All Things New

Praise the Lord, all you nations; laud him, all you peoples. For his loving-kindness toward us is great, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Hallelujah!

Psalm 117

From death to life. From grief to hope. Resurrection.

Easter Day reminds us that those who are cast down will be lifted up. That those things having grown old are being made new again. It is a reminder that all things are being perfected and made right by the hand of God.

For all of us today, my prayer is that God will meet us in our need, continue to restore the hurt and fear and grief in our hearts, and bring new life from what has become withered and tired within us.

Praise be to God!

O God, of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look on your whole church with loving-kindness. In peace, carry out your plan of salvation for us. Let the whole world see and know that those cast down things are being raised up, and things that have grown old are being made new, and you are bringing perfection to all things that you have made through the power of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

Adapted from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle

Dear Lilly Mae, On Daughter’s Day

I lost my first child, Lilly Mae, to miscarriage at thirteen weeks gestation on February 13, 2005. This letter was originally written to her on Saturday, May 14, 2016.

It has been thirteen years since I lost my girl, and while the pain eases with time, it never leaves. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. The ache of Lilly’s loss is something I carry with me every day. Her short life changed me in ways I never thought possible, and I am profoundly grateful to be her mama.

Lilly Mae, your name means “Beautiful Beloved” and you are with me always.


Dear Lilly Mae,

I saw a little girl two days ago that looked just the way I picture you in my mind.  Dark brown hair in natural curls, olive skin, and dark eyes just like me. She was around 11 years old, wearing a ruffled khaki skirt and white collared shirt with sweet brown sandals, and I thought my heart was going to drop to the broken concrete beneath my feet.  Her eyes caught mine as she ran to catch up to her mother in the school parking lot where I pick up your brothers every day.  She quickly smiled at me, slipped her hand into her mother’s, and together they walked to their car with the evening sun warming their faces. And I wanted to bawl my head off.

Not one day goes by that I don’t feel the ache of missing you.  It is something that I will carry with me every day for the rest of my life, reminding me of the bitterness of loss but also the beauty of becoming a mother for the first time and the special ways that you have changed our family. Your memory is written into our lives in many ways… From lilies on the dining room table in August to celebrate what would have been your birthday to prayers I whisper at night, asking God to hold you close and snuggle you up like I would.

We remember you, my sweet girl.

Each year, we celebrate Daughter’s Day the Sunday after Mother’s Day in honor of the daughters in our family. It is hard for me to write about the sting I feel every year on this day knowing that I cannot scoop you into my arms and pull you into my chest and whisper, “I am so glad God made me your mommy.  Do you know?” into your ear like I do your brothers every year on their special day, Son’s Day. I wonder what gift you would pick and what home-cooked meal you would choose for your Daughter’s Day dinner. Most of all, I will miss being able to look across the table at your sweet face and tell you just how precious you are to me, how much I cherish your beautiful heart, and how honored I am that God would choose me to be the one you call mama.

Tomorrow we will celebrate your life and the beautiful ways that your memory brings light to our family. There will be tears, but my heart will be overflowing with gratitude for all that you have taught me and for the promise that I will hold you one day. What a beautiful day that will be.  Happy Daughter’s Day to you, my sweet girl.

I love you always,

Mama

Between Lost and Found

 

Dear Ellie,

A little over 3 years ago, I destroyed my marriage. I had already done a lot of damage to it by being unfaithful and by being generally unreliable, but that night in November was when I walked away from it. I’ve often regretted that moment since, but with time I’ve come to appreciate that it was the best decision for my wife. She is happier, more prosperous, and more secure with the life she has built after me than she ever was with me.

The most tragic casualty in the whole process is my daughter. She is the light of my life, the sum of all my hopes. She is, in my opinion, the pinnacle of humanity. I broke her heart by leaving, and even now she really doesn’t want to have anything to do with me.

I can’t blame her. For one thing, she’s still a child, so even if her instinct was incorrect, she is blameless for it. For another, I am and will always be her fiercest defender. But finally, her instinct is probably correct; I have been pretty severely mentally ill since I was very, very young, and as no combination of medication, therapy, and hospitalizations has ever effected a meaningful improvement, I’m not likely to ever get better. In fact, with other medical conditions I have recently acquired, I doubt I’ll be around for all that much longer anyway. So while I love my daughter unreservedly – and in many ways, my ex-wife – I think it was very cruel and heartlessly irresponsible of me to enter into their lives as I did. I really should have known better; people have been telling me that I’m a human hurricane for as long as I can remember.

Which brings me to the subject of my submission: I’m thinking of leaving. It’s been fun and all, but I’m quite tired and I’d like to go. I’ve been on for a while, and while I definitely flubbed a number of scenes, I feel I’ve given it my all (what a sad amount that turned out to be) and it’s time to exit stage left.

I’ve stuck around these last few years for the sake of my daughter; but lately I’ve become increasingly convinced that she’ll be better off. Nothing else has any appeal; while I get on well with all my coworkers, I have no real friends, and I can’t seem to keep any (usually through my own reprehensible behavior). I have nothing else in my life but work and whatever electronic distraction I can cobble together for an evening. Furthermore, a careful examination of the available evidence leads inexorably to the conclusion that, while I have amassed a not-inconsiderable amount of education and information, my opinions and perspectives have no value to anyone other than myself, and my existence generally serves no beneficial purpose, as what I do at my job can be done by basically anyone.

I’m supposed to have a question, but I really don’t. I guess I just wanted to tell someone, and you’re someone I’ve admired for a long time.

Signed,

Lost at Sea


Dear Lost at Sea,

On a hot summer’s day when I was about nine or ten, I helped my father clean out our garage. As we sifted through all of the mess that our family had amassed over who-knows-how-long, I came across a board with a nail sticking straight out of it towards the sky. I wondered what might happen if I stepped on the nail with my banged up Keds lace-ups. So I cautiously pressed my foot straight onto the nail. You can guess what happened.

A shock surged through my body as I felt the nail puncture the feeble tennis shoe rubber and drive straight into the ball of my foot. I remember reflexively yanking my foot up off the board, screaming out in pain, and hobbling into the house to examine the damage I had just inflicted on myself.

This childhood memory has run through my mind countless times over the years. It seems like such an obviously stupid thing to do – to intentionally step on a nail. I still wonder what in the world I was thinking because I can’t for the life of me remember what was going through my mind at the time. What I do know is that I made a decision to act knowing that the action had a good chance of hurting me. But I did it anyway.

Oh, Lost at Sea. Your letter sits heavy with me. The pain you so deeply feel is something I can identify with, at least in part. You have undoubtedly been through several acutely traumatic experiences, some of which you brought on yourself. I know how much it hurts to look back on one’s choices and examine the fallout. Devastating loss and guilt and shame have a way of rotting our souls from the inside out. I know what that feels like. But I also know that it doesn’t have to be that way.

The people in your life who have called you a human hurricane are wrong, darling. And that unfair labeling of you tells me far more about them than it could ever tell me about you. Other people’s opinions of you are none of your business.  What is your business is what you believe about yourself. And that is where your work begins.

I can tell from your letter that you have a driving power within you, a power that right now is mostly centered on self-hatred. In order to change your life situation, you must be willing to do away with the distorted beliefs you have about who you are as a man and instead refocus that drive on love – of yourself first, and then others.

The truth is, you are not the first person to get a divorce and watch your ex-spouse build a happy, fulfilling life with someone else. Nor are you the first person to have a strained relationship with your child as a result of divorce. These things happen to even the most beautiful and brave people because we are all messed up and do and say awful things to the people we love. Coming to a place of self-acceptance is the key to the door that will begin your healing.

Once you are able to accept all of yourself – not just the mistakes you’ve made but also the parts of you that are holy and lovely, too – you will be able to take all of it, all of who you are, and courageously transform into the person you’re meant to be.

You mention that you have been severely mentally ill for as long as you can remember. I don’t know if you’re actively in therapy right now, Lost, but I plead with you to invest in your recovery by finding a licensed mental health professional who will offer you insight and support. Through my own mental health struggles, my therapist has at times been my only guiding light. If it wasn’t for her, I might not even be here today.

There is no reason for you to walk this road alone. You deserve to have someone look you in the eyeballs and hear your story and sit with you in your sorrow. We all do. Give yourself the gift of community. Be willing to move out of isolation into connectedness. This can be literally life-giving if you let it.

When I was twenty-one years old, I stepped onto another nail on purpose, metaphorically speaking. I married a man who had proven himself to be untrustworthy and irresponsible. We were both young and had no idea what it meant to make promises, let alone keep them. I think I knew that marrying him would bring pain into my life, but I did it anyway.

Right before my father walked me down the aisle at my first wedding, he looked me in the eyes and said, “You know, you don’t have to do this. We can turn around and leave right now.” In his voice was a sort of desperation I’m not sure I’d ever heard before. I said, “I know, Daddy.” And then the church doors opened up and I took a step forward and he walked me down the petal-speckled aisle to the man who is now my ex-husband.

During that time in my life, thoughts of self-hatred and self-doubt played in my mind over and over again. I couldn’t yet see the marvelous gifts that I had to offer this world. All I could see was the sum of my mistakes and failures and nothing more. So I married a man I didn’t trust because I didn’t believe anyone better would ever love me. I didn’t believe that I was worth more than that. And I didn’t have the strength to tell anyone because I wasn’t yet ready to change my life.

But you are.

I can tell you are ready, Lost at Sea, because of the scorchingly sorrowful letter you wrote to me. The hundreds of people reading this right now know that, too. And you know it as well. I know you are ready because you mustered the courage to speak your pain to me; you gave voice to your sorrow. That is a brave step, my dear, and one that I hope you will celebrate years down your road of recovery.

Your ex-wife might be happier now that you two are no longer married. That is not necessarily a reflection of you or a judgment on who you are as a person. In time, I trust you will be able to establish a healthy co-parenting relationship with your ex-wife because I believe you do truly love her and want her to be happy. That’s more than millions of ex-spouses can say about their former better-halves.

While your daughter might be full of resentment or anger or indifference towards you right now, that does not have to be the way your story together ends.

I am around hundreds of middle-schoolers every day. And around hundreds of elementary students on a weekly basis. To put it mildly, I know kids. I’m not sure how old your daughter is, but I do know children are resilient and they crave a relationship with their parents even when their behavior screams they don’t care at all.

Regarding your beautiful girl, my advice is to not give up on your relationship with her. As you continue on the path of your own self-healing, you will be better equipped to love her and maintain a healthy relationship in which you both can thrive. You can’t skip the step of your own healing, though, because as I mentioned in my response to a reader last week, you’ve got to take care of yourself before you can take care of anyone else.

It took more than seven years for me to lift my foot up off the metaphorical nail that was my first marriage. At first, it hurt like hell. And I limped around for a while. But when I focused my attention and my strong will on my own healing, it empowered me to love the people in my life – my sons, my family members, my close friends – in a way I’d truly never experienced before.

And that can be your story, too, Lost at Sea.

The thing most beautiful to me about life is that we have the ability to stand in front of our future and decide what we will become. You have the power to heal what is broken. But you must be willing to do for yourself what no one else can do – make peace with your past mistakes, embrace your whole person for the bright-and-shining-and-flawed man you are, and choose to get off the nail and start healing from within.

Do these things and you will find exactly what’s meant for you.

Fiercely yours,

Ellie

**Every struggle is different. Recovery from crisis is possible, and if you are wrestling with some of the same themes as Lost at Sea, know that there is hope for you. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 and according to their website provides confidential support for people in distress and prevention and crisis resources for you and your loved ones. Visit their website here for more information, and know that while it feels you are alone, there are millions in the world who stand with you in your fight.

If you want to reach out to Ellie, you can contact her here.

Shame is a Liar

 

Dear Ellie,

More than ten years ago, I was in a series of unhealthy relationships. These men abused me physically, emotionally, and sexually. Ironically, during all of this, I was helping people find safety away from their abusive partners. I had several friends who were being hurt by their significant others, and I gave them lots of advice and a safe place to stay in my home.

I knew all the right things to say and do for someone else, but when I was in the same situation myself, I didn’t heed my own advice. I didn’t follow what my good sense was telling me. I made excuses for love while knowing in the deepest part of me that love shouldn’t be so painful and hard.

This has been the greatest shame of my life. I never wanted my friends to know, and to this day, I have never told them. I got through it, I survived. But I feel like I am hiding this broken part of myself from the people who love me the most and know everything else there is to know about me.

I am the single mother of a beautiful daughter who is now growing into a woman herself. I know that my most important job is to empower her, to help her become a confident person who clearly sees her own worth and value. I want her to understand what real respect looks like in a relationship, but I feel like a fraud.

How do I forgive myself for mistakes I’ve made? How do I keep these painful experiences from crippling me as I try to instill a sense of truth and strength in my daughter?

Signed,

Hiding


Dear Hiding,

A few months after my then husband moved out of the home we shared together, I attended my first Al-Anon meeting. He wasn’t an alcoholic, and I didn’t know anyone who was. But a friend had recommended that I go because of the help she’d found in her codependence with others. And I was definitely mired in codependent patterns, in thinking and action.

If I’m being honest, I was terrified. Afraid of being judged or gawked at. Scared of being misunderstood or told that I didn’t belong.

I sat in a circle of about eight or nine people and listened as they recited the serenity prayer to open the meeting… “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Tears streamed down my face the entire hour as I listened to those in attendance share their stories and welcome me into the fold. I entered that room a broken, ashamed woman and left a woman with hope.

One of the things I learned at that meeting was the difference between shame and guilt. I learned that guilt is the voice inside us that says “I just did something bad.” Guilt can be a helpful emotion because it alerts us to a situation that needs our attention. When I raise my voice at my children, the guilt I feel spurs me to look them in the eyes and talk about what happened. It encourages me to own my mistake and ask my sons for forgiveness.

Shame, on the other hand, is a voice inside us that says “I am something bad.” Shame is paralyzing and suffocating and isolating. It makes us feel unworthy of love and community and hope. And no matter who you are or what you’ve done, shame is a lie.

The shame that you feel, though, is something that really resonates with me. I hid the pain of my first marriage for a really long time. In fact, it wasn’t until just before we separated that I told my closest family members and friends about what our relationship had looked like for more than six years. I hid because I believed the lies shame repeated in my head over and over again.

The truth I want to first speak to you, Hiding, is that shame thrives in isolation. Once I broke my heart wide open and allowed people to see my pain, I felt less and less ashamed. Their understanding and compassion and willingness to sit with me in my hurt helped me see that none of it was my fault to begin with.

It is not your fault that people you loved and trusted abused you. We all have the freedom to handle our experiences in the way that is truest and best for us in that moment. The fact that you could not give words to your struggle at the time does not diminish your strength or your voice. You were doing what you could to survive, just like millions of women in the same situation have done.

The second truth I want to speak to you is that you are worthy. Of being known, of being loved, of being accepted just as you are.

You are worthy.

You are worthy.

You are worthy.

You ask how you can forgive yourself for mistakes you’ve made. My one true answer to that is that things take time. Just as forgiving others is a process, we must go through the same steps in forgiving ourselves. If you haven’t been in counseling to help you work through your experiences, I would encourage you to do that. Getting into therapy is truly the most life-giving, loving thing I have ever done (and continue to do) for myself. A qualified counselor will give you tools and help you down the path of forgiveness. It requires effort and work, but I can’t think of anything more important. With the peace that accompanies self-forgiveness comes the ability to grow and live a full life.

Regarding your daughter, it sounds to me like you are already doing the important work of modeling what it means to be a strong woman who sees her value and is willing to fight for what is right. Helping your daughter grow these same traits within herself will empower her to become a woman of strength and truth.

As she grows, especially in her “tween” and teenage years, you will be charged with talking openly and bravely with your daughter about consent and using her voice and letting people walk with her in life. Sharing parts of your story and your experiences with her will probably be difficult, but they will bond you in ways you could never imagine. If you haven’t started conversations about these things, I would encourage you to begin. Even starting small with the idea that “yes means yes and no means no” can open up a conversation that will hopefully continue for the rest of your lives.

After I told my parents some of the deepest secrets of my first marriage, I braced myself for their reactions. I was afraid that they would accuse me of exaggerating or be angry with me for withholding the truth from them for so long. But here’s what happened instead: my daddy stretched his arms across their dining room table, took my hands in his, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Your Momma and I don’t know what this journey will look like, but we will walk with you every step.”

In that moment, for maybe the first time in my entire life, I felt entirely and completely known and loved. And looking back several years later, I can tell you that they kept their promise. They attended every court hearing, held me close every lonely holiday that I didn’t have my children, and they haven’t stopped walking with me.

Hiding, I am so sorry for your pain and for what I’m sure has been a very lonely journey over the past several years. From your letter, I can tell that you have a beautiful, shining heart. You came to the realization that leaving an abusive relationship is the most loving thing you could do for yourself and your abuser, and that is one of the hardest truths to understand and live out.

Know that you are not alone, and the people who truly care for you will draw you into their chests and sit with you as you share the truth of your life. I promise you it will be worth it.

Yours,

Ellie

If you want to reach out to Ellie, you can contact her here.

On Keeping a Friendship Alive

 

“Dear Ellie,

I have had the same best friend for over fifteen years. We met during senior year of high school but didn’t become close until we lived on the same hall as sophomores in one of the most run-down dorms on campus. As most college-aged kids do, we both had our fair share of drama and struggle. We were trying to figure out who we were, who we wanted to become. But we were there for each other through all of it. I look back on those years with such fondness.

Now that we’re in our thirties, things have settled down a lot. We both have careers that we enjoy, and she is married and trying to have kids. Even though our lives seem a lot less complicated than when we were in school, I find myself having a really difficult time with our friendship.

When I hear her talk about her husband and their life together, I feel disconnected. Don’t get me wrong – I adore him. He loves her and they both make each other very happy. I just… I am nowhere near a serious relationship right now, and I guess it makes me feel bad. I am afraid of losing my friend because our lives don’t really look the same anymore. What can I do? Are we bound to drift apart? Am I a terrible friend for feeling this way?

Signed,

Missing My Friend”


Dear Missing My Friend,

About three and a half years ago, my best friend of more than ten years (I’ll call her Bess) wrote me a three-page email that was essentially a break-up letter. I still go back and read that letter from time to time. I can’t read it without crying, but it is a reminder to me of many things that I needed to learn during that season in my life.

Here’s the deal. I was in an unhealthy relationship, and I did not want to leave. This man was my best friend, and I was all twisted up inside over the whole thing. I had allowed this struggle to overtake me, and it nearly swallowed me whole. I developed a pattern of only going to Bess for advice or reassurance about this one huge struggle in my life and not really investing in our relationship in a meaningful way.

Selfishly, I brought all of this to Bess’s proverbial doorstep over and over again, asking her – really, expecting her – to help me make sense of it all. She cared a lot for both of us and truly wanted us both to be happy. She would listen, empathize, and give me thoughtful advice. Bess did this countless times for over a year. And every time, I was not ready to do the hard work of ending my relationship with this man until he was in a healthier place. It became a destructive cycle that I still mourn. Eventually, it led to the ruin of our friendship.

In all of this, my biggest mistake was not considering my friend. I was so consumed with my life and my mess that I couldn’t see Bess at all. I can’t imagine how exhausting and painful all of that was for her, riding the rollercoaster of ups-and-downs I was on. Once I realized what I’d done, it was too late. If I could go back, I would do it all so differently. And I would start by looking at my friend and her needs as much as I looked at myself and my own.

Don’t be a one-way friend like I was. Think about life from your friend’s perspective. Sure, bring your own needs and wants and fears and hopes to the table, but leave room for hers, too.

I think one of the biggest difficulties that plagues relationships between friends in different phases of life is misunderstanding the daily grind and the needs of the other. Just like you don’t know what it’s like to be married and trying to have kids, your friend probably has no idea what it’s like to be single, thirtysomething, and figuring out your career.

I would encourage you to be honest. Tell your friend how you feel… that you feel bad when you look at your life and her life and how seemingly different they are, that you wonder if you will drift apart because your lives seem to be taking different paths. Let her hear you, and then hear her.

When I read back over the break-up email, one obvious truth shining through is that Bess had been hurting for a long time, and I had no idea. I truly did not realize what I was doing in dragging her through my destructive relationship woes. I wish that things hadn’t been so bad for so long, and I feel foolish for not being able to see it.

If you are hurting or worried about your friendship, find the courage that I know lives deep within you and talk with your friend about it. Shine a light on the shadows you’re living in. Give your friend a chance to walk with you and figure it out together.

Around the same time I got this break-up email, another friend of mine reached out to me. She said she felt like I had been distant and selfish and wanted me to know that she was hurting.

That same day, we were able to talk through and resolve the conflict between us. It wasn’t easy, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel like a complete failure in the friend department, but I was so thankful that we had a chance to make things right. Her friendship is still a special part of my life today.

The truth is, Missing My Friend, most friendships don’t end because people are too different; they end because people don’t know how to communicate. This starts with laying your heart bare, sharing your fears and worries and letting your friend speak to those things. It means being willing to not only say difficult things but to hear them as well.

Bess was so hurt that she didn’t have the emotional space to resolve the conflict that had been brewing between us for a long time. And I couldn’t make her talk to me. It has been over three years since I got that email, and we haven’t spoken since. The reason we aren’t friends anymore isn’t because we hurt each other; that’s a natural part of being in a relationship. We aren’t friends anymore because we didn’t know how to talk with each other in a loving way about our hurt and fears. The loss of my friendship with Bess brings a grief that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.

I can tell that you cherish your friend. Fifteen years is a really long time, and it seems like you have carried each other through a lot in your life. You might not have this person in your life forever. I do believe that friendships have a shelf-life, and just because a friendship ends doesn’t mean it was a failure. But it sounds to me that you and your friend have a truly beautiful thing that has brought you both a lot of joy. Lean into that, Missing My Friend. Rest on the strong foundation that you’ve both been building over the past fifteen years and decide together how you want the rest of the house to look.

Yours,

Ellie

If you want to reach out to Ellie, you can contact her here.