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Blog Introduction

This blog is the story of how my husband and I faced the illness and death of two of our children. Each blog post is essentially a chapter in the story, so in order to truly understand it, you are going to benefit by starting at the beginning.
I hope you find our story touching, and in some way find comfort and hope through it as you face your own storms in life.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Help Needed

Hello, Readers,

I would love to see the rest of the Serbian version of this story translated to completion.  If any one of you is fluent in English and Serbian, and vows to maintain the authenticity and accurate translation of this story, please contact me via this email: clns59@yahoo.com

There will be NO compensation for this work-- just the knowledge that you have had a part in sharing this story with countless others. 

I appreciate your consideration, and look forward to hearing from one of you! : )

Cheryl
Alias Sarah Ryan

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Final Chapter- Lessons Learned

Grief took me on a journey I never expected, and taught me things I never realized before. It was a very difficult road to have been on, and at times I simply wanted to quit. But God wouldn't let me.  His plan and purpose is to make us more like Him.  The refiner's fire is indeed hot, but the invaluable treasures which are revealed once the dross has been removed are worth the heat.  I learned and gained so many things through this journey.  I will share some of them with you as best I can.

1. Grief hurts! 
When we lose someone we love, the pain of that separation is immense.  There are no adequate words to describe the ripping, gaping hole that is left in one's heart and life once that person is gone; especially when it is a child.  It's been said that when you lose your parent, you lose your past; when you lose a spouse, you lose your present; and when you lose a child, you lose your future.  I believe it. We expect our parents to get old and die, and while their loss is still painful, it's "expected". We have all the memories of our time together throughout the years to bring comfort. When a spouse dies, our current situation is thrown into chaos. Having never experienced the loss of a spouse, I cannot speak from experience, but I know I would be lost without my husband. It has to be devastating.  When a child dies, it's different.  Until the day you die you will always have questions. What would have the child looked like? What would they have chosen for a career? Who would they have married? How many kids would they have?   The future is a huge empty slate where there should have been life and joy and memories.  There will always be an unfilled part of the parent’s life- a part that "should have been".  I think the death of a child is also different because that person was part of your own flesh and blood.  Especially for mothers this is difficult.  The baby was formed and grew and carried inside of her own body for a period of time.  There is an eternal connection made, and when that connection is severed, be it early in the pregnancy, or when the child is 50 years old, the tie is broken and an enormous loss is felt. Our Pastor recently passed away at 59 years of age.  His father said the loss was unlike any other pain he had ever felt. Parents should never have to bury their children.
I was raised in a stoic household.  We were taught by example not to talk about the painful or difficult things; they were mostly swept under the rug. Crying was rarely seen in my household. Even as a child I remember fighting to hold in tears when something sad happened to me. I was supposedly stronger if I didn't cry; if I told myself it was all okay.  The truth is- it's not okay. God did not design for His children to be separated from Him, or each other, so when that separation comes, it is painful and truly "unnatural”.
The church has jumped on this bandwagon, and in an effort to bring "comfort" it has instead stifled the grief of many.  Much of what I experienced was because of religious ideologies which had convinced me it was "okay" that my babies were dead.  It was "God's will" for them to die- "They're more God's than yours" - "they're in a better place"- "they aren't suffering anymore"- "you will see them again someday". All may be true, but they deny the misery of the present.  They diminish the agony felt in the heart of the bereaved, and tend to trivialize their pain.  It makes it unacceptable to really release the depth of the grief felt.  When we went for prayer after learning that Sarah would die, I felt as if everyone should be falling to the floor wailing.  At the retreat when I finally confronted my repressed grief, I fell to the floor wailing.  THIS is a picture of what grief looks like. People don't give themselves permission to show it; whether it's cultural or some personal restraint which holds them back, I don't know, but grief will knock you to the floor and rip your heart out in shreds.

2. We can learn something from other countries.
When death occurs in other countries, they really experience the pain and grief. In some lands, they hire "mourners" who follow the funeral procession wailing and crying.  It seems strange to us, but they may be more realistic in their pain than we are. Images of the bereaved being literally carried or dragged by family and friends to the funeral are realistic pictures of the agony of death. Maybe we need to become more "real" in our death experiences.  Maybe we need to show each other just how much we are hurting so the pain can be dealt with instead of suppressed, only to surface years later.

3. Don't judge people by the way they look, or the way they act.
In my younger days I judged people with depression as simply feeling sorry for themselves.  I still hear it today- "depressed people are full of self-pity".  It angers me to hear those words, especially when they are fired from the cannon of religion.  The last thing a depressed person needs is someone throwing more negatives at them- more blame, more guilt, more accusations. These are broad assumptions which bring more damage than good. Trade places with someone who is depressed for just one day; you may feel a little sorry for yourself, too, but more likely you would feel what they feel- overwhelming despair, and at times- nothing. Sitting around moping and feeling sorry for oneself would not fit in my definition of depression.  There may be a component of it in the beginning, but it was wrapped in the package of many other horrible things which overcame the person's ability to cope.  We don't often know what has led to a person's depression.  It could have been overwhelming emotional trauma, a brain chemical imbalance, or some other life event which led to it.  You don't know what the person has experienced, and you don't know how much that person is capable of handling before they have reached their limit and simply shut down.  We are way too quick to throw judgment and labels on people. We need to talk to people. We need to stand beside them and walk through difficult times with them, allowing them to feel whatever emotion it is they are feeling. Only then do we have the right to help guide them through their dark night of the soul.  Be a friend, don't be a stone-thrower.  Be the listening ear; the shoulder to cry on.  Be JESUS to them and love them right where they are. 

4. Be an advocate.
If you know someone is in danger due to depression or thoughts of suicide, don't wait and wonder; act!  Better to be embarrassed for being overly cautious, than needing to comfort the grieving family of one who committed suicide.

5. Satan is a big, fat liar!
Satan will sit and whisper lie after lie in your ear to turn you from God. He uses our weaknesses and our wounds to inflict his damage. When we are weak it is easier to believe the lies.  We all need friends who will reinforce the truth of God in our lives.  We need to have the Word placed in our hearts and minds, especially when we are suffering.

6. We need friends who will ride the storm out with us.
I had a friend who took me into her home and daily spent time alone with me, counseling and reinforcing God's word and love into my heart.  Not many people would do such an incredible thing.  I had other friends who gave varying degrees of love to me, but all were needed, and all helped to rebuild my life.  I had a counselor who "sat in the dirt along the road" with me.  She took me by the hand and helped me crawl toward my healing, even when it got dirty.  Recovery takes time! We cannot be impatient and expect immediate results. To do so would certainly be seen as failure by the depressed person as they were once again unable to meet someone’s standards and expectations. People with grief and depression require years to recover; we must be willing to walk that long path with them.

7. God loves me.
Through this journey I became reacquainted with the Friend I met back in my childhood.  I no longer think I live in a candy-coated world where everything will turn out like I dream it will, but I have a stronger and renewed love for the God who made me just as I am for His glory and purposes.  I know I am not immune to pain and suffering, and unless I go home to be with Him soon, I know there will undoubtedly be more loss and more disappointments in my future.  I will have to surrender them anew to Him when they come, and it will undoubtedly take some battling once again. But I have confidence that He will never leave me.  He will cause heaven and earth to shake, and He'll move us half way around the world, if needed, in order to redeem His own.
For years, friends had encouraged me to read the book entitled "The Shack", but I could never pick it up and read it. I simply had no interest.  After I had recovered from my depression and grief, I picked it up and began to read it. I devoured it in two days.  I love that book!  I know there is controversy surrounding it, and some Christians speak out against even reading it, but it ministered to my heart in a huge way.  I fell more in love with God than I had ever been in love with Him before!  Someday I'm going to write an analysis of the book; both from a personal and a psychological viewpoint.  I think it's an absolute treasure, and I am grateful to have read it.

8. Now help others
We are given experiences in our lives for a reason.  God wants us to use the things we learn to help others walking similar journeys. Before my healing, people would tell me how I could be a huge help to other people walking through grief, and in some aspects, I believe I did.  Heartstrings Ministry, and my job at the hospital, were just a couple of examples.  But outside of those, I always felt like I was being pressured to help other people in grief; as if it were my main responsibility in life.  The truth was I wanted to run from it. I didn't want to help others because I needed help myself. Helping them would mean having to touch my own pain, and I wasn't ready to. Now, having been through the valley of the shadow of death, and having come out on the other side totally healed, I am more open and able to share and help others.  I now know there is hope, and there is a place of rest for the weary.  I no longer look at it as an "obligation", but now I see it as a privilege to walk with another fellow sojourner on the path to wholeness.

9. Love each other.
No one knows the number of days he is given.  Don't assume you will have your parent or spouse or child the next day.  Cherish them and love them with all their quirky faults.  You will wish you had when they are gone. Love them in spite of themselves. Love them because it's what God would want you to do as His children. Love them because it's the right thing to do.

In conclusion:
Life is a journey, and mine has gone places I never would have dreamed it would. There have been many dark and dreadful paths I've had to follow, and there have been crossroads where I've simply sat down, bewildered for lack of knowing which way to go.  But now I'm up and walking again; looking forward to brighter days ahead and the promises of God's blessing on my life.  I know He will make all things good.

Thanks for reading and sharing my story.
Cheryl Stearns
Alias Sarah Ryan

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Retreat That Wasn't a Retreat, but the Final Victory

The next morning came and Sharon and I went over to the main meeting hall to get breakfast. I wasn't hungry.  Lack of sleep and the knowledge that this whole thing wasn't over yet, left me with no appetite. I managed some juice and choked down a bite or two of toast.

The meetings started again, and this time I was more exhausted than anxious. There were three separate breakout groups; one included a teaching followed by brief one-to-one prayer time, the second offered a time of meditation and reflection, and the third was a short teaching followed by communion. Each session was about 30 minutes long, and we would rotate through each group. Sharon and I started in the first one; the one which offered one-to-one prayer. 

The teaching was good. She spoke on freedom, inspiring us to think about the things we wanted to be free from. Vices, bitterness, anger, wounds, apathy; anything the person wanted to be free from. Then each individual was prayed with for their specific need. There were two leaders in the group, so they slowly went around the group, kneeling in front of each individual and asking them, "What do you want to be free from?"  It was very private and very quiet.  There was no revealing of "inner secrets" to the rest of the group; it was between the person, the prayer partner, and God.

Each of the leaders started at different points in our little circle of ladies, and they slowly worked their way toward Sharon and I. It became clear that we would be the last ones to receive prayer.  I knew I had to have an "answer" to the question of what I wanted to be free of, so I began to hash over what my "appropriate" answer would be.  Anger and grief; those would be my answers.  As the leaders got closer and closer to me, I could feel my anxiety levels climbing once again.  This thing was going to be confronted, and it never felt good; it felt more like panic, but I stayed put- my answer rehearsed and ready. My turn came.  I was sitting in my chair, hunched over, my head down, looking at the floor.  I really didn't want to make eye contact; avoidance was still in play. Dina knelt down in front of me, put her hands gently on my knees and looked up into my face. "What do you want to be free from?" she asked softly.  My rehearsed answer flew out the window, nowhere to be found.  Tears were already beginning to run down my cheeks, and as I slowly turned my grief-veiled face toward hers I said, "I wanted them. They were mine and I want them back. I miss them so much! I want them back!  They were mine. He gave them to me, and I want them!"  The floodgates of grief swung open and all of the pain and loss and brokenness began to gush out in wave after wave of tears and sobs. Dina firmly, yet gently said, "You can't have them back." It was a truth I knew, but hearing it somehow rang afresh in my mind and spirit.  I knew they couldn't come back, and honestly, I wouldn't want them to leave heaven to come back to this painful world. Even in death a mother still wants what is best for her children. I just wanted my own pain to stop. My empty arms had ached for them over 20 years; the depth of my grief stopping my life in its tracks for two decades. It was time to let go and start living again.

In the few minutes Dina prayed with me, I became a crumbled mess.  I could barely stand or walk as we were now directed to the next group. The Bible says we have been given a garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. I know what a spirit of heaviness feels like; I wore it for over 20 years. On this day, at this retreat, everyone there could physically see what it looked like. Barely able to hold myself up, Sharon and Dina walked me to the next session where everyone was seated on the floor. That was a good thing.  I barely made it to the designated area before I simply crumpled to the floor, sobbing and crying and repeating over and over how I wanted my babies.  Sharon tried to offer comfort, and I was glad for her presence, but this was between me and God.  On this day, in His designated time, He took the scalpel to my abscessed heart and spirit, and drove it in deep to finally release all the festered, putrefied sorrow.  I sobbed and sobbed; my face a river of tears and mucus. For a half hour, the length of the session, I laid on the floor crying, my friend sitting next to me, maintaining a vigil of sorts.

When I was finally able to stop crying, I was desperate for water. Grieving is dehydrating! Someone found me a bottle of water, for which I felt greatly blessed.  The tap water there left something to be desired; it tasted like it had been pumped straight from the lake. With my thirst partially quenched, and still shaking and weak from my time on the floor, Sharon helped me walk to the last session. I was the picture of absolute grief; tear-streaked face, eyes red and swollen from the intensity of mourning, a downcast face, and the jagged breathing that comes when trying to recover from a long spell of convulsive crying. The undergirdment of my friend’s arm became necessary in the face of my complete inability to finish this walk alone.

Things continued to stir in my spirit as we sat through the last teaching and communion. I wasn't crying anymore, and while I could still feel things inwardly, it seemed the worst was over. I was relieved when lunch break arrived, although I still had no desire to eat.

I don’t really recall what the afternoon session was like.  Whether it was from lack of food, or sleep, or just pure exhaustion from the morning’s events, I don’t remember what was taught.  The only thing I recall was the time of prayer for those who wanted to receive joy from God.  A lot of spiritual work had been done in the lives of the women over the weekend, and when sadness and other burdens leave, something must take its place.  How much better than to fill that void with the joy of the Lord?  Many women went forward for this time of refreshing and infilling. Feeling a sense of obligation of sorts, I went forward as well. I sensed an undercurrent of cheering from the group as I walked up; they had witnessed my battle firsthand, and now they had become my advocates for happiness.  But as I went through the prayer line, instead of feeling joy, I felt as though it wasn’t for me; everyone else could have what God wanted to offer, but somehow I felt excluded.  I went down to the floor again, this time crying because of my perceived rejection of God Himself.  My earlier storm of tears had been for my children, this one was for my broken relationship with my Father.

I cried and cried again, releasing the venomous belief that my heavenly Father had rejected me, and that somehow I was unworthy of His blessings and love.  Tears flowed for a couple of hours, and then slowly ebbed. In silence my soul became peaceful and I began to rest; the battle was over.

The retreat had concluded and women were scattered around the campground packing up, hugging each other, and saying their good-byes before they left for their homes. Sharon and I quietly walked back to our cabin.  We were both amazed at the intensity of what had transpired over the two days we were there, neither one of us knowing quite what to say.  Something had obviously happened, but the fruit of it remained to be seen. The two hour trek back home felt long; both of us were exhausted, but happy that we had gone. We hugged good-bye, and then parted company.

Explaining to Rob what had happened was nearly impossible. It was one of those things you had to witness to even get a grasp on, but I made the best effort possible. I wasn’t even sure what had happened. As the days and weeks turned into months, and then years, it became obvious to me what had transpired that weekend.  The Bible says, “Oh, grave, where is your victory? Oh, death, where is your sting?”  The sting of death which had been planted in my heart some 20 years earlier, was removed from my life that weekend.  The build up of poisonous venom- the venom of death and rejection- had finally been defeated and removed. The trigger- the stinger- had been plucked out of my heart and mind, and in its place, the healing touch of Jesus had filled it with peace.  No more would my heart hurt in the way it had before when my kids were mentioned.  No more would I feel the anger and hurt toward God.  No more would memories and dreams haunt me, and no more would I be bound by fear.  I was finally free, and my cave of despair not simply abandoned, but destroyed by the power of God’s love for me.
We sometimes question the ways of God, and why people do what they do.  To us, their actions seem stupid or foolish, but God has a plan.  He knew the pressure it would take to break down my walls. He knew everything about my heart, my mind, and my beliefs about Him.  Yet He didn’t turn aside and consider me “unacceptable”. No, He orchestrated every step we took in order to bring me healing and wholeness. I am totally in love with the God who saw my need when I didn’t.  He is the God who took me halfway around the world  to see me restored to Him.

He is the true way to life.

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* The following chapter will discuss things I learned through this whole experience.  I hope you will continue to read.  Lessons are for sharing. *




Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Retreat That Wasn't a Retreat, But a Victory, Part 2

The front of the room had been sectioned off with a scrim to provide an additional place of privacy and symbolic safety for those being prayed for.  Women often came to these retreats carrying heavy burdens, and during prayer, cries and sobs could be heard as these burdens were released.  No one needed to be gawked at, or "wondered about" during these times; they were private between God and the individual.  The scrim was a thoughtful feature.

I had managed to force myself to the front, and as I approached the scrim, one woman stood near the opening; she was the "gatekeeper".  Only a handful of leaders were praying at the time, so everyone had to wait their turn for the next available prayer partner.  I was next in line; waiting and watching, hoping that Pastor Dawn would be the one to pray for me, and not someone who knew nothing about my situation. I waited, and waited; the minutes seeming like hours.  Thoughts of leaving crossed my mind, but the tears were already beginning to form as I felt the fear and the years of grief rising to the surface. God was already starting the work. I must have looked a little freaked out because the "gatekeeper" reassured me it would be okay, and that I didn't need to be afraid. She didn't realize how prophetically she was speaking. Then she turned to me and said, "Pastor Dawn is going to pray with you!" She announced it as if it was a gift, and in my eyes, it definitely was. Pastor Dawn came over to me, took me by the arm, and started leading me into the veiled area, but before we took four steps in, I began to fall to my knees.  In that anointed environment, I actually felt the weight of everything I had carried all those years, and it was crushing.  Everything I had held in emotionally and spiritually now manifested itself in the physical realm, and anyone could see the immensity of it as I went to the floor under its heaviness. My face contorted into the image of one in agony; the screams of a soul in torment visible, but no sound came, no tears would release. As I remained on the floor, Pastor Dawn began to pray for my release, breaking the chains which held me captive for so long. She prayed with wisdom and with Godly authority. She commanded the head of the snake to be cut off; destroying the power the enemy had over me and his hold on my life. With the chains broken, I cried softly for a short while, and then sat peacefully contemplating what had just occurred.  Was it finally over?  Was I really free at last? I wasn't sure.

The evenings events were over, so Sharon and I walked slowly back to our cabin.  I was exhausted physically and mentally, and was eager to go to sleep. We lay in bed talking about the events of the evening, while I fought to keep my eyes open. I felt as if my body would fall into immediate deep sleep if I simply shut my eyelids, but it was not to be. I remained awake. The best I could muster was fitful episodes of light sleep, frequently interrupted by the torment of anxiety and restless discomfort that comes when the battle is still not over.  The next day would bring more than I, or Sharon, or Pastor Dawn could have imagined.  As Dawn would later state, "that was intense".

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Retreat That Wasn't a Retreat, But a Victory, Part 1

The weekend of the retreat arrived.  For weeks I had been mentally preparing for this two day event; psyching myself up for the battle I knew would come, talking myself into the courage I knew I would need. Now the day of reckoning had come.  Would my own resolve be enough, or would I walk away with my tail between my legs once again? Only time would tell, but I was more determined than ever to be free from this bondage of grief and guilt.

Sharon and I drove the two hours north along tree-lined highways, which turned into paved country streets. Further and further from civilization we went on these unfamiliar, narrow side roads, until at last we pulled into the neatly tucked away campground of the retreat center. The setting was somewhat rustic.  Set on the edge of a lake, the cabins were clean and pleasant, with two bedrooms on the main floor, a living area, a bathroom, and a large loft area which could sleep as many people as you could line up on the floor like fallen timber.  Sharon and I chose to go to the loft, mostly because we were the "late-comers" to our cabin. The other 4 girls we shared our temporary home with had snatched up the main floor bedrooms. It was good, though, as it offered me the privacy I needed and wanted. As we settled in and prepared for the evening meeting, my nerves came to attention.  Suddenly, the realization of what I had signed up for came to the forefront of my awareness, and I began to feel the fear once again.  I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but I had to push through. It was "do-or-die" time.

The time for the first session had come, so Sharon and I walked over to the meeting hall from our cabin. Already dark, it was a little treacherous trying to find the path to walk on; there were even little foot bridges crossing tiny rivulets to be traversed.  Together, walking hand-in-hand at times, we found our way to the hall. It was strange how the walk to the meeting mirrored my life journey.  I was in the dark, struggling to find the path to freedom.  Bridges of fear and doubt needed to be crossed to get to the final healing, and without the help of a friend walking beside me and holding me up at times, I probably wouldn't make it.

The meeting began with introductions of the leaders, then silly skits to lighten the atmosphere and help everyone relax, followed by songs sung in unison, and a teaching from the Word of God. With every song, and with every word of preaching, I became more anxious. Escape seemed like a viable option, but the memory of the previous retreat and my feelings of disappointment and regret for not having acted then, held me in my place. Having been to retreats before, I knew the agenda; I knew prayer time was next on the docket, and I began to inwardly crawl.  I could feel myself tightening and withdrawing, my arms wrapping around myself in symbolic protection and shelter; the urge to fold into a fetal position strong. I had to stay focused on the prize- my freedom- or defeat would come again.

Sharon knew I was inwardly battling, so she asked if I wanted to go forward for prayer with her.  With the timidity that comes from fear, I slowly nodded, no. Knowing the decision and the action of that first important step had to be mine and mine alone, she left me sitting there by myself as she went forward for prayer. I was happy for her, but kicking myself. I was blowing it!  The fear was winning again!  Suddenly, in that moment, the balanced scales of my emotions tipped strongly in favor of freedom.  The fear of the future, the fear of who I would become once I was free, the fear of death, the fear of everything, was over-ridden by the pain and agony of staying the way I was. When the pain of change is LESS than the pain of remaining the same, we change. I pushed myself up out of my chair with renewed determination, and walked purposefully toward the front. I had made it.  I was standing at the door to my cave, ready to be released from its hold on me. Then I faced the final challenge.




Monday, May 14, 2012

The Last Dream- Are You Getting the Message?

The dream was precise and vivid, and I awoke from it remembering every detail.  The location was a deserted mall. As I rode the escalator from the second floor to the first, I saw a young couple sitting on a bench directly in front of me.  They held in their arms two babies, a boy and a girl.  I recall glancing at them briefly from the corner of my eyes as I descended onto the main floor, my head cocked away as if I really did not want to see them.  I proceeded to walk down the hallway toward the main part of the mall, but before I got fifty feet from the escalator, I suddenly found myself down on all fours; my fingers digging into the floor tiles as I was slowly, yet firmly dragged by an invisible force back toward the couple.  Hard ceramic tiles were uprooted and broken into pieces and ripped up by the force of my resistance.  I did not want to go back, so I fought with every ounce of strength I had.  But the invisible force was stronger, and the backward motion continued.  

            In the next moment, I saw myself standing behind the couple who were still seated on the bench with the two babies.  In front of them now stood another figure; it was Jesus. I watched as the mother gently cradled her baby; whispering words of love to her, nuzzling her downy soft hair, and breathing deeply of her baby scent.  Then she lifted the baby and handed her to Jesus.  As she did, I began to scream.  “No!  What are you doing? Are you crazy?” The words erupted from my mouth violently as I stood watching in horror.  “How can you give your baby away?!  What is wrong with you?!”  Feelings of fear, panic, and anger rose inside of me. I watched as the mother seemed to exhibit some remorse, and to my surprise, Jesus handed the baby back to her.  “Just a little longer,” the woman said.  Jesus smiled and nodded.  She caressed her little bundle a few minutes longer and then once again, more peacefully, handed the baby to Jesus. Then the dream ended. 

            I was wide awake.  This was more than a dream. It was a point blank message. Rob and I were the couple on the bench, and the babies were the ones we had lost nearly two decades earlier.  I was also the woman desperately clawing up floor tiles in an effort to not go back and revisit my past pain.

God could not have been clearer.  Forget any need to interpret hidden meanings; anyone who knew me could have interpreted this dream.  I was still holding on desperately to my babies, refusing to release them to God. The pain of the past had to be confronted, and I needed to surrender the babies to God. Holding on to them emotionally had not brought any form of comfort, truly; in fact, carrying a spirit of death all those years had actually caused me to stop living. Releasing them to God and receiving healing for my shattered heart was what I needed. Returning to the point in time where the trauma had been inflicted was the unremembered combination to my locker which I couldn't open in a previous dream.  It was the key to unlocking my chains to the past, which once opened, would release me from my dark cave of hidden pain, fear, and depression.  

With the upcoming women's retreat on the horizon, and the clear, nightly messages from God my road map, destination healing was but one step away.  But I had to be the one to actually take that one step. As the days neared for the retreat, I wondered whether I would actually be able to find the courage to take that scary first step, or if once again, fear would win.  With the disappointment and frustration of the last retreat still fresh in my memory, I was more determined than ever to push through no matter what.  I was tired of the devil playing with me; this would be the end.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Weekend Away

I was ready.  I had gotten to the point where I really wanted to be free from the pain and grief.  Counseling had gone well, and but was still a work in progress. God and I were working together- mostly- and I was ready to be done living in the past.  I was ready to be alive again.

Every year or so, our church hosted a women's retreat.  It was a weekend away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, with time spent getting closer to God.  Many women found comfort and relaxation in the company of others who shared a common knowledge of the burdens we carry as moms, wives, grandmothers, employees, or any other of the myriad of roles we fill. It was, for the most part, a safe place to "let go, and let God." Many had wounds healed at these retreats, so I was game to go.

My friend, Sharon, agreed to come with me.  I needed someone to "hold my hand" because I knew fear would need to be challenged at this showdown.  I needed someone who knew my situation, would support and encourage me, and would love me no matter what happened. She was my armor-bearer.

We drove the hour or so to the retreat center on a late Friday afternoon. Set in a hotel-like facility poised on the edge of Lake Michigan, the atmosphere was relaxed and casual.  The undercurrent of excitement and anticipation was rippling through the scattered clusters of women either busy settling into their rooms, or simply enjoying each others company. Something good always happened here, and they were primed with expectancy.

I, on the other hand, was a little nervous. In spite of wanting to be free, the fear of the unknown still gripped me, and I still harbored fear about my identity.  I had carried the grief so long, it had become my identity. The fine line between continuing in misery, and the fear of freedom and all its unknowns, kept moving.  Sometimes I stretched forward toward freedom; other times I scrambled back to the recesses of my cave, not ready to move on. It was amazing how much control fear had over my life.

The weekend proceeded as most had before, with music, singing, teaching, and times of prayer and ministry for those who wanted it. While others went forward to receive personal prayer, I remained locked in my chair; unable to make my legs force my body up. The fear of the future was winning.  Pastor Dawn was leading the conference, and she knew both me and my friend well. Dawn called for Sharon to come up for prayer, but not me.  I thought it was odd since she was my counselor and knew my struggle. As a result, my feelings of invisibility drove their roots deeper into my heart.  I remained glued to my chair the entire weekend .  Prompting by Sharon couldn't budge me, and even a loving arm around me from an unexpected friend couldn't move me. I found myself still chained to my cave, unable to take that first step toward God. As a result, my healing did not come that weekend. I went home disappointed in myself for lack of courage, and frustrated with Dawn for not calling me out.

At our next counseling session I told her how I felt.  Ironically, she didn't even know I had been there, nor had she seen me sitting next to Sharon, so my frustrations with her were unfounded.  I was disappointed that I was still in my cave since I had believed the weekend was supposed to be my time to break free from it. I felt as if the two steps I had taken forward were actually three steps backward.

It was like the carrot dangled before the rabbit; I could see the end reward, wanted it, but just couldn't quite reach it yet. God was baiting me.  He knew I had to take that first scary step toward Him.  He knew I had to truly want my healing more than I wanted to remain frozen in time. He was priming my heart for the final event; the moment when all the past would be re-framed in His love and compassion, and my heart would soar free.  Like a little child who had been shown a wonderful gift, only to have it suddenly snatched away for a later time, I now became impatient.  I wanted my freedom, and I wanted it now.

At my next counseling appointment with Pastor Dawn, she shared how in a couple of months she would be leading another conference in a town two hours away. If I really wanted another shot at my freedom, here was the opportunity. I went home and called Sharon.  We began packing our bags for the final showdown.