Healing Through Beauty

I may be biased, but Charlestown is the loveliest place to live in all of Boston. It has charm, character, and beauty all wrapped up in a complete package. It is a city space with a small town feel. Neighbors know and care for each other, people say hello as they walk their babies and their dogs, and the owners of the bodega down the street laugh goodnaturedly as I try my Spanish which is limited to Ola! and Gracias!

Though every season is lovely, springtime feels particularly so as forsythia blooms bright yellow, quickly followed by flowering trees, azaleas, daffodils, and tulips. An already friendly place becomes friendlier, the sheer joy of living is present everywhere.

Charlestown helped to heal my heart last spring. As half of me lay in a hospital bed not two miles away, the other half walked the streets of Charlestown with one of my sons, marveling at how beauty, joy, and tragedy could be so mixed up together. Tears that I thought would never stop dried on my cheeks, joy exploding like the blossoms around me.

The Russian author, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, wrote the words “Beauty will save the world” many years ago. Those words became my reality, for in the midst of the tragedy of last year, beauty was exactly what I needed. Beauty saved me.

Beauty healed my eyesight and my heart. Beauty called me into a greater reality than the one that I saw, the one that I lived.

Beauty healed my eyesight and my heart. Beauty called me into a greater reality than the one that I saw, the one that I lived. Beauty tenderly woke me to the Beautiful One and to a coming reality where there will be no more death, suffering, crying or pain.

As I walk the streets today, sun glistening off dew drops on newly sprouted buds, I am in a different place. The tragedy of last year has given way to the hard work of healing. The beauty all around welcomes me as I continue to walk in faith, faith that the pain of today and the fight to see beauty will someday give way to a forever that is far more beautiful and less fleeting than springtime in Charlestown.

Chaste and ardent eros for the Beautiful is the first task of human life, and falling in love with Beauty is the beginning of every adventure that matters

Dr. Timothy Patitsas in The Ethics of Beauty

And so I ask you: When has beauty healed your heart?

The Stories Behind Our Silence

It’s been quiet here. It feels eerily quiet to me, though for those of you who read – the silence may be welcome. No one needs more noise in their lives. But the quiet feels strange to me because so much of my processing is done through writing.

Whenever my writing goes silent, there is a story behind the silence. I would think that this is true for most of us. Though everyone doesn’t process through writing, we all go through journeys where our inner world and trauma don’t reflect our outward circumstances, where there are stories behind our stepping away from life.

Some things are not for public consumption. In a world that more and more demands our every thought, our every hurt and pain spewed out through whatever public means possible, it feels important to say this.

Yet, too often, people insist on the story. They seemingly can’t give grace without the details. It makes me wonder how we can grow to be the kind of people who can honor the silent stories, giving grace for behavior and actions that don’t reflect what we know about the person’s life. How can we honor the stories behind the silence, knowing that people must feel safe in order to share? How can we become people who don’t operate off a sort of voyeurism, insisting on the hard ingredients instead of offering unconditional comfort?

It was a number of years ago when I first discovered the difference between outside circumstances and silent stories. It was in trying to figure out how I could help a friend. Her outside circumstances were seemingly ideal. A “put together” family – the kind that takes pictures of all their kids with blue jeans and white shirts on a pristine beach – a good job, beautiful kids, talent beyond believability. But behind her perfect smile was an undefinable sadness. At first I was impatient and frustrated. Of all the people I knew, she was the last person who seemed to have a reason to be sad. It was in the midst of frustration, that I felt a strong rebuke and challenge to look beyond these seemingly perfect circumstances. I realized that there must be more to the story then her observable beautiful life.

In truth, I should have been quicker to identify this. I say this because I too have been judged as one who has “nothing to complain about.” Judged for being a baby who can’t cope with the perfect life I’d been given. There were silent stories behind my observable “good” life. Stories that were difficult to share, and even more difficult to live.

The stories remained silent until I trusted a friend enough to reveal them.

Whether others give us freedom for silence or not, there are time honored and tested verses from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes that offer space for these seasons of silence:

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

May we strive to be people of the seasons. People who honor all of the times in our lives, including the stories behind the silence – may we be people who offer the gifts of grace, comfort, compassion, and hope, all given without expectation, without insisting on details. And through these gifts may stories be heard, silence give way to a voice, and above all, the seasons of hope and healing be restored.

Where Does Your Soul Hurt?

November in the Northeast of the United States colors gray. Though there are some bright days of sun and leftover reds and golds from a brilliant October, those aren’t as common as the more dull days that whisper of a winter coming and shout of a summer long gone.

And today colors grayer than gray. Though it began with a brilliant sun shining through our kitchen windows, the sun faded out of sight with thick clouds taking over.

The first question that came at me this morning was from an app that I have been using called “Soul Space.” This five minute meditation focused on “anchoring your thoughts to the love of God” is a beautiful way to ground me after my morning prayers. The question was one that quickly brought tears to my eyes.

“Ask your soul: Where does it hurt?”

Where does it hurt? Where are the painful spots in my soul today? The spots that others don’t see as I go about life. Through the meditation, listeners were invited to put their hands over their hearts and listen to where it hurt.

I felt like I was putting a stethoscope up to my soul to find the wounds and murmurs. I hadn’t realized how much my soul was hurting until I stopped to listen. Tears filled my eyes, and I brushed them away impatiently. But it was no use. They came again and I gave in to their therapeutic healing.

None of us can go through much of life before encountering soul wounds. We can keep busy and ignore them, but sometime they will catch up to us.

This pandemic season they have caught up with us. This time has revealed some deep soul wounds in many of us and we are feeling their weight. Loneliness, isolation, lack of community, division among friends and families, changes in friendships, marriage tensiton, online strife, not seeing family and friends for extended periods – all of this is taking its toll on our bodies and our souls. We are a hurting people who don’t know how to help.

A few years ago, a dear friend of mine sent me a poem. Since that time I’ve seen in quoted many times in many places, proof of it resonating across the world.

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?

it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

Warsan Shire

And though I love the poem, I don’t believe we are left hurting alone. I have come to know that there is a wound healer that comes beside us and enters our soul wounds, if we are willing.

And so I imagine God picking up that same atlas in an embrace of love, running his fingers across the whole world and whispering these words:

I heal the broken hearted, and bind up their wounds.  
I whisper hope into your soul wounds and give you joy.  
I take your burdens and make them lighter, invite you into a resting place.  
 
The atlas replied "But it hurts so much."   
"I know" he whispered back. 
"But let me bear it with you so you will not be alone,"  
Ever so slowly the atlas responded to the embrace. 
It still hurt, but she was no longer alone.  
And so she rested.  

[Photo by Omid Armin on Unsplash]

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.

new Heaven

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?”

do you want to be healed

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/