Created for Connection — a roadmap for your marriage

It’s the best marriage book I’ve ever read.

I’d love to show you why; I’d also love to show you how I use it in my daily practice as a pastoral counselor.

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Created for Connection, by Johnson and Sanderfer, is my go-to book for marriage counseling. I use Gottman’s tools and research extensively too, but Created for Connection feels deeper, more hearty. While Gottman focuses on the what and the how-to, Created for Connection focuses on the why.

I love this book so much that I turned the chapter headings into a roadmap of sorts, adding in other tools and resources.

If you were meeting with me for marriage counseling, I would give you a copy of this sheet to (hopefully) help you see where we’re at as we walk through the various parts of marriage counseling. Disclaimer: I’m a pastoral counselor, not a licensed therapist. I don’t hold myself out as a therapist, but shoot, just because I’m a pastoral counselor doesn’t mean I’m afraid to use the latest evidence-based research when it comes to helping clients love each other well (and happily)!

OK, here’s what I would give you:

created for connection

Now, here it is again, with links to the resources in brackets. In addition to the material in the book, we would bring in some of these other tools/resources:

1. Recognizing the Demon Dialogues [The Vortex of Terror]

  1. Find the Bad Guy
  2. Protest Polka
  3. Freeze and Flee
  4. [The Four Horsemen]

 

Finding the Raw Spots

  1. [The Shapes Diagram]
  2. [Pain Words worksheet and Feelings Wheel]

 

Revisiting a Rocky Moment

  1. [Reflecting Back, I teach three parts to this. 1. Reflect back. 2. Validate. 3. Empathize.]
  2. [Turning Towards, and here and here]

 

Hold Me Tight – Engaging and Connecting [Caring for the Heart]

  1. What Am I Most Afraid Of?
  2. What Do I Need Most from You?

 

Forgiving Injuries

  1. [Repair checklist]

 

Bonding Through Sex and Touch

  1. [On Making Love, a resource post about sex]

 

Keeping Your Love Alive

  1. [Six magic hours, here and here]

 

If you’re looking for some marriage help, here’s a map! I didn’t create most of this; I’m just putting some of what’s helped me and others into one place. I hope that’s helpful for you. Get the books, watch the videos, talk with your spouse, and have a great day!

— Jonathan M. Trotter

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Created for Connection, by Johnson and Sanderfer

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by Gottman

17 years of marriage and this is all we’ve got, by Jonathan and Elizabeth (and now it’s 19!)

*Amazon affiliate links.

The cure for my contempt (and yours too) {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan is at A Life Overseas today. . . .

There’s so much contempt in the world.

Do you sense it? I hear it crashing through our walls in Cambodia as our neighbors fight and scream at each other. I see it in the taxi driver in Prague as he grips the steering wheel hard, honking and yelling at those who’ve deeply offended him. I smell its stench on Twitter.

And I sense it in me.

“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

mercy

We must remember the mercy of God. Our families, churches, and ministries all need us to remember the overwhelming and beautiful mercy of God. Mercy is a mysterious thing, softening us to others and their stories, while also hardening us to the unavoidable and incontrovertible troubles of cross-cultural life and ministry.

Finish reading here.

You Are Loved

by Elizabeth

loved

“You are loved with an everlasting love — that’s what the Bible says — and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

I recorded this Elisabeth Elliot quote in my journal a few months ago. Like many people, I have a complicated relationship with Elisabeth Elliot, but this message is pure gold.

It all started with a kitchen table conversation. Jonathan Trotter had been reminiscing about his childhood, the way he and his family would pause their studies each morning to grab a snack and listen to Elisabeth Elliot’s 15-minute radio show.

Every show ended with this statement of truth and grace. I sat at the kitchen table dumbfounded. I had never heard that statement before. I certainly didn’t know she spoke it over her listeners every single day.

She was saying this in an era when, in some religious circles at least, not a whole lot of God’s love was being preached. And it especially wasn’t being preached (at least in most of my childhood churches) that the reason we dare to believe in God’s love was because the BIBLE.

The next day at church the preacher talked about God’s everlasting love, and I took note.

At a special worship service later that week, we sang these words from Hillsong:

“I’ll sing to You Lord a hymn of love
For Your faithfulness to me.
I’m carried in everlasting arms,
You’ll never let me go, through it all.”

More everlasting arms. And more recordings in my journal.

Then last week I dropped my kids off for VBS, and when I came back to pick them up, all the kids were singing:

“What have I to dread, what have I to fear
Leaning on the everlasting arms?

I have blessed peace with my Lord so near
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms,
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.”

It was a song I sang a lot in my childhood, and though it’s a fun song, I didn’t have any particular fondness for it at the time. But it didn’t take a genius to recognize the pattern here.

When God speaks, He tends to repeat himself — or echo Himself as my husband likes to say. Over the last few months I’ve heard a lot of echos of God’s everlasting love, and I want to pass them on to you.

I don’t think I can say it any better than E.E., so remember:

“You are loved with an everlasting love — that’s what the Bible says — and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

A Few of My Favorite Things {February to June 2019}

It’s been so long since I’ve sent out an update like this! I’m sorry. I used to publish these lists of my favorite things once a month, and this past year it’s been much less often. Now that my anxiety is under much better control, I’m going to try to write more frequently. I’m feeling good physically and mentally (and have been for a while). But for now, here’s a (rather long) update on my life, along with some quality reading material. ~Elizabeth

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Hearing both my girls (on separate occasions) singing “Tell me the Story of Jesus” in the shower. When I heard them, I thought, it’s working! Let me explain. About a year and a half ago I realized my kids weren’t growing up with love for or even knowledge of hymns. At our international church we sing mostly modern worship songs, which of course I love. But I was raised on the meaty theology in hymns. Hymn lyrics are what come to me in the dead of night when I am in crisis. I want my kids to know them and depend on them too, but they didn’t really know any.

So we started slowly, one song a week. And sometimes it takes more than a week to fully learn a song. But you know what? The songs really start to add up, and after a year and a half we have quite a few hymns and camp songs we can sing together as a family. “Tell Me the Story of Jesus” is especially nostalgic because it’s not only a classic in the hymnal, but it’s also the song that all the campers and counselors always sing at the end of hymn sing at Camp Takodah, just before being dismissed to Bible class. This leads me to my next story.

I was doing yoga to The Majesty and Glory album (hymn music from Jonathan’s and my adolescence that I loved to listen to and recently re-discovered through iTunes). In walks my daughter who says, “Where did you get this good music??!” And I thought again, it’s working! My love for traditional worship music is slowly being passed on to my children and shaping their hearts and minds too.

Talking about the Enneagram with our kids.  Jonathan and I started describing the Enneagram numbers to our kids, based on a book we’re both reading. It was fun to explain who my husband and I are and to figure out who the kids are, together. It was fascinating to watch their faces as we read through each description and slowly, each child figured out which number they were. Some were happy, and some were annoyed, but we’re pretty sure we know which number each of our children is. It has given us a shared language and helped us all understand each other better.

Drama production and ballet solos. One of the great privileges of the last few years has been to watch my children grow through the performing arts. It started with drama at our coop and has continued with dance lessons for my two youngest. Every time I watch the performing arts I am moved spiritually and emotionally. The arts speak a language without words, and it’s difficult to put the experiences into words (which feels so surprising to a wordsmith like myself). Maybe some day I’ll be able to explain these things better, but for now just know they are a highlight of my life and I’m so thankful for the chance my children have had to be a part of these performances (especially since our drama teacher just moved away).

Velvet Ashes Retreat with my dear friend who is moving away. We’ve done this together the last 3 years, and I don’t know how I’ll be able to bring myself to do the Velvet Ashes Retreat without her next year. I also don’t know how I’m going to survive without this girl. But I am thankful we had this extra time to spend together.

2 Renew, a monthly Saturday evening worship time at our church. Realizing how much I need extra worship services besides Sundays, this spring I committed to attend 2 Renew at least every other month. It’s not fireworks, but it is consecrated time to talk to God without my children (I love Sunday mornings with my family, but they are inevitably slightly distracting). The times I have gone have been significant because God just seems to repeat all the things He has been saying to me, things I need reminding of, things I know but have not been heeding. And sometimes we just need repetition, right? I can pinpoint a big turning point in my anxiety journey to the first 2 Renew I attended in March and another turning point in addressing a deep father wound to the service in May. Thankful for these times!

I also attended Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday services at the Anglican church. I wrote about Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday. Again, these are simply times of worship that I attend alone without my family, and I tend to be able to draw more strength from them from than regular Sunday morning services.

Dance class. Contemporary dance class is a place I consistently meet God. I started attending last October when my anxiety and OCD began spiking. Every week in the beginning, I would nearly start to cry at some some aspect of the dance teaching that was reflecting something God had just been speaking to me about. This semester we learned some choreography to the classic hymn Amazing Grace. We danced it every week, and though I had a hard time keeping up and was quite unsure of myself, I kept going. Wow. All I can say is, dancing to the words of Amazing Grace every single week for 5 months did something to me internally. Every week I left dance class with that song in my head, and with a new understanding of my need for grace.

(The hymn was recorded by a friend here in town, and you can hear her beautiful version of it beginning at 5:30 on this video.)

A series of counseling appointments at Living Well. When I hit rock bottom, my best friend noticed. She has walked with me through many dark days over the past 13 years, so when she said, “I’ve never seen you like this,” I sat up and paid attention. Her concern made me finally seek counseling help. It was a short season of counseling (before that counselor left the country), but it pulled me out of the depths. I have a plan in place now to stay on top of the anxiety and OCD.

The rains have begun. This hot season was brutal, with daily power cuts due to a shortage of electricity in our country. The power cuts have resolved, and the rains make life more bearable each June.

 

MUSIC

In Need by Keith Lancaster. A friend shared with me when I spoke of the struggles of the last year. Beautiful a cappella. “I am your child, I am in need.”

Goodness of God by Bethel. “All my life you have been faithful.” “Your goodness is running after, it’s running after me.”

Come Alive by Lauren Daigle: “We cry out to dry bones come alive, come alive.” For much of the last year I was like the walking dead, but it was only when I started to come alive again (by working with a counselor here in town) that I realized I had been dead. It’s so good to be alive again, and I don’t ever want to live dead again.

Who You Say I Am by Hillsong. “In my Father’s house there’s a place for me.”

Oh Come to the Altar by Elevation Worship. “O come to the altar, the Father’s arms are open wide.”

Ever Be by Aaron Shust: “You father the orphan and your kindness makes us whole. You shoulder our weakness and your strength becomes our own.” This phrase caught my attention because WHOLE is my theme for the year, and I’ve definitely felt the need for His strength to become my own.

Even Then by Micah Tyler: Even when it feels like my world is shaken, even when I’ve had all that I can take, I know You never let me go, whoa. And even when the waters won’t stop rising, even when I’m caught in the dead of a night, I know, no matter how it ends, You’re with me even then.”

My Defender by Rita Springer: “When I thought I lost me you knew where I left me, you reintroduced me to your love.” I think I’ve shared this before, but it’s just so good.

A few hymns that mean a lot to me but that are hard to find good versions online. Here are the lyrics: Give to the Wind Your Fears and And Can It Be That I Should Gain?

 

BOOKS

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. This was a read aloud, and boy does it have good dialogue! And the wisdom about life that gets woven into this children’s book is superb, especially the conversation about vacation towards the end. Written over 50 years ago, the conversation has amazing and unexpected applicability to our digital age.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham. The sea. The stars. Grief. Loss. Education. Empowerment. The nomadic life. I see why this book is many people’s favorite (and for TCKs especially). We haven’t quite finished this read aloud, but we need to.

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis. The Silver Chair has always been my favorite Narnia book. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to appreciate Narnia books that I didn’t particularly love as a child, but The Silver Chair has remained my favorite. I knew I wanted to read some Lewis over Khmer New Year (spring break), and this is the one I chose. All these years later, it is still just as good as the first time.

Brainlock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior by Jeffrey M. Schwartz. Recommended by both Jonathan’s counseling mentor and the member care person in our org. So far it’s really helpful, both enlightening and practical.

Something that’s really intriguing to me is that 11 years ago during a particularly anxiety-ridden pregnancy, it was a children’s book about OCD that helped me work through the worries. And years ago, before I ever knew I actually had OCD, I had saved a Discover magazine article that detailed Schwartz’s career and passion and brought it with me to Cambodia, slipped inside the children’s OCD book. I had clipped it out mainly because it felt to me to be scientific proof that we have free will. This was back in the days when parsing out the truth of free will versus God’s sovereignty seemed of utmost importance. Now it seems less so, but it was quite the experience to begin Brainlock and think to myself, I have heard this man’s story before, and then to go searching and to find both the OCD book and the article.

I talk about worry and that children’s book in this article/video. These strategies “starved the OCD monster” and kept it at bay for over 8 years. This year I found myself

(Other than that, I didn’t get much book reading done this spring. I’d like to reverse this trend.)

 

BLOG POSTS, THEOLOGICAL IN NATURE

Job’s Wife: Authenticity in Suffering by Anna E. Hampton. A thoughtful and encouraging interpretation of Job’s wife. If you read no other articles this month, read this one.

Matthew 18 is Not Instructive for Book Reviews, But Much of the New Testament Is, by Jen Oshman. Clear-headed and true.

What Was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil For? by Daniel Hoffman. A lot to chew on here, and I probably need to re-read it.

How Universalism, the “Opiate of the Theologians,” Went Mainstream, Paul Copan interviews Michael McClymond.

When Self-Discovery Becomes Self-Worship by Josiah Dangers.

Scenery, Machinery, People — Rethinking our view of humans by Jerry Jones. Thought-provoking.

Canandian Mennonite University Scientist in Residence | Student Forum with Dr. Dennis R. Venema [VIDEO]. This lecture was so healing for me to hear. I cried through some parts.

 

BLOG POSTS, NARRATIVE IN NATURE

When Cuss Words, Addiction, and Shame Show Up at Church by Scott Sauls. I dare you not to cry.

An MIT Professor Meets the Author of All Knowledge by Rosalind Picard. I also cried reading this one.

‘Pointless’ Bones, ‘Flawed’ Birth Spacing, and ‘Broken’ Genes: Why our flaws alone can’t disprove God’s purpose by Liuan Huska.

Yours Also the Night by Julie Spencer. I had a lot of early morning wakings last year, so I relate.

 

BLOG POSTS, PRACTICAL IN NATURE

Surviving College: Go to Church, Go to Class, Call Your Dad by Joshua Gibbs. This advice is all so true. I almost never skipped church or class my first year in college, and I called my mom a lot. Definitely kept me grounded.

Why ‘Being Christian Without the Church’ Fails the Good Friday Test: According to the gospel of John, the cross casts us into community.  by Fleming Rutledge.

4 Questions To Consider Before Commenting On A Controversial Subject by Karl Vaters.

Homework is wrecking our kids: The research is clear, let’s ban elementary homework by Heather Shumaker.

Chris Evans’ Advice for People with Anxiety and Depression [VIDEO].

 

BLOG POSTS, EXPAT IN NATURE

9 Ways MKs Can Navigate Their Grief by Michèle Phoenix. Vitally important.

We Spent Our Best Years Overseas. And They Were Hard. by Jen Oshman. So thankful she said these things.

When Your Yes Impacts Other People by Sarah Hilkemann. Another hard truth about living and working overseas.

4 Ways to Give Yourself Grace During Re-Entry by Bernie Anderson.

15 Things I Want to Tell Graduating Third Culture Kids by Rachel Pieh Jones.

Even Jesus Had a Boat by Anisha Hopkinson.

The Reality of Being a Foreign Service Spouse by Donna Scaramastra Gorman. Being mostly in missionary circles, this is a perspective I don’t hear about very much, and I was thankful for the insight.

How To Get Into Missions in Just One Month by Anisha Hopkinson. Funny!

 

MOVIES AND TELEVISION

Kim’s Convenience. This hilarious show details the life of an immigrant Korean family to Canada. I think I like it because I relate to the cross-cultural difficulties and also to the specifically Asian context.

Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. A show from my own childhood, I watched the first season with my kids. There are some historical inaccuracies, of course, but I didn’t expect to find the gospel story plastered on the surface of this show, screaming loud and clear for all to hear. It’s Hosea/Israel, Christ/Church, Redeeming Love all over the place and had me crying in front of my kids. We don’t shy away from those stories with our kids – prostitution is on the surface of life here too.

The Lego Movie 2. It wasn’t a particularly enthralling movie, but the best part came at the end: “Because everything is NOT awesome, but we can make it more awesome.” This is so deeply, painfully true. Everything is not awesome. This world is deeply and painfully broken. People are hurting, and people hurt other people. The systems of the world are broken, and the natural world itself does not function as it should. But when we build community, the pain diminishes.

Captain Marvel. We watched this as a family in the theater. I like Marvel but am not overly fanatical about their movies. That said, I really liked the way this story portrayed strong female characters and strong, non-sexualized female friendships and mentorships.

End Game. Of course we all went to End Game too. I hadn’t even seen some of the pre-cursors to this Avengers movie, so my kids tried to update me. I cried so much. There are so many tearjerker scenes. The movie perfectly ties up nearly every Marvel/Avengers storyline. (I particularly like what they did with Captain America’s and Iron Man’s storylines.) Speaking of Avengers, here’s a fun article identifying many of the Avengers’ Enneagram numbers. It’s been informative for our family.

North and South. I love this movie. I agree with everyone else out there who thinks North and South wins the prize for best kiss. I watched this one with some of my kids while Jonathan was out of town (he was gone for 21 out of 27 days). Although it takes place in England (where every good drama takes place), this movie also related to a lot of the industrialism/strike issues we were studying in American history.

It held my girls’ attention well enough that I introduced them to Pride and Prejudice (the Hollywood version). They recognized Matthew McFadyen as Arthur Clennam from Little Dorrit, a really long Dickens mini-series that we watched together last summer at my mom’s house and which is now a family favorite. Anyway, after watching Pride and Prejudice, Jonathan loaded the soundtrack onto my girls’ devices, and they are in love!

 

MATH AND SCIENCE

STEMWA, a Facebook group that Jonathan created. I was lamenting yet one more time about how lonely it can be to be an expat woman in math or science. Finding other math and science people is hard enough, but finding female expat math and science people is even harder. Voila! Jonathan created this group for me.

Teaching at coop. I’ve mentioned before how much I love teaching math and science at our coop, and this semester was no different. I taught younger students, and it was still fun (though my favorite are the teenagers). In the fall I’m teaching younger students again, but I really like the content areas, so it will still be fun. I will miss my teenagers though!

 

HEALTH AND FITNESS

New hand weights. For Christmas I asked for new 3 kg weights to replace my 2 kg weights. The 2 kg weights were all I could find when I moved here, and they were only ever so-so for my fitness preferences, but after 7 years with them I knew I needed heavier weights. These weights make every video workout I have so much harder, even the ones I thought were easy before.

New workout clothes. The last time I bought workout shorts was 2008. Over 10 years ago. I was in dire need of new shorts! I found better, more comfortable workout clothes for cheap at the Decathlon store at the new Aeon mall in Phnom Penh (the same place I found those new weights).

T-25. Jonathan bought this workout series several years ago, but it had been been lying dormant most of that time. It was too hard for me at the time he bought it, and now he goes to a gym instead. So I tried some of these workouts. There are some good ones in there. They’re definitely hard, and I don’t do them every day. I think that attending dance class increased my strength and stamina and gave me the courage to try T-25 again. I try to alternate difficult workouts with easier ones.

Fitness Blender. I think I’ve mentioned Fitness Blender before. I started using their videos again. When I’m low on time but want to get something in, I do their short upper body workouts. Kelly, the gal on this husband/wife team, has an eating disorder story very similar to my own (minus the bulimia). Plus, she also has OCD (which I think is the reason I struggled with an ED in the first place and the reason it manifested the way it did, with relatively few months of being underweight but so many years of mental anguish). It’s a good video if you want to get a glimpse inside my life.

Teeccino. Yum. I weaned myself off coffee last year – very slowly over two months and honestly, quite painfully. I received some herbal coffee substitutes in a Christmas package from the States. (And all to be drunk with coconut milk as the number one creamer in the world.) I am here to vouch for Teeccino’s teas. Roastaroma from Celestial Seasonings is also a good coffee substitute. And I can sometimes find Starbucks decaf ground coffee. It’s far superior than the Italian decaf espresso you can sometimes find in stores here (but that works in a pinch). Once in a store I found some decaf black tea and snatched it up before it was gone. You never know what’s going to be in stock here, so you buy it when you find it and assume you’ll never find it again. It’s an insidious scarcity mentality I’ve picked up from living here so long. I’ve talked to friends who feel the same way.

Lebanese Red Lentil Soup. I found this delicious lentil soup recipe while searching lentil recipes. It’s so good. I try to make it a couple times a month. Unfortunately, red lentils were one of those items that went out of stock for a couple months earlier this year. I was so bummed and thought I’d never see red lentils again. Then lo and behold, one day all the stores had them in stock again. We kind of joke that when we can’t find certain items, that “the whole country is out of stock.” I mean, who talks like that? Oh yeah, expats do.

Garam Masala Nuts. I searched for a recipe for a spiced nut and seed mixture after eating a divine nut and seed mix at a Christmas gathering. Salty and spicy yumminess! I use olive oil instead of butter, and I add pumpkin seeds, which are a great complete protein. Pumpkin seeds were out of stock for a while, but they’re back in stock now. The only problem now is, walnuts are way too expensive to buy.

Green Pea Hummus. I love this stuff, but my family doesn’t care too much for it. More for me! This is the recipe that taught me the 2 key ingredients for good hummus: tahini and cumin. I had never put cumin in my hummuses before, but this recipe convinced me. I also didn’t always use tahini. It could be expensive or hard to find, plus, it’s so thick that it didn’t mix well in my blender (blenders aren’t always the highest quality here). Then my blender broke and I started making hummus by hand with a potato masher instead. This spring I started adding the tahini (because of this recipe). The trick for any hummus is to look at the recipe for the amount of oil and cut it in half. You should use half olive oil and half tahini for your “oil.” Then you get perfectly flavored (even if not perfectly blended) hummus. Word to the wise: soak your green peas overnight, or else it takes a lot longer than 30 minutes to cook them.

Black Bean Hummus. My family may not like my Green Pea Hummus, but they devour the Black Bean Hummus and request it frequently. It also has the requisite cumin and tahini, as explained above.

(As you can see, I’ve made a lot of lifestyle changes since last fall when I hit bottom.)

 

QUOTES

Oswald Chambers, January 2, My Utmost For His Highest: “Believe God is always the God you know Him to be when you are nearest to Him. Then think how unnecessary and disrespectful worry is.”

I don’t know the source of this quote. I found it from the blog of a friend walking through cancer, and she found it in a book she was reading. “We want to say that the knowledge of tomorrow would remove our anxieties, but this assumes that tomorrow holds sunshine, or that knowing what it holds means we could face it better. Whatever tomorrow holds, we can be certain that its contents will raise as many questions as they will answer.  We can trust God to manage the future without our help.”

This quote reminded me of a quote from Cindy Morgan that has always helped me: “Fear can have so many faces. We can never really escape from the things that cause us to be afraid. For everyone we secure ourselves against, there will be another waiting to take its place. The world is not under our control. So it all comes down to learning to trust God.”

A Charlotte Mason quote, found through Angelina Stanford: “If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play! If she would only have courage to let everything go when life becomes too tense, and just take a day, or half a day, out in the fields, or with a favourite book, or in a picture gallery looking long and well at just two or three pictures, or in bed, without the children, life would go on far more happily for both children and parents.”

 

 

Finding a Father Wound

by Elizabeth

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It was Holy Week when the breach happened. A seemingly small incident that tore something wide open in my heart. It was a wound I didn’t know I still had, and it ripped right apart. It was a wound I thought had healed. And actually, I’m not sure I had ever identified it as this kind of wound: a father wound.

It feels strange to say that, because it didn’t come from my earthly father. While no man is perfect, this particular father wound wasn’t inflicted by him.

Rather, it came from someone who was like a father to me. A man who promised me home and then ripped it away. A man who promised me love and then withdrew it. A man who accepted me and then turned around and took it all away.

The sun was shining, and then it wasn’t. And it never shone again.

I trusted this man. I believed in this man. I loved this man. And his change of heart was both confusing and devastating. It insidiously taught me things about a Father’s love that I never should have learned. Lessons like:

Someone can offer you love and then completely withdraw it. You are never safe in love.

Someone can offer you home and then kick you out. Home and belonging are never forever.

Someone can accept you at one point in time and then for seemingly no reason at all completely reject you.

You can be worthy of someone’s love and then suddenly unworthy of love, forever expelled from their life.

So you must always work to earn people’s love, because you never know what little inconsequential thing might trigger love’s loss.

This father wound of mine, it’s a situation I knew was unfair. I’d been angry about it for years, but I hadn’t let myself hurt too much over it. I just let myself stay angry. That was easier, more cerebral. Anger doesn’t hurt nearly as badly.

But the wound was there, always festering, never completely healing. Until something ripped it open this spring. I was shocked — I hadn’t thought it was still there. But when you cry so hard you can’t breathe and you begin to think the emotional pain might literally kill you, well, that’s an experience that begs for the healing power of Christ.

It was Holy Week, and I went to Maundy Thursday service. I went expecting to meet God. In fact, on the way there I told God, This thing hurts so bad it feels like I’m going to die, so if you don’t show up tonight, I don’t know what I’m going to do.

There was plenty of space to meet God that night, and God descended into several of those spaces with me. A couple different people prayed for me. The songs, the prayers, the sermon, they were all good. But the most important part for me was the Watch at the end.

The service closes in silence and allows people, as they feel led, to stay in prayer, in the same way that Jesus asked his disciples to keep watch with him. I planted myself in prayer. I was almost undone at this point, desperate, my head hung low.

I wondered if the place to start wouldn’t be in asking for healing, but in asking for the faith to believe in healing. Because what if I asked the God of the universe to heal my heart, and He didn’t come through? What if I asked Him to fulfill his promises, and He let me down too, just like the man who was a father to me? I didn’t want to be hurt by the Lord of everything, our true Father.

So I stayed and prayed. I stayed, and I stayed, and I stayed, until I heard the answer in the form of one of the evening’s songs:

O come to the Altar, the Father’s arms are open wide.
Forgiveness was bought with the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

I stared at the newly cleansed and stripped-down altar, with its small cross inscribed into the wood now visible, and it dawned on me that a father wound is healed through the love of the Father. That my Father’s arms are open wide. The man who inflicted my father wound held arms open wide at one point, and then closed them forever. But the Father’s arms are open wide, always and forever.

I had stayed and pressed in, until I heard some sort of answer from God. And when I received it, I knew I was free to go. I packed up my bag, smiled in thanksgiving, and stood up to leave. I turned around to find no one in the room – no one except the ministry team cleaning up. I had been in the front row. I hadn’t realized I’d stayed that long. Everyone leaves the service so quietly, and I’d been praying so intently, that I hadn’t noticed.

I wasn’t healed on Maundy Thursday. But I knew where my healing would come from – the Father’s love. The Father’s arms are open wide. “How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure.” On that night, the knowledge of the source of my healing was enough for me. And I was on the watch for more healing.

A few weeks later I went to a special Saturday evening worship service, and God was so sweet to remind me of His truth. We sang songs about God’s goodness and faithfulness. It was good to remember everything God has done for me in my life, how He has always been with me.

That night we also sang Hillsong’s “Who You Say I Am.” It’s a song I’ve heard before but that hasn’t spoken to the deepest parts of me before. This time was different.

Who am I that the highest King
Would welcome me?
I was lost but He brought me in
Oh His love for me
Oh His love for me

Who the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed
I’m a child of God
Yes I am

Free at last, He has ransomed me
His grace runs deep
While I was a slave to sin
Jesus died for me
Yes He died for me

Who the Son sets free
Oh is free indeed
I’m a child of God
Yes I am
In my Father’s house
There’s a place for me
I’m a child of God
Yes I am

I am chosen
Not forsaken
I am who You say I am
You are for me
Not against me
I am who You say I am

In my Father’s house, there’s a place for me. I am chosen, not forsaken. The highest of Kings welcomes me. I needed to hear those truths over and over again.

A couple weeks ago we sang this song at church again. This time I sang it not through pain, but with joy. I sang, and I realized that the Father’s love had been busy at work in the undercurrents of my life, convincing me that there’s always a place for me, that my Father’s love will never fail. It will never run out, will never run dry.

The Father’s arms are always open wide. Earthly fathers may forsake, but we have a Father in heaven who never will.

The funny thing is, I thought I knew God as Father. As a child, I first learned of God as Father. “Dear Heavenly Father” is how all my childhood prayers were modeled. I was comfortable addressing God as Father. My dad was someone I could easily talk to, and God seemed like Someone I could easily talk to, too.

In the last decade I have explored God as Spirit and God as Son. This was healthy and healing, but I had neglected to keep pursuing God as Father. I thought I already knew God as Father. But I was wrong. There was more to know, more to learn. With our Triune God, it’s always that way. “Farther up and farther in,” right?

We’ve now lived all the way through Easter season and have even slipped past Pentecost. I’ve let the love of the Father wash over me the last few months, and I’m more sure of His love than before. I know that there’s a place for me in the Father’s love. I know the pain of a father wound will not kill me, even if it sometimes feels as though it might. And I know the love of the Father truly heals old wounds. Even the wounds we didn’t know were there.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

For All the Things That Never Should Have Happened

by Elizabeth

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What’s to be done about all the things that “never should have happened”?

I look at my life, and I look at the lives of the people I love, and I think about all the things that really never should have happened.

Things I never should have done, whether mistakenly or naively or even willfully. Things that never should have been done to me, whether accidentally or willfully. And things that never should have happened to the people I love most — never ever, not even in a million years.

Sometimes I replay these things over and over in my mind and think, “if only.” If only, if only, if only. If only that thing or that series of things had never happened. Then life would be better. It would be more full of joy and less full of pain.

I sit and wish I could go back in time, back before that event, before that pain, and I wish I could change what happened, either for me or for the people I love.

Sometimes I think about the “never should have beens” TOO frequently.

Because I cannot go back and change what happened. No one can. It’s no use wishing for a different past or a different present. It won’t ever happen.

But sometimes, the thing that happened is so terrible, so dreadful, that I honestly don’t know how we can move on. What then? What do we do then?

I sat with this question this week, and here is the place I landed: CHRIST.

The only thing I know to do, amidst senseless and brutal suffering, is look to Christ. This is why we need Christ — for all the millions and billions of things that “never should have happened.”

This was the very purpose for which Christ was sent into our world. He is here today, with us and in us, precisely for the things that never should have happened. Yes, even when those choices were made and those actions were committed by Christ followers. Christ is here for ALL these things.

Maybe you don’t have any nagging questions about God’s goodness or why God let something happen to you. Maybe you never kick yourself for what you have done in the past.

But maybe sometimes you, like me, loop around all the “what ifs” and “if onlys” and “never should have happeneds.”

When I think of these unanswered and unanswerable questions, I’m reminded of some of the parting words in C.S. Lewis’s “Till We Have Faces.” The main character Orual is so like me, so prone to bitterness, so prone to questioning. But then she has an encounter with the Divine and responds:

“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer.
You are yourself the answer.
Before your face questions die away.
What other answer would suffice?”

I’m reminded of Job’s response to the Lord near the end of their very long conversation, and I’m reminded of the disciples’ confession in John 16:30:

“Now we understand that You know everything, and there’s no need to question You.”

I don’t know what these questions and regrets looks like in your life right now. I don’t even know what they are going to look like in my life, moving forward.

All I know is that as I sat with the anguish and with the questions this week, that I knew, all over again, that Christ would be the antidote to the poison. That He would be the answer. For me and for the people I love.

Because we all need Christ for the “never should have beens.” No matter who did them.

And in the end, after all our questions and maybe even in the middle of all our questions, I pray we will be able to proclaim along with the modern hymn:

“Christ is enough for me.
Christ is enough for me.
Everything I need is in You.
Everything I need.”

Amen, and amen.

(originally posted on FB)