I’ve been in the desert for about 8 years now…
Just before we left Michigan in 2007, our church fell apart in a painful, ugly split, my family of origin began the “dysfunctional disenfranchisement” (as I fondly refer to it), our closest friends seemed to step back a bit in preparation for the upcoming 1/2 of a country away separation, and another group of women who had regularly met in my home for several years, and I counted as good friends, suddenly excluded me, hurting me deeply. Just after leaving Michigan we began making two huge house payments because we couldn’t sell our house in Michigan and we purchased a brand new, furnished home in Texas. A year after we moved to Texas, with our finances depleted, a week after we had decided to foreclose on our Michigan home, we sold it by paying the buyer $1200!
When we arrived, we knew almost no one. Finding a homeschool community for our kiddos was my priority for the first several months. The kids and I spent time exploring Austin and figuring out where we could fit in. My husband struggled to find a place to fit in musically and had a rough time of adjusting to returning to teaching in a new state, especially with his wife and children in Michigan for the first 4 months he was in Texas without us. We would talk on the phone for 1-4 hours every night. He was incredibly lonely and I was busy at home in Michigan packing, cramming in last visits, and as much school as possible trying to be both parents to our kiddos who missed their daddy a bunch.
The first 6 months in Texas were lonely for me, but I was busy painting the kids’ rooms, finding homeschool groups and activities for my kids, as well as getting acclimated to our new surroundings. Sometime after that first 6 months, things began to go sour in our marriage. My Honey couldn’t find a band to join that fit his style or his talents. He felt like he moved to the Live Music Capital of the World to really use his gifts and then he couldn’t figure out how to get into the “scene.” He was also in his early 40’s, suddenly making much less than he had. He was still recovering from the beating he took for almost a decade at his previous job. It took awhile to find a church that we all liked, and I was still licking my wounds from what had happened at our church in Michigan. Many of my closest and oldest friendships just disintegrated once we moved here. When I was most lonely and reaching out, my dearest friends turned away. Our small group in Michigan was one of those rare, transparent, supportive circle of friends that some only dream of being a part of and we are blessed that a few of them have supported us and loved us, long distance, through this past 8 years.
For the first time in our marriage, I was unable to hold everything together. I was completely and utterly broken. Too many things had gone wrong and I was so very alone… and, honestly, I could only be a Stepford wife for so many years before the facade came crashing down around me. So, it did… and I mean, BUT GOOD!!!
I was in the worst place emotionally I had ever been in. I spent several weeks meticulously planning my suicide. My only requirement was that I didn’t look too horrific if my children found me – you know, because there’s a good way for your kids to find you dead by your own hand… I isolated myself almost completely. I had no one close enough in Texas to confide in and I didn’t feel like I could reach out to any of my loved ones in Michigan because that’s who I was… Helping others, never asking for help. Not only because I truly love to help people, but also because I hope others will come to love me if I offer them enough (because I’m not) and because I have a deep fear that if I ask for help or support when I’m weak, I will find that no one cares enough to help me, so I wear my armor almost always. It’s one of the things I most dislike about myself and one of the things I am working hardest to change… daily…
Well, a bunch of particulars happened during this time, but they’re not important to this story. Suffice it to say that we decided to go to counseling – both separately and together – and our marriage improved immensely over the course of a year or two. My husband began to treasure me and for the first time he truly saw me – because I allowed him to.
Things seemed to be going in the right direction for a few years. We began teaching together, we argued less than ever, we went to church every week together, and we talked constantly. My husband was forever trying to be who I needed him to be. I slowly became more and more bitter as time passed. I just felt so angry with him and almost all of the wonderful things about him didn’t mean much for very long if he did anything else not perfectly. I cringe when I think of how ugly my behavior became over a few years. Our children tried to point out that I was not treating their dad with respect, especially since I had worked very hard to instill in them a godly picture of what a Christian wife should be and act like. I hardly listened to them. I felt justified in my resentment and even more so when I felt my children were choosing their father over me. Each time he would hurt or offend me, I would deposit my animosity into my bank of bitterness and my account collected interest exponentially. My former arrogance is my present shame…
I made very few good friendships in 8 years of living here. The ones I did make didn’t go too far, mostly because of the mistrust I had developed in recent years piled on top of the lovely martyr complex designed to keep me “safe” and because I didn’t really have anyone to confide in, I was terrified that I would vomit all over someone if I started to talk, so my walls were now thicker than ever.
I had some sunny days here and there, but I had started to feel that 8 years in the desert deep in my core. I was accepting that there was really nothing to like about me since no one seemed to want to truly know me here. I was almost complacent, it seemed. I think the pain of accepting that was almost more than I could bear, so I became numb. I know now that I was moving toward believing God felt the same way about me and even toward not believing He existed at all. I prayed, I read my Bible, I listened to praise music, I went to Bible studies, and I attended small group, and church. I even watched some of those terrible over-acted Christian movies! I just felt more and more lost or forgotten or punished…
We started attending a small group – the 4th one because I just couldn’t feel comfortable in the three before this one. One of the leaders there mentioned a women’s retreat that she was attending after being asked repeatedly to go to over the previous year. I immediately looked the retreat up on my phone. It was pricey, I’m not gonna lie. Something in me (God?) told me that I had to go. So, I got online, signed up, payed the deposit and emailed my list of questions to the leader.
I almost canceled daily, but He made it clear to me that I had to go. I hadn’t heard Him in such a long time that I was NOT going to blow this! I spent many hours talking myself out of the fear of disappointment. I was prepared to face that I didn’t matter and the little hope I had left would be completely gone if this was not at the very least a life-changing event for me. I worried that I would emotionally vomit all over these unsuspecting women who didn’t even know me. I worried my roommate(s) wouldn’t like me, the food would be unhealthy and filled with gmo’s, I wouldn’t be Christian enough, my clothes would be wrong, etc., etc. – and then I started my period the day before I left, and now a days, this is no small matter! Seriously?!
So, I drove 4 hours to get there and ate dinner with 12 strangers. I was wrapped tighter than a Baptist minister’s wife’s girdle! (Come on! That was funny…) I was in the abyss between desperately (truly desperately) needing to share my story, having human connection, finding some hope, and making a complete fool of myself and being rejected. So, when the time came to share the “why” of our attendance, both of the women before me, who were in my age group, spoke of how wonderful their marriages and husbands were. I remember thinking, “OMG, I feel like such a loser.” I was truly terrified of how to tell my story, so, I vomited and became as vulnerable as I could because I felt like it was my last chance. I had also paid several hundred bucks and the “frugal” part of me couldn’t live with not giving my money’s worth!
It was exhausting, unbelievably emotional, embarrassing, and somewhat freeing… only somewhat…
For the rest of the evening I was reasonably silent. I felt like I had said too much already and I didn’t want to be that person at the retreat. – You know, the one who makes everything about her, vomits her junk on everyone else and just won’t shut-up? Before we went to bed that night we all chose a large rock and were instructed to decorate it in a way that represented what we wanted to leave behind this weekend. For some this was a temporary thing, like worrying about their small children, for me, it was a permanent thing that had been haunting me for the past several years during what I refer to as my “midlife unraveling.” My rock said “REGRET” on it.
The following morning as we all worshiped next to the river, I looked all around me and I was completely overwhelmed by the beauty of these sisters-in-Christ each worshiping our Father in extraordinarily breathtaking splendor. It was at that moment I knew I was ready to release my rock/regrets and I lobbed that bad-boy into the river with tears streaming down my face and hope in my heart. It felt like the beginning of my own little miracle was just beginning…
The retreat was not easy. It wasn’t fluff or anecdotal Christian b.s. It has been 3 1/2 weeks and I’m still not completed recovered. It was hard, true, deep, excruciating. It was fun, acceptance, encouragement, Christ – the real deal. It was sisterhood, bonding. It was hope! It was all I had longed for and so much more and it just washed over me for days. Sometimes it lapped gently and other times it bowled me right over like a tidal wave.
It was healing…
Our leaders told us that we would spend most of the day taking turns in the “love chair.” They acknowledged that this was one of the most difficult parts of the weekend for many women, especially the ones who had a difficult time receiving. I spent the entire day enjoying through tears, smiles and laughter each of my sisters as they took their turn in the love chair – except when I was dreading my own turn. I continually envisioned myself walking out of the house, getting in my car and driving home. I was terrified…
I survived. It was one of the few precious moments in my life that I felt completely adored by my Father, loved and accepted by women, and healed of my bitterness. No matter how old I grow to be, it will always be one of the most sacred, unforgettable, life-changing moments of my whole, entire everything.
I thought I attended because I feel like teaching is not where I belong much longer. I was hoping He would show me the path I was meant to travel professionally. I hoped I could figure out how to become the girl people want to be friends with. I concentrated on those two areas for the most part. I decided the day before my last at the retreat to focus on my marriage for the exercise we were doing, because I hadn’t really and it just seemed like the thing to do since there wasn’t much time left. I realized earlier in the day that I had fallen madly in love with Jesus again and with the person He made me to be. That evening, as I focused on my husband and what had happened in our 26 years together, I began to see him clearly. I saw how patiently and lovingly he had waited for me the past several years. I saw how arrogant I had been. I was convicted about my treatment of him, the example I had set for our kiddos and how slowly all of this had crept up on my and how unwilling I was to see it. But, more than anything else, I fell deeply and madly in-love with the man that my amazing, who God made for me, husband is.
The last day was my “rubber hits the road” planning day. Part of that was deciding how, where and when I would ask my husband’s and our children’s forgiveness for my many transgressions in recent years. Part of that was forgiving myself and accepting the human parts of me by loving myself unconditionally and extending grace to myself much like I have so willingly done with others in my life. This was so much more difficult than I realized and even more necessary. I am still overcome with the truth that my own lack of self-love and grace was in large part what stood between me and embracing my Heavenly Father’s unconditional love. The word “FREEDOM” was continually whispered in my mind for days.
For 8 years I was in a desert place in almost all areas of my life. I never turned from God, but I dishonored Him more than I want to admit, BUT I AM. I felt myself slipping away, although I would’ve sworn at the time it was Him moving in the other direction. I loved my husband, but I despised so much of who I thought he was. I shudder when I think what might have happened had my friend not “mentioned” the retreat, had I not made the decision to check it out and spend that wad of cash with my husband’s encouragement. I kept fighting for what I hoped was in my future. I kept listening, though less frequently and with less hope, for God’s still, small voice to bring me up for air and give me something to believe in.
I was brave. I persevered. After being shattered into a million pieces, I gathered myself, licking my wounds for a bit too long and with way too much self-indignation, but still, I gathered myself. I got in my way a whole bunch more than any sane person should. I sinned more than usual… and I will have more moments of sin in my immediate and far-off future, God willing. I mean I hope it’s His will that I have a far-off future, not that I’ll have more moments of excessive sin.
He waited for me. Patiently, lovingly, quietly, all while leading and teaching me as only He can. He waited for this haughty, isolated, prodigal daughter. He gave me back my heart, full of love and grace and a bunch of other good stuff. Parts of me are stronger and more resilient and parts of me are more tender and fragile. This Broken & Healed Tricia is so much better than the old one.
I think the very coolest part about how this all transpired is that He healed me in such a way that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that HE did it. It’s a miracle to remove such deep rooted bitterness from a heart in an instant. I could NEVER have done that alone or even with help, as my treasured children attempted to do on the regular.
Can you stand it?! That’s how much He loves us! Not for what we do, but for who we are in HIM!!! Please don’t give up. Please persevere. YOU are so very worth it. You are His Beloved.