Making Peace with My Father–The Story Behind the Story

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This month my Dad and I are featured in Outlook Magazine for the theme “Making Peace with your Family.” The story? Dad didn’t come to my wedding twelve years ago, and we both thought it was because the other one wanted it that way. We miscommunicated.

In the magazine you can read the story of how this miscommunication happened and what we did about it–a vow renewal ceremony this January–but here I want to share some behind-the-scenes tidbits and photos and sing the praises of the wonderful people who made this act of peacemaking possible.

The Story Begins

This vow renewal started as a simple pitch for a magazine article, but when Brenda Dickerson, Outlook editor, asked me for a photo to accompany the story–preferably one of Dad and me–wheels started turning in my head. Dad and I didn’t have any recent photos together, much less any magazine-worthy shots. What if I could get him to fly to Missouri (from Minnesota) to take some pictures?

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Over the course of forty-eight hours I mulled this over, and the idea got bigger and bigger. What if we posed in a church? Then, what if I wore my wedding dress? Finally, what if we just went all out and did a vow renewal ceremony and had Dad walk me down the aisle like he should have done twelve years ago?

I didn’t tell Dad about all these ideas at first, just said the magazine wanted to feature our story and would he come to Missouri to spend some time with his grandkids and take some pictures? He liked the idea, so we purchased a plane ticket. And when I pitched the idea of the vow renewal to Brenda, she was all for it.

So with four weeks until deadline, I began planning the wedding I’d never had. I emailed my pastor, a photographer, and other church friends–decorators, pianists, schedulers. The woman who didn’t want a wedding twelve years ago (and who didn’t plan a wedding then, either), was suddenly thrust into four weeks of wedding planning. Whew.

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Helping Hands Make Light Work

By God’s grace, I didn’t have to do a lot of the planning. My Missouri church family pitched in in ways I never could have expected. Pastor presented us with sample vow renewals, printed up invitations, and met with us to do a  run-through. Our friend James heartily agreed to take our photos. His wife and our friend Ana sang our song, “God Bless the Broken Road.” Another friend, Rebecca, took it upon herself to decorate the sanctuary and fellowship hall, which included begging, borrowing, and shopping for items like table decorations, pillars, and an arch. My friend and prayer partner Nancy was happy to play the piano for us; my other friend and prayer partner, Naomi, lent us her beautiful daughter, Sophia, for flower girl; and others pitched in with last minute details like childcare and dress zipping.

(Funny story: we couldn’t actually get my dress zipped up on the big day, so you’ll notice I am wearing a shawl in the pictures. Now that that’s over, I am happy to retire the dress for good. [I never want to get married again.] Rest in Peace, Dress.)

All that to say, it was no small task to throw together a wedding in four weeks–but my dear friends made it possible and more beautiful than anything I could have come up with on my own (even if I’d planned for a year!). So thank you, thank you, thank you, Friends, for your hard work and the love you showed. Our vow renewal not only healed hurting hearts, but it also showed me the love of Jesus. On the day we remarried, I can truly say I saw the body of Christ at work.

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Final Tidbits

Now, as far as Dad’s visit and the actual vow renewal, I’ll be honest: I enjoyed the visit more than the vow renewal. I learned that there are good reasons to plan a wedding and celebrate a marriage before having kids. For one, at your reception, you actually get to have your cake and eat it too (i.e., you are not trying to feed the baby, or keep him from touching your dress with spaghetti sauce). It’s hard to savor the moments of a wedding and reception when rounding up little children…but I digress.

There are good reasons to celebrate a marriage after kids, too. The vow renewal allowed Buc and me to recommit ourselves to each other at the most stressful time in our marriage yet (young parenthood). While planning the vow renewal did not bring out the best in us behavior-wise, it did show me that Buc is committed to me no matter what. And it gave me a chance to reflect on where I have erred as a wife and how I can do better. I took the renewal as a new start in our marriage, and just as we have beautiful photos to show for a stressful event, I can remember that God will leave us with joy and good memories after the hard times have passed.

On a final note to this story, I had a beautiful visit with my father, and outside of the big day, we did find some time to sit and savor each other’s company. These days, living so far apart, it’s rare for us to see each other, and we’ve missed lots of mundane, but precious moments that families were meant to share. Seeing my dad be “Grandpa” to his two grandsons–cuddling, roughhousing, and laughing with them–was worth every dollar we spent on the ceremony.

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In life, it’s the little things, like “chips with Grandpa” and rides up and down the escalator, that really count. Well, and the big things, too. (To any non-marrieds out there, please make sure you clearly invite your family to your wedding–a do plan a wedding–because you will regret it later if you don’t). I am so thankful for the opportunity Outlook gave me to celebrate both types of moments with my Dad. It took us long enough, but we finally made some happy wedding memories–and lots of happy memories besides. Thank you, Lord, for your power to restore what was once lost.

 

 

Re-Wedding Pics

Photos by James Plumery

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Three Reasons Why You Should Tell Your Story…and the Three Audiences You Should Tell

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Signing books at the Seventh-day Adventist Gulf States Women’s Retreat. Photo credit: Heather Severance.

“Sharing our stories of how God has saved us is the best way to share the gospel,” I told my audience at the Gulf States Women’s Retreat this November. That’s what I said, and over the course of the weekend that’s what I did. Stories, as Jesus well knew and demonstrated in his ministry, have a way of penetrating the heart like pure information cannot—and for this I am glad. It means I don’t have to be a Bible scholar to share Jesus, I just have to be willing to share what Jesus has done for me.

You see, stories from the heart open up other hearts in beautiful, sometimes painful, but also healing ways. After my first talk (of four), one woman caught my shoulder and said, “I need to talk to you,” and proceeded, for two hours, to tearfully tell me a story she’d “never told anyone” before. The next day, one woman after another approached me to confide their own stories of pain. “I could tell you some stories,” grandmother-aged women winked at me over lunch, and proceeded to do so. Over a thirty-six hour period, I heard stories of abuse, divorce, death, and attempted suicide, and not just me–the women started talking to one another! Praise God, this was one of my goals for the weekend: to get the women talking. To get them telling their stories.

But How Do I Know If I Should Share? 

“But how do I know if my story should actually be shared, and if it’s actually going to bring glory to God or not?” the question came to me anonymously on Sabbath afternoon during a roundtable discussion. Good question, and I’ll answer it with the remainder of this blog.

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Photo Credit: April Hobbs

The short answer is: defining your audience and purpose for sharing will guide you as to what to share, and when.

Defining your audience and purpose for sharing will guide you as to what to share, and when.

Each act of communication—each story we tell—has an audience and a purpose. What are yours? Let’s look at three levels of storytelling I have identified in my Christian/writing journey. You’ll see that each level has a different audience and purpose, and they all build upon one another to eventually lead to sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, or our ultimate goal as Christians. Let’s talk about the audience and purpose for sharing the ugly stuff first.

Level One: Start Small

Purpose: To Heal from Your Pain and Your Past

Audience: God and One or Two Trusted People 

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Two attendees at the women’s retreat. Photo Credit: April Hobbs

If you’ve read Ending the Pain, you know that I believe sharing our painful stories is a first and necessary step in the journey to new life (whether we’re talking “new life” as Christians or “new life” after trauma). But when you are still in pain, with wounds still fresh, your first purpose for sharing must be to help you—not to witness to others.

I resent when Christians and churches ignore this part of our Christian journey—the part where we are broken and need healing—and simply tell us to go witness to others. Uh uh. Nope. True discipleship doesn’t work like that, because we can’t share what we don’t have. (See Part 2 of my book, the “New Beginnings” chapters, to read how effective we are when hiding behind plastic smiles at church. [Not very]).

Who should we tell our stories to when we are still broken and bleeding? Share them with a small audience that includes God and at least one other person—a spouse, a friend, or a trusted pastor or counselor. I don’t know why, but there is something freeing in the simple act of putting our stories outside ourselves—maybe it’s the new perspective and validation we gain; maybe it’s the support that comes when others suddenly know how to pray for us or help us. Whatever it is, it’s important to tell someone how you are hurting as a first step to healing.

Level Two: Identifying with Others

Audience: A Small Group

Purpose: To Get Support from and Give Support to Others Who Have Gone Through the Same Things

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More attendees at the Women’s Retreat. Photo Credit: April Hobbs

The next step to healing and moving your story outside of yourself is to tell a small group. Sometimes you will have to search for a group, and other times it will come together organically, as has happened recently in my life.

Three women at my “new” church in Missouri (my post Ending the Pain church) read my book and caught on to what I was presenting, and all three reached out and asked me for the prayer ministry I described receiving in the book. After praying with two of them individually and repeatedly over the summer (becoming their “one” person to confide in for a time), I gathered them into a small group because it felt like time to take their healing to the next level (also because I couldn’t keep up the pace of all the prayer appointments!). These two women had begun to feel hope through connecting to Jesus in prayer and sharing their story with me, and it was time for them to find support in connecting with one another.

We’ve met three times now as a group, and it’s been a beautiful thing to watch them open up to one another (as I once did with my initial, Ending the Pain, prayer groups), realizing that other Christians struggle in the same ways they do. I have witnessed such relief in their faces and postures and words as they learn it’s actually okay to talk about their ugly stuff…in this audience, among kindred spirits, among others who “get” their pain.

This is key at the second level (and the first): choose your audience well. It’s already hard to share and be vulnerable, so make sure you will be safe when you share. Don’t believe the lie that no one else has gone through this. Oh, what a lie! (There is nothing new under the sun.) Pray for God to show you those who will understand, accept, and support you. When you find this audience, as the ladies in my group have “found” one another, you’ll find not only the release of telling your story, but also the blessing of identification. You will be blessed at hearing others’ stories, and you know what? Suddenly, though you are still a work in progress, you will be blessing others! You’re not all better yet, but the beauty of opening your broken heart to Jesus and several trusted others begins the process of sharing your story for God’s glory. You and your small group get to watch, together, as you are transformed into God’s likeness. Now that’s a testimony!

Level Three: Going Public

Audience: Anyone the Lord Moves You to Tell

Purpose: To Comfort Others with the Comfort You Have Received

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During my third talk, I shared a bit about my publishing journey, I talked about story structures in the Bible (and in all our lives), and I encouraged the women to also tell their stories for God’s glory. Photo Credit: Heather Severance

When it feels comfortable and natural to share your story, when it ends with victory in Jesus, and when it no longer hurts (very much) to tell, praise God! You have gained a testimony that has gone past the “rough draft” stage and is ready for a larger audience. You are ready to share your story for God’s glory, not only to a couple close friends, but to whomever God moves you to tell.

That said, the audience for “public” sharing varies. We are not all called to go hugely public, and that’s okay. We all have a sphere of influence that only we can reach, whether it is one person or one thousand. The point here is, if God has changed your life for the better, you have a testimony, and because you are a Christian, you are called to share it with someone, some audience. Whether that audience is Aunt Mabel or coworker Bob or your book club or Bible study group—or whether God calls you to write a blog or publish a book or give a talk—God wants you to be ready to share the reason for the hope you have (1 Pet. 3:15).

Still Scared to Share?

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Gulf States Women’s Ministries leader, April Hobbs, praying with me before a talk. Photo credit: Heather Severance

Now, what if you have found victory in Jesus but still get weak-kneed at the thought of sharing? First I’d encourage you that even Bible giants like Moses got scared, and I’d remind you, as God reminded Moses, that God was the one who made Moses’ mouth (Ex. 4:10, 11); it is God who works in you to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13); and it is God who will embolden you to share. Just as you learned to ask him for healing in your hurt places, ask him to prepare you to speak to the audience he has for you. And he will. And guess what? The more you share, the easier it will get, until you realize that sharing your story is as easy as simply having a conversation.

Last Thoughts

Finally, after decades of not knowing how to “share Jesus,” I know what to say to people when they ask me about my faith: I just tell them my story. And I hope you, dear reader, are feeling encouraged to do the same…if and when you are ready.

But before you bust out a blog or a Facebook rant, first check your audience and purpose for sharing your story today. Ask yourself, and God, these questions to help you figure out when and where to share:

  • Is this primarily about me, or is it about God working in me?
  • Do I need more healing before I make this public?
  • Could I benefit from sharing this with a small group?
  • Am I at a point where my story would benefit others? Whom?
  • Will my story be good news to someone? Lots of people?
  • Finally, can I share my story publicly without needing approval from everyone? Perhaps a certain demographic won’t like it, but does it speak true of God and have the potential to bless more lives than it would ruffle feathers? (Remember, Jesus certainly didn’t base his ministry on approval ratings!)

Only God can answer these questions for you, but one thing I know: wherever you are right now, God can rewrite your sad story, and he can finish the good work the he has begun in you. We all have stories of sadness, suffering, sin, or struggle, but by God’s grace, over time, they can all become testimonies to the good news of Jesus Christ; they can all have happy endings.

Just Don’t Leave Me

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from Creative Commons

I sat in the bathroom last Sunday sobbing. The words I feel so alone and abandoned throbbed in my heart.

Buc was leaving that morning. I’d known it was coming, but it wasn’t supposed to happen so soon. He was supposed to stay with me for at least half the day before leaving for his eight-day trip to Texas. Instead, he’d woken up worried about a rumored buyout in his company, saying he had to get on the road by 8 a.m.

Don’t leave me! My mind screamed, and I’d frowned at him and wrung my hands and then run to the bathroom. Don’t leave me all alone with our two small children.

It felt, at that moment, like the worst thing in the world to be left alone, although I didn’t know why I was reacting so strongly to this planned business trip.

Maybe it was because, for the past week, worried about the buyout, he’d already been gone—mentally. Maybe it was because I already felt like I was failing as a mother, even with him here. What was I going to do with him gone?

Maybe it’s because I have a negative root* in my heart, I finally thought, and asked God to talk to me about it.

Roots of Abandonment

No doubt my reaction of abandonment stems from roots laid early in life, when my mom left our family to start another, and when my shattered family left me without a safe place to call home. Those roots don’t go away very easily, I’m finding, as I tie other behaviors in my current life to fears of abandonment and aloneness. (Who knew I drank coffee because I don’t want to be alone? Because I just want to have a tangible comfort available to me at all times?)

Silly as it may sound, it came as news to me that I—an authority on “ending pain”—still suffer from a fear of abandonment.

It is humbling, being attacked head-on by an old fear I thought was gone. It is a call to pay attention: pay attention to the beliefs in my heart, and pay attention to the Author of my soul, who can right any wrong beliefs.

Never Alone

Over the last five years, I have learned that I am never alone; God is with me, and he even provides the human support and support systems to help me where I lack. I believe this with every breath of my body. And I am so relieved to have met my Lord and Suffering Messiah, Jesus, who also suffered being alone and abandoned in his time of need so he could identify with me. Now that I have re-realized the roots of some of my behaviors (fear of abandonment and being alone), I can pray through them, and I can connect my story to Jesus’ story, and ask him for his strength when I feel alone and abandoned.

This doesn’t mean the sense of aloneness and abandonment will ever, completely, go away on this earth. It does mean I can trust Jesus to comfort me in my heart, and I can also ask him for wisdom to get help in the physical world when I need it.

Seeking and Accepting Help

So I poured out my heart to Jesus sitting on my toilet last Sunday, telling him I didn’t want to be alone for the next week, that it felt like more than I could bear.

I sat and cried and prayed a good while, until Buc knocked on the door. “Are you alright?”

“No,” I sobbed. Not yet. “But don’t come in, I’m using the bathroom.” (With two little kids, you have to use every available opportunity.) Still waiting on you, Lord.

Then, a crazy idea sprang up. What if I went with him? This, despite my vow four months ago, the last time we did a family business trip, that I would not subject my kids and myself to the craziness of traveling so far away, for so long, again, if I didn’t have to.

If I went, sure, we might mess up the kids’ sleep schedules again. There might be hours of crying in the car. I’d lose a week of writing time to travel. These things were certain. And I might go a little nuts at my in-laws’ house for a week.

But then again, I might not.

And if I went, I wouldn’t have to be alone.

I wouldn’t have to be alone.

That settled it.

My writing and house projects could wait, as could our week’s planned menu and errands. As long as I could have help with the most difficult part of  my life (my parenting), I would forgo my happy writing plans and comfortable kid setup at home.

I was a little annoyed remembering how many times my plans had been stalled over the past two years for these family business trips; but the state of my mental health told me that going with my husband was the most important thing right now. And so I write this blog post from a hotel room after our life’s latest interruption.

Tomorrow I will head back home to resume my Writer plans and projects, namely preparing four talks for a women’s retreat this month and a new book I am co-writing (more on that later)– AKA, the professional parts of my life, or the parts of my life where I feel most comfortable and polished and put-together. Strangely, I haven’t written anything about these projects on this blog since beginning them because it has taken every ounce of energy I have, after mothering and wifing, to do them. It has been hard juggling all of these parts of life–so hard that I don’t know what I have left to offer blog readers.

Maybe this admission is enough (and I guess I felt that it was worth posting): that I am still struggling with bad roots. They still strangle me at times. But I am still trusting God, and by His grace, I continue to take the next breath.

By the next time I post, I will have spoken to a large group of women four times at an inspirational women’s retreat. Please pray for me as I prepare for this exciting, yet intimidating errand for God. I look forward to seeing him show up yet again in my messy life!

 

*On this blog, I use “root” to refer to a negative past event or lie from Satan.

It’s Here! Announcing Ending the Pain, My Memoir!

IMG_3373What a month! After three years of blogging and writing about God’s intervention in my messy life, the uncut version of my story is out there for the world to read. And I’m at home, four weeks postpartum, wearing sweatpants and trying to keep up with dishes. Somehow, I thought this moment would feel more climactic. But hey, I’m four weeks postpartum and not depressed, even after a history of life-threatening depression (the topic of my book), so I’ll go ahead and say life is great!

If there’s one malady I’m suffering from, it’s postpartum brain failure, or what I’m calling “Mommy brain.” I’m not sure what the technical term is, I just know my mind is scattered these days–I’m forgetful, absentminded, and spacey–and I don’t like how that feels. I think I read in some pregnancy book that this is normal; and I suppose it’s probably worse because I’m currently preoccupied with not only my new son, but also with the release of my new book. So it’s not a tragic condition, just annoying. As long as I can keep my kids, my husband, and myself cared for in this season, I suppose we’re good.

Needless to say, I don’t have much time, energy, or brain capacity to promote my book. And at first this distressed me. (Because doesn’t everything written about book publishing stress “promotion, promotion, promotion”?). But then I decided maybe the timing of this book release was for the best. If I had more available brain matter right now, I think I’d be stressing over book promotion a lot. And I’d be tempted to forget one of the main lessons I wrote about in my memoir: learning that God’s strength is made perfect in my weakness.

So here I am, bedecked in stretchy pants, hands full of babies, sink full of dishes…just stealing a moment away from momming to tell you my book has been published, and I’m leaving the rest up to God (and you, dear reader!).

And with that book announcement made (a week late, nonetheless), I’m getting back to my two tiny tots–they will never be this little again–to try to embrace a life that continues to be messy…but now, messy in a wonderful sort of way.

*You can purchase my book at adventistbookcenter.com or Amazon.com.