Holding Hurt Hostage

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Two summers ago I read a story in a blog that has recently come back to my memory. In fact, I can’t quit thinking about the monkeys Fab saw that day…

One time I made the mistake of going to the Austin Rescue Zoo with a friend of mine. It is probably the most depressing way you could spend a day; each of the animals has been rescued from a terrible environment. I was excited to see the monkeys because (a) I like monkeys and (b) because these monkeys had been trapped in tiny containers (barely the size of their bodies) their entire lives and now they had this huge enclosure with room to swing in the trees and finally act like monkeys. I scanned every branch, but there were no monkeys to be seen. Then I saw a little girl pointing to the corner of the enclosure, and sure enough, there they were. The monkeys sat with hunched bodies in the corners of the cage with their faces pressed up against the bars. It was as if they didn’t know that they had been set free and behind them lay this huge open space. I guess they felt more comfortable in the position they had known their entire lives. They didn’t know how to move their bodies the way they were made; it hurt to stretch and move their muscles. So they just sat – looking at the exact same view they’d had before they were ever rescued.

There are times in life when hurt holds us hostage. When misfortune finds its way into our hearts and displaces everything else. When we are so wrapped up in grief and circumstance that we feel trapped by it, enslaved even. Thankfully, for the most part, those are seasons in our life that come and go. Usually they stick around longer than we’d like, but almost always they do end. The problem is, when hurt has lingered long it’s hard to break free from it. Sometimes, long after hurt has let go of us we still hold tight to it. Instead of hurt holding us hostage we hold hurt hostage. We invite misfortune to pull up a chair and stay a while. Hurt moves in and takes up residency in our hearts. And all the while we hold the power to set them free. Instead of letting the hurts go and releasing the pain of the past we hold it hostage. We tie it to a chair and point a gun to its head. The problem is that we ourselves become the prisoner.

I’ve watched too many movies. I know what hostages are like. You can’t turn your back on them for one minute or they will escape. So we live with one eye trained on the hurt. We can’t fully engage in life because we’re tied to watching our hostages; fear, anger, depression, bitterness, mistrust, resentment, cynicism, abuse. They cloud our vision and keep us from being free. We can’t let them out of our sight or they might escape. I hate my hostages, I want to be free from them, but somewhere along the way I’ve taken them on as mine and feel responsible for guarding them. But what if we let them go? What if we put the gun down and untied the ropes? What if we opened the back door and let the hurt leave? What if we made room for something else to occupy that space? What if we emptied a few chairs and risked letting peace or love or joy to come and sit with us?

We live like those monkeys. God has delivered us, but we’re still not free. He has broken the power of the hurt and pain, but we can’t let go of the memory of it. We’re afraid to turn around and explore our new found liberty because we might get hurt again. We feel more comfortable in the presence of pain and sorrow then we do in the presence of life and joy so we hang out with what’s familiar. I get it; it’s risky to leave the cage. It’s scary to head into unchartered territory. It’s silly to think that we’d rather stay tied to hurt than to run out into abundant life and joy and freedom. But when you’ve been hurt too long, and broken too much it’s flat out hard to change.

And we don’t have to. We can keep living like we’ve always lived. Overcome by fear, in the shadow of doubt, with closed off hearts. Or… we can let go. We can chose to cut the ropes that tie us to our past. We can open the door of our heart and let love and life blow in. Scary? Absolutely. Worth it? I think so. (I know the right answer is “yes, it’s worth it” but in full disclosure my heart is still in the “I think so” stage.)

When we hold hurt hostage we live small lives. We live trapped. But we don’t have to. God longs to set us free from the confines of our own fear. He longs to bring us out of the dark dungeon and into the light of life.

“He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.” Psalm 18:19

Let’s make room in our lives for the spacious places God has planned for us. Let’s take a deep breath, close our eyes, and let go off all we’re holding hostage in our hearts. Let’s live free!

~Keri

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Photo by IKO Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Photo by Matthew Paulson Licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

Because of You

This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel with a group of single moms to the Survive and Thrive Conference. My head is still spinning with information and encouragement and heartbreak from the weekend. I feel like I need a week in solitude with my journal to process all that I experienced in those few days. But one thing from the weekend just won’t seem to go away. It’s begging to be processed first, and I think it must.

First can I ask you to watch a video? One of the sessions I went to was titled Filling the Daddy Gap and the facilitator showed this video. I sat in a room with 80 or so single moms wiping tears from their eyes as they saw their own pain and their children’s pain being portrayed in video and song and my heart thought of you.

We all carry pain. We all have been hurt. Damaged. And we can all cry out right alongside Kelly Clarkson and say “Because of you…”

Blame isn’t new. It’s a natural reaction to pain and consequences. Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent. We all want to justify our behavior by reminding others why it is we behave the way we do. And most of the time our blame is justified. We truly were wronged. We truly were hurt or abused or abandoned or betrayed. So we blame. And we justify. And we stay trapped in our pain, repeating the cycle of suffering.

We rightly cry out “Because of you…” Mom, dad, childhood bully, ex-husband, rapist, abuser, drunk, coach, teacher, pastor, friend. Because of you I’m afraid. Because of you I can’t trust. Because of you I lost my way. Because of you I’m angry. Because of you I’m bitter. Because of you I’m broken. Because of you.

It’s easy to get caught in the cycle of “because of you”. Easy to let it take over our thoughts and emotions. But it’s a dangerous place to live. It’s a place of perpetual pain. It’s a trap that our enemy loves and God despises. Yes, God hates the sin that hurt us. But He also hates the cycle of blame that we continue to live in.

So how do we move forward? How to we break the cycle of blame? The same way, with the same words.

Because of You!

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith,

who for the joy set before him endured the cross,

scorning its shame,

and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Heb. 12:2

When we take our eyes off of our circumstances and look to Jesus and say “Because of You, Jesus!” everything changes. Because of You, I am free. Because of You, I am healed. Because of You I am not afraid. Because of You I have found hope and trust and joy! Because of You.

It’s time to turn. Away from our pain and towards the cross. It’s only when we fix our eyes on Jesus, only when we see His love for us, demonstrated by the suffering He endured so that we could be forgiven, and that we can truly be free.

When we’re tempted to point a finger and dish out blame, instead let’s look to the cross and say, “Because of You…”

Monsters in the Closet

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As a little girl I was scared of monsters hiding in my closet. Then I got older and learned that six eyed, clawed, sharp teethed monsters aren’t real. Then life turned cruel and I learned that monsters are real, and they’re deadly. Real monsters don’t have sharp teeth and claws, but they do hide in closets. Not because that’s their natural habitat, but because that’s where we put them.

At least that’s where I put my monsters of shame, and anger and hurt. That’s where I hid the whispering monster that said I wasn’t good enough. That’s where I placed the loud monster that told me to be afraid. That’s where I hid the ugly monster that convinced me that I deserved to be angry and bitter and unforgiving.

The monsters we’re too big and too scary to face, so I did all I knew to do… I tucked them away behind closed doors and locked them up tight.

It was much better that way. As long as my monsters were in the closet I could pretend like I was okay. I could smile and act like my life was “just fine, thank you”. Until it was dark and quiet. Then I could hear them scratching on the door to get out. I could hear their muffled voices, smell their rancid breath. Or if you were getting too close to me, if you were pressing in and truly interested in my heart and not just my image. Then I would hear them again, beating and pounding against the door. Frantic to get out. In the dark night and in the intimate conversation my heart would race and panic would grip me. I was desperate to keep those monsters locked away.

It was exhausting.

But it was the only way I knew to coexist with my monsters. Keep them locked away, hidden, out of sight. What I didn’t realize was that as long as I kept my monsters in the closet I was the one trapped.  That as long as they were concealed behind closed doors I was bound to them, bound to hide them, bound to fear them, bound to check on them.

Finally, I got so sick of the monsters that I decided to do something brave, and perhaps a little crazy. I opened the door and let them out. Not all at once. One or two at a time I released them. And never alone. Always there was a brave companion by my side. A counselor, or trusted friend, or spiritual mentor. Together we would stand and face that beast.

A funny thing happened when we opened the closet door… when those monsters stepped into the light of day they became a lot less intimidating. When they stood before me, with the Sword of the Spirit in my hand and the King of Kings standing beside me and a trusted friend praying on my behalf, they lost their power.

I know they would have overtaken me and killed me had I faced them on my own. I’ve seen it happen before to people I love. When they faced their monsters without Christ they were the ones who lost. I also know that they would have killed me if I’d have left them in the closet. Slowly but surly they would have drained the life from me. I’ve seen that too. Seen friends slowly shrivel up and die because they’re too afraid to face their monsters. But when we stand empowered with the Word of God and the victory of the cross, the only things that die are the monsters that haunt us.

“The pain is real

You can’t erase it

Sooner or later

You have to face it down”

JJ Heller (song is below, so worth 3 minutes of your time)

Monsters can’t be tamed and they can’t be silenced. They can kill you or they can be killed, but they cannot be ignored. They are real. The pain is real. The hurt is real. But as long as you ignore it, it has power over you. You can lock it up, but it will not die. And eventually, it will get out of that closet and come after you. The only way to not live in constant fear of that day is to finally, once and for all, face the monster and put it to death.

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And you can! Yes, really! You can face the monster. You can defeat the monster. It might be a long hard battle, you’ll need to be vulnerable and ask for help. It will require you to know and stand on the Word of God. It will demand that you pray and trust Jesus like you’ve never done before. But the silence that comes after the battle… it’s worth enduring the fight.

“Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them.” Eph. 5:11

“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.” Eph. 6:10&11

Over and over and over again the Word of God commands us to be strong and courageous (see Joshua 1:9). Following Jesus isn’t easy or safe or sweet. It’s a battle. It requires courage and strength and sometimes blood and tears. But girls, we have to fight. It’s when we run from the battle that the enemy runs over us. When we turn and face the enemy, when we stand our ground with Jesus, our enemy cowers in fear.

It’s time to pick up our swords and fight. It’s time to kill the monsters.

You’re not alone

“Pray for each other” James 5:16

I had planned to post a short devotion earlier today but never got around to it. I had several thoughts running around in my head about a particular passage I’ve been studying and wanted to dive deeper into. But when it came time to sit at the computer no words came.

Now, here I sit hours past my bedtime with a heavy heart. Tonight was hard. Some days just seem to weigh more than others and today was one of them. It seems like everyone I came in contact with was carrying a load too heavy. A friend who’s aging father lives far away and she feels torn between parenting her child and parenting her parent. A child caught in the limbo of the system who just needs a family to love him. A strong, godly man who’s heart is losing strength. A dear friend who will go home to an empty house tonight and lay awake wondering what tomorrow holds. Days like this I can’t help but think the enemy of our souls is working overtime.

I also can’t help but think of all the times in my life when I was the one carrying the too big, too heavy weight. Of the sleepless nights I faced wondering if I would survive. Wondering if I really was as alone as I felt. And always in His mercy He would send a whispered reminder “you’re not alone!”

We aren’t meant to walk through life alone. It took me a long time to learn that lesson. To learn that I don’t have to be strong and do it all by myself. God placed us in the body of Christ so that we could carry one another’s burdens. Even if only through prayer.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2

Maybe tonight you feel alone and heavy burdened. Maybe you’re up late checking Facebook because you know the silence of your pillow will be too much for your overwhelmed heart to bear. Maybe you’re wondering if you’ll make it through this thing.

You will!!!

You are not alone. And you don’t have to carry this alone. This night won’t last forever.

Life isn’t always fair but God is always faithful. He loves you and He is holding you.

I am praying for you tonight!

Love~
Keri

A Place Where They Cried

Tomorrow Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art opens. I happen to have the privilege of living less than 5 miles from the new museum. Earlier this week I was walking the art trail talking to God about some things in my life that aren’t going as planned. At the end of the trail is an instillation by Pat Musick and Jerry Carr entitled “A Place Where They Cried”.

It commemorates the hardships endured by the American Indians forced to migrate across northern Arkansas to present day Oklahoma.

The sculpture suggests human figures traversing the stream, a metaphoric evocation of American Indians on the Trail of Tears.

While addressing historical events and human tragedy, the artists’ stone figures, flanking the gently flowing stream, can also be viewed as witness to endurance and survival.

As I stood beside the stream in the midst of these standing stones I couldn’t help but think about other stones of remembrance. Of when Samuel and the children of Israel gathered together to bring a sacrifice of repentance to God when suddenly they found themselves surrounded by the Philistine army. The people were terrified and begged Samuel “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that He may rescue us.” And God was faithful. Without the Israelites having to raise a hand God confused the Philistines and defeated them.

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far has the Lord helped us.’” 1 Sam. 7:12

A stone of remembrance in a place where they cried.

Standing here I wondered about those Indian mothers. Did they put on a brave face for their children? Did they cry into the hard ground after everyone had fallen asleep? Did they ever just want to give up? Quit? Lie down and die?

And what of the women who followed them? The pioneer women, living in a one room cabin, trying to fight off the winter’s icy blast. Did they rock sick, hungry babies with tears on their cheeks? Did they rise early to kneel and pray begging God for comfort?

Or the woman living in the farm house watching her only son go off to war? Did she water his grave with her weeping? Hands clinging to the stone engraved with her only son’s name?

Stones of remembrance in a place where they cried.

My own tears streamed down my face and fell into the soil at my feet. Tears of sorrow. Tears of frustration. Tears of questioning. Just as countless women before me, my overwhelmed heart rose to the surface and hot salty tears erupted.

And then I remembered…  that He remembers.

“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in Your bottle. You have recorded each one in Your book.” Psalm 56:8

The Master Artist erects His own stone of remembrance in the place where we cry. He does not ignore our tears. He is not uncomfortable with our tears. He is not irritated by our tears. He collects our tears.

He sees, He listens, He cares and He collects as He waits for the day when He will wipe away all of our tears.

Rev 21: 1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death ; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” 5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” 6 Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. 7 “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. 8 “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” 9 Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 

Keep Breathing

The average time it takes to recover from a tonsillectomy is 5-7 days. Open heart surgery? They say the initial recovery period is 6-8 weeks, and it can take many more months to heal completely. Regardless of how invasive it is, all surgery is followed by a time where the body heals. Most surgery recovery includes incision care, limited activity, extra rest, pain medication, and other rules that must be followed to insure that complications don’t set in.

We know this. Anyone who’s had surgery knows that the recovery process is slow and oftentimes frustrating, but necessary. Anyone who’s had surgery would also tell you they’ve disobeyed their doctor’s orders and tried to rush things. All that gets us is more pain and frustration. You can’t rush healing.

Why then do we fight so hard against the process of healing for our hearts? When our hearts are broken, when our dreams are shattered, when trust is betrayed, when death comes we want to rush through the healing process. We want to rush past the pain. We look for shortcuts and ways around the long journey of restoration.

We understand that physical healing takes time, but can’t seem to grasp the same concept when it comes to emotional healing. The simple fact that we need healing should tell us that it’s going to take some time. Healing is never instantaneous.

If you rush physical healing you can wind up with an infection, back in the hospital or, worst case scenario, even die. With emotional healing we can rush ahead, skip steps and pretend that we’re recovering faster than we actually are. We can act like we’re healed while hiding the fact that we are actually dying inside. The only difference between rushing physical and emotional healing is you can fake one and not the other.

I find myself in a recovery phase. And I want so desperately to rush through the process. I want to run ahead and skip steps. But I know that doing that will only leave me weak and dying.

The question was asked of me recently “Do you want relief or do you want to be healed”? I want to be healed. I know that relief is the quick fix, the easy way out but the slow process of healing brings strength and life.

When the pain becomes unbearable, when the nights become too long, when answers seem far away the temptation becomes so strong to throw in the towel, quit the process, and not trust God. But He can be trusted. Even when relief seems so far away. He promises us that joy comes in the morning, no matter how long the night may last.

So if you’re walking through the valley with me, let’s not run ahead. Let’s listen to the instructions from the Great Physician who longs to heal our hurting hearts. Let’s keep walking. Keep trusting. Keep breathing. Let’s be healed.

Broken Walls

The walls of Jerusalem were broken down and its gates destroyed by fire. Neh. 2:13

This could just as easily read “the walls of Keri were broken down and her gates destroyed by fire”. Or maybe “the walls of ________ were broken down and her gates destroyed by fire”.

There’s something so sad and wrong about broken down walls. Destruction that is brought by an enemy and leaves a city defenseless. When Nehemiah heard about the destruction in Jerusalem his heart was broken:

“So the King asked me ‘Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.’ ‘Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins and its gates have been destroyed by fire?’” Neh. 2:2-3

He grieved for his city, for the broken walls and destroyed gates. It’s even worse when it’s not city walls destroyed, but hearts. When wrong is done to us and our hearts are invaded and overtaken by an enemy. When we are left broken and burned. Torn down and destroyed. And our broken hearts grieve and mourn the loss of innocence and security.

Cities with broken walls are vulnerable to attacks. They are unsafe. Unsecure. And so are we when our hearts have been broken. We feel naked and afraid. So we do the only thing we know to do. We rebuild the wall.

Only this time we build not to keep out the enemy, but to keep out everyone. Because no one can be trusted with our heart. No one can be given the opportunity to hurt us again.

We build in isolation, a thick, impenetrable wall that cannot be scaled by God or man. We build walls with no gates, no entry way, no access to our hearts. Walls to shut the world out. Walls to shut our hearts up.

It’s hard work, building an impenetrable wall. Constantly being on guard. Forever afraid of being hurt again. We know the wall we’re building is wrong, but every time we stop for a minute we remember the broken wall, the burned gates, and the pain. We can’t risk letting that happen again. So, we square our shoulders against the world and keep building.

The only problem with building a wall to protect our hearts from being hurt is that it doesn’t work. No wall built by our hands will shield us from the pain and sorrow of this world.

Maybe it’s time to admit that the wall building isn’t working. Maybe it’s time to stop, let go of the brick in your hand and surrender. Maybe it’s time to invite Jesus behind the wall, and let Him hide you under the shadow of His wing. (Psalm 17:8)