Quite frankly, I don’t know how it’s possible.
The aloe plant, that I had killed off through neglect, somehow had one unrooted leaf left that was still full and green. It was laying on top of the dry soil and withered husks, yet managing to survive.
Known for their healing properties, aloes have given me a sense of calm and reassurance whenever I lay eyes on them. That’s why I try to keep at least one in the house for burns. If aloes could talk, I could imagine one saying to me, “Don’t worry, honey. I’m here in case you need me. It’s all under control.”
After the month I’ve had, let’s just say I’ve been looking at that persevering plant quite intently.
First, there was the phone call I received from my husband while he was in Colorado, enjoying rigorous outdoor activities and satisfying downtime with close college friends. Despite my total support for his participation in this adventure, I felt a little trepidatious about caring for our autistic son alone. But with my mother’s help, and by God’s grace, we had managed to get through three of the four days before trouble hit. After several rings from an unknown number, I finally answered my cell. It was then I heard my husband’s voice, telling me he had been rescued by a Good Samaritan after getting separated from his group on a 14,000-foot-high hike. Basically, he had taken a wrong turn and ended up sliding down a very steep stretch of gravel, getting bruised and scraped pretty badly in the process. Furthermore, he had lost his cellphone in the tumble and was off grid for hours.
Being a doctor, my husband could focus on two things exclusively: getting down off the mountain, where he could see a trail ahead, and avoiding serious injury like broken bones or head trauma. At the bottom he soon encountered the kind soul who drove him back to the lodge where he was staying. But until that point, terror had not overtaken him as it would have surely paralyzed me.
In short, my husband’s “sound mind” (2 Tim.1:7) remained intact even after everything else was torn away. Somehow, he knew he that God would save him if he persevered long and hard enough. His leaf of faith remained green.
Far away on the east coast, I felt myself unravel as the evening wore on after that critical phone call. Even though I had heard my husband’s voice telling me that he was okay, and I could clearly see that God had provided a guardian angel to help him, I was still shaken to the core. My brain seemed to detach from my body and float above me like a helium balloon. Further down my stomach twisted in knots and my heart started racing. I recognized my reaction as one of trauma, having battled active PTSD years before. Shocked that I could so quickly revert to such an unstable version of myself, I descended into a hellish, fearful place. Something deep within me was asking: How close was this near miss to an actual fatality? How would I have survived alone, especially when it came to raising our son?
Most days, we live under the illusion that life is safe and that we are in control, don’t we? And when the experiences that prove this untrue break through, how do we respond? In large part, I guess it depends on what kind of life you have lived before the crisis hits. And it also depends on how hard and fast we slam up against it. If I had received another phone call before my husband’s, one telling me that he was lost and feared injured (or worse), I think I would have suffered more than just a panicky body and benumbed brain. I would have been gulping for oxygen until I passed out or would have been taken back to the really bad days when PTSD left me all but completely nonfunctional.
Because the early chapters of my life-story contain prolonged and serious abuse, part of me believes—no: part of me knows—that I can always go back to that Bad Place again. The place where I was hurting and helpless as a child, unable to make it stop. Sometimes, we get far enough away from our afflictions that we “forget” that we are the same people who walked the fallen world as our earlier selves. When that nearly unrecognizable person suddenly pops up, we wonder if the healing we have received in the interim between then and now will hold. In other words: will the numerous scars I carry split open under pressure or remain intact? How sturdy is my present self?
To be honest, I see that I am looking at this all wrong. My husband was, in fact, miraculously saved and my dissociative response proceeded no further than the foyer of my interior house of horrors. If I examine my reaction logically, I see that it was both reasonable and manageable. My healing held. After a few days, my sense of normalcy started to return and I felt a tiny bit less vulnerable and exposed.
Then tragedy hit.
The dear friend who hosted the Colorado trip, a man literally brimming with life, love, a sense of adventure and a genuine curiosity about everything, suddenly died. Struck down after an athletic activity, which he engaged in frequently, being in such great shape physically. It made no sense whatsoever and still doesn’t, about a month later. Of all the people in our circle who seemingly could NOT die because of the vivaciousness running through his veins, this friend was on top of the list. With him, it was easier to believe that the green leaf of the plant would stay green no matter what, rather than to believe it could dry up and perish.
We went to the funeral. We went to the burial. We mourned with our friends and did all that was right and proper. And yet something in the dark corners of my heart feels that nothing will be right and proper again. Even though I was the one who received back my husband, and our friend’s family and friends were denied such a blessing.
Years ago, when I first began dealing in earnest with my father’s abuse of me as a child, the layers of trauma I had to sift through seemed endless. But at some point, the glass of healing became more full than empty, and I got to the point where the PTSD was considered “in remission.” Right now, I feel like it is a dragon woken from its slumber, growling threateningly and breathing smoke from its nostrils. I feel myself bracing for fire to be blasted inside my soul, to know the scorching anxiety and panic that springs up out of nowhere as one walks through one’s days as if nowhere were safe anymore.
And you know what makes this even more difficult? The knowledge that the foundation of safety I had before, when my PTSD was more or less tamed, will take some time to rebuild, just as it took a long stretch to establish it in the first place. I sense God telling me that He is going to build it back stronger, but even with this amazing promise, my path feels precarious in way that drains and spooks me. What can one do except put one foot in front of the other and pray for mercy? There are no detours or shortcuts on this particular road to wholeness.
Getting professional help has always been key to any healing I’ve undergone, and the same is true for now. While talking to a clinician the other day who shares my faith, she told me she sensed that it was possible for God to move into those desolate spaces left in the wake of my grief and fear. My part, it seems, is to actually ASK for Him to do so, to fervently invite Him to come in to these vacated spots and do what He will. I am inspired to do so by the following familiar words from Scripture:
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me, all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23:6)
The Hebrew word translated as “follow” in the English does not quite capture the full force of its meaning. To “ra-DAF” means to actively pursue someone or something in the effort to overtake the target. (See Pharaoh’s pursuit of the Israelites during their exit from Egypt [Ex. 14:4,8,9,23]). I am relieved almost to the point of tears when I picture God running after me as I stumble ahead, never letting the space between us open up very far.
(And the truth is, He goes before me as well, and flanks me on every side. See Psalm 139:7–12.)
Perhaps you are grappling with a “one-two” punch (or a “nine-ten” punch) that has left you feeling like the world is a precarious place, especially your fearsome corner of it. Please know that you are not alone, that what you are experiencing is a normal part of being human that so many others are grappling with alongside you. We’ve all had our protective city walls kicked in more than once—it’s just a matter of how far to the foundations the impact reached.
Let us take one another’s hands and ask God to move in past the foyer, right to the deepest, darkest chambers of our inner selves, where the pain and horror dwell. And let us share whatever spark of light we may receive on occasion with those around us, that we may all be encouraged enough to believe that healing—stronger, monumental healing—is not only possible but under construction right now as God pursues us.
He’s a fast runner. And our calling upon Him is most powerful, opening more doors than we can possibly imagine to intimacy with Him—for this is the foundation of our purpose and promise as human beings.
Lord, we fervently invite You into any dark spaces that exist or open as we contend with the fact that our safe space is gone. Please build our foundations back stronger and give us the grace and strength we need during the process of reconstruction. Help us not only hang on ourselves but help each other, for this, too, is part of healing.
We pray this in Your Name, for You are the God of the unlikely miracles that keep our hurting selves green, no matter how torn from our source of life we may feel.
Thank You and Amen.