result of healing and reconstructing, we learned several things.

1. We learned that we were far more use to God as people willing to be healed than we would have been had we tried to maintain a façade. The Psalmist David in a prayer of repentance says: “A broken and contrite heart you will not despise.” He speaks to the mercy of God, his loving kindness, the bones that God has broken. God has never, and will never, despise a broken and contrite heart. It’s the heart of the proud and the deceitful that concerns him far more.

2. We learned that our worth was not, and never will be, in what we do. Church service, ‘ministry’, getting involved – none of that is wrong. In fact, when done out of love for God it is a gift to be used for his glory. But it does not constitute our worth. Our worth this: we are made in the image of God, his creation, his love. Getting that wrong, thinking this is about what we do is far more dangerous to the soul than taking time out for healing.

3. We came to realize that when you go through a season of healing, God brings people into your life who are broken and need to hear that there is redemption, there is healing. Even in the midst of the hardest parts of healing, we would meet people who needed to know there was hope, needed to know we were also walking the long, arduous path called ‘healing’. Perhaps broken seeks out broken? I like to think broken knows that it can learn best from those also willing to go through the construction process.

4. We learned that the words ‘ministry’ will never be synonymous with ‘God’, and when we make them, we are in a state of serious delusion. If we are not careful, ‘ministry’ becomes God. The word itself is held up as the ideal, instead of God himself being the ideal and ministry the result of our love for him. Defined as ‘the one that serves’ we can see ministry for what it is – not an end in itself, simply a way to reflect a love of God.

5. Mostly we learned that God is close to the broken-hearted. He cared not about our lack of service, he cared about our souls. Deeply, urgently, consistently he worked in our souls to reconstruct them to His Glory. The cuts that we sustained by his hand in the healing process were cuts of a gifted surgeon, done only to rid us of what would harm. And oh how they hurt, how they smarted. But when all was done, when surgery ended, the dead tissue was gone, only the healthy remained.

While a major construction and healing period is over, we are still ever aware of our fragility and propensity to go out on our own, thinking our souls are fully fixed. But the reality is somewhat different. Just as the Longfellow Bridge will go through this extended construction period and emerge stronger, it will always have its points of weakness,need for inspections, and regular upkeep.

It’s something I remember every day as I pass by this bridge under construction, our souls are always and ever under construction.

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Brown Sugar Browned Butter Maple MuffinsStacy continues to provide amazing recipes for me to post. Today’s is Brown Sugar Browned Butter Maple Muffins – a mouthful of title and goodness. Stacy says this: “they taste and smell of warm winter breakfasts to me.”

Hope in the Red and Gold

For years while living in Pakistan and Cairo we had no Autumn. No pumpkins. No apple picking. No smells of apple crisp or pie coming from a hot oven. No crisp fall days, where leaves crunch under foot and life is suspended in a golden, Autumn glow.

I have come to cherish Autumn; to cherish the hope that comes with the reds and golds. I am slowly coming from a place of dreading what’s beyond the Autumn to resting in the wonder of the now.

There is hope in the red and the gold – hope in the falling leaves, hope in the crisp air. There is a consistency to this season that I don’t feel in others. Spring is too elusive; summer can come with disappointments of crushed expectation; winter – well winter just is. But Autumn is consistent in its shorter days and golden looks.

Autumn is where I first learned to create traditions in the United States. Autumn is where my friend Karen taught me about pumpkin carving and apple picking. Autumn is where I learned to not fear what was coming ahead, not dread what hadn’t yet come. Autumn is the season where I grew up as a mom, learned how to be a mom in North America.

I learned about soccer and theatre; about field trips and evening concerts with 4th graders who knew only two notes on their recorders; I learned about volunteering and being the only mom in the parent-teacher organization with a nosepin. It was in Autumn that I learned what it was to be so homesick for a place I could hardly move; in Autumn where I learned the hard lesson of moving from community to being unknown. And then it was in falling leaves that crunched that I learned what it was to heal, to know that there was One who understood homesick better than any other. It was Autumn where I failed and succeeded and failed again as a mom. It was in Autumn that my heart broke and repaired. It was in the red and gold glow that my tears fell and my heart was hurt and heard.

So there is, and always will be, hope in the red and gold.

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