Tag Archives: healing

Give us joy

Give us joy to balance our affliction, for the years when we knew misfortune. Psalm 90:15

A few months ago, I was talking with a man who had lived a charmed life. He had grown up in a loving home with parents who cared deeply for him and desired the best for him. He had a wonderful education and excelled in his career. He had good friends, got married, had children, travelled and basically did all the things he wanted to do. Everything was going so well—until he was diagnosed with an illness that ended his career and eventually his marriage. As the disease progressed, he became more physically incapacitated and had to hire aides to help him at home.

He told me about one of his aides, a woman whose life had the opposite trajectory from his. Her early life was full of affliction and misfortune. She had grown up in a home without love where she was abused in every way imaginable. She lacked education and family support. Eventually, she ended up in prison. After leaving prison, she entered a treatment program that enabled her to turn her life around and move in a different direction. Now she supports herself by taking care of vulnerable people. She has found love and is engaged to be married.

This man, with his Job-like challenges, has a wonderful attitude and outlook on life. When his career ended, he went back to school so he could begin a second career, one that was not dependent on his physical abilities. His body is failing, but his mind is still thriving.

God-joy-vulnerability

As he and I talked, I thought about how some of us know affliction and misfortune early in life, while others face them later.

This man told me he and his aide talk about how their lives have intersected because of his illness, how they would never have gotten to know one another in the way they do if he had not become sick. He believes that her story is the more amazing because she has overcome so much; he is in awe of her.

I stand in awe of both of them. He, for his positive attitude in the face of a debilitating disease; she, for her determination to overcome her past and create a new life for herself.

God-joy-vulnerability

Not anywhere as extreme as his aide’s, but my early life was marked by chaos and trauma. I was a shy child and very anxious. School was a nightmare to me socially, although I loved learning, and being in school felt safe. My unresolved childhood trauma made me vulnerable to abuse as a young adult.

Like his aide, I finally feel I have come into my own. I am confident in what I learned from my career, pursuing things that interest me, comfortable in my own skin and living in joy.

How about you? Did you know misfortune early in life or later? Do you know joy now which balances out past afflictions?

God-joy-vulnerability

Life is changed in an instant

On Wednesday, April 6, my tour group traveled from Angers to Sarlat, France, with a stop at Oradour-sur-Glane. As I walked the deserted streets of this devastated village, I was taken back to September 11, 2001.

I was in New York City that day, having stayed overnight for work. I walked out of the apartment building on the east side a little before 9:00 a.m., planning to walk to Chinatown. I remember looking up at the sky and thinking, “what a beautiful day for a walk.” I didn’t know a plane had already crashed into the World Trade Center; I learned that one minute later when I walked across the street and into the office.

Life changed in those few minutes.

On June 10, 1944, life in Oradour-sur-Glane changed for the village’s residents. I could imagine the residents waking up that morning thinking it was like any other morning, and then some 200 Nazi’s surrounded their village and massacred the residents and destroyed the buildings. Only one woman survived.

The village has been left as it was that day, a memorial to the massacre.

Travel-Oradour-faith
Memorial plaque in the village.

Travel-Oradour-faith
Travel-Oradour-faith

Later that day, I heard about atrocities in Ukraine and thought of the people there who had woken up one day in February not knowing their lives would never be the same.

The stop in Oradour-sur-Glane was sobering, and for the next few days, my mind was preoccupied with the evil in the world—past and present.

Other times when life changed in an instant kept popping up—the day Jim was diagnosed with brain cancer, the day I was raped, the day Gerry was diagnosed with leukemia, the day I learned my husband had been unfaithful, the day my cousin was raped…a parade of life-altering events.

I allowed myself to feel the sadness for the people of Oradour-sur-Glane and the people of Ukraine—and for myself. In the middle of this wonderful, month-long trip to Europe, I held deep gratitude for this opportunity to see and learn.

I recognized the parallels in France’s life-altering events and my own, and I came to a deeper understanding of the need to honor my past, no matter how painful it might have been.

France is still coming to terms with their role in World War II. Likewise, I am coming to terms with my own history. I want to reveal the secrets I have held and move past the shame I have carried.

Walking the deserted streets of Oradour-sur-Glane reminded me to look at my past realistically and to acknowledge what happened to me. I remembered three questions from a grief retreat I attended: What was lost? What remains? What is possible?

I can be

I can be with people others say they can’t,

those facing disease,

those who are dying

and those left behind,

lost in their loss.

I can be with people who are in prison

and those imprisoned by fear and shame.

I can be with those who live at the margins of society

because of disability or addiction or poverty,

those many others try to avoid

or may not even notice.

And I can be with people who do not speak my language

or understand my customs,

those who have left behind all that is familiar to start a new life,

struggling to gain a foothold.

I can also be with those

who have great financial wealth,

and see beyond their trappings to notice a

spiritual poverty so profound

they risk being smothered by their possessions.

I am not always comfortable

with the vulnerability I see

and saddened by the suffering, and yet

I can be

with them.

Why is it I have spent my life being with people

who are seeking to be seen and heard and accepted and loved?

Maybe God whispered in my ear when I was still a child,

“I love them all.”

Speaking of miracles

One year on my annual silent retreat, I shared with my spiritual director a memory that surfaced during my prayer time. He suggested that memories often hold invitations for some new insight or understanding, and he encouraged me to spend some time with the memory to see if I could learn something new.

Since then, I have tried to pay closer attention as memories surface. I often write to the person in the memory—even just a note to say, “I am thinking of you”—and I try to keep the memory present to see if it is offering some insight or invitation.

Over the years, I have come to see a similar invitation when random conversations or events happen more than once in a short period of time. This past week was such a week—three times, I found myself talking about miracles.

I believe miracles happen, but I don’t often think about them or talk about them. Yet, three times in one week…I decided I needed to pay attention.

While pondering these conversations about miracles, a woman I once lived with came to mind.

Her name is Catherine, and we lived in a housing coop designed to bring together people who have developmental disabilities with those who don’t. Catherine was in her thirties, and she relied on others to meet her basic needs. She lived on the first floor of a large house with a couple who saw to her daily needs, and I lived in an upstairs apartment.

A year or so after I had moved out of Catherine’s house (and to another state), I attended a healing service at a local church. I wasn’t looking for healing for myself but went more to support the person who had organized this event.

During the service, we were all invited to come forward to be prayed over. The presider said that even if we were unaware of where we might need healing, we were welcome to come forward. Or, he said, we could call to mind someone else who needed healing and think of that person as we were prayed over.

Just then, Catherine came to mind. I hadn’t been in touch for months, so I did not know if she was actually sick, but I walked forward thinking of her.

A few months after that prayer service, I was talking with Catherine’s mom, and she told me Catherine had been in hospital for an extended period and no treatment seemed to be helping her get better; they believed she was going to die. And then, miraculously, she said, Catherine got better.

I remembered the healing service from a few months earlier and asked when this had been.

Catherine’s mom remembered the exact date because the change in Catherine’s condition occurred in an instant—it was the same time I was thinking of Catherine and being prayed over.

I don’t know why these conversations about miracles occurred, but I am grateful for the reminder that miracles do happen.

Love heals

Love healed me.

Sometimes poured out generously,

like the snow that covers everything in its path as it falls,

until what was there before has been transformed into

something unrecognizable,

something pure.

Love healed me.

Sometimes with strings attached,

doled out sparingly

as though there is not enough,

as though the love that is given to me robs someone else.

I snatched those bits of love tossed my way and

gathered them together until there was enough to cover me and my brokenness.

Love healed me.

Imperfect love.

Whether abundant or scant,

overwhelming me or nibbling at the edges of my brokenness,

all love heals.

Falling off a ladder

“I don’t know where you came from,” the woman said, with wonder in her voice, as if I were an apparition.

“I was just on my walk,” I explained. I walk by her house most days, although I had never paid particular attention to it. Our neighborhood has a few basic house styles, so none really stands out.

What I noticed that day, though, was a woman in front of the house, falling off a ladder.

I ran to her, and she seemed stunned. “I hit my head on that thing,” she said, pointing to the meter. She had also scratched her face and banged her knee.

“Do you want me to call an ambulance?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “I’ll be fine,” but as she tried to stand, we both could see she was not fine.

“Don’t move,” I instructed her, and I got a chair off the porch and then helped her into it.

“I don’t know where you came from,” the woman said again, and I wondered if she had a concussion.

I asked if anyone else was home and then got her daughter to get ice packs.

The woman had been stringing Christmas lights from the eave, and the ladder had sunk into the wet ground and toppled.

She would not agree to medical treatment, although she did call a neighbor who is a medical assistant.

I left her, but her words, “I don’t know where you came from,” have stayed with me. How often does someone show up just when we need help? How often does a stranger just happen to be in the right place at the right time?

Advent-vigilant-prayer

Earlier that day in prayer, I had asked how I am to prepare for Christmas.

Advent is a time to stay awake (Matthew 24:42) and be vigilant (Luke 21:36).

The woman falling off the ladder reminded me of the story of the young executive driving his new sports car—perhaps a bit too fast—down a neighborhood street when a brick hits the side of his car. He slams on the brakes, jumps out and starts yelling at the kid who threw the brick. “Why did you do that?” he shouts.

“I am sorry, Mister,” the boy says, “but no one would stop when I was calling for help.”

The boy then points toward some parked cars and explains that his brother had rolled off the curb and fallen out of his wheelchair. “He is too heavy for me to lift.”

The young executive went over to the injured brother, lifted him up and got him resettled in his wheelchair. The boys thanked this stranger for his help and headed toward home.   

The executive returned to his sports car and saw the big dent from the brick. He decided not to fix it though and left it as a reminder not to move so fast through life that someone has to throw a brick to get his attention.

Was this woman falling off a ladder my brick?

Advent-vigilant-prayer

At home

Something stirred deep inside me

as I drove through the streets

of the city where my life began.

Feelings of familiarity and belonging,

rootedness.

My body relaxed into who I once was,

the girl who played in these streets and

later took the bus to the Main Library and

then hitchhiked with my cousin when we were young teens,

which, even back then, was quite risky.

The shops lining the streets are unfamiliar—

African braiding salons and check-cashing stores—

but the names on the street signs conjure up

memories from a long ago past.

As much as the city has changed,

so have I.

And yet, my body still recognizes this place as home.

A mother’s love

My mother died in June. She was ninety-five years old and died at home—her one wish—after only two days in bed. She had an indomitable spirit.

A friend recently asked if I ever wished for the kind of mother I needed. She knew the complicated relationship I had with my mother and of my years in therapy to overcome my low self-esteem and body dysmorphia.

This friend asked if I ever wished for a mother who would have given me what I would have needed to live a healthier life?

The truth is that God gave me that mother in the form of my friend, Dorothy. We met after I graduated from college and started teaching Sunday school at Dorothy’s church—two of her teen-aged children were in my class.

Our friendship seemed unlikely to me because Dorothy was a proper Southern lady who lived temperately, while I was still in my wild times, trying to find my way in life. We met just a few years after I had been sexually assaulted, and I was still healing from that experience. In that healing process, issues from my childhood had come to light, revealing the depth of my wounds.

Even though I was in intensive therapy, I was still living out of my pain and trying to figure out a path forward.

Dorothy entered my life at the exact moment when I was open to see how a mother could be.

At first, she did not know my mother-history or my self-esteem issues. She only knew what her children told her, and they thought highly of me because I invited them to engage in conversations about their faith. They thought it was amazing that I allowed them to share without censure or judgment, that I gave them space to explore who God was for them at that time in their lives, to question church teachings, to wonder about their faith and to challenge the status quo.

From them, Dorothy learned that I was a good teacher who listened to them and valued their opinions.

As our friendship grew and Dorothy came to understand how damaged my self-image was, she acknowledged what I believed about myself, and then she gently painted a different picture—the image she saw of me. Dorothy affirmed and encouraged me; she did not criticize me or judge me.

Over time, my relationship with Dorothy helped me gain perspective and understanding on my relationship with my mom. Dorothy showed me a mother’s love in a way my own mom was not able to do.

vulnerability-healing-mother

Knowing how complicated and conflicted my relationship was with my mom, Dorothy often commented on how lucky my mom was to have my help in her last years. I don’t know that Dorothy realized that it was her love that had healed what was broken in my mother relationship and made it possible for me to care for my mom at the end of her life. I was twice blessed.

Let’s talk

I was the Survivor Speaker at a recent fundraiser for Turning Point, our local domestic abuse/sexual assault resource center. It was the first time I publicly shared my story of being a sexual assault survivor, and I was nervous.

After many years of public speaking in my nonprofit work, my jitters surprised me. Usually, I have a healthy adrenaline rush before I speak, but I am not usually nervous. I think of public speaking as one of my best gifts for nonprofit work.

That night, though, my knees were shaking.

Perhaps I was nervous because the story is so personal, and this was the first time I was sharing it. Also, I am feeling somewhat vulnerable because of the recent changes in my life.

But there I was in front of more than 400 people, talking about how my life was changed forever because of what happened to me on one Friday night.

As I walked back to my seat, I heard the emcee say, “Let’s keep that standing ovation for Madeline going,” and I looked around and saw that, yes, people were all standing and clapping. I was overwhelmed.

One of the women at my table thanked me for having the courage to tell my story; she, too is a survivor. Several people approached me afterward and thanked me.

One line in my talk is, “I talk about being a rape survivor because I want other survivors to know they are not alone and that there is help.”

Rape-hope-healing

A few days later, I told a friend about the talk, and she shared a story of someone she knows who is a survivor. “We don’t talk about it,” she said.

That is the thing—we don’t talk about it. Like other taboo subjects—domestic abuse, incest, suicide, mental health, etc., rape does not come up in polite conversation. We just don’t talk about it.

Rape-hope-healing

It is estimated that one in six women in the U.S. is a victim of sexual assault.

My first six years in Michigan, I facilitated an annual morning of reflection for a group of post-college volunteers. Each year, eight to fourteen young adults would gather, and each year, at least one of the women would confide that she had been raped.

At a recent writers’ retreat, we were encouraged to write an article for a magazine oriented toward young adults—about a topic where they could affect change. I thought of suggesting a gathering of young women and have them count off, one to six. Even in a group of twelve, it is likely that two have been assaulted. The visual of that might be alarming enough for more conversation. Awareness and conversation are two steppingstones to change.

At the end of my talk, I encouraged the audience to pay attention to the people in their lives and if they notice a change—weight loss, increased anxiety, mood swings, etc.—to show their concern and ask what is happening. “Listen and believe what you hear,” I concluded.

Making room

My tears flowed freely, and this time

I did not stop them.

Loud wails rose from deep within,

and I did not stop them.

Each sob seemed to come from some deeper place,

breaking apart layers of scar tissue,

unblocking paths I hadn’t known were there.

Could I risk plunging in,

free-falling into the abyss,

letting myself go under, and

be completely submerged?

Could I risk feeling that kind of deep sorrow,

immersing myself in it and

letting it take me down

until I feel like I am drowning,

until I cannot catch my breath.

Is that the way through the pain?

Is that the way to move beyond

the grief I carry inside,

to empty myself and

make room to live and love again?