Tender Heart

I learned early on that I could shut myself down physically and emotionally. I could build up a wall that separated me from what was happening to me outwardly and to any possible response within myself. By shutting down, I could hide from some of the abuse while it happened. Sort of. It enabled me to “protect” myself from the horrible things that were happening to me. And I could hide my despair in a heart of stone. All emotions could be locked away, and I would feel nothing.

This seems like a fairly marvelous survival mechanism; however, it came with a huge cost. Consider turning yourself off like a switch so you feel nothing, Nothing. That is no pain, no sorrow, no joy, not love. Nothing. If it is an emotion of any kind, it is buried deep within you. You truly become stone on the inside. I was thankful for this ability to shutdown while I was being abused. Unfortunately, it became how I lived even after I escaped the abusive situation.

This trick also effects memory. If you can remember, the memories can be clouded and almost as if you were more of an observer of a scene. Again, this can seem like a good thing when who wants to remember the bad stuff? Unfortunately, even though the memory is shadowed, it is still there. As long as we keep these bad memories locked within us, they tear at us emotionally and spiritually. And this inward tearing can eventually grow into physical issues.

By exposing our painful memories with someone we can trust, we start to shed light on the destructive memories, face them, let them go and find freedom. I found that I was afraid to face my memories. Having all that was buried inside of me bubbling up to the surface was overwhelming. I, instead, would recoil and continue hiding in my heart of stone not realizing I had become a slave to my own pain. It wasn’t until I met Jesus that I was able to move past my fear. He held me close as I faced my demons, and then He took them from me. He asked me to trust Him and to hand Him my pain, And through this process of facing my pain and handing it over, I have found healing and peace. This was a long process as it is not once and done. Each memory that surfaces requires these same steps; however, it does get easier as your trust for Jesus grows each time you feel His peace. Face it, share it, give it to Jesus, and live free of it.

Song suggestion:   Free by Switchfoot

It was difficult for me to start the journey of stepping out of my heart of stone, because I thought I was safe there. With every stressful situation, I would retreat within myself. In fact, I didn’t even know I was doing it. Hiding within myself had become a reflex. Jesus opened my eyes to my destructive pattern and started showing me what I was missing hidden in my fortress of despair. I was unable to love or grieve. Years ago, I traded my heart of stone for a heart of flesh. And now, I can love with all that I am. And I can truly live. I even welcome the tears of grief and allow myself to feel the love I had for the person and honor their memory. And Jesus, the God of Comfort,always meets me in those moments creating a bitter sweetness.

Having given up so much with my heart of stone, I refuse to hold back my tears now. I would much rather allow others to see my emotions instead of holding myself prisoner in a dark cell. I choose a tender heart. If you are concerned about exposing yourself to risk and are hesitant to move out of your own internal cell, consider all that you are losing. Don’t lose another moment to love and be loved.

Another great song by Tenth Avenue North:  Healing Begins

Well Meaning Advice

Once while I was still mourning the loss of my family, my caregiver told me that I was fortunate that my dad was a criminal instead of my parents being divorced.  Their point was, if my parents were divorced, I would still love my father so it would hurt more.

Before going further into this, first let me explain what I mean by “still mourning the loss of my family.”  My dad had been taken to prison which was absolutely appropriate, and I am thankful for that.  In fact, his sentence should have been much longer.  For my safety, I was sent to stay with relatives hundreds of miles away from my mom.  This was before the time of text messages and FaceTime, and our correspondence was very limited.  While the adults in my life believed they were doing what was best for me, it was the absolute worst time for me to be separated from my mom.  After years of trauma and forcing pain and emotions deep inside of me, so many things were surfacing within me – far too much for a young person to navigate alone.  But I was alone.

“At least, you don’t love your father.”

Family was designed from the very beginning to be a father, a mother and children.  The family was meant to be a place of love and safety.  And with this design, all of us are born with an internal need for both parents.  Everyone longs for a healthy relationship with both their dad and their mom.  Anyone who says otherwise is stifling some deep pain from the loss of a parent relationship – they are in denial.  I also longed for a healthy family; instead, I had a psychopath for a father.  Worse, I had a father who did not love me because love does not do what he did to me.

In divorce, the loss of relationship is typically between the parents and does not destroy the possibility of relationship between a parent and the children.  Of course, pride and anger can make this a lot harder, but there is still hope.  And there is still pain, but love is not completely destroyed.  It is true that I did not love my father.  To this day, the thought of him fills me with fear and nausea.  That does not mean that I do not acutely feel the loss of what our relationship was meant to be.

My fear of my father destroyed other family relationships as well.  For my eighteenth birthday, I asked to visit my grandmother, my father’s mom.  We spent a few hours with her and an aunt.  That is the only contact I had with that entire side of my family since my father was taken to prison.  When I graduated from high school, they were not invited.  When I joined the military, I did not tell my grandmother.  In fact, I was grateful to be stationed elsewhere and didn’t share with them where I was – harder to find me that way.  When I married, I only sent my grandmother a picture and did not tell her my new name.  When she died, I was unable to attend her service.  I lost her, and I loved her deeply.  I also lost aunts, uncles, cousins and even siblings.

To the one who made that comment so many years ago, you have no idea.

While it is important to understand our losses and the pain they have caused, it is more important to heal and move beyond the losses.  It is healing for me to let out the pain and frustration that has been buried so deep within me for so long through writing.  I hope that it encourages you to do the same.  We can’t leave it buried within us.  We must release it and take that next step.  Check out this song by Tenth Avenue North, Losing.  It is an excellent depiction of the next step.

 

Losing – (C) 2012 Provident Label Group LLC, a unit of Sony Music Entertainment