Monday, February 15, 2016

When Healing Hurts

Her words of kindness, they cut like a knife.
Pain has a way of taking your heart to peculiar places like that.

They’d passed a pad of paper around the table, and when it came to me, I read the headings at the top of each column I was supposed to fill in:
Name. E-mail address. Small Group.

Sounds like a simple sign in. But that last column, it came as a punch in the gut. It’s so loaded for me. Because we’re not in a small group, and we long to be a part of one again like we used to be, but we can’t right now. Haven’t been able to for six years. Six years . . . And we feel the loss. We grieve it deeply, as I shared in Accepting the Sidelines.

I’ll spare you the details except to say that since my health crash, simple things have become monumental achievements for me, including going to church. In fact, at a dentist appointment last month, I needed the hygienist to help me simply walk down the hall. My body’s not what it used to be. And sadly, neither is our church involvement.

Seeing the list of every name with a small group home for their heart listed, I deliberated as to what to write. Nope, not N/A. And no, I didn’t want to leave it blank. So I wrote my honest answer just like everybody else did. Only mine looked quite different:
Can’t wait to be able to be a part of one again!

We continued to hear the hearts of the women from the panel, and attempted to make our way around the table to share our own stories. We listened, we encouraged, we, uh, accidentally started a fire when a piece of paper got too close to the tea light so our quick-on-her-feet table hostess quickly put it out while our table disrupted those around us with all our loud snickering from the corner of the room.

[Note: Peaceful picture above pre-pyromania]

It’s the stuff memories are made of. I only spent two hours with these women, but I felt as if we’d been hangin’ out together for a long, long time. There was just something about that table in the corner.

Shortly thereafter, the evening came to a close. And the sweetest table hostess you’ll ever meet offered me a brochure listing all our church’s small groups. Assuming she offered it in response to my sign-in comment, she was likely confused when I declined, but I told her I knew all the info was online, and that I had an invisible illness that limited me. Not always my favorite ice-breaker when meeting new people, but my strange reality is that it's not a lack of information that stands between me and a small group.

Amidst all the dismissal activity, a sweet new gal two seats down likely didn’t hear my response because she followed up by sharing which small group she’s a part of and how much she loves it. (The friend sitting between the two of us had been in that young marrieds group we led a while ago, so she was the only one at the table familiar with our family’s journey.) I turned to the new gal and replied,
“We LOVE small groups. But we don’t have one.
Because I have illness instead.”

I turned to my friend next to me, said how much we’ve missed it, and unexpectedly, the flood gates of tears opened and opened wide. And let me tell ya, they weren’t closin’ anytime soon.

A thoughtful invitation to be part of community unearthed my deep pain of not having been able to be a part of one for a long, long time. So there I sat, a sobbing mess in my friend’s arm while everybody got their coats on and exchanged pleasant good-byes.

This friend, she wasn’t intimidated by my pain. Her tender heart spoke words of comfort and words of hope into my hurting soul. The freedom she offered me to freely grieve was a rare gift. Thank You, God. For Your hands and feet through her.

Truth be told, amidst the pain, there was likely a heaping portion of pride in the mix as well. Because I wrestle constantly with thinking that my value is in what I do, rather than in Who He is in me. And that includes my part in the body of Christ. So since I’m not able to be involved in formalized ministry, I constantly battle voices that question my worth – because I’m not contributing. I may be a leg in the body of Christ, but I feel like a broken one that’s not doing its part. I get loving Jesus mixed up with performance so easily and so often.

And small groups that meet on Sunday mornings? Well I’ve been going to Sunday School since before I was born, so to have somebody “reach out to me,” well, my pride felt on the wrong end of that conversation. I’m used to being the reacher outer, not the one being reached out to. So I felt misunderstood. Because deep down, I wanted to be thought of more highly. I want to be perceived as the active, valuable member of the Body, not the uninvolved one who needs reaching out to. I guess not all that different from wanting to be one of the cool kids in school, huh?

It’s a humbling journey these nuances of chronic, invisible illness. Quite an awakening to all that lurks in the heart. And I wrestled with whether or not to even publicize this pain. Reliving the pain by getting it on paper made for another difficult day emotionally, and it left me asking, “What’s the point? Why not just talk about the good stuff? The joy?”
I was tempted, yet again, to stuff.

Then I went back and read the comments on Accepting the Sidelines. And I rediscovered several comments from folks saying I was describing their struggle, that they were facing the same pain. I remembered my mission here, and realized I needed to write it for them. For Tina, for Lizzy, for the rest of you who are facing the same painful isolation. This piece is for you – to remind you that there is somebody out there who truly understands. Who cares. And who feels your pain with you.
You are not alone, my fellow sojourners. You are not alone.

The other reason I struggled with whether or not to share this was because I’m concerned about the prospect of those sweet new friends stumbling across this piece and feeling badly when they have nothing to feel badly about, nothing they did wrong.

What those two precious souls don’t know is that the Lord has been lovingly leading me along a journey the past couple months as it relates to my pain on the sidelines of church. I’ve discovered that during this long journey, I’ve primarily been stuffing my pain the entire time with the intent of protecting my beloved church family. Or rather, protecting myself. Protecting myself from the relational temptations that can accompany pain. In other words, I love my church family far too much to open a door to a temptation to be bitter, and so I’ve pretty much closed the door to my feelings in that arena of life.

Not necessarily the best way to manage pain. So God’s giving me permission. Permission to acknowledge my pain in that context even though it doesn’t feel pretty or churchy or appropriate. The freedom to grieve our relational losses because I’m (finally!) learning that it’s healthier even to grieve than to stuff.

Our pastor reminded us just yesterday morning that Jesus has the authority to change our identity, and I believe that’s exactly what He’s doing in my emotional being these days. I believe He’s changing my identity from that of a stuffer to that of one who lets her heart feel, who lets her heart beat. Because even in the painful feelings like grief and loss, it’s in our allowing ourselves to feel that keeps our feelings alive, keeps our souls alive.

There's a strange sense of encouragement hidden in my grieving the other night. Evidence of emotional health and healing. That night, God offered me the opportunity to tell my heart to beat again.
With heavy tears, I said yes. 

Image complements of
Women of Providence Baptist Church


  1. Love you, dear friend! So thankful that "He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds." What a blessing He gave you a precious friend to extend his love and mercy to you.

    1. hey there, you sweet friend. sorry i didn't see 'til just recently that you'd left a comment. that meant so much for you to take this time to read this, let alone leave a comment, too. felt like a virtual hug, thanks. :)

      i'm so grateful, too, that the Lord positioned me exactly where He wanted me that night. right next to a friend who offered a safe place to bare my soul. quite a gift He gave me in her.

      so great to hear from you. i'm honored you stopped by here. hope all is well with the nichols, & keep the pics comin' on FB! love it.

  2. Yes. Yes. I can relate to your feelings about living on the sidelines of church family, friends,even family-family! I think about the seasons of life- (what one am I in? What is God teaching me?) my supposed gifts seem like they are sitting, waiting,on the shelf. Seclusions of the soul. It seems like forever since I 'served'.
    And then God says interesting big things like, "You will have more, I promise. But right now, you have Me. Be peace. Be love. Be quiet. Look in, not without. Because you ARE hurt, you can be strong. Your obedience to me is your 'service' ".
    I'm walking with you, Tanya, in courage, compassion, and joy. Thank you for sharing yours with us.
    XO, Constance

    1. seclusions of the soul . . . wow, constance. i love that. something so painful you brushed onto poetic canvas. (and why does that not surprise me coming from an artist such as yourself?) :)

      your transparent sharing has always been such a treasure to me, constance. thank you for the gift of two simple words: i understand. because like you, i've felt on all kinds of sidelines, too. not just at church, but with friends, & even family. it hurts. because my relational heart beats so deeply. so i hate feeling like my constant survival mode is sending a false message about how much i value the relationships.

      and such rich words of wisdom the Lord spoke to you in "but right now, you have Me . . ." i think oftentimes, we (the human race) struggle to feel like we're enough. and if we're gut honest, we struggle to believe that He is enough, too. yet belief or unbelief, He IS. our obedience to Him is our "service" -- that's an incredibly liberating (& true!) way to see things. my obedience is my ministry . . .

      thanks so much for the gift of your comment, constance. and thank you for walking with me, you dear friend, even if i'm at a distance while right around the corner. your spirit encourages mine.

      XOs back atcha, precious daughter of the King.

  3. Thank you for your honesty, the rawness of what you've shared, and the reality of the isolation of illness. I've lived for 40+ years with chronic pain from a 'perfect storm' of health issues, from congenital birth defect to the results of a bad fall and a bad car accident. I am incredibly thankful for God's strength, provision, and peace...and the lessons learned, the molding and shaping of the Potter's hand. People have prayed over me more times than I can count for healing, rarely at my request but because they love me. God is so good. He has brought amazing healing, not what my precious friends prayed for, but what I needed so much more than the physical. I've met more people than I could ever have conceived as a direct result of living with chronic pain. Wow! God has brought phenomenal blessing because I'm not well enough to work, but thankfully well enough to attend a weekly Biblestudy. Above all else, I don't think I would ever have begun to know and love Jesus the way I do if I'd been able bodied and healthy. Would I like to be pain free? In a heart beat! But this I know, ❤️ His strength is sufficient for me because His power is made perfect in weakness. Thank you for allowing Him to work in your life, and sharing that journey with others who need encouragement and the hope that's all about Jesus.

    1. oh PJ, your comment, your testimony encourages me so much. i'm so sorry you have lived with chronic pain for 40+ years. yet i can completely relate to your sentiment that you don't think you would ever have begun to know and love Jesus the way you do if you'd been able bodied and healthy. that's the whole point, isn't it? and that's oftentimes how it works, the intimate fellowship with Him (& others!) in the suffering.

      i couldn't help but think of a selah song i love called "through it all." are you familiar with it? if not, let me know & i'll send you a link. it echoes your heartbeat & mine.

      and this, PJ:
      "He has brought amazing healing, not what my precious friends prayed for, but what I needed so much more than the physical."

      oh my YES. wow, you & me BOTH, friend. you & me both . . .

      i'm so very glad you stopped by, PJ. thanks for taking the time to comment. please come again, will you?


  4. Love your blog!! I need you to show me how to add it to my Google Blog Reader.... and I could use some tutoring on making my blog as lovely and interesting as yours!

    1. awww, i'm so HONORED you stopped by! and commented!

      and oh boy, i'm not sure i'll be much help w/ the technical stuff b/c with blogger, there's simply a big ol' button that says "add" when you want to add a blog to your blog reader. (my kinda set up!) ;) in the meantime, you could plug in your e-mail to receive it that way. (there's a spot on the right side of my blog just below my bio.)

      most importantly, how ARE you? please tell me the worst of your flu is behind you . . . ?

      thinking of you. hang in there, girl.

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  6. I am enjoying reading your blog so much! I missed it during your sabbatical last year. :-( Once again, my delay in reading this post was actually perfect timing for me because I just recently processed many similar feelings. I have always been a stuffer (yet another thing we have in common!), and I just recently have also experienced the freedom of allowing myself to feel and express those feelings. I absolutely love when you wrote, "it’s in our allowing ourselves to feel that keeps our feelings alive, keeps our souls alive." Wow, again, perfectly expresses what I have experienced lately. When I stuffed my emotions, my soul was slowly dying. Now that I am expressing and (sometimes) expelling those emotions, Jesus is breathing life back into my soul. Thank you, Jesus! And thank you, dear friend, for so beautifully using your gift of writing to serve us by offering a safe place to come and know that we are not alone, you understand, you care, you are praying for us, and you love us. This is a community that you are blessing tremendously, and your Father is well pleased. He is so proud of you, Tanya. He is bragging and boasting about you, His precious princess. :-)


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