When we share our personal stories, we remind one another that that we’re not alone, that this life is a challenge, and that there is comfort and hope. So today, I’m getting pretty raw and sharing where my heart and mind have been lately.
It’s been a long two years.
On December 22 of this year, we drove my younger adult son to the hospital for surgery on his broken collarbone, an injury from a motorcycle accident he was involved in earlier this month. He is fine, thanks in huge part to the full protective gear he was wearing, but my stress level was off the charts that day.
Even so, that didn’t begin to compare to my stress level two years earlier on December 22, 2019, when an event happened that I alluded to a couple of times on my blog. It’s still something that I shouldn’t share widely—not wholly my story to tell—but suffice it to say that some family-of-origin information came to light that shattered some previous assumptions.
Thus began two really hard years that I would describe with the single word UPHEAVAL. In between these two events have been numerous life changes and struggles, including a reordering of certain relationships. It has sometimes felt like I’m standing on a fault line with the tectonic plates moving beneath me. There’s been no single earthquake, but a series of tremors and ground shifts that have made it hard at times to keep my balance.
Two other seasons in my life I’ve felt this unmoored:
- In my young adult years when I was wrestling with sexual promiscuity and my faith.
- When my marriage was on the brink of breakup.
Season 1: I started with a damaged heart.
I’d like to say I had an idyllic childhood, but I didn’t. I had some great experiences, but I come from a rather dysfunctional family. While I’ve mulled over my past plenty of times, it’s only been in these last couple of years that I’ve admitted some particularly difficult realities to myself—specifically, that I was abused. Not directly, as far too many were (and are), but abuse, neglect, and mistreatment were woven throughout my family tree. And if I told specific stories, you’d all agree that my home was not emotionally safe.
It was from this background that I came into womanhood longing for acceptance, affirmation, and affection. If only I could whisper into Young Me’s ear that I could find all of those in Christ and a community of believers who followed Him faithfully. But at that point, I hadn’t found that family or church sated my deep desire to be known and loved.
So, I went looking, as the song says, for love in all the wrong places. And for brief moments in the arms of various men, I found a counterfeit version of what I wanted. Of course, it didn’t satisfy, didn’t last, and came with a toll on my life and those I was with.
Plus, my Christian faith floundered, big time. How could it not? I was purporting to believe in God and His plan, all while erasing boundary after boundary until my life looked a whole lot like an unbeliever’s.
My breaking point came my last year of college when I realized I had to decide once for all whether Christianity—and its calls for sexual integrity—had any hold on me. Would I walk away? Or struggle through?
Obviously, I struggled through. I’m not sure I would have made it but for reading the Gospel of John and discovering the true Lord. Not the flannel board Jesus I’d grown up with in Sunday school, or the white-bearded God who kept track of your deeds like some fiery youth pastors taught, or just a Jewish teacher who gave us some of the best motivational quotes ever. Nope. I encountered the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
I didn’t snap to a perfect life by any means, but I stepped out of the pit and began to build a better life. Over time, I found my footing and deepened my faith.
Season 2: A failing marriage broke my heart.
Notice that I didn’t say failed, because my story has a good ending. Some of you didn’t get that good ending and had to start over, and some of you are in the thick of hardship now and don’t know how things will come out. But I suspect a lot of you read that sentence (“A failing marriage broke my heart”) and nodded.
We started out good(ish), but a few years later my husband and I were in meltdown. Having learned the lessons of Season 1, I was determined to turn to God and believe that He would save us. After many months and more tears than I can count, I not only had the emotional pain of tension, conflict, and loneliness in my marriage, I felt that it was all so unfair. Had I been sinning like before, I could understand, but I was giving it my all and what did I have to show for it?
Oh, the arrogance. Yep, that’s how I see it now—as if I expected God to reward my good behavior with a gold-star marriage. When God was trying the whole time to tell me that I wasn’t that good. I was demanding that both God and my husband meet my felt needs, rather than living out the Fruit of the Spirit in my relationships.
If I had to choose a breaking point, it would be picking up a book about whether to stay or go. I’ve written about that experience before, but essentially, I concluded that I was in this marriage for the long haul. So, we were just going to have to figure out how to make it better, and since my husband hadn’t done everything I thought he should do (oh, the arrogance), I was just going to have to do it myself.
Finally ready to look at myself more honestly, God informed me that I really did have work to do. And that work began, once again, with letting Him mold me. I stepped out of the pit and began the long-yet-worthwhile journey of building a happy marriage.
Season 3: My heart cracked, again.
Two years ago, things began to fall apart. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised by another hard season. But yet again, I’d fooled myself into thinking that—having built a solid foundation, healthy relationships, and a sweet life—it would be fairly smooth sailing from here on out. Yes, life would throw bad things at me, but I was going to be a-okay.
I haven’t felt a-okay these last couple of years. Rather, I have experienced such letdowns as:
- Learning more and delving deeper into past family and childhood wounds and admitting that I was abused, even if not directly, and by both parents.
- Stepping away from a toxic relationship with a family member, at least until something on their end changes.
- A worldwide pandemic that affected all of us, including me, by altering a lot of life plans we’d had—from launching a grown son to moving and more.
- A nine-month illness that left me feeling lost and useless much of the time—my own immune system betraying me, so to speak.
- A medical system that did not recognize my ailment as soon as they should have, partly due to economic and reputational incentives.
- Losing a friendship and working relationship with someone I deeply respected when she chose a path I could not travel with her.
- My beloved (now former) church choosing politics over people, not realizing that’s what they were doing or at least the message they were sending.
- Friends and family limiting contact or insulting my husband and/or me because of our disagreement with their political viewpoints.
- A nose surgery that did not correct the pressure/pain I was feeling; rather, it’s now worse. (Despite feeling much better overall, I finally acknowledged a couple of weeks ago how often I’m in pain with my sinuses and headaches.)
In one sense, this hard season has been better than the other two—I cannot point to any large issue that just sank me. But it’s been more exhausting because the struggles touched all areas of my life and kept coming one after the other. If the first two seasons of pit-like difficulty were stabs to the heart, this last season has been a hundred pricks to the heart.
None of this begins to compare to the trauma so many have endured! If that’s you, I’m so sorry. I wish I could hold your hand, just listen to your story, and weep with you.
Lord, unbreak my heart.
When your heart has cracked, fractured, or shattered, you wonder how the remnants can be put back together. Can your broken heart be unbroken?
Honestly, I got through my first two hard seasons the same way I plan to get through this third: giving God the remnants and trusting His plan for me. He doesn’t need more than remnants to craft beauty, hope, and wholeness.
Consider how often Scripture talks about the remnant. Even if—or when—life brings struggle, when others fall away or fail us, and when victory seems impossible, God’s greater, loving plan is perpetuated through a remnant of His people. He can work with a few to bring hope and restoration. (For example, “And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward” – Isaiah 37:31.)
Over and over in Jesus’s ministry, He went from adoring and curious crowds to a few followers. By the beginning of Acts, there are 120 people gathered in Jerusalem—that’s it. There were likely more believers, but still not a lot to work with. And yet, God worked through that remnant to spread the gospel to “Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
I’ve seen the power of the remnant in my own life. My young adult years included a few mentors and friends who encouraged my questioning and fostered my faith, and my commitment was re-born from a single gospel account, a “remnant” of Scripture, if you will. And of course, my marriage was restored by starting with the remnants of our love and building from there.
Is your heart broken?
At least once a week, someone shares their heartbreak story with me. It could be through an email, a comment, or a personal conversation, but various people reach out to explain their marital struggles and ask for answers, or at least hope.
Some of you right now have cracks in your heart, places where you’ve been wounded by your spouse or by life in ways that impact your marriage. Some of you have clean breaks, such that it feels your marriage cannot ever be whole again. Some of you feel that your heart is shattered, and you don’t know how you can continue in marriage anymore.
Note: If your heart is shattered from abuse or unrepentant, ongoing infidelity, perhaps you should not continue in marriage. Get help and work through what your next steps should be.
For many, your broken heart revolves around sexuality. You have trauma from your past that understandably continues to taint your view or experience of sexuality. You have been rejected by your spouse more times than you can count, and it hurts. You have been pressured by your spouse for sex, making you feel less loved for who you are than what you can do. Your spouse has been sexually unfaithful, and you don’t know what comes next. You have some other wound I didn’t name here.
I just want to say that I get it. Not in the same way you have experienced it! You are unique, and truly many of you have been through way worse than I. But I get it enough to say: God is here even when you can’t sense His presence, I and others care about you, and we can get through this.
Our hearts will not always be broken. They will be restored and made full. God can build something beautiful from the remnants. Let’s learn from the seasons of struggle we’ve been through and head into the new year with a fresh start, a hopeful spirit, and God’s leading.