The Lord is My Strength and My Shield

When God sets our feet on a new path, He will never leave us directionless to flounder on our own. God has provided us with His glorious love letter, the Holy Bible, to teach and guide us, encourage and lift us towards Him.

God has the amazing ability to lead us to the exact words of truth that our heart needs to hear from Him. Whether it be tender whispers and promises of love, healing, grace, peace, redemption; the nudges and conviction of confession, forgiveness of sins, necessary change, the testing of our faith; or the inspiration and joyful celebration of abundant and everlasting life, God will find a way to speak those words into our thirsty hearts.

I am continually in awe at God’s creativity and persistence in revealing His words to me. And a little embarrassed at how often He needs to bonk me on the head so I pay attention. Sometimes it is opening the Bible to the perfect passage, a devotion sitting in my inbox waiting for the right day to be opened, someone’s Facebook post, a friend just wanting to share a verse with me, a fridge magnet…….

It was in the rawness of my pain, as my marriage and security crumbled, that God planted Psalm 28:7 in my heart. Our tears mingled together to water the seeds. And throughout my recovery, we have watched them grow and blossom into a beautiful miracle.

 “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my hearts trusts in Him and I am helped.” Psalms 28:7

 Oh how these simple, straightforward, magnificent words broke through the emotional and mental fog of my anguish to bring me assurance of hope and healing. With only a few repetitions they became easily imprinted in my wounded heart and readily available to fortify me at any time.

The Lord is my strength.  Yes, God provided me with His supernatural power to get out of bed every morning and face the uncertainty of my day and future. Today He gives me the strength and courage to leave the pain of my yesterdays in the past in exchange for hope in all that lies ahead as I embrace the hard but worthwhile work of recovery.

And my shield. My shield. These words deeply resonated with my battered spirit. And still do. The Lord is my protector, defender, security. My personal warrior taking the brunt of the assaults and deflecting the attacks against me. Absorbing the pain and damage intended for me. Guarding my heart, spirit and body from further injuries allowing healing to occur.

I have a beautiful image of my mighty God tucking me closely in beside Him, secure under His strong yet gentle arm. He holds a brilliant shield in front of us. We walk steadily across the battlefield, arrows falling at His feet and being crushed beneath them. Nothing can get in the way of my Abba Father triumphantly leading me to a blessed place of safety and rest.

My heart trusts in Him and I am helped. In giving my brokenness to God, offering Him whatever flicker of hope I regain, He will help me. A promise of restoration for today, tomorrow, the next day. The moment I trust God with my bruised heart He will tenderly hold it in His hands, caring, protecting, healing and breathing new life into it.

The Lord is my strength and shield, and He also wants to be yours.

“But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.”       Psalm 3:3

Uncovering Betrayal

Knowledge. Awareness. Understanding. I needed to identify what had caused my marriage to go so very wrong. I couldn’t fix any of it, including myself, until I had the answer.

I began gathering information. Quietly donned my W5 investigator’s hat. Wasn’t quite sure what I was looking for, but I had an idea.

Pornography.

But honestly, in my naivety, this was only a whisper of suspicion. Because I had learned out of necessity to suppress my own sexuality, I simply assumed that my husband had also. I believed that if I was no longer having sex, then logically, neither was he.

There were signs throughout the years that I chose to ignore or didn’t recognize. I was colour blind to the flapping flags. Or in some cases did not have the knowledge to understand or distinguish the different hues and patterns on those flags.

When we married, I was aware that my husband had a couple of porn magazines. Not a stash. It didn’t bother me. Just something normal that men did. I didn’t even consider this to be a bad habit. And although we never viewed porn together, admittedly, out of curiosity, I did look at the magazines occasionally when he wasn’t around. I believed it to be harmless for both of us.

Before I continue with my story, I implore you to resist opening computer files and sites you discover and suspect your partner of viewing. If the name is suspect, the content is. You don’t need to know for sure. You don’t need to see what was viewed. Protect yourself from those disturbing images. They will stay burned in your memory. I can describe to you today every sickening image that I was exposed to in the last fifteen years as vividly as a room in my house.

Fast forward to the advent of home computers and a non-techie wife (me) who one day accidentally discovers unsettling file names. And opens them to confirm that the titles were indeed what they indicated.  I was stunned. Disbelieving. Confused.  Felt sick to my stomach. Why was he looking at porn when he scorned all things sexual?! Or was it just my sexuality that he shunned?

I confronted my husband. Most of what he said didn’t make sense whatsoever. His responses confused me even more. Left me questioning myself. The outcome was that he needed to be more careful with his computer activity so that our children didn’t accidentally happen upon porn. I essentially gave him permission to continue. If it was out of sight, I could willingly bury my head in the sand.

Several years later, I walked into our home office and stumbled upon pornography staring back at me from the monitor. This time I did not have the choice to look or not to look. The excuses and feigned surprise he offered over their presence were just as ridiculous as before. I didn’t swallow them as easily, but I did. I wanted to so I wouldn’t have to admit that my husband had viewed porn twice now during our marriage.

Another three years passed before I took a deep breath, broke through my denial, and began searching my husband’s computer history. To say I found what I was looking for is a mild understatement. As I tracked his activity over the next few weeks, it was impossible to overlook the irrefutable evidence that this was more than a bad habit. It was a pornography addiction.

And yet, what unhinged me as much as the extent of his porn usage was uncovering the magnitude of his lies and deception. My feelings of foolishness and stupidity. The unearthing of betrayal.

“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28

When God Rips Off the Band-Aid

God didn’t rip the band-aid off my wounds with one quick yank. He gently eased it off, controlling the procedure and allowing me time to adjust to the discomfort.

The unravelling of my carefully bound heart began while sitting in a gynecologist’s office as I provided my medical history:

“When was the last time you had intercourse?”

“Well, it’s been awhile.”

“A few weeks?”

“Um, well, um….” Thinking if I stall long enough, say enough ums, he might give up on receiving an answer and carry on to the next question. But no, he waits patiently and expectantly for a response. “Ten years,” I nervously mumble directing my answer to my shoes. It is a lie.

A look of confusion crosses his face. He looks down at his clipboard. “I thought you said you were married?”

“Yes. I am.”

This doctor does not have a poker face. Apparently doctors have not seen and heard it all. I wonder what his reaction would have been if I had spoken the truth, that it had been twenty years without sexual intimacy, a kiss, a hug, my hand being held by the man who vowed to love and cherish me. I grow increasingly uncomfortable, feeling my face becoming flushed. My mind is racing, searching for safety, but it is too late to protect myself. This man now knows how terribly flawed I am. I want to tell him that it isn’t my fault. It isn’t my choice to have a sexless marriage. It isn’t because of me.

The rest of the appointment is agonizingly cruel as I place my feet in the stirrups and resist the doctor’s attempts to take a sample from my uterus for a biopsy. My female sexual anatomy is betraying me. Mocking me. Again. First by existing, and now by being defective. My husband has rejected these parts of my body and so have I. The irony is not lost on me.

Leaving my appointment, the shame of my damaged sexuality engulfs me. It weighs as heavily upon me as the prospect of cancer. My thoughts shift back and forth between the two. What emerges is the certainty that I will not tell my husband that I am waiting for test results. The possibility of a cancer diagnosis is scary enough, but the belief that my husband would not care is unbearable. I did not have the strength to face both my health issues and his indifference. Either felt like a death sentence.

Before the week was over, my husband confronted me. My mask was fracturing under the stress. My irritability was making us miserable. I admitted that I was waiting for the results of a biopsy. My husband asked why I had not told him what was going on. I lied. I didn’t want you to worry, I replied. When in all truthfulness it was me I was attempting to protect, not him.

Seated in the doctor’s office a month later, I experience the relief of a no cancer diagnosis. I learn that I will still require surgery to remove uterine polyps and my heart sinks when I am told that I will need someone to accompany me to the hospital. I question if it is necessary for someone to drive me home after my surgery or if it is just a recommendation. The doctor looks at me curiously, and logically asks “Won’t your husband come with you?” I mumble that I don’t know. I feel so alone. Exposed.

My doubts and fears were grounded. I am struck by my husband’s reaction to my surgery, “Will I have to take the whole day off work?” A stranger would have responded more compassionately.

That was the moment the last of the band-aid was torn off, uncovering the ugly wounds of my marriage and allowing the breath of God to alight on my scars. It was now time for God, my Creator, my Jehovah Rapha, to take my hand in His and guide me on an incredible, miraculous, healing journey to wholeness beyond anything I could have hoped for or imagined.

The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life. Job 33:4

Hope is the Lump in Your Throat

You can live in hope or you can live in hopelessness. Or you can merely exist in numbness devoid of hope in any form. This was my chosen method for fifteen long years. Shutting down my emotions eased the agony of an emotionally abusive marriage. Some days I could almost forget it was there. I learned how to hide my scars and secrets. I functioned well. I did the best I could to protect my children. I didn’t know from what at the time. Just that I needed to be more than enough for them.

For me, numbness relieved some of the suffering some of the time. That is what made it a viable survival technique. However, it also reduced my ability to experience positive emotions. You cannot choose which feelings to avoid and which ones to embrace. It is all or nothing.

Unlike the day I chose numbness over hopelessness, I did not make a conscious decision to leave numbness behind in search of a hope filled life. It was my Heavenly Father that set me on that path. But before I could find hope, it was necessary for me to sink into the despair of hopelessness again. You see, God can and will reach down and pull us out of the miry pit, but He can’t do that if we are content to be stuck in the sludge. Often God will set a plan in motion that brings us to our knees in desperation where our only option is to call out to Him.

It is overwhelming and terrifying to have the bandaids pulled off your carefully concealed wounds and watch the bleeding resume all over again. The pain is just as intense the second time around. I wept. I prayed. Or more accurately, I brought the broken and shattered pieces of my heart to God. I did not ask God to mend the fragments. I did not ask God to heal my pain. I simply cried that I didn’t want to hurt anymore. That was it. No requests for love, joy, peace or hope for my future. That was an impossible prayer, a far away dream that I didn’t dare put into words able to betray me. Asking not to hurt anymore was difficult enough.

I recently read a description in Brene Brown’s book “Daring Greatly” of what vulnerability feels like. Someone described it as “A lump in my throat and a knot in my chest.” And I thought, yes, that is also what the beginning of hope feels like. When hope was first offered to me it emerged as a tiny ball in the pit of my stomach, ascended to my chest, my throat, and finally became a pressure behind my eyes that I fought to keep there. Behind my eyes. Where I could deny it and push it away again. Not betraying me by leaking down my cheeks to be seen and felt. My mind fought the possibility of hope, but my body believed and responded before the rest of me was able.

At one time or another you have been advised to listen to your body. Pay attention to its signals. Sleep when you are tired. Eat when you are hungry. Drink when you are thirsty. So, I ask, why not hope when your body is desiring the promise of healing?

Hope is challenging. Hope takes courage. But hope will not disappoint when you place it in the hands of our Abba Father, the One who will wipe every precious tear from your eyes.

Now hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us. Romans 5:5

An Apology to a Brave Man

My husband is a brave man. He has been reading my blog posts even though he is aware that the words he reads will in all likelihood pierce his heart as he continues to learn of the effects his pornography addiction has had on me and our children.

After reading Hope is Scary, he gently brought to my attention an error that I had made in expressing his feelings in my story. My husband was disappointed to not consummate our marriage on our wedding night. I am grateful for his correction as it has taught me a valuable lesson early in the communicating of my story. I am telling my story, not his, and although the two are closely intertwined as our story, I cannot presume to know his feelings and thoughts on all the situations I may write about.

I wrote in truth my perception and feelings based on my reality and memories. And I will continue to do so because it is the truth and reality of the life I have lived. What I will no longer do is transfer my perceptions onto my husband as being his truth.

I apologize to my husband, my biggest fan and supporter, for this unintentional yet hurtful blunder.

And I apologize to tamarshope and the readers of Tears in a Bottle for the inaccuracy. It is my hope that you will extend grace to me as I stumble and learn to find my voice. It is my hope that you will continue along with me and my husband as we walk hand in hand with each other and God on our healing journey.

 

Hope is Scary

Hope is scary. Hope is risky. Hope hurts. Sometimes excruciatingly.

Hope is often a neatly wrapped up package extended to us, the broken and hurting, to offer encouragement and comfort. Just as I did to you in my first post on this blog. And sometimes that works. But I know all too well that hope is not always the promise of delightful butterflies, colourful rainbows, sparkling unicorns and cuddly kittens. Hope is a nice word comparable to love, faith, joy, peace. Inspiring expressions that confused and frustrated my deeply wounded soul. The very idea of hope brought me despair and pain because that is what experience taught me. Hope was useless.

I once had hope. Dreams. An expectation of a happy life. And then I got married. At age twenty, along with our four month old baby we became an instant family. Two days after the wedding, I moved 3,000 km away from my family, friends, church and all that was familiar to me. New adventures awaited us all! It didn’t take me long to discover these “adventures” were beyond the imaginings of any new bride.

We did not consummate our marriage on our wedding night. Or the night after. Even though my parents had gifted us a hotel room for the weekend and babysitting services. I had naturally expected that we would. We had not been together for several months. I was disappointed. He wasn’t. My disappointment grew in the following days, weeks, months. His didn’t. It soon became apparent to me that I was no longer desired sexually or otherwise. Therefore, I was no longer desirable or lovable. I felt helpless to improve the situation. Nothing that I said or did changed anything. During the next ten years, hope faded away until there was nothing left but despair and the immeasurable pain of a despondent, broken spirit. I was now hopeless.

A person cannot live in hopelessness forever. There will come a time when something needs to change. Ten years into my shell of a marriage, I celebrated my thirtieth birthday. I looked back at the previous decade of my life, grieved the loss of my twenties, and decided I was not able to continue living in hopelessness any longer. My marriage was destroying me.  I was disappearing.

I did not choose hope. That would have hurt too much. Instead, I chose numbness. Numbness was the safest way to protect myself. Hope would have involved change and required me to open my heart to a possibility of something, of anything, of I didn’t know what, and that idea was incomprehensible and frightening to me. My shattered heart was too fragile to seek something so unknown and uncertain. A flicker of hope? I snuffed it out before it even had a chance to ignite.

You see, I understand that sometimes hope is just too hard. Hope is risky. Hope is scary. And so, when I tell you there is hope, it is because I have found it to be true.

There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off. Proverbs 23:18

So Glad to Meet You

My name is not Cynthia. Well, that is not entirely true. My birth certificate says it is, but no one has ever identified me by that name. Well, that isn’t entirely true either. When producing my passport, the agent will undoubtedly call me Cynthia as that is the name printed there. But all that does is elicit my blank stare which isn’t at all suspicious when travelling to another destination. And if you were to attempt to get my attention by shouting “Hi Cynthia” to me I would not turn my head, simply because I wouldn’t know that you were. I tell you this so you can stop crossing off the list in your mind of any Cynthias that you may know. I am not her. I also tell you this so that we may begin our journey together today with truthfulness and no traces of deception between us.

I admit that when I read the post introducing me as a guest writer for this blog, I had quite the mix of emotions. It is an absolute honour and privilege to be invited into this valuable blog community where we can heal, grow and learn together. I was completely unprepared for the gracious and kind words used to describe me and my writing. This Cynthia woman sounded amazing. And then came the moments of doubt and fear. Could I really do this? Will I be enough? Will people be disappointed? How could I possibly live up to your expectations when it was me that you were going to meet? And so by writing one and a half paragraphs on this blog so far I have already been shown two truths. One, that the telling of our stories is an integral part of our ongoing healing process and transformation into the person that God created and intended each one of us to be. And secondly, that yes, by the grace of God and through the redemption of Jesus Christ, I am enough.  And so are you.

If you are wondering what I will be writing on this blog, so am I. Because I will be leaving that decision up to God. But what I can tell you now is that you will hear of our mighty God’s miraculous healing power that has redeemed the untold pain and despair of my life and marriage. You will hear how beautifully God has designed every detail of the healing that He has available for us. You will hear that I am a wife of a man recovering from sex addiction and intimacy anorexia, married for 27 years, the last two happily. And I would be amiss if I did not tell you that I am the blessed mother of two awesome young adult children and a beautiful daughter-in-law. But most importantly, I am an extravagantly loved and cherished daughter of God which took me nearly 46 years to discover.

I am Cynthia. But if you are reading this, then quite possibly so are you. Or maybe it is the woman sitting beside you at church, your neighbour, or co-worker. It may even be your best friend, daughter or mother. There are many Cynthias living each day in invisible pain and shame.  Many Cynthias that need to know, and not only know, but believe that there is hope and healing for the wounds and pain they have kept hidden for so long. Because there is. Oh, there is. And my prayer for you is that as we journey together you will open your heart enough to glimpse the hope and healing that is within your reach. No matter how faint the glimmer may be, there is One that can and will take the smallest offering brought to Him and turn it into more than you can ever imagine. I know because His name is Jesus and He has become my best friend.

Look at the nations and watch, and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told. Habakkuk 1:5