Pruning is Painful, but Glory Remains

So when we bought our house back in 2003, one of my favorite things about the yard was this gorgeous Japanese maple tree perched lovingly in the front of the Bay window.  I have no idea of its age, but if I had to speculate, I would say it’s about 20 years old or so.   Each spring I marvel at its transformation, from stark barrenness and limbs of almost charcoal with wiry cherry tips, to forked buds of deep forest green, yearning for permission to lunge forward and grasp the crisp pale yellow sun.

By this time of the summer, the leaves have begun their fall ensemble, and incredible hues of greens and reds line the tree from trunk to treetop.  The visual unveiling is an emotional undertaking, and I feel blessed to have a front row seat each season to all of God’s bounty.

For several reasons, that tree has become the focal point of the yard.  There are no other trees in our yard, and the children knew from an early age this tree was very special.  ‘We don’t play on this tree,’ you’d hear the children tell their friends.  Just about every single ‘First Day of School’ photo and every other special occasion photo centers around that tree.  It’s like a member of the family, plain and simple.

In October of 2011 we had an early and extremely severe ice storm that wreaked havoc and devastation across much of New England.  Power lines were dropped to the ground like threads; large long-standing oaks were snapped in half like twigs; roofs collapsed from the tremendous weight of this ice – the damage figures soared into the millions.

As you can imagine, my precious sole standing maple took a hit – one of its two main branches cracked under the weight of the ice it was forced to bear.  The crack did not sever the limb, however, but left it crippled and limping…in need of swift attention.  In my absence, the decision was made to sacrifice the limb in order to attempt to save the remaining tree.  When I saw what had happened, and the choice that was made, I was initially destroyed.  A flood of emotions filled me: anger at the destruction, mourning at the loss of such beauty, disappointment at the decision made.

It was a very difficult winter, and I could no longer bear to gaze out my window at my beloved tree that once held so much joy.  Cloaked in my anguish, as spring approached, I missed all the little signs that were sent for my benefit – signs of new life, rebirth.  That tree wasn’t just surviving, it was thriving.  Even with the loss of half of itself, it was shining in the face of disappointment.  It was staring its critics down, and being all that it could be, despite the odds against it.

And today, even though it remains one of the smallest trees on the block – it is missing its entire left side and it is completely devoid of leaves on its backside – it is still the most beautiful.  Other bigger, taller, seemingly stronger trees have fallen despite their best attempts to the contrary.  This tiny Japanese maple – it stands victorious – all because no one ever told it it could not.

I was looking at my dear tree this morning, and thinking just how parallel this tree is to my life lately.  I experienced an ‘amputation’ of sorts a few years back, and though it might not have been my choice at the time, looking at my standing compared to the rest of the block, I am thriving and standing the tallest I have ever stood.  I haven’t physically grown an inch, but my soul and spirit have surpassed Shaq for sure.

Pruning, though often not our first choice, many times saves the life of what is being trimmed.  The process is painful, as dead or dying parts are cut away, without the benefit of anesthesia.   We can be left bewildered, wondering why we have to experience trimming at all.  But once completed, as new growth begins, we can see why the process was necessary, even critical.

John 15:2 states “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.”  God’s goal is to make us as fruitful as possible; to bring forth our best so that we thrive; most of all, to bring Him glory.

This is a picture of my tree these days:

And this is me:

We’re both a shadow of our former selves; lean, mean fighting machines; little engines that could.  Just try and get in our way.

Advertisements

You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby!

I have this gift – it can be viewed as a blessing or much, much less, depending on your perspective.  I never forget anything.  Even the tiniest of things with no significance to some, I remember.  Yesterday was a date of some great importance.  Two years ago yesterday, my supposed ‘normal’ life was altered forever.  My 22 year marriage stopped existing as my spouse informed me it no longer did.  I wasn’t asked for my input, there was no discussion, there wasn’t even an argument – just the announcement of the end.

As I reflect on these 2 years, my initial thoughts are that it seems so very long ago.  While the words still sting like a fresh wound, I hardly remember what I felt in those first moments.  I remember exactly where I was, and what I was doing – but other than my tears, I have no idea what was in my head as the longest relationship of my life was ended in 5 words.  It’s funny how I can remember September 11 like it was yesterday – where I stood, paralyzed by fear, glued to the television as the images came across, the gasps and the tears as the first Tower fell, the longing for my family to be whole and home immediately so I knew they were safe, the complete numbness as the second Tower fell, the inability to turn away from the news coverage for days afterwards.  But this inner destruction, this attack on my person, my family…happened right in front of my face…and yet the feelings and emotions were lodged so deeply inside that it seemed that they might never see the light of day.  Instinctual mode broke free and took hold, and my motions became robotic – protect my children, show no weakness, do not become broken.  Going through the motions, really…not feeling a thing.

Time is the enemy of numbness.  Just like going to the dentist, eventually the Novocain wears off, and the residual pain breaks through.  This is when the real work begins…learning to feel those feelings, meet them head on, one at a time, acknowledge their value and purpose, realize that you can survive the process and come out on the other side, stronger and wiser.  But it is just that…work…and it’s hard and painstaking, and you have to want to get through it and see what you’re made of.  For me, that meant a lot of soul-searching and a phenomenal therapist who never once judged me, told me what I felt was wrong or inappropriate, and helped to guide me through everything I was experiencing.

The biggest piece, though, was that I was ready to get healthy and whole – for me.  You can’t experience any kind of traumatic event and then walk it out for someone else.  Sure, you can try that – but the results come back hollow and meaningless – because you’re trying to walk your journey to please another, and that never, ever works.  You can’t live your life to please someone else, and you certainly can’t sift through your junk to suit their needs.

The entire 2 years haven’t been rosebuds and raindrops.  Divorce, I have found, is a very despicable word.  I never realized just how ugly people who once loved each other can become when pushed to their breaking points.  Battles over possessions, property and payments cannot be made kind.  And when children are involved, one parent has to be annihilated to make the other one more appealing – there is no simpler way to put it.  The number of times I have sat in that Family Court in the last 2 years has embarrassingly made me an expert on something I take no pride in knowing about.  And I can say this in all truthfulness – God stands outside that Courthouse, as the feeling of evil upon entering envelopes you like a heavy wool blanket each time and you know you need to be washed clean when you leave.  Love was never intended to be this way…ever.

As I’ve moved forward in my process of healing, I’ve decided that I have a small responsibility in his healing too.  Not in his process, his choices, or his actions – but solely in how I choose to treat the man I once loved.  If I continue to treat him with disdain in my heart, and yet intend to show Jesus to strangers, aren’t I being a hypocrite?  How can I show any less than the love of Jesus to him?  This is certainly not to say when he is hurtful I am just to accept it openly.  That person is gone – the one that allowed herself to be quashed for years, silenced by emotional abuse that I was embarrassed to reveal.  But I do not have to allow myself to be baited by his hurtfulness.  I am stronger now, and I am secure in who I am.  I won’t be confused about that ever again.

So what does all of this mean?  Because I am healthier, I can lead my children in a much better way.  They don’t have to be confused or afraid of what is happening in their own home.  We all are prospering – a word I wouldn’t have dreamed to use even a year ago.  Each of the kids has a path they are on, and they are making their way.  And their Mama?  For the first time in a long, long time…she’s happy and making plans to enjoy the days in front of her.  I am done looking back…my ‘new’ is ahead and it’s waiting for me to discover it.  I can’t wait!

I’m Teflon…Sometimes

Life is full of disappointments.  From very early on in life, we learn this inevitable truth.  As children, we find out we cannot eat candy 24 hours a day.  As adolescents, we learn the lasting scars of being chosen last for the team.  As teenagers, we somehow survive the gut-wrenching anguish of losing our first love.  As young adults, we experience a missed job advancement or failed financial venture.  As young parents, we die a thousand deaths that first time we cannot take the pain away for our child.  As experienced parents, our hearts shatter the first time our child yells in anger that they hate us.

Each time, with each newly experienced heartache, we shut down just a bit more.  The human heart can only tolerate so much before the brain takes over, and instinct takes charge.  In the battle between heart and mind, the heart will always lose – the brain is programmed to dominate every time – this is by design.

But the problem is that our hearts are unaware of our brains ‘survive at all cost’ mentality.  Our hearts are stubborn, see.  They are the ‘David’ in this story.  They might be smaller and weaker, but don’t bother telling them that.  Because next to the heart’s bathroom mirror is a mantra – a daily pep talk, if you will – ‘I can and I will.’  The feisty little heart refuses to understand that it’s delicate and fragile – disposable even.

Someone who suffers a trauma typically learns how to bypass the heart-brain circuit fairly quickly, for self-preservation purposes.  Without this ability, the presentation of each new rejection is like reliving the trauma over and over again, regardless of what it was originally.  The same mental anguish, self-loathing, personal disdain and downward spiral ensue with no ejection handle available.

This ‘heart bypass’ might look plastic in nature – with no real ability to attach to anyone or anything.  In my case, I have become ‘Teflon Girl’ – able to leap huge piles of BS in a single bound, especially when spewed from the male species, without getting a speck of crap on me.  It really is an art form, getting into and out of the suit so quickly, but I’ve noticed a few flaws in the design as of late.  ‘Teflon Girl’ does not have hinged elbows – that is, she straight-arms all recent male relationships, careful to keep them far enough away from the cargo inside.  While that’s great potential damage control, when and if you actually do want to let someone in, trusting that feeling is made all the more difficult.

Another flaw with ‘Teflon Girl’ – as in life, the coating has started to wear thin from overuse in a few areas, especially around the heart.  And as much as the brain says “You didn’t hurt me.  I’m Teflon.” the heart knows better.  This heart is hypersensitive…it feels every beat – irregular, skipped, crushed, longing – nothing gets past this baby.

The last flaw I’ve noticed…there’s no helmet with the suit, leaving the brain completely exposed to all attacks.  My brain, I would say, is my greatest asset, but also my greatest liability.  It is a wealth of information, humor, personality, spunk, and gifts.  But at the same time, my brain cannot leave a question unanswered, a puzzle unsolved, a problem unresolved or a stone unturned.  My brain never stops running – ever.  So when attacks come, which lately seem constant, my brain goes into hyper-drive;  first, trying to fend off the assailant, protect at all costs, formulate a plan, and rearrange strategies and then after the attack, to assess the damage, replay the battle, and ponder the lesson gained.

And while this seems somewhat straightforward, it is exhausting.  I have been working so very hard on me for the last 2+ years, trying to rebuild what I allowed to be torn down and demolished, and have made excellent headway.  I have learned to distinguish happiness from façade, learned that I won’t fall completely apart if I’m not always black or white, and that I am strong but that doesn’t mean I cannot ask for help when I need it.  There are still many areas that are works in progress:  realizing what I am worth and not accepting less, being alone and being lonely are NOT the same, and listening to and trusting my inner voice.

So as I’ve observed these design flaws, in ‘Teflon Girl’ and myself, I’ve decided to give us both a break.  Every superhero has their kryptonite.  For me, I am absolutely my own harshest critic.  The sooner I ease up on the negative self-talk and soul bashing, the sooner I can continue the rebuilding process.  Maybe I’ll even use stainless steel…everything sticks to that!!

Getting to Gray

The last few days have been a series of revelations for me.  I know every day should be a revelation of sorts, but some days I’m pretty thick, set in my own thoughts, my own ways, often bogged down in my own junk so much I have trouble seeing over the piles I’ve created for myself.  But these last two days there’s been a clearing of sorts, and I can’t keep quiet about it anymore.

One of my Pastors preached this morning on a very sensitive topic for this world, homosexuality, and he did a phenomenal job.  The irony was that it was his last sermon at our church, as he and his family are moving to a new job, a new state, and this, as he plainly stated, would clearly not have been his choice of topics to leave his legacy upon.  And while I have my thoughts and beliefs on this topic, I don’t want to write about that tonight.  What I do want to take away from his message, however, were his exceptional parables and use of visual aids, and how relevant they are to what I’ve been revealing in my own walk.

For most of my life, I have been a self-professed ‘black and white’ viewer of the world.  Things were simply wrong or right – and each of us came down squarely on one side of that clearly drawn line or the other, with little room for ambiguity.  And while it’s been explained to me prior to now that the world exists much more in an area of grayness, I struggled with my delineation and my vantage-point so much that there was little room for the grace necessary to view that gray…until this point in my life.

The examples given today’s sermon were so telling: how we manage to draw our lines in ‘waves’ to allow for what we view as acceptable into our area, and back out for what we clearly think is less than.  The dilemma, however, is that these lines are drawn by us…by men…with all our failings and shortcomings.  When God originally drew this straight unwavering line, He allowed for grace by way of a ‘door’ – Jesus – for we sinners to pass to the good side.  When I stand in judgment of someone who fails my ‘moral line’ test, I have no ‘door,’ no safe passage for people to overcome what I have deemed appropriate behavior.  I can be as ‘moral’ as I’d like to appear, but if not for that doorway left open for me, every minute of every day, I am nothing more than those I quickly, mindlessly cast over the line.

God wants us to care about people – on both sides of the line.  Without Him we have nothing, plain and simple.  We can do all the right things, live what by worldly standards, appears to be the best lifestyles, but without an eternal destination, that line might as well be a spiral staircase to nowhere.  If we don’t learn how to extend grace, love and compassion as Jesus did to those who live differently than we do, we are not in obedience to God’s will.  It’s as simple and as complicated as that.

I have been working on this behavior of mine – this judgment I do in silence – for months now.  Yesterday as I relayed the story of my week to my therapist, I was overcome with many emotions.  I was talking about how tired I am of being strong; of always being the bigger person; of how this whole process of going to court month after month is wearing me out physically and emotionally, and that I just cannot continue to do it any longer; that I am thankful to have someone in my life that is simply my companion – that cares for me in little ways that were taken for granted for so long I forgot what it felt like to be cared about in such tiny, insignificant ways; that I don’t want to keep fighting and I want to let the kid’s dad come to events and not feel like I’m doing something wrong.  I looked up and she was smiling, and then she said the nicest thing she’s ever said…”You’re gray now.”  My instinct was to argue, because I know I still have a lot of work to do…but for just a moment, I let that sink in.

If this experience, this current season has taught me anything, it’s that we all have room for growth.  I have gained so much over the last 26 months – the greatest being happiness.  But not to be forgotten are also strength, self-confidence, self-worth, a better relationship with my children, a good beginning on determining my value, forgiveness of myself and pride in who I am.  Never again will I let another person define me.  And hand-in-hand with that, I do not define who anyone else is.  My challenge is to love others, as Jesus loved them.  As my Pastor said today, I’m going to trust the One who drew the moral line for me, and get out of the judgment business.

Hearts of Gold

“When the Japanese mend broken objects, they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold.  They believe when somethings suffered damage and has a history, it becomes more beautiful.”

I love this quote.  If I were to look into my own chest right now, I can image my heart, intertwined with ribbons of gold, holding all the tattered pieces of brokenness together, creating a beautiful masterpiece.

As these last few days have passed, I’ve had some time to reflect on the events of last Tuesday – court – and all that transpired in that actuality of such a short timespan but what at the time seemed like an endless tailspin of voices, emotions and impossible decisions.  I can say with the most candor that from the outset, I was in complete anguish over what occurred.  In my wildest imagination, never once had I envisioned leaving that courtroom convicted of a crime, assigned a suspended sentence and probation.  I fully believed that with the truth on my side, the mistakes would be revealed, wrongs would be righted, and this extended nightmare would finally be over.  This obviously did not happen.

I have decided for the privacy of my children to not write about the specifics of what my case was about.  Too many lies have already been printed by the press, and those are bells I cannot unring.  My children have finally begun to heal from the miscarriage of justice that the various media outlets let loose on our street, neighbors and town 2 years ago.  I am fully aware of the issue surrounding freedom of press, but what these monsters did was nothing less than a witch hunt, manufacturing lies when people refused to speak with them, running erroneous stories again and again to fill time prior to each court appearance and costing my family more than anyone will ever truly understand.

What I have learned in the days since my sentence is that I am deeply and richly blessed.  I have an incredible circle of friends that have been held to the fire time and again, refined in ways I don’t deserve, and still they support me when I am so low I don’t even know where to begin to raise up once again.  As I returned home Tuesday and words failed me, I merely texted those close remaining few.  I was instantly flooded with an outpouring of love and support – it touched me to my core – and though doubt remained that I had made the right decision, their love helped to wipe that away…each one more and more still.

I have also been affirmed that my character, which has been under attack from all directions by the enemy – who takes on many forms as of late – is worthy of admiration and example.  I try to live as Jesus would, and I fail miserably each and every day – but to hear the words from my child, my friends – that I am respected for who I am, especially at a time like this…it speaks volumes to me.  I am humbled, and so thankful that I have a Savior who forgives me for my shortcomings and allows me to return to Him every time I fail Him.  I won’t change who I know I am – not for this world, not for anyone.

Lastly, I have shared that I have been working with an incredible therapist for these past 2 years, without whom I would never have made it through this crisis or been able to recognize the me who was trapped inside this body ready to break free and take charge.  I am so thrilled with the work I’ve done – reclaiming my voice, embracing who I am, learning new strategies for old issues, growing relationships with my children, finding happiness – it’s been a lot of work, but I would not have given any of it a second thought.  In meeting this week and sharing Tuesday’s events, she listened intently and I awaited her response to all I’d shared.

She asked first why I’d taken the deal, and it caught me off-guard.  I shared that there was a list of people prepared by the Prosecution to call to testify…my children were at the top, neighbors, friends, my Pastor, police officers, DCF workers, teachers, on and on and on.  Too many people stood to get hurt – and when I weighed my children on the stand and that deal, the risk wasn’t worth it anymore.  And then she said two of the most powerful things I’d heard all week:  two years ago I was so stuck on why this happened and what were we going to do about it and how were we going to fix it, that I could barely see straight.  Now I had just sacrificed myself so that my children did not get hurt – look at the progress I’d made.  Secondly, I had maintained that the Justice System never really cared about the truth, they just wanted their pound of flesh.  But she said that my truth, my version of what happened, is still true – whether they heard me or not.  It doesn’t negate what I know is true.  There are interpretations of the truth, and I will always know what happened – this plea doesn’t change that.

I’m finding that helpful in being able to stop calling myself a ‘convict,’ which I’ve been doing all week, and to stop comparing myself to others who were in court that day.  They don’t walk my walk, nor do I walk theirs.  I’m giving myself permission to feel whatever I need to right now – and that’s something entirely new for me.  I’m not going to linger too long, and then I’m going to process what God has next for me, because there’s always a plan.  It’s been a long 2 years to get to this point, and there’s a lot of hurt and healing to process.  But I am absolutely in the best place of my life to deal with those feelings, which lets me know I’m right where I’m supposed to be, with exactly who I need beside me.

Asking the Wizard for Courage

I have said this before and I’ll say it again…a good piece of music moves me deep in my soul!  I don’t know if it’s my Southern roots or my Christian upbringing, but regardless of where it came from, I value the treasures I find in a song that rocks me to my core.

I love to listen to a song for many reasons:  for its bone-shaking rhythm, its heart-rattling lyrics, its soul-moving chorus, its stop-you-in-your-tracks melody.  I love just about every kind of music, and I don’t care where I am – church, the car, the mall, wherever – I let that melody unashamedly work me…and yes, I dance like no one is watching, and often!

Many times I don’t absorb the true meaning of a song the first or even the second time through.  Who does really?  We hear something, we know we like it, we jam, and that’s good enough for us.  Other times a song strikes me immediately, with words that draw me immediately in to the artist’s meaning, as if I were right there, during their heartache and loss, their jubilation during their experience, each powerful step of the creative process.

Today I was listening to some of my recent favorite tunes as I worked on laundry, and I found a song I’ve listened to several times before, but until today, apparently never really heard.   Because if I had heard it before today, I would have immediately known it was my ‘swan song’ – the epitome of where I’ve come from 2 years ago.  Listen…

I would have followed ‘him’ anywhere.  I loved him, and I would have stayed forever, had he not told me we were done.  Unfortunately he didn’t have the courage to finish what he started, or even have that conversation.  And that is where my need for courage came in.  Realizing I could stand up, step up, walk away – because he would not.  This song – so powerful – so perfect.  Looking back…while so difficult, is so liberating.  I would have stayed…forever.  But I didn’t.

I won’t speak to his current status, but me – I am so much to the better for that giant step of courage.  And I haven’t stopped dancing since…