I closed my eyes and let the words of the text message, blaring like a tornado siren, race through my memory; searching the hard drive. Where is it? All those pieces! They have to be here somewhere. The shards of glass, the remains of something so beautiful, shattered by bitterness and resentment - coursing through my entire being.
I am cutting myself.
"Nathan, you have to take me to the house."
It had been a year since I had last asked. I am sure he thought I was finally moving on. His clear, merciful eyes - rings of dark brown, wild fire surrounded by pools of blue - met mine and I could feel the pity. Not the kind of pity that comes with being pathetic, but the kind that sees and feels and knows because he understands my heart as if it were his very own. He has walked through that abandoned house with me before. More than once - holding my hand, sitting on the back porch, playing in the yard with our children, gathering the forgotten lilacs, collecting remnants -an old roasting pan, Mason jars, a red scarf- left behind when they vacated in a hurry.
"Maybe this will be the last time she needs to go here. To be here."
// this is a real picture posted on Facebook from the first time I went back
It doesn't really make much sense. It's just the house that I grew up in. Four strong, historical brick walls erected at the very heart of town. Made of mortal materials. All passing. In the grand scheme of eternity, the mighty fortress is really just a tent that will one day be totally blown away like any other grain of sand in the dessert. It shouldn't matter. But it does.
I begged my mom to stay, to wait it out. Time is often the enemy, and in this case it definitely was, but I had hope of conversion. Maybe time would eventually be our friend and bring back together what was being torn apart. She yelled at me that night. Told me I was too young to understand the situation. Perhaps 22 was too young. I will never know. He drank more than he should. Maybe that was part of it. The disconnect, the job loss, the lack of means to keep the house. Gone. But I know daddy cared.
The bedroom where I stayed up late whispering with my sisters, the big, orange 1980's kitchen bar - a thousand family meals vanishing into thin air - the hook hanging in the living room that held our homemade advent wreath every year - hopes, dreams, prayers - pear trees, the garden. There were no more chapters to be written. We had reached the end of the book.
I left that house as a proper "home" for the last time on June 21st, 2009. It was the weekend of my little sister's wedding. It was the sweetest of occasions - so happy and joyful that the weight of saying goodbye to our family home seemed silly. Too silly to be sad. I was distracted. I jetted off back to Ohio- back to work- back to college- back to plan my own coming wedding. I didn't say "goodbye."
I woke up that September. It had only been a few months. The weddings were over and my parents and younger siblings had begun a life out on Long Island. "I want to go home," I told my new husband. Slowly, counting his words, he said, "Babe. You ARE home." I couldn't breathe so I cried. I couldn't go home so I panicked. So this is the source of the sirens; blaring and etching such a tragedy deep into my skin.
That was the first time I got so sick. And every year after for five years, the cycle has repeated itself. Always sick in the fall. Diagnosed autoimmune. It all makes sense now. Emotional trauma strong enough to take hold of my cells and use them against me. Inflammation burning, antibodies screaming, my entire being rejecting a growing list of foods. Maybe because it all happened in the fall. The waking up, the realizing that it all hurt so much - my heart so beaten and bruised. "They" took the house from me. "He" took the house. "She" took the house. "God" took the house. And now I can't go home.
I decided to stay broken that September. Knocked down from one too many childhood memories, I decided to stay down. In my mind I rationed that no one would hurt someone who is already hurting. Right? I was betting on the mercy of Jesus and mankind. Take it easy on me. I'm wounded down here. I used bitterness and resentment as fuel to drive me to pick up shard after shard of that shattered house, buried deep within my soul, and cut myself. Over and over again. Stay broken. Keep bleeding. Easier than being hurt again. Build new walls. Thick as unforgiven.
She texted again, "Once you locate the wounded memory, you must forgive everyone involved and you must forgive yourself for being vulnerable, for not forgiving sooner." Her words didn't feel like real life. You know when someone is talking as somehow each word means everything even though there's no way they could possibly know? It was like that.
Grace. God must have been holding some back for me, because I somehow found enough hope to pull myself up off the floor, release my emotional fists full of glass, and go ask my husband to take me "home" one more time.
I wore black that day as if I were going to a funeral. We pulled up and I slowly opened the van door. Nathan asked if he should go with me, but I said it was ok - "I need to do this."
I slipped the key to the back door off of my key ring. Five years. A daily reminder of loss. A token of pain that I treasured for all the wrong reasons. An excuse to hurt myself. All those years, I let it hang with all the other keys to my "life". Like a disease it spread deep and wide.
I walked into the yard, into my old garden, all overgrown with grass and such, and in the cold, December air, just days before Christmas, I looked up to heaven and told God I was sorry. Sorry for not letting Him heal me. Sorry for taking bitterness and resentment as my gods. I forgave all those involved. I forgave myself.
Kneeling down, I pushed that key into the hard, frozen ground - breaking the earth this time instead of my heart. I buried that key with tears falling from my eyes, and hope rising in my soul.
I'm done. I'm done cutting myself from the inside out.
A few months later I found myself sitting in the office of a Christian counselor I found by doing a Google search. That could have gone so badly, but luckily "Matt" was a swell guy who made a big impact on my life.
He asked me one day, "Are you willing to let God heal you in HIS ways?"
So often we have this list of ways we want God to heal us or those we love. Here. Here. And here. In this order, by this date, please and thank you. Amen. Like small children we either ignore a wound to keep on playing or we demand a band aid without thought of being cleansed. How easy it is to forget that wounds need to be cleaned before bandaging to prevent infection, further spread, deeper damage.
His ways always seem to surprise me. As if 28 years of being His daughter has taught me nothing. Like the day I got that text message from a friend. Like the moment I felt Him ask for the key to my childhood home. Like the night I knelt in the garden and let it all go. Like the moment I stopped making myself bleed.
I stood up after burying that key for the first time in a long time. I decided to get off the ground and not be broken anymore. I decided to let Him heal me and run the risk of being knocked down again. Because that's what happens in this world. We live with Goliaths and Pontius Pilates. But spoiler alert - the good guy always wins. I would do well to remember that and quit dealing with the devil and his lies.
It's not like every day of my life is puppies on a beach now. Healing is a journey. And even if I keep getting sick every fall for the rest of my life, I am still glad I decided to let God "heal me in HIS way" because life is too short to not live fully alive. I don't want to "go home" anymore, I truly don't. I was released that day in the garden.
Funny. It all started in a garden so long ago. A fall so great the wound spread, a deadly disease, throughout all mankind. And then one glorious Good Friday God came down to rescue me, to rescue us, from our misery. He's in the business of masquerading as text messages to get our attention. He's in the business of meeting us in the gardens of our lives and undoing all that's been tragically done. And He's in the business of getting us "home."