Monday, October 28, 2013

Looking Past the Labels

There it was, on the counter, green gunk left over from dinnertime, dried on and stuck in grooves, dribbled sticky-ness on a napkin, hardened splatters on the counter. It was icky nasty-ness. I could have walked on by. After all, it wasn't my mess. It was someone else's spill, someone else's gunk, and I was tired and I had a headache, and  it was almost time to help my youngest brown eyed boy settle in bed.

But... I couldn't just let it sit there. Not all night. If I did not at least bring a little liquid to soften the hard edges, I might forget- and the mess would be harder to clean in the morning, once the kids were in school. So I stopped, and I poured on a little water, and began to wipe and scrub- just for a moment, to get the worst of the stains out. It put me in mind of a story... the story of a man with living water, who met a woman at a well.

She was world weary, passed from one man to the next, baggage from each torn relationship left in the crevices of her spirit and soul. Hardened edges built around a messy heart, walls erected to survive splatters left behind. One man, though, saw through the facade, through the gunk and the labels-and he saw a heart in need of living water. He saw her- not what she'd done, or what had been done to her. He saw a woman in need of healing. He was weary from traveling; dusty and thirsty and hungry- for he was fully human, having every physical need created in our kind. Yet he made a conscious effort to fill a need for nourishment that transcended body and touched a soul. Despite the social barriers, the liberating King looked beyond appearances and into a heart. He lingered, and lives were transformed.

There was another woman who was bleeding out, spotted and stained in body and spirit. Emaciated, humiliated, defined as unclean by her culture.  All her resources spent seeking healing, to no avail. Hiding,  but desperate enough to slip in from behind and touch the hem of a holy man's robe. One touch... one touch at the edges of holiness and she was healed. Made well. Whole, pure, restored.

So, then, what of a life in the here and now that's been used up by another? I am stunned, shocked at the degradation one human being can force upon another. Slavery alive and well even here, in this free nation.There are those who feel beyond all hope. Labeled unclean, stripped of purity, despised even by those who lay claim to hope in their hearts. What of the marginalized, the victims of violence that today are relegated to simply survive darkness?

Know this: healing power still flows out today.  No matter what you've done, or what's been done to you; there is nothing beyond the touch of Grace.

There is no soul too scarred, no heart too broken, no person too far gone. The message today to those who think they are beyond saving is this: the ransom has already been paid. Rescue is at hand. Turn away from the voices that say your life is too dirty, too wretched. There are none beyond the reach of relentless grace.

It is true that Freedom isn't free. Though freedom- yours and mine- has been bought at a precious price,we have to do more than long for it; we have to fight for it.  Fight against the lies and the condemnation, train our ears to hear the Voice of Love beckoning, enter his healing embrace, and submit our hearts to the setting free- remembering always that we are each flawed and still "in process"- but Praise Jesus, there is One sees and loves and accepts us how we are- even in the murkiest places. He will work healing even into the most forgotten of hearts.

So those of us who know the light, who've experienced the healing touch of Radiant Love, we are called not just to revel in our own healing, but to be continually filled to overflowing that we may pour out.  A life miraculously set free can stand in the gap for those who thirst and hunger for freedom in the inmost places. Let us not look in judgement on those who've yet to meet the Healer. Let us be light and salt and Hope, that lives may be rescued through our willingness to be humble and merciful, like the Lover of our souls.  

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am called to watch and seek what I can do to be a part of setting the prisoners free. To look beyond my own walls and go where God is even now working. He is patient and merciful, not willing that any should be lost.

It takes courage to not turn away from the gunk and the hardened places; it takes readiness to take a page from our Healer's book, to let our schedules and plans be interrupted. It takes willingness to stop; to look and listen, to linger that those ravaged by darkness can catch a glimpse of this amazing, all consuming, miraculous light- if only we will let Him shine through.

~Just Me

Friday, October 4, 2013

The 5 Love Languages

It's good to have a reminder of what I already know. Lessons learned in previous seasons can fade; as time goes on and life gets busy, I forget to dwell on that which once impacted me deeply. So I was thrilled when The 5 Love Languages, Military Edition arrived in the mail. I am always excited when I get to be a part of inspirational author (and friend) Jocelyn Green's work- and although I did contribute a short anecdote to this particular project (in the Combat Redeployment section) reading this book was most exciting because it jogged my memory about lessons learned years back, before multiple deployments and diagnoses; before PTSD and trauma and the stress of living with the complications of war come home.

I first read The 5 Love Languages when my husband Roger, then an army chaplain, decided to lead his soldiers through this book. I remember how much the original version helped strengthen our marriage. We learned that, like many couples, we show love in very different ways. There were times when Roger was attempting to show love to me, but I was not understanding his intentions- and vice versa. In seasons when a marriage feels strained or cold, it can be because we are missing each other's attempts to show love, or as Gary Chapman puts it, we are "speaking different Love Languages". In times like these, conscious attempts to show love in the way your spouse understands love best can go a long way.

 The latest book in the Love Languages series provided me with a much needed refresher course in the five ways of showing and understanding love which Chapman identifies, reminding me of times when I made an effort to be sure I was speaking the love language Roger understands rather than relying on my own.

The military edition of The 5 Love Languages addresses life challenges for military families that can cause communication break downs, and while my family's "Combat Redeployment" (the adjustment period that follows when a spouse comes home from war) has long since passed,we still battle against the habits made in the seasons when Roger was a world away.

For the greater part of five years (half of our younger son's life) Roger was either deployed, or recovering from  being in a war zone. Even when he was home, I felt separated from him. He was trying to protect me and the boys from the horrors he'd witnessed, and so he withdrew into himself. Though God has done a work of restoration in our marriage that I never thought possible, there are still times when I feel isolated- most especially on anniversaries of traumatic events.

The emotional withdrawal I wrote about regarding that season still has to be addressed today. Simply put, I got into the habit of being independent when he was deployed, and sometimes I fall back into those old habits of functioning as a single unit, rather than part of  a committed relationship. It's easier to do my own thing, but it is so much more rewarding to invest in creating and maintaining a love relationship that frankly, I was designed to need.

Sometimes I am afraid to open up, or I make excuses like "old habits die hard" because I don't want to do the work. My husband is no longer volatile and unpredictable, so I do not have to hide my emotions behind walls of protection. Sometimes he feels angry, but than again, so do I... usually because anger is a mask for hurt feelings, and most of the time feelings get hurt because one of us is not understanding  what the other is communicating.

As I read through the challenges to keeping love strong, I understood that though I do not always feel loved, Roger has been expressing love through 'words of affirmation'- telling me how pretty I look, telling me how delicious the meals are, telling me he loves me. He's speaking his love language- and now that he is further into recovery, he speaks this affirmation often. I, on the other hand, understand love differently. I bring him little things I know he likes. I make his favorite foods. I work hard to take care of the house and kids so he can focus on recovery. Yet he does not always understand the languages I am speaking. Simply put, we sometimes miss each other's efforts.The one saving grace is that we both show love through affection or "physical touch". Still, busyness or opposite schedules can interfere with that expression of love as well. I've learned before that it takes work to make time for each other, in every season. 

So I am ready to make a new commitment. First, to remember his "love language", which helps me to understand what he is communicating- to see the efforts he is making,even he's not "speaking my native love language" (the one I understand  best).

Second, I commit to make a point to show him love in the ways he understands, and especially, to make time to connect.

Finally, I commit to "safe sharing". A counselor who works with families recovering from PTSD taught me 'positive communication strategies' to convey what I need. If I choose carefully the timing, tone of voice, and word selection, I can communicate my needs in a loving and non-threatening way (which is imperative when dealing with PTSD). When I communicate safely,  I find that Roger really does  love me and he wants to meet my needs. Sometimes it is hard, and sometimes he needs LOVING reminders, but as he heals, he is better able to show love.

PTSD may bring challenges to having a healthy marriage- but PTSD, when treated with care and understanding, does NOT render a marriage helpless. Creating new habits takes work, and willingness to make changes, even if they are not easy- but I reap many benefits from the work done.

Whether in marriage or in the inner recesses of my own life, healing is always worth the work.


Heavenly Healer,

I know that you specialize in creating something from nothing. You move mountains, you make rivers on dry land, you never fail to give beauty for ashes. I realize it's time to surrender my marriage into your healing hands. I lay each hurt, each challenge before you now:  ______________________________________________________________
I ask you to direct the healing process. Show me where I need counsel from someone trained to help me work through areas of woundedness. Guide me to the right individuals to aid me in my own unique journey.

 I confess the truth that you can and will bring healing into every area I choose to surrender. I accept that it will take willingness and work on my part. I claim the truth that Healing IS worth the work. Please direct my steps, bringing order from chaos, reminding me to lay down each struggle in the moment of stress.

Thank you that I can pour out all my hurt, fear, and anger into Your hands for You are Big Enough to take it. Remind me to continually release my emotions to you rather than dumping my emotional stress on my loved ones.  Guard my tongue, that I would not use words as weapons, but rather speak love and life, even as I share my own needs. Grant wisdom as to timing, and emotional climate, and safety. Bring healing to my spirit, soul and body, as I submit to the mending process.

~Just Me 

**Post Note: I have found healing from Secondary PTSD (which affects most caregivers of individuals with PTSD) through a therapy technique called EFT- Emotional Freedom Technique.

Also Roger and I both went through extensive counseling for several years, and we still have "check ins" with a therapist to check on how we are both doing. Healing is for the wounded, and their family members, too.