When Roger and I married, I dreamed of the two of us growing a family as we worked together to build a life of ministry. I didn't need a white picket fence, but I did hope to have an meaningful life. As a teen, I had surrendered to serve God "in a special way", and I longed to make a difference in this world. I assumed I would be a missionary, but was happy to be a minister's wife instead. I ended up serving as a little of both when Roger became an Army Chaplain.
I'd imagined preaching the Good News in a country far away, but it seemed I was called to tread the soil of my own country, gradually moving farther and farther away from all I knew. God took me out of my comfort zone and brought me to a place where I could focus on knowing Him, where I could learn about healing, forgiveness, and how to serve in the ways he created me to serve. Through all of this, God prepared me for the lightening bolt that would split my life in two.
PTSD struck my life with a force that rendered me speechless, literally. I was reduced to a 'deer in the headlights' existence and could not talk about what was happening in my home. Even if I had not been in shock, the shame and embarrassment of it all would have held my tongue. Here I was, a chaplain's wife whose husband returned from Iraq angry at God. In fact he seemed to hate God, life itself, and even me.
We moved away from my support system, and with friends and family thousands of miles away, I felt utterly alone. I began warring with God in my heart. What in the heck did he think he was doing? My life course had seemed plotted: Minister's wife, check, 2 kids, check, big house with a room full of toys for said kids, check. Church ministry. Are you kidding? I had done everything, everything I had been asked to do up to this point. Lead bible studies, write bible lessons, speak to women, organize events, pray, seek him, and sometimes even serve until I had little left for my family. I had moved across the country to a new place with new people to minister to, but my life had been ripped apart with paralyzing voltage as combat came home.
I felt useless, unusable, irrevocably broken. My dreams seemed obliterated; how could I serve God now? I was adrift in grief, and believed I had nothing left to give. It was in this season that God asked some difficult questions.
Was I willing to look past my wants to pursue His purposes? Would I let God in fully, into every heartache, every moment? Over the years I had thought a lot about what I'd like to do for God. Yet in this time of loss and suffering, was I willing to focus on what God would like to do in me?
Questions challenged my daily frame of mind, my attitude, even my moods: Would I let go of my plans to embrace God's design for my life? Not just for the other wounded souls out there, but for me? For my own well being? And would I lean into His strength for the journey?
God made it clear that he wanted me to step out of church service and into a life of loving others. First, he asked me to love the one person who was hardest of all to love. An angry, broken, even, at times, emotionally abusive husband. "Dear Jesus, Help me!" became the heart's cry of my existence, and yet, with the teeniest, tiniest, microscopic amount of faith, God can do great things in a broken soul.
Then God asked me to embrace the grieving process. To trust him, not just with my damaged dreams, but with my life. To allow him access into my wounded places, letting him to heal even the deepest, darkest ruptures. He showed me that it takes courage to cry, and that a soul brave enough can traverse the cycle of grief authentically, pressing into Jesus while working through denial, sadness, and even that place of bargaining with God.
He asked me to have the fortitude to admit to anger; to trust that God is able to handle whatever I can dish out, and be completely transparent with him. He showed me that in truth, he is not judgmental. That Jesus himself knew both grief and anger, and he set the example for our own process towards wellness. In fact, God created us with everything we need to move through each stage of grief, and gave us the capacity to cycle back sometimes, because healthy grieving is not a straight line and everyone travels the path in their own unique way.
Along the way, God has asked me to forgive, so that I would be set free and no longer bound to those who hurt me. This requires a conscious effort, yet in times of chaos, I have found release through forgiving. For me, this happens through prayer; a pouring of out all my emotions and hurts to God, asking him to set the order and bring healing.
I am still in process. Life is stable enough now that I've been able to go back and work through the tangle from the early years when I simply survived the diagnosis. And God is faithful, always calling me to a place of greater wholeness. Always assuring that His plans bring more satisfaction than anything I could ever dream up. My experience is that He always goes so much beyond my wildest imaginings, and His plans are good, for my own wellness.
Now, God asks me to share my story. To call out to the suffering that there is hope, and I am not being trite when I say that His name is Jesus. To speak the truth that when our dreams lay shattered at our feet, God has something else planned. Better, certainly. Sometimes we have to let go of what we want to find what He longs to give. For me, this has meant letting go of church life, and seeking the heart of God for me and for my family. This journey has taken me to places I could not have imagined, and the greatest gift has been an ever deepening closeness with God, whether life is stable or not. He holds me through turmoil and stays with me in tranquility, too. All I have to do is open my heart and let him do his good work in me.