A Windy Day: Part III
‘It’s a windy day and as I see the trees blowing outside my window I feel like it’s evidence of the Spirit’s breath. I feel like the Holy Spirit is getting more and more powerfully involved which may be theologically inaccurate but it makes sense to my heart.’
I was sitting in my room at the retreat centre. I’d come from the chapel where the warden had read the poem ‘Cracks’, and given words and meaning to my experience of the previous two years. For months I had felt that my world was unsafe primarily because the church, which had always been where I had found community and family, had shown itself at an institutional level to be dangerous, untrustworthy and deeply flawed.
(I don’t want to give the details of either the process or outcomes of the misconduct proceedings, but I think it’s necessary to include a little bit of information to provide context. For a number of months after the relationship ended we had believed that lies had been told about me by the minister I’d been involved with, but it was only when I was going to resign my membership of the church and I thought I should explain the reason why to the elders, that we discovered that the minister had not told the truth and was continuing on in ministry elsewhere. My husband decided, with my agreement, to contact the denomination to ask them to look into the situation. Had he known how awful their handling of the process would be he would never have started it. One example of the type of experience that created such unease was that I had to provide detailed information to the denominational investigator, and in the course of that I was asked wholly inappropriate ‘victim blaming’ type questions. The minister who I’d had the relationship with, was given transcripts of everything I said, yet I was not allowed to know anything about what he said throughout the whole proceedings. A group of men and women, unknown to me, were asked to adjudicate the complaint and they also had all of my testimony. You can imagine how horrible all of that felt.)
I wrote in my journal that morning,
‘What am I aware of so far on this retreat?
- Jesus really loves me
- He wants to hold me and he wants me to tell him all of it
- The past is not my present. The past is rotting stagnant death.
- I let the other see all of me and the rejection that followed has damaged me massively.
- I want him to say sorry for throwing me away not caring how smashed up I would be.
- Maybe the cracks are an open window but at the moment they make me feel trapped in an unsafe building. I haven’t stepped out of it yet.’
I sensed that until I exposed all the thoughts and feelings I was still hiding, even from myself, that God wouldn’t be able to change things. I wondered if the lady warden of the centre, who I was about to meet with, was the person who would ‘hear’ all my pain.
‘What if I never was redeemed? What if I already am?’: Part IV
It took two and a half hours for the telling of the pain. I held back nothing from the woman who sat with me. I told her all the things that didn’t fit with being a mature christian wife and mother. I told her all the things which I don’t want to be in the story of my past.
She set me a task of sitting with acceptance for 24 hours.
Acceptance of my past and the part that others have played in my past.
Acceptance of the wonderful parts of it and the crushing parts.
Acceptance of the fact that the other understood me in ways that no one else ever has.
Acceptance of the fact that relationship with him changed me profoundly.
Acceptance of the fact that I didn’t live what I believe.
Acceptance of the unfairness and hurtfulness of the misconduct proceedings, and the inability of church leaders to believe that one of their own has feet of clay.
Acceptance of the frustration when cover up was seen as better than truth and healing and wholeness.
I was aware as we spoke that I had not accepted the past. I’d spent hours and hours re-playing every moment, every conversation, every interaction. Wanting them to be different. Fixing them. Removing the hurtful things. Limiting the damage. Never going there in the first place.
God was showing me that all of that was pointless. It was the past. Nothing can be changed in the past. And whilst I continued to attempt to change the past I was unable to see what my present held.
I recognized that my thoughts of going higher up the denominational structures in order to raise awareness of the flawed nature of their policies might have more to do with my own need for redemption than anything else. If I could move into the role of fixer, and preventer of injustice in the future, that would make me feel like I’d made a positive contribution in the midst of mess.
But, in the words of Cheryl Strayed in Wild ‘What if I never was redeemed? What if I already am?’
I wrote :
‘If I am already redeemed then I can step through the window crack
If I am already redeemed there is nothing more I need to do
If I am already redeemed then I can let it all go.
Can you imagine that freedom? ’
My prayer accompanier also gave me something really beautiful to hold on to. I had believed myself to be broken, diminished, soiled goods because of what had happened. She disagreed. She said that I was more whole than I had ever been before, and that God loves and will use and enjoy all of that wholeness. There is more to me than there was before. There is more to my husband. There is more to our marriage. That blew my mind. You see, part of me has believed that, but it also seemed to me that if I believed that, I was saying that what had taken place was good. And yet how can it have been? This was a different understanding. This placed no judgements of bad or good on the past – this was about the present. This was about saying, the woman I am now is not a lesser woman than before but somehow, in God’s eyes, a more whole woman than before.
Awesome – Even in the Falling: Part V
That afternoon, as I sat on a beach, I watched kite surfers on the water. I realised that I wanted my life to be like kite surfing. They go fast and they fly. It’s not about staying dry or warm or safe. They are strong and they keep holding on. And when they jump they are beautiful. I heard a kite surfer cheer as he landed in the water. What he was doing was awesome – even in the falling.
I’ve not been living like that. I’ve been frightened and I’ve been looking backwards. I’ve been giving my past too much of a part in my present. I realised that I have felt conflicted as I’ve grown to love my husband again. I’ve felt like it’s a second rate love because I loved the other. But if I separate out the issues and say do I love the other now, the answer is no. Do I love my husband now, the answer is yes. There is no conflict in my present. I am not divided – I am whole.
That evening I used the art room to paint my thoughts. I’m not an artist but the act of painting gave my mind a different way to process thoughts and feelings.
I began by painting ‘blooms in the desert’ – all the beautiful blossoms that are in my life as a consequence of the months of desolation. My marriage is now a fantastic looking plant and has so many buds forming. My own person is more beautiful than it was before. My children are sheltered by parents who love each other and that is giving them the chance to put down deeper roots and withstand storms. My writing is a new growth from this time.
I then painted to answer the questions ‘What do you need to accept in the past?’ and ‘What do you need to do to let go of the past?’
I imagined the past like balloons. I’ve been grasping their strings very tightly but once I let go of them they will be gone, and I won’t be able to track them or find them again.
Forgiveness: Part VI
Later that evening I read a book called ‘Why Forgive?’ and it became obvious to me that like so many whose stories were told in the book, the main reason to forgive was to release myself from the hurts of the past and to put down the bitterness which unforgiveness creates. Having begun the weekend thinking that forgiveness was an impossible task I couldn’t actually see why I wouldn’t choose to do it.
That night I slept for 11 hours – longer than in months, and I had a very significant dream which confirmed to me that it was time for forgiveness.
When I woke up I wrote in my journal,
‘I wonder if today is the day to let it all go? I’m crying as I write because it’s such an enormous realization to have to come to, yet having read ‘Why Forgive?’ I think why would I choose not to. It’s so damaging to me and I want wholeness.’
I turned to my bible readings for the day and once again God spoke so clearly. Given the imagery of cracks had started me on this forgiveness journey it was entirely appropriate that the first reading was this verse from Psalm 104;
“He makes springs pour water into the ravines; It flows between the mountains.”
Water in the deep, deep cracks.
I shouldn’t have been surprised when the next reading was this passage from Ecclesiastes 3:
‘There is a time for everything
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance…
a time to search and a time to give up
a time to keep and a time to throw away
a time to tear and a time to mend
a time to be silent and a time to speak
A time to love and a time to hate
A time for war and a time for peace
…He has made everything beautiful in its time.”
I’d had my times to weep and mourn and search and speak and tear down and hate. And now the time had come for healing and laughing, giving up, throwing away, mending and loving. I was so encouraged by the reassurance that God can make EVERYTHING beautiful. None of what I have experienced is rubbish or worthless or ugly in his Kingdom because he makes it beautiful.
I’d been writing in my journal and I’d filled all the pages. The need to start a clean notebook gave a wonderful visual confirmation of my desire for a fresh start. I took out a new book and wrote on the first, beautiful, blank page,
“7th June 2015. Continued but new.
That was the past. My past. It all happened. Exactly as it was. I can change not a single moment of it. And I am leaving it there. Frozen in time. Unchanging. I am closing the doors between then and now. I choose to close them and I will ask God’s strength not to re-open. I accept all that I did. Good or bad I did it and it stands. I accept what others did. Good or bad it stands.
But it is not NOW. It is not my present. I’m stepping through the cracks, the fissures, into the new, open, undamaged space which is the present.
I am whole. I am not broken or damaged. I am whole and beautiful. I have strength and colour and facets that didn’t exist before the past uncovered or created them. This is who I am NOW and I stand.
My present is where I sit in a beautiful manor house soaked in love. I look at the green and the blue and the white of the geese. And I know that God is good. And I am His. ‘
Two hours later I wrote my final entry of the retreat in my journal,
‘I’ve just spent time with the lady warden. I talked through the journey of the past 24 hours. I gave her my paintings of the past and the balloons. I’m not bringing them home with me. She tore them up and threw them away. I prayed forgiveness for others and myself. I have let go. I am so overwhelmed by God’s goodness and His desire for my wholeness.’
So that is the story of a retreat.
A story of being lost and found, of acceptance and forgiveness.
A story of acting on the prompts of the Holy Spirit, and allowing God to move and heal and make everything beautiful in His time.